You need to know who you are before you can connect with other people.
There’s so much more to brand building than logos and advertising. The companies who do it most effectively know that it requires an obsessive level of attention to detail, data and insight. It also requires taking the time to think, discuss and align on every aspect of your company’s brand identity. That includes the good, the bad and the ugly.
No person is perfect. And that same sentiment holds as true for brands as it does for people. But knowing your blind spots are half the battle. Once you understand what might not connect with your audience, you can let go of the stuff that’s holding you back, so you can focus on the right details to help you grow. In fact, once you realize that the things you choose not to do are just as important as the things you do, the clip at which you move forward might outright shock you.
Brand identity is deeply wrapped up in your brand’s personality. It’s the essence of how your brand expresses itself to your customers. It’s consistent, dependable and should be as true to itself as it is to its audience. Your brand identity is the foundation that everything else rests on. And if it’s strong, it can protect your company during periods of stress and uncertainty.
Think about some of the world’s most iconic brands. Even if you’re not a personal fan, it’s hard to dispute the staying power and global success of brands like Disney, Coca-Cola & McDonald’s. They’ve managed to remain top-of-mind and competitive for decades and have repeatedly connected with multiple generations of customers. They’ve demonstrated resilience through countless cycles of changing customer tastes and behaviours and their logos and taglines seem permanently etched in our minds. There are few people out there, regardless of age or location, that wouldn’t associate Disney with magical experiences, Coke with its iconic glass bottle and McDonald’s with those golden arches.
What all these brands have in common, is a very strong brand identity. Ones that have been solidified through a strategically arranged pattern of actions and events that repeatedly reinforce their brand purpose. They know who they are and who their customers expect them to be. They also let their customers guide their innovations and evolutions. Occasionally they stray off course (remember New Coke?) but the ones that are genuinely listening and take accountability for their missteps usually bounce back stronger than before. And they’re able to do that because their customers are loyal – and loyalty is a powerful driver of forgiveness when mistakes are made.
What is it that you need to do to build a strong Brand Identity?
- Understand your purpose
- Do the research to validate your insights
- Align your message with your brand’s tone
- Design and nurture a distinct personality
- Never stop talking to your customers
The basic components of a brand blueprint work their way toward the center of your brand purpose. Start by clearly defining your target audience and competitive landscape. Then look to the past for category truths and the future for strategic insights. From there, pull your team together to outline your brand personality and tone, your company’s values, the role that you want to play within your market or category and the list of attributes that will differentiate you from your competitors so that you can win.
All these discussions will eventually lead you to your brand purpose.
Define your Target Audience
If you don’t know who you’re selling to, you’ll never be successful. No two people are alike. You can’t target products and services to teenagers, thirty-somethings and retirees in the same way. You need to do the work to understand your audience and that often involves some form of research. The insights that you glean from this research will usually help you define who your ideal customer is and how to create a brand that connects with them.
Look beyond demographics (age, location, income, etc.) and dig into your potential customers’ interests, goals and behaviours. What are they inspired by? Where do they hang out? Who do they look up to? Start the dialogue and never let it die. Once you know who your audience is, it’s critical to keep talking to them. They will be your greatest source of feedback in the future. And if you keep listening to what they have to say, they’ll also become your biggest brand advocates.
It’s important to build your brand story on a foundation that is grounded in universally accepted truths within your category. Look at your customers and what they consider to be true about what you (and all your competitors) are selling. It’s important to understand what your customer is compelled by. Then look at your company. Take the time to talk to your own employees and ask them if they’re buying into your story. Do they believe in what they’re working on? And then look outside of your category and company and assess what cultural factors could impact how your brand is perceived.
By looking at the current state of your category, your company and cultural shifts, you’re tapping into historical data that can help guide future decisions. Universal truths can be a great starting point to building out more complex hypotheses that generate new ideas and innovations.
Assemble Industry Insights
Where category truths look to the past to help identify patterns for the future, industry insight is forging a clear understanding of cause and effect within a specific context. Insights are merely pieces of information – data – that result in a new understanding. They are usually validated through market research or some other form of structured study and are harvested for the purpose of generating some form of commercial or political return.
A good insight can result in successful product launches, new market entry and the identification of a new audience. They can drive business turnarounds and pivots, start new trends and protect against future risk. Industry insights are forward looking and can help you map out a path through unchartered or cluttered waters.
Identify your Competition
Just as important as it is to know who your customer is, it’s equally as important to understand who you’re competing against. Operating in a bubble is never a good idea. The worst thing a brand can do is assume that they are the best at what they do. That kind of thinking inevitably leads to blind spots that can leave a brand vulnerable.
Understand your competitive set. Identify your direct competitors (they’re the obvious ones that do and/or sell the same things that you’re delivering), but also challenge yourself to look outside of your industry, to other categories or businesses that have the potential to compete for share of wallet, head and heart of your target audience. Once you identify those competitors, never take your eye off of them.
Define your Brand Personality & Tone
When working on your brand’s personality, think about your brand as a person. If he or she were an actual human being, what characteristics, emotions and traits would make up their personality? Simply put, your brand’s personality is how it behaves in front of your customers.
Part of that personality is tone and voice – how it sounds, the language it uses and how it’s all packaged up. Companies often get wrapped up in how their brand looks to customers. Visual brand identity comes to life through logos, packaging and visual advertising campaigns. But it’s important not to overlook tone and language when pulling things together. Today especially, when so much of a brand’s personality is coming to life on digital channels and through voice-activated technology, how a brand sounds is just as important as how it looks. And at the end of day, the brands that pulls all these attributes together seamlessly, are the ones with the most memorable personalities.
Define your Values
When establishing your brand values, you can think of them as guiding principles that should be shaping every aspect of your business. Someone on our team once said, “Think of it in terms of how your brand would behave on its very best day.” This is ultimately the benchmark that you want to measure all your employees against. Because in a perfect world, your employees would embody your company’s brand values on their very best day.
Brand values are at the core of your brand, and they exist to hold your brand messages accountable to the larger identity and personality that sits on top of that foundation that you’ve worked so hard to build. These values are a summary of what your company stands for and are a huge opportunity to connect with customers on a deep and meaningful level.
Understand your Role
Think about your brand’s role as its job description. It should clearly articulate its role within the company and industry as it relates to the impact it can have on your customer’s lives. It often reads like a functional statement at the top of a job description, but that’s because it’s important to clearly define how it contributes to a company’s overall strategy and goals.
A brand role statement shouldn’t read like an ad slogan. And it shouldn’t be selling anything. But it should absolutely make it clear why your brand exists and the value that it delivers to your ideal customer.
Identify & Leverage your Brand’s Differentiators
Your brand’s differentiators should outline a key set of attributes that point at your brand’s most unique qualities. These are the things that you are sure you can compete on and the things that you would bet on winning against.
Brand differentiators are unique aspects and/or benefits of your products and/or services that clearly set you apart from your competitors. These are the elements that you will establish your competitive advantage on. Do not underestimate the importance of differentiators when you’re competing in a cluttered or over-saturated market.
Build a Brand Purpose
Your brand purpose is your reason for existing beyond making money. This is what you stand for above all other things. Your brand purpose is at the core of your entire brand, and it lives at the juncture of your company’s reason for being and all the unmet needs and desires of people within your target audience. This is the space in which you create value for your customers, employees and community.
This is the reason you exist.
Building a strong brand requires a company-wide commitment to focussing on the things that constantly reinforce your brand identity and the discipline to ignore the things that might be trendy but just aren’t aligned with who you are. And if you’re ever unsure about any of that, just take a minute and ask your customers. They’re usually waiting to be asked for their feedback. Show them that respect and they’ll return the favour if your brand ever falls on tough times. In fact, if you’ve done your job well and have stayed true to your brand values, personality and purpose, they’ll be the first to jump up to defend you when the detractors start circling.
Are you struggling with building a brand identity that connects with your ideal customer? We’re happy to help you build a strong foundation.