The ultimate guide to branding in 2020
Products are never only Products, right?
Coca-Cola is more than a drink... Starbucks is more than a coffee. Ray-Ban is more than a pair of sunglasses. Glossier is more than a tube of concealer.
Handling these products provides experiences, and we buy them with that experience in mind. Better yet, the companies that make and market these products know exactly what experience they want you to have when you make (or consider) a purchase. That is why they create a brand.
From the language in their Instagram caption to the color palette on their latest billboard to the material of their packaging, companies that create strong brands know that their brand must live everywhere. They know that their names go far beyond the label.
The result? These brands are known, loved and selected from a long line of options.
Who doesn't? I know I do. That's why we've created this guide - so you'll be able to create and manage a strong brand that will help your business be admired, remembered and preferred.
Use the links below to jump to sections of interest, and don't forget to bookmark this guide for later.
Before I get into the importance of branding ideas and building a brand, let's go back to the basics: What is a brand?
What is a brand?
Before I get into the importance of branding ideas and building a brand, let's go back to the basics: What is a brand
A brand is a characteristic or set of characteristics that distinguish one organization from another. A brand usually consists of a name, a tagline, a logo or symbol, a design, a brand voice, and much more. It also refers to the overall experience a customer has when interacting with a business - as a buyer, customer, social media follower, or mere passerby.
What is branding?
Branding is the process of researching, developing and applying a distinctive feature or set of features to your organization so that consumers can begin to associate your brand with your products or services.
Branding is an ongoing process and requires getting in touch with the heart of your customers and your business. It's important for a variety of reasons - I'll get into those next.
The importance of branding
Your brand is arguably one of your organization's most important assets. It gives your organization an identity, makes your business memorable, encourages consumers to buy from you, supports your marketing and advertising, and makes your employees proud.
Branding can be the deciding factor for consumers when making purchasing decisions. In a 2015 Nielsen global survey, nearly 60 % of shoppers said they actively buy from brands they know, and 21 % said they bought a product because they like the brand.
Branding gives your business an identity that goes beyond the product or service. It gives consumers something to relate to and connect with.
Branding makes your business memorable. It is the face of your business and helps consumers distinguish your business in any medium (which I will discuss later).
Branding supports your marketing and advertising efforts. It helps your advertising pack an extra punch with added recognition and impact.
Branding brings pride to your employees. When you brand your company, you not only give your business an identity, but you also create a reputable, highly respected workplace. Strong branding brings strong employees.
Branding terms to know
Here are some other brand-related buzzwords you should know. They illustrate the importance and value of branding for your business.
Brand awareness refers to, how familiar the general public and your target group is with your brand is. High brand awareness leads to brands being described as "trendy", "buzzing" or "popular". Brand awareness is important because consumers cannot consider buying from your brand if they are not aware that it is a brand.
👉🏼 Strong branding makes your company known.
Brand extensions are when companies "extend" their brand to develop new products in new industries and markets. Consider Honda lawn mowers or Martha Stewart bedding. Brand extensions allow companies (or individuals) to leverage brand awareness and brand equity to create more revenue streams and diversify product lines.
👉🏼 Strong branding makes more money.
Brand identity is your company's personality and the promise you make to your customers. It is what you want to convey to your customers after they have interacted with your brand. Your brand identity is usually made up of your values, how you communicate your product or service, and what you want your customers to feel when they interact with your brand.
👉🏼 Strong branding gives your business more than just a name.
Brand management refers to the process of creating and maintaining your brand. It involves managing the tangible elements of your brand (style guide, packaging, color palette) and the intangible elements (how it is perceived by your target audience and customer base). Your brand is a living, breathing asset, and it should be managed as such.
👉🏼 Strong branding requires consistent nurturing.
Brand recognition is how well a consumer (ideally in your target audience) can recognize and identify your brand without seeing your company name - through your logo, tagline, jingle, packaging or advertising. This concept goes hand-in-hand with brand recognition, which is the ability to imagine a brand without visual or auditory identifiers.
👉🏼 Strong branding keeps your business top of mind.
Brand trust refers to how strongly customers and consumers believe in your brand. Do you deliver on your marketing promises? Do your sales staff and customer service go above and beyond what you promise? These things can build trust with your customers, which is important in a world where only 25% of people trust large companies.
👉🏼 Strong branding builds trust with your customers.
Brand valuation is the commercial valuation of your brand based on consumer perception, recognition and trust. This concept goes hand in hand with brand equity. A strong brand can make your company invaluable to investors, shareholders and potential buyers.
👉🏼 A strong brand increases the value of your company.
How to create a brand
- Determine your target audience
- Define your mission statement
- Define your values, characteristics and advantages
- Create your visual assets
- Find your brand voice
- Put your branding to work
Here's how to create a brand - or begin the process of rebranding your current brand.
There's a lot that goes into a brand, and there's a lot to consider when building a strong brand. So grab a notebook and jot down your ideas as you move through this section. Since branding is an ongoing process, you should repeat some of these steps as you brainstorm and build your brand.
1. determine your target audience
Branding leads to awareness, recognition, trust and sales. We've already talked about those. But let's take a step back and understand where these come from: consumers. And not just any consumers - your target audience and customers.
If your brand doesn't resonate with your audience, it won't lead to that awareness, recognition, trust, and revenue. This is where target market research comes in.
Before you put pen to paper (or cursor to a digital document), you need to understand who your branding will speak to. Who does your product serve? Who is your ideal customer? Why did you start your business in the first place?
What you learn about your target market and buyer persona will inform your branding decisions down the road, so make this step your first priority.
2. define your mission statement
Let's go back to a question I asked in the previous step: Why did you start your business? Answering this question will help you create your mission statement, which defines your purpose and passion as an organization.
Before you can design a brand that your audience recognizes, values, and trusts, you need to be able to communicate the purpose your business has. Then every part of your brand (logo, tagline, imagery, voice and personality) can reflect that mission and vision.
Your mission statement is a building block of your brand manifesto, stating why your company exists and why people should care about your brand.
3. define your unique values, qualities and advantages
There are probably many companies in your industry and niche. It's easy to focus on your competition (and there is a time and place for competitive analysis), but let's focus on you first.
What's one thing your company has that no one else can replicate (uh, legally)? Your badge.
For this reason, you need to ensure that your brand is made up of and inspired by elements that are uniquely yours: the values, benefits and qualities that make your business unique.
Take a moment and jot down a list of what makes your business different from others. I'm not talking about product features (like appearance, components, or capabilities); I'm talking about how your products or services improve lives and contribute to success.
Real life brand example: Alani Nutrition
You've probably never heard of Alani Nu; they are a nutrition company based in Louisville, Kentucky. On their website, they have clearly and simply displayed their unique values and benefits as part of their overall brand. Highlighting these values and benefits makes it easy for customers to trust their products and choose them over their competitors.
4. create your visual assets
At this point, you should understand your target audience, your mission statement, and the unique characteristics of your business.
Once you can say with confidence that you've mastered these steps, it's time to move on to one of the more exciting parts of branding - visual design. We'll talk about your logo, color palette, typography (fonts), symbol design, and other visual components.
As you create these elements, create a set of brand guidelines (or a brand style guide) that governs the composition and use of your visual assets. This ensures that everyone who uses your new branding does so accurately and consistently.
5. find your brand voice
Next, consider the auditory component of your brand. What would your brand sound like if you had a conversation with it or if it texted you?
The way you communicate with your target market is also considered part of your branding. You want to define a brand voice that connects and resonates with your audience - otherwise, they probably won't pay attention. So don't hesitate to go back to step one to familiarize yourself with who you're talking to.
From your ad campaigns and social media captions to your blog posts and brand story, make sure your tone is consistent across all of your written content. Give your audience a chance to become familiar with your brand and learn to recognize the sound of your voice. Better yet, master a fun, entertaining voice, and your customers will look forward to your social media and email updates.
Example of a brand from everyday life: MailChimp
MailChimp is a great example of a brand that speaks with a clear, consistent tone. When I first started using Mailchimp for us, I always had to smile when I received their emails and worked in their interface. From their web copy to their emails and social media captions, MailChimp has established a brand voice and personality that is personable, fun, and approachable - it can be difficult to explain the technical parts of a software product (like A/B testing), but MailChimp has mastered that too.
6. use your branding
Your brand only works if you do. Once you're done designing and creating your new brand (or rebranding), incorporate it into every inch of your business. Take special care to display it everywhere your business touches customers. Here are a few tips for applying your brand to your business.
Place your logo, color palette, and typography on your website. Don't use anything other than your predefined assets in your brand guidelines. Your website is an important part of your business identity - if it doesn't reflect your brand, it will only provide a jarring customer experience. Also, make sure all web copy, calls to action, and product descriptions reflect your brand voice.
All profile photos, cover photos and brand images should reflect your brand. Consider using your logo as your profile photo - this will make it easier for customers to recognize your business. As with your website, make sure all profile information, posts and captions reflect your brand voice.
If you have a physical products business, your product is probably the most tangible way customers interact with your brand. For this reason, your packaging should reflect your new branding - in design, colors, size and feel.
Since ads (digital and print) are often used to create brand awareness and introduce consumers to your brand, it's critical that they reflect your branding. In fact, your branding should make the ad creation process easier - with your brand style guide, you already know how your ads should appear and what kind of copy to write.
Sales and customer service
A brand is only as powerful as the people behind it, and if your people don't show off your brand, it won't work for you. In addition, your brand applies to more than just your marketing. Educate your sales and customer service reps about your brand guidelines and instruct them to use them, especially when they interact directly with customers. Whether they're showing a demo of a branded product or answering customer service inquiries, encourage them to use your logo, tagline, images and brand voice.
Branding tips for small businesses
- Treat your brand like a person
- Prioritize consistency
- Pursue a brand strategy
- Do not let inspiration become imitation
- Use branding in recruitment
1. treat your brand like a person
To best understand the branding process, think of your brand as a person. Your brand should have an identity (who it is), a personality (how it behaves), and an experience (how it is remembered).
Ask yourself these questions about your brand:
- How would your brand present itself? If it had to describe its appearance, how would it do so?
- How would your brand talk about your products or services? Would it be serious and professional, or would it be humorous and edgy?
- What would someone say about your brand after "meeting" it for the first time? What are a few phrases they would use to describe your brand?
The purpose of branding is to create relationships with your customers. The easiest way to do this is to treat your brand as a person and understand that you want your customers to do the same.
Real life brand example: Whiskey Reef
Whiskey Riff is another brand you're probably not familiar with. It's a two-man media company based in Chicago that has described itself as "the most entertaining country music website ever".
If Whiskey Riff were a person, I would think it would answer the above questions:
"Hey, I'm Whiskey Riff. I love country music and - you guessed it - whiskey. My logo was inspired by the Y in a circle on the Chicago Theater marquee, and I'm adorned with horizontal red stripes and stars - representing the American and Chicago flags.
"I publish content about what's going on in country music today. If you don't like it, don't read it. On my podcast, my founders interviewed country music artists and told funny stories. Check out my clothing line; my t-shirts, tanks, hats and accessories can be seen at country music festivals (and stages) nationwide."
"Whiskey Riff is like that first shot of Jack Daniels - the much-needed refreshing drink after a long day. It's a change from that cookie-cutter way of life, and you immediately appreciate - and trust - its candor. There is absolutely nothing else like it in the industry."
2. prioritize consistency
Inconsistency is the biggest brand mistake companies make. Inconsistency undermines your brand and confuses your customers. Recognizable, valuable brands prioritize consistency - and they reap the benefits. When your brand appears consistent across media and platforms, customers can easily become familiar with, recognize, and prefer your brand over time. Brand guidelines can help with this initiative.
3. development and pursuit of a brand strategy
A brand strategy is more than your brand guidelines; it is a plan with specific, long-term goals that can be achieved through the development of your brand. These goals typically revolve around your brand's purpose, emotion, flexibility, competitive awareness, and employee engagement.
Remember how I said branding is a continuous process? There's a lot that goes into it. A brand strategy can help you turn this process into a well-rehearsed practice that leads your brand towards success and recognition.
4. do not let inspiration become imitation.
Competitive analysis is important. Not only does it tell you where your competition stands and how they stand out, but it can also give you ideas on how to improve or further differentiate your brand.
However, be conscious not to fall into an imitation trap. Keep your competitive research limited and focus on what your organization brings to the table. Just because a competitor (or two) has branded their company in a certain way doesn't mean you have to follow suit. New, unique, provocative brands are memorable brands.
5. use branding for recruitment
Strong branding makes your employees proud. I know I'm proud to be a part of Focus Internet and to work here. Use your branding to attract talented employees. If hiring is a strong initiative for your company, dedicate some of your resources to employer branding. Employer branding is how you market your company to job seekers and current employees. If you are proud of your company in the public eye, others will be too.
Ready, Set, Burn
Branding is your organization's name, logo, color palette, voice and imagery. However, it's more than that. It's the intangible feeling your customers have when they interact with your brand. You know ... that experience we talked about at the beginning.
This is how powerhouse brands stand out from all the rest. The tangible components contribute - a beautiful logo, a clever tagline, an authentic manifesto, and a clear brand voice - but truly powerful brands thrive when they focus on the big picture of their brand. Reach the heart and soul of your target audience and organization, and a successful brand will follow.