Defining your brand identity is an essential task that must be undertaken in order to stand out among the sea of competition. The most successful companies know exactly who they are, who their target demographic is and how to define themselves best in order to reach out to their audience in a meaningful and impactful manner.
How many companies have generated wild success on the basis of successful branding?
Take Apple, for example, who in the 1990’s suffered from imminent bankruptcy. Sales were at an all-time low and competition was at an all-time high until Steve Jobs decided to approach things from an entirely new mindset.
With a focus on “ideas and experience” such as minimalism and innovation over products and sales, Jobs was able to create a brand identity with mass appeal that attracted a diverse, new customer base notoriously known for their unwavering brand loyalty.
If you’re interested in learning more about branding and the processes you can use to develop your own unique identity and cut through the noise, then this article will serve as a great guide to set you off on the right foot.
What is a brand?
According to David Ogilvy, a man widely considered as the founding “Father of Advertising”, a brand is defined as the “intangible sum of a product’s attributes.” Your brand is essentially the sum of the public’s perception of your business and its products and services. It defines who you are and how you differentiate yourself from the sea of competition.
Everything from your packaging to your products, services and the voice you use to communicate to your audience is a reflection of your brand identity. As a result, it’s essential for all of these factors to be in harmony with each other so that you are able to drive a consistent image and narrative of your company and its values to the general public.
It’s also important to understand that a brand identity doesn’t necessarily have to be static. As your company begins to grow and evolve over time, so too may your brand identity. Take for instance Target’s reputation in the late 90’s. Originally, they were seen as a sort of “low-brow” discount retail chain similar to the likes of K-Mart or Walmart.
However, as the company expanded, they wanted to increase their appeal to a more upscale clientele and establish themselves as a higher-end alternative to their competitors. As a result, they took strides to partner with various high-profile designers such as Isaac Mizrahi, Mossimo Gianulli, Alexander McQueen and Jason Wu, successfully cementing their space within the lives of their ideal target demographic. Since 1999, Target’s annual sales have practically doubled from $33.7 billion to $71.9 billion – and all due to the fact that they were willing to evolve their brand identity.
Why is brand identity important?
Establishing your brand identity is essential to connecting with your target demographic in a crowded market. A strong brand identity can help you stand out in the crowd and highlight your product or services over those of your competitors.
However, the truth of the matter remains that your brand identity is going to be shaped regardless of your efforts to manage public perception of your company or not. Individuals will purchase your products or services and sooner or later via word-of-mouth a reputation will be established and public perception about your company and brand will be formed. Businesses that don’t remain proactive in their efforts to shape their brand identity essentially leave it at risk in the hands of the public and lose out to other companies who have taken the initiative to develop strong, effective brands that resonate with their audiences.
Your brand identity should be carefully and methodically crafted in order to drive a consistent message to the public. Taking hold of the reigns when it comes to crafting your brand identity gives you leverage over your competition as you’re able to shape a narrative, define the uniqueness of your company, establish your value and connect with your audience on a deeper, more emotional level.
Steps to defining your brand identity
- Find your positioning.
Trying to wedge your brand into a market position that is already dominated by a competitor is a long, uphill battle. Figuring out your unique positioning in the market is an essential part of the process in defining your brand identity. It’s not enough to just be “different”. In order to be successful, you must identify ways in which you are both appealing and unique.
My favorite insight into Apple’s strategy is that they aren’t in the “computer” business, but the “digital lifestyle business”. If they had continued to position their brand as just another regular old computer company, they would have continued to be subject to competing with heavyweights such as Gateway or IBM. Instead, they found a unique position to differentiate themselves from the mass of competition. This made all the difference.
- Identify your target demographic
Once you’ve identified your unique market position, it’s important to pinpoint your target customer demographic. Your brand identity is a valuable piece of the puzzle in your marketing strategy and if you want to be successful in appealing to your customers, you must know them inside and out.
Who is your quintessential customer? What is their lifestyle like? What are their hobbies, their habits, their passions? Create buyer personas to help put a face and story to your ideal customer. This will help you decide which types of messaging will appeal most to them. The key here is to be painstakingly detailed. If you’re looking to appeal to single, creative millennial women who work from home, then you’re going to have to create a brand identity that is starkly different than if your company’s target demographic were for instance, married male baby boomers working in finance.
- Establish your voice.
Once you’ve identified your target demographic you can begin to craft the appropriate voice. There are a couple things you want to take into consideration when doing this. For one, you want to create a voice that is authentic and genuine to your company’s espoused values, culture and offerings. Do you want to be the hip, exciting and inspiring brand? Or perhaps a more authoritative and educational approach fits best.
Second, you want to ensure that the voice you create is going to resonate with your target demographic. What appeals to them? How do they speak, think and act? These are also important questions to ask yourself when defining your brand’s unique voice.
- Define your value.
An essential factor determining how you will fare in the face of your competition is being able to define your value to your customers in a straightforward and concise manner. What are their specific pain points and how does your company serve as a solution to them? For example, it could be that you are a more cost-effective alternative to your competitors. Or perhaps, your products are a higher-end alternative, thus appealing to a more distinguished clientele.
It’s not enough to just identify customer pain points, but to identify the weaknesses of your competitors and use this as leverage in your marketing efforts. An SWOT Analysis is a simple and effective method for strategically tackling this endeavor. The truth of the matter is that you will not be able to excel over your competition at everything, but you should be able to identify specific ways in which you excel over each competitor at something.
Value could also resonate on an emotional level. Those in the computer industry will be the first to tell you that Apple products are far from being technically superior to their competitors. Their value lies in their brand, their voice and their ability to resonate on an emotional level with their consumers.
- Outline your mission statement.
Your company’s mission statement is a concise statement that sums up your company’s values, goals and unique positioning all in one. It describes your company from an internal perspective and should emotionally connect with your employees first and foremost. Your mission statement essentially says, this is who we are, what we do, how we do it, how you’re going to feel when we do it and what we’re going to give you. Take for example the following mission statements developed by some of the top brands in their industries:
Your mission statement should be action-oriented, straightforward and serve as a means to keep your business operations and brand identity focused and on-track.
- Craft your brand message.
Your brand message differs from your mission statement in that it is externally focused. Your brand message should resonate with your consumers and is an attempt to strike a chord and connect with them on an emotional level. Who are you? What do you offer and why should your customers truly care about your brand over those of your competition? Similar to your mission statement it should be concise, straightforward and summed up in 1-2 sentences at most. Take shoe company TOMS for example. Their brand message is highlighted on their website for all to see: “Improving lives. With every product you purchase, TOMS will help a person in need. One for One.”
- Create your brand logo & tagline
When most people think of the word “brand”, they tend to visualize logos and taglines. This is perhaps one of the more exciting steps in the branding process, as your logo and tagline are often what are cemented into the minds of your consumers. Visuals are extremely important and should be methodically created in order to have an emotional and psychological impact on your customers.
Many companies employ color psychology when developing their logos. Think of design. Apple for example took a minimalist approach to their logo design, which tied in perfectly with their brand identity and product offerings. The Nike check and italicized font implies action and movement. Dole Food Company’s logo is found on all of their products and reminds consumers of their connection to nature with the bright yellow sun placed in the middle of the letter “O”.
Taglines are often seen in conjunction with logos and as a result should concisely sum up exactly what your business does in as little space as possible while resonating with the consumer. Coke’s tagline is “Open Happiness”. Nike’s “Just Do It” is perhaps one of the most popular taglines ever created. Budweiser is “The King of Beers” and Hallmark is “When you care enough to send the very best”. These are all excellent examples of taglines that hit the nail on the head by great brands.
- Integrate this identity into every aspect of your business
Developing your brand identity alone isn’t enough. It’s essential that your business integrate this into every single aspect of its business operations and communications. From packaging and products to your company website, retail environment, blog and social media presence, your brand identity must remain vigilantly consistent and apparent throughout in order to have the greatest impact. Let your unique voice and personality shine and show your customers exactly who you are and why you stand out above the competition.
A strong, well-developed brand identity is the key to standing out in a sea of competition. Great brands resonate with consumers and help shape public perception about a company’s values, culture and products. Use this article as a guide in developing your brand and integrating it into every aspect of your business so that you can set your business up for success in the long-run.
What are some great brands that resonate with you as a consumer? What makes them so engaging? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!