A brand isn’t just something for advertising agencies or marketing firms, and it’s more than colors, logos and graphics. Your brand is the look, tone and feel a customer will experience when they interact with your business!
For example, Target, Walmart and Starbucks are all different companies that give you a very distinct feeling when you think of them. And that’s not an accident—it’s very intentional. Each of those brands have defined who they are and what they’re about, and each have what’s known as a strong brand identity.
What Is Brand Identity?
A brand identity is the result of all the elements of branding working together to create a cohesive, clear and consistent message and impression. Think of the branding elements as puzzle pieces—like fonts, colors, logos, photos, a tag line, a name and so on. When those pieces fit and work together, they create a clear picture of your brand—a finished puzzle.
Start with your mission statement.
When thinking about your brand identity, focus first on who you are. More specifically, think about your mission statement and value proposition. If you don’t have a mission statement, now is a great time to write one.
A mission statement doesn’t need to be fancy, complicated or long. To be effective, it needs to be the opposite: simple, clear and concise. Google has a great mission statement: Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. When you read that, you understand immediately what they are about. And as a powerful testimonial to Google, the world’s largest search engine, they actually do that. Google stays true to its mission, and that’s one of the many reasons the company is successful.
Ramsey Solutions is another strong brand that stays true to its mission. Since Dave Ramsey created the company in 1992, it has had the same mission statement (with just a few tweaks): We provide biblically based, commonsense education and empowerment that give HOPE to everyone in every walk of life.
You see, your dreams change, your vision evolves, and the goals that drive you certainly adjust to meet your needs, but your mission statement usually stays fixed.
Think of your mission statement as a guardrail or an out-of-bounds marker. When you know your business’s boundaries, your decision-making process becomes much easier. Your mission statement becomes a filter you run all your branding options through. It helps you decide which words, colors, images and platforms are right for your business and which are not.
What is your unique position or value proposition?
Your unique position (aka your value proposition) is simply the angle you want to lead with in your marketing efforts. For example, one coffee shop’s unique position might be fast service. They market the business by saying, “Get your coffee in less time than it takes for the stoplight to turn green.” Their message leverages their unique position (fast service) to make you think, Great! I’ll buy from them because I can get coffee and still get to work on time.
At the same time, the coffee shop down the street might choose the unique position of high-quality coffee. They market the business by saying, “Don’t start your day with lukewarm, watered-down break room coffee. Start your day with delicious, hand-poured organic coffee roasted in small batches for maximum flavor.” They leverage their unique position (high-quality coffee) to make you think, Great! I’ll buy from them so I don’t have to drink the terrible coffee at work.
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Your unique position doesn’t have to be the only thing you do well, and it doesn’t have to be something no one else is doing. In this example, both coffee shops might actually have fast service and high-quality coffee, but each one chose a unique position to leverage to help them stand out among the competition.
How do you develop a trusted brand?
After you define your mission statement and unique position, make a list of adjectives to describe your business. Do you offer convenience or quality? Luxury services or necessary repairs? Everyday essentials or special occasion must-haves? This is the step in your brand development where you define your brand’s personality. You’re going to use your list to make decisions about your brand’s three components: look, tone and feel.
What is the look of your brand?
The look is how you represent your brand visually. It includes the colors, fonts, images, graphics and designs you use. It’s the overall style you use on your website and any marketing materials as well as how you display your products.
What is the tone of your brand?
The tone of your brand is about your word choice. Your marketing reaches the right people and sends the right message when you use the right words.
Apple’s slogan is “Think different.” Those two simple words make Apple users feel good—and maybe even a bit superior—about their purchase, and that fits well within Apple’s brand identity. Bounty paper towels, on the other hand, calls itself “the quicker picker upper.” Who would use language like picker upper when referring to a paper towel? Probably someone with kids, and moms fit squarely into Bounty’s target market.
Your adjective list will help you choose the right words to fit your tone.
What is the feel of your brand?
This reflects how a customer feels when they interact with your business. The feel of your brand represents an experience. And creating a memorable experience will not only form a lasting relationship between you and your customer, but it can also lead to your best word-of-mouth marketing.
So what can you do to make someone’s interaction with your brand stand out? Hollister has done this well for years. Before you even step through its doors, you know you’re close to a Hollister store by the smell. That’s because Hollister employees are tasked with spraying their signature cologne throughout the store reguarly throughout the day. They also play up a Pacific coast beach vibe so you feel like buying their clothes will make you a legit California native—and their shoppers love it.
But your brand experience goes both ways—good or bad. At the end of the day, it’s not what you want the customers to experience that determines your brand. It’s what they actually experience.
Here's a example of how that played out for a cable company more than a decade ago: It became nationally well known for the wrong reason—awful customer service. This company rebranded itself, even changed its name in an attempt to overhaul its bad reputation. But even the slickest marketing in the world can’t save a brand that serves up a miserable customer experience. In the long run, the customer experience forms a brand’s reputation.
The Three C’s of Great Branding
Once you've identified your brand's look, tone and feel, use clear, concise and consistent branding (known as the three C's of branding) to reach the right fans with the right message. Think about some of your favorite brands, and you’ll likely find they have these three characteristics.
1. Your brand should be clear.
This C is all about taking the work off of your customers. When they're introduced to a new product or service, they have a lot of questions: Who are you? What do you do? What can they expect? How will your brand make them feel? Is it for them?
Make your answers clear: Does the look of your brand attract your target market? Does the tone appeal to them? Does the feel connect the way you mean for it to? When you make extremely clear branding decisions about look, tone and feel, you will attract the customer you’re trying to reach.
Say you go to an upscale restaurant and no prices are printed on the menu. That's actually a clear branding decision. This is a nice and expensive restaurant whose target customer values the quality of the experience over what it will cost them. You’d never go eat at a fast-food restaurant where they don’t list the prices, but having unlisted prices is consistent with a brand that’s high class.
Clarity is especially important when it comes to your online presence since your website will likely be a customer’s first interaction with your brand. Think of your website like a town, and imagine your customer is new to the area. How easy is it for them get to where they want to go? Do you have clear street signs posted in logical places or—in the case of your website—clear menus located in easy-to-understand places?
Take a step back and analyze your website, menus and service list. See how clear your brand actually is. How readable is your website? Your website is a part of the look of your brand, but it’s also an experience. If your customer is squinting to read your small, light font, it’s not a good experience—no matter how much you like it.
2. Your brand should be concise.
Part of being super clear in your branding and messaging is also being concise. You don't have to say all the things. Sure, you may be so passionate about your mission that you're tempted to cover every detail anyone would ever need to know about your business, products and services. But that will actually shoot you in the foot. Too much information turns potential customers away. It overwhelms them.
In the words of a popular John Mayer song, say what you need to say. And do it in as few words as possible. You’ll make more of an impact when you say less. The same principle is true in design: Whether it’s colors and fonts on your website or words in your product descriptions, less is more.
3. Your brand should be consistent.
When your brand is consistent, your customer knows what to expect—and just like the Hollister example shows, customers love that!
Another great example of a consistent brand is Chick-fil-A, a company that knows who it is and who it's not. Years ago, a Chick-fil-A franchise owner in Georgia added milkshakes to the menu as an experiment, much to his customers’ delight. He presented his results to the vice president of menu strategy, and—in the spirit of all that is right in the world—today we can all enjoy a thick, rich milkshake with our chicken.
But the store owner said himself, “If this were a burger, we would have never tried it. That’s too far from our core offering. But because we already offered ice cream, this was just a derivation of what we were already providing our customers.”
Imagine how confused those Chick-fil-A cows would be in marketing campaigns with burgers on the menu. Now, that would create an inconsistent brand experience.
On your website or in your storefront, a consistent experience builds trust, makes your customer feel at home, and encourages them to come back for more.
Brands that are successful are clear, concise and consistent.
You get the same colors, fonts and experiences every time you see or interact with them. Period. This helps your customers love and trust your brand. It also saves them time and energy spent trying to understand bad messaging on who your business is, what you offer, and how to do business with you.
What’s Next: Map Your Mission
Like we said earlier, the first step to establishing your brand's identity is to create your company's mission statement. Your mission statement defines who you are and who you're not. You can create your mission step by step with the EntreLeadership Mission Statement Mapper.