Products are never just products, are they?
Coca-Cola is more than a soda. Starbucks is more than a coffee. Ray-Ban is more than just sunglasses. Glossier is more than a tube of concealer.
Interacting with these products provides experiences and we buy them with those experiences in mind. Better still, the companies that create and market them know exactly the experience you should (or consider) when making a purchase. That’s why they create a brand.
From the language in their Instagram caption, to the color palette on their latest billboard, to the material used in their packaging, companies that create strong brands know that their brand has to live everywhere. They know their names go way beyond the label.
The result? These brands are known, popular, and are chosen from a long range of options.
Who does not want that? I know i do. That is why we created this guide to empower you 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.
What is a brand?
Before I dive into the importance of branding and building a brand, let’s get back to the basics: what is a brand?
ONE brand is a characteristic or set of characteristics that distinguish one organization from another. A brand is usually made up of a name, slogan, logo or icon, design, brand voice, and much more. It also refers to the overall experience a customer has when interacting with a company – as a buyer, customer, social media follower, or just a passerby.
What is branding
Branding is the process of researching, developing and applying a specific feature or set of features in your business so that consumers can begin to associate your brand with your products or services.
Branding is an iterative process and requires making contact with the heart of your customers and your company. It’s important for a number of reasons – I’ll go into that next.
The importance of branding
Your brand is arguably one of your company’s most important assets. It gives your business 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 a purchase decision. In a 2015 global Nielsen survey, almost 60% of shoppers said they were actively shopping with brands they knew and 21% said they bought a product because they liked the brand.
Branding gives your company an identity beyond its product or service. It gives consumers something to identify with and connect with.
Branding makes your business unforgettable. It’s the face of your business and it helps consumers differentiate your business across all media (which I will get into later).
Branding supports your marketing and promotions. It helps your promotional pack get that extra punch with added recognition and impact.
Branding makes your employees proud. When you brand your company, you are not only showing off your business identity, but you are also creating a reputable, highly respected workplace. Strong branding brings strong employees.
Knowing brand terms
Here are some other branding keywords you should know about. They further show how important and valuable it is to brand your company.
Brand awareness refers to how familiar the general public and your target audience are with your brand. A high level of brand awareness leads to brands being described as “trendy”, “enterprising” or “popular”. Brand awareness is important as consumers cannot consider shopping from your brand unless they are aware of it.
👉🏼 Strong branding makes your company known.
Brand extensions are when companies “extend” their brand in order to develop new products in new industries and markets. Consider Honda lawn mowers or Martha Stewart bedding. With brand extensions, companies (or individuals) can leverage brand awareness and equity to create more revenue streams and diversify product lines.
👉🏼 Strong branding makes more money.
Brand identity is the personality of your company and the promise you make to your customers. You want your customers to get away with them after interacting with your brand. Your brand identity is usually made up of your values, the way you communicate your product or service, and what you want people to feel when they interact with it.
👉🏼 Strong branding gives your company more than one name.
Branding refers to the process of creating and maintaining your brand. It includes managing the tangible elements of your brand (style guide, packaging, color palette) and the intangible elements (as perceived by your target audience and customer base). Your brand is a living, breathing asset and should be managed as such.
👉🏼 Strong branding requires consistent maintenance.
Brand awareness is how well a consumer (ideally in your target audience) can recognize and identify your brand without seeing your company name – through your logo, slogan, jingle, packaging or advertising. This concept goes hand in hand with brand recall, which is the ability to think of a brand without visual or acoustic identifiers.
👉🏼 Strong branding keeps your company in view.
Example of a real brand: Would you like to test your brand knowledge? Take this Business Insider logo quiz to see how well you know your company brands. This is brand awareness at work.
Brand trust relates to how strongly customers and consumers believe in your brand. Are you keeping your marketing promises? Are your salespeople and customer service going beyond that? These things can create trust with your customers, which is important in a world where only 25% of the people in large companies feel safe.
👉🏼 Strong branding creates trust with your customers.
Brand valuation is the commercial valuation of your brand that results from consumer perception, recognition and trust. This concept goes hand in hand with brand equity. A strong brand can make your business invaluable to investors, shareholders, and potential buyers.
👉🏼 Strong branding increases the value of your company.
Do you want to build an effective, measurable brand? Download our free guide to building a brand in 2019.
How to create a brand
- Determine your target audience
- Establish your mission statement
- Define your values, functions and benefits
- Build your visual assets
- Find your brand voice
- Implement your branding
Here’s how you can create a brand – or start rebranding your current brand.
There is a lot that goes into a brand, and there is a lot to consider when building a strong brand. So take a notebook and write down the ideas as you move through this section. Realize that branding is an iterative process. Hence, you might repeat some of these steps while brainstorming and building your brand.
1. Determine your target audience
Branding leads to awareness, recognition, trust and sales. We talked about it. 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 generate awareness, recognition, trust, and sales. This is where target market research comes into play.
Before you hit pen on paper (or cursor on digital document), you need to know who your branding will talk to. Who is your product for? Who is your ideal customer? Why did you start your company in the first place?
What you learn about your target audience and buyer personalities influences your brand decisions across the board. Make this step your first priority.
Download our free persona templates to easily organize your audience research and power your marketing.
2. Establish your mission statement
Let’s go back to a question I asked in the previous step: Why did you start your business? When you answer this, you can create your mission statement that defines your purpose and passion as an organization.
Before you can develop a brand that your audience will recognize, value, and trust, you need to be able to communicate the purpose your business is delivering. Then every part of your brand (logo, slogan, imagery, voice and personality) can reflect this mission and vision.
Your mission statement is a building block of your branding manifesto that explains why your organization exists and why people should care about your brand.
Download our free guide to defining inspiring mission statements and vision statements and learn about two of the most valuable strategic planning elements for companies.
3. Define your unique values, qualities and advantages
There are likely 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 for now, let’s focus on you.
What does your company have that no one else can imitate (um, legally)? Your brand.
Because of this, you need to make sure that your brand is made up of and inspired by elements that are exclusively yours: the values, benefits and qualities that make your business unique.
Take a moment to write down a list that sets your business apart. I’m not talking about product features (like appearance, components, or functions). I am referring to how your product or service will improve life and contribute to success.
Example of a real brand: Alani diet
You’ve probably never heard of Alani Nu before. They are a nutrition company based in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. I order their vitamins because 1) they have been shown to work, and 2) I trust and respect the brand (and it’s great!). On their website, they have clearly and simply outlined their unique values and benefits as part of their overall brand. When you highlight these, customers like me can easily trust their products and choose them over the competition.
4. Create your visual assets
At this point you should understand your target audience, your mission statement and the unique characteristics of your company.
When you can confidently say you’ve mastered these steps, it’s time to move on to one of the more exciting parts of branding – visual design. We talk about your logo, color palette, typography (fonts), iconography and other visual components.
As you create these elements, create a set of branding guidelines (or a branding style guide) to control the composition and use of your visual elements. This will ensure that everyone who uses your new branding is doing it accurately and consistently. Read HubSpot’s brand guidelines for reference.
Note: Design can be as intimidating as it is exciting. Hire a professional with experience in logo and identity design, or start with some helpful design templates.
Take your brand to the next level with this free branding style guide e-book. Download templates too!
5. Find your brand voice
Next, look at the auditory component of your brand. What would your brand sound like if you had a conversation with them or if they texted you?
How you communicate with your target market is also seen as part of your branding. You want to define a brand voice that connects and resonates with your audience. Otherwise, it is likely to be ignored. So don’t hesitate to return to Step 1 to familiarize yourself with whoever you are talking to.
From your ad campaigns and social media captions to your blog posts and branding story, make sure your tone is consistent across all of your written content. Give your audience the opportunity to become familiar with your brand and recognize the sound of your voice. Better yet, have a funny, entertaining voice, and your customers will love your social media and email updates.
Example of a real brand: MailChimp
MailChimp is a great example of a brand speaking with a clear, consistent tone. Whenever I used their free plan for my small business, I always giggled when I got their emails and worked on their user interface. MailChimp has established a brand voice and personality that is personable, fun, and approachable – from web copy to email explosions and subtitles on social media. It can be difficult to explain the technical parts of a software product (e.g. A / B testing). , but MailChimp coped with that too.
6. Use your branding
Your brand will only work if you do. When you’re done designing and building your new brand (or rebrand), incorporate it into every inch of your business. Take special care to ensure that it appears wherever your business touches customers. Here are some tips for applying your brand in your business.
Put your logo, your color palette and your typography on your website. Use only your predefined assets in your branding guidelines. Your website is an integral part of your corporate identity. If it doesn’t reflect your brand, it is just delivering an immersive customer experience. Also, make sure that all web copies, calls to action, and product descriptions reflect your brand voice.
All profile photos, cover photos, and branding images should reflect your brand. Consider using your logo as a profile photo. This makes it easier for customers to recognize your company. As with your website, make sure that all profile information, posts, and captions reflect your brand voice.
If you have a physical product 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 terms of design, colors, size and feel.
Example of a real brand: Chobani
I love Chobani yogurt (confession: I’m eating it). Their new branding tells me right away that they are producing authentic, healthy Greek yogurt. That is one of the main reasons why I buy Chobani. I recently realized that their yogurt packaging is made from a very earthy, textured material – a deliberate choice that adds to the overall experience they combined with buying and eating the Chobani brand.
Since advertisements (digital and print) are widely used to increase brand awareness and bring your brand to consumers, it is important 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 you want your ads to appear and what type of copy to write.
Sales and customer service
A brand is only as powerful as the people behind it. If your reps don’t make your brand work, it won’t work for you. Furthermore, your brand doesn’t just apply to your marketing. Educate your sales and customer service reps about your branding guidelines and instruct them to use them, especially when interacting with customers directly. Whether they’re sharing a branded product demo or answering customer queries, encourage them to use your logo, tagline, images, and brand voice.
Download our basic guide to branding your business to learn everything you need to know to get from the old business to the must-have brand.
Branding Tips for Small Businesses
- Treat your brand as a person
- Prioritize consistency
- Follow a branding strategy
- Don’t let inspiration turn you into imitation
- Use branding to rent
Treat your brand as a person
Think of your brand as a person to fully understand the branding process. Your brand should have an identity (who it is), a personality (how it behaves), and an experience (how it remembers).
Ask yourself the following questions about your brand:
- How would your brand introduce itself? If it had to describe what it looks like, how would it do that?
- How would your brand talk about your product or service? Would it be serious and professional or would it be humorous and nervous?
- What would someone say about your brand after “meeting” it for the first time? What sentences would you use to describe it?
The purpose of branding is to build 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.
Example of a real brand: Whiskey reef
Whiskey Riff is another brand that you are probably not familiar with. It’s a Chicago-based two-man media company that describes itself as “the most entertaining country music site ever.” I’m a fan because I love country music, enjoy their written and podcast content, and proudly wear some of their great clothes.
If Whiskey Riff was a person, I think it would answer the questions above:
- “Hey, I’m Whiskey Riff. I love country music and, you guessed it, whiskey. My logo was inspired by that Y in a circle on the Chicago Theater marquee, and it’s me adorned with horizontal red stripes and stars – representing the American and Chicago flags. “
- “I post in-your-face 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 musicians and told funny stories. Check out this my clothing line. My t-shirts, tanks, hats and accessories can be seen at country music festivals (and on stages) across the country. “
- “Whiskey Riff is like the first shot of Jack Daniels – the much needed, refreshing drink after a long day. It’s a break from this cookie cutter lifestyle and you instantly appreciate – and trust – its openness. There is absolutely nothing else like it in the industry. “
Inconsistency is the number one branding mistake companies make. Inconsistencies undermine your brand and confuse your customers. Recognizable, valuable brands rely on consistency – and they benefit from it. When your brand is consistently present across media and platforms, customers can easily get to know, recognize and prefer your brand over time. Brand guidelines can help with this initiative.
Build and follow a branding strategy
A branding strategy is more than your branding guidelines. It’s a plan with specific, long-term goals that can be achieved as your brand evolves. These goals usually revolve around the purpose, emotions, flexibility, competitive awareness, and employee involvement of your brand.
Do you remember how I said branding is a continuous process? There is a lot behind it. A branding strategy can help you turn this process into a well-oiled practice that will move your brand towards success and recognition.
Don’t let inspiration turn you into imitation
Competitive analysis is important. Not only does it let you know where your competition is doing and how they’re doing, but it also gives you ideas on how to improve your brand or make it stand out further.
However, be aware that you will not 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) branded their business in a certain way doesn’t mean you have to follow suit. New, unique, provocative brands are unforgettable brands.
Use branding to rent
Strong branding makes your employees proud. I know I’m proud to be connected, let alone work, with HubSpot. Use your branding to attract talented people. If hiring is a strong initiative for your company, dedicate some of your resources to employer branding. With employer branding you market your company to job seekers and current employees. If you are publicly proud of your organization, so will others.
Done, set, brand
Branding is your company’s name, logo, color palette, voice, and images. It is also more. It’s that immaterial feeling your customers have when interacting with your brand. You know … that experience that we talked about at the beginning.
This is how powerhouse brands are different from all others. The tangible components help – a beautiful logo, a clever slogan, an authentic manifesto, and a clear branding voice – but really strong brands thrive when they focus on the bigger picture of their brand. Get the heart and soul of your target audience and organization, and a successful brand will follow.