Everything starts with your brand identity
The most important part of any business is its foundation.
Brand development is the single most important phase of creating a business that can succeed in its category and create lasting customer loyalty. Think of it as laying the cornerstone for your enterprise. It’s the process of defining who you are, what you stand for, and how you want the world to perceive you.
Dive deep into brand development and you’re not just creating a visual identity or a name; you’re sculpting the soul of your business, ensuring that every customer interaction resonates with authenticity and purpose. So, before you sprint ahead with marketing initiatives like building a website, sending sales emails or even making business cards, take the time to solidify this groundwork. Because with a strong brand foundation, your business isn’t just built—it thrives.
Why does brand matter?
Think about your own buying preferences. There are brands you choose time and time again, and you’re willing to pay a premium over less expensive options. Why? Because the brand created meaning with you through brand development. The connection goes beyond a product or service. It works for the purchases we make in our personal lives and for our businesses. You’re choosing the brand based on the brand development that’s been done.
Why brand development is the most important step?
- Simplifies all decisions going forward
Your brand is the North Star for your businesses, streamlining all subsequent marketing decisions. By solidifying your brand’s essence, values, and voice, you create a consistent roadmap. This clarity fosters authenticity and ensures each marketing choice aligns seamlessly with your brand’s core, simplifying strategy and amplifying impact.
2. Differentiates you from everyone else
Whether you’ve realized this or not, your customers will always have a better option than your product or service. Yes, it can be unsettling to think about, but it’s true. And there will always be a less expensive option, too.
However, there will never be another you, or company led by your specific vision. Your brand is the one thing that can differentiate you in a meaningful way – and no one can ever beat you at being you.
Brand development allows you to define your differentiators and bring them to life through your marketing. This is what will help you break through the clutter to gain someone’s attention. It helps you create a connection beyond the transaction, transforming you from a commodity to something people can’t live without.
3. Enables you to charge more
Fact: as consumers, we will all gladly pay a premium for products and services that we perceive having more intrinsic value. Yes, that value could come from quality of materials or a higher level of customer service, but to be frank, it often comes from the special feeling we get from interacting with, purchasing or owning a brand. There is science to back this up. And it’s true whether you’re selling a B2B service or a product directly to consumers.
But what does brand even mean?
The strict dictionary definition of brand is “a public image, reputation, or identity conceived of as something to be marketed or promoted.” While accurate, it’s far from complete. If we only used this definition, we would never dive beneath the surface to understand what truly makes brand building the important activity it is.
Brand is your reason for being in business. It’s why you show up every morning, stay late in the evening. It’s why you care about creating more than revenue with your business – it’s the force that drives you. Side note: for most entrepreneurs and business leaders, money is a result of doing something well, but not the driver – there’s something more important deep inside that helps you want to achieve more, bring value to more people, change an aspect of your industry or other goal. Money = a business outcome, money ≠ a business objective.
Brand is your differentiation. Amazing brands stand out because they are different from all the other options customers have. It goes far beyond their product. Take Nike for example – there are many athletic shoes available for runners, basketball players, and others. But why does Nike mean something to them? Why do people choose Nike again and again. Style is one reason, and so is functionality. But Nike has created a brand with an identity that stands out, it means something to us. And so does every other product or service that we choose over and over again because they meet some emotional need in additional to the functional need they address.
Brand is the perception and feeling you create that makes people choose you again and again. Here’s a quick way to understand brand – it’s what people say about your company when you’re not around. Think about it. It’s the impression you’ve created in their minds, the gut feeling they have about you. And the thoughts they would share with others about you. That’s the essence of your brand.
Brand is more than a:
- The founder’s personality
- A product’s packaging
What Defines Your Brand?
Many people in business today believe that if they have a website and a logo, they have a brand. While those important elements are the outward expression of your brand, your brand itself is built on something deeper. The foundation of your business is why you do what you do (your purpose) and what guides you (your values).
The reason many people believe that these visual elements are their brand is because they are the first things we see. But if you were asked to describe a house, would you say it’s only made up of siding, windows, and a roof? No. You’d know that there is structure behind all the exterior elements. And if you were asked what the most important part of the house was, you might think about it and say that it is the foundation.
Brands are a little like Jenga, the game where you stack wooden blocks on each other. The pieces at the bottom are much more important than the ones at the top. Moving from the foundation level up, each block rests on the one beneath it – it counts on that one to support it. Yes, you can remove some of the lower pieces just as long as the foundation remains. The foundation sets the stage for everything above it.
And while each individual piece has its own purpose, they come together into a whole with an all encompassing purpose. Jenga, a house and your business all have a deeper purpose than their individual parts.
Don’t get caught up by the word “purpose.” Your business doesn’t have to set out to change the world or create millions in revenue in order to have a purpose. But you do need to understand your purpose to unlock the full potential of your business. Because when you bring your purpose and your values together, you’re able to define what makes you unique and communicate it with the people who “get you” and can become your lifelong customers. A logo, website or tagline can’t do that on its own.
Who controls your brand?
You might think that you’re the only person that steers your brand since it’s your business. Or, that your marketing department is steering it forward. That’s partially true. The whole story is that your employees, customers, and anyone who interacts with your business can alter the course of your brand both positively and negatively. Branding is a system of interconnected elements and interconnected actions (yours, your customers, and even people who are not your customers – yet).
Think about a potential customer hearing a positive or negative experience from a friend about your business. That perception becomes a part of your brand’s story. It doesn’t matter if it’s exaggerated or not even true. Perception is everything. This is why it’s critical to build the strongest brand foundation possible to 1) stack the odds in your favor for good interactions and 2) guard against any negativity down the road.
Without you having a strong grasp of your brand, it will be challenging or impossible to market your business to people who have never heard of it and who are completely satisfied with their current purchase choices (choices that are likely your competitors). Remember, we always think people will understand the value of our service, and that they can’t live without us. The truth is they don’t even know we exist. Before they can need us, they have to know us, like us, and trust us.
This sums it up – if you don’t understand what’s special about your business and what’s unique about your story, how will you ever explain it to anyone else? Keep in mind, that what you’re asking from people isn’t just to take notice of your business, but to give you their attention and their money.
Action item: Take a step back and ask what your vision is and what makes you different from every other business in your category. Write it down. Think about it for a day or two and revise it.
The tangible outputs from brand development
In addition to clarity about your purpose and confidence that you can build a differentiated business, brand development delivers the following:
1. A brand strategy & platform that acts as your guide for marketing efforts.
This platform brings together a few critical pieces that make up a system to help your internal teams act in accordance with the brand and help external stakeholders (customers, etc.) see what you bring to their lives. Here are some core elements of your brand platform.
- Understanding your purpose
- Mission & vision statements
- Core values
- Tone & voice attributes
- Brand positioning
- USP (unique selling proposition)
- What people need more from you than anyone else
- Ideal client and customer segmentation
- Brand story and manifesto
- What you do better than anyone else
- Who your competitors are
- And many more elements that differentiate your business
2. A name that is unique, ownable, and professional sounding.
If you’re a business owner, start-up launcher, or marketing professional, chances are you may have found yourself with the difficult (yet highly rewarding) task of naming a business, product, service, campaign or other initiative.
Things need names for several reasons. Names give us a common vernacular for which to refer to an item or concept. They lend gravitas – creating differentiation between one thing and another. But maybe most importantly, names – wonderful names – evoke a feeling about a product or service, creating an instant positive impression. Good names create meaning or a story that people remember.
It’s been said that a great name will do the work of a million dollars worth of advertising. But what makes one name better than another? Why are some catchy and others forgettable? Why do some feel unnatural or forced, while others roll off the tongue with ease?
Naming is not easy. But it doesn’t have to be extremely difficult either. As a full-service branding agency, we consider naming our favorite assignments and love guiding clients through the process.
Want to learn more about naming? Download our Naming 101 Guide.
3. A vibrant logo and visual identity that distinguishes your business
The Important Role of Visual Identity in Branding
As humans, we’re inherently driven by visuals. It’s a prime way that we connect to the world around us. Have you ever heard someone say that they are a visual learner? Or when you explain something, people say, “yes, I see that”? Imagery is pivotal in our interactions. Especially in marketing realms where visual components consistently outperform other content types, proving their mettle in engagement and retention. One caveat – visuals can sell many objects that rely on a strong design component, like fashion or cars, but most categories need to approach the proposition from multiple angles with design playing a strong role. There’s a reason we still have to try on shoes before buying them, even if we love the look of them.
But whether it is the main attraction or playing a supporting role, it’s undeniable that design is potent. It’s instrumental in shaping our experiences, guiding our perceptions, and influencing our interactions. And in a digital world where we’re scrolling, scrolling scrolling, visual narratives have taken center stage, indicating a transition from words to visuals.
In branding, visual design transforms high-level brand strategies into tangible, resonant messages. This design anchors the emotional tether between businesses and their audience. When executed elegantly, design can be a powerful catalyst – it can motivate choices, steer decisions, and mold behavior. And over a sustained period, consistent design amplifies brand recognition, boosting its overall equity.
Take Dunkin’, for instance. Their signature pink and orange colors aren’t just hues; they evoke a sense of warmth, familiarity, and a promise of a delightful treat. This emotional resonance, tied with those colors, significantly boosts their brand’s value.
In fact, if you saw a billboard from a half mile away, and couldn’t make out any of the words, but could only see the colors, you’d know it was a Dunkin’ ad within a split second. And you’d probably suddenly want a coffee drink.
Instant awareness (and cravings) are key to a brand’s success, but visual identity also plays a role in a brand’s flexibility. Think about Pepsi: Their branding is a masterclass in consistency and flexibility. Whether they’re launching a new flavor, a promotional campaign, or even a music collaboration, there’s an unmistakable Pepsi essence in everything they do.
Their varied initiatives might span different themes and messages, but the underlying brand presence ensures they all feel inherently Pepsi. From the outside, it’s incredibly hard to define. And you may not even notice it at first. But trust us, countless hours have gone into crafting the brand’s look and feel. It didn’t happen overnight and there were countless revisions along the way. What they’ve built however is an unshakable foundation that has added incredible value to the brand’s worth as a cultural icon and as a consumer packaged good. In fact, the company is worth about $18 billion. It’s not the drink recipes, the infrastructure, or the company-owned real estate that makes up that value. It’s the brand. Brand building creates incredible value.
4. Crafting a Unified Brand Vision
Establishing a distinct and compelling brand is a purposeful activity, requiring unwavering focus. It means discovering and championing one primary brand vision, even when tempted by other appealing avenues. It’s about understanding and aligning with a certain audience segment, finding ways to resonate deeply with them, even if it means not being everything for everyone.
This can’t be overstated – you can’t and shouldn’t try to appeal to more than a few market segments. If you believe in the 80/20 rule, you know that the vast bulk of your revenue comes from just 20% of your customers. So why spend time trying to appeal to everyone? Why water down your marketing to “cast a wide net?”
Focusing your brand essence visually is as challenging as understanding how to refine your verbal communications. There should be a discernible harmony between the brand’s defined personality and its visual elements. For instance, a brand identifying as ‘innovative’ should demonstrate freshness in its design, continually evolving to mirror current trends. Conversely, a ‘classic’ brand would lean towards timeless designs that exude elegance and sophistication. Why? Because no matter which type of brand you are, the people you are trying to attract are most receptive to a specific brand feel. Did you ever look into a fisherman’s tackle box with all of its lures? The fisherman knows how to choose the right bait to appeal to the fish they’re after. They’re selecting the appropriate magnet to draw the fish in for the current conditions.
5. Standing Out in a Sea of Sameness
Think for a second about a nation’s flag and the incredible amount of symbolism and meaning that has been designed into it. What’s your brand’s flag?
A brand’s visual identity should be its beacon, reflecting its unique essence. Yet, many industries today are plagued by a monotonous design landscape – repetitive color schemes, indistinguishable website designs, and logos that are variations of popular trends. The reason behind this? An overreliance on industry norms and an apprehension towards breaking the mold. We don’t know about you, but we’d prefer to stand out rather than blend into the background. If you’ve compared our website to other branding agencies, you’ve noticed some significant differences. Our color palette reflects our hopefulness and attitude about a brighter future.
Yes, it’s vital to be aware of industry trends – no matter what industry you’re in – but the real magic lies in discerning opportunities to diverge. The goal should be to craft a visual identity that’s unmistakably yours in a way that signals to the right customers. It must enhance customer recall, fostering brand affinity, and setting you apart from the crowd.
Understanding brand messaging so you make every word, and every interaction bring customers closer.
In your branding, visual cues will craft the initial impression. But it’s brand messaging that solidifies and nurtures the connection. It’s the voice that whispers or roars, depending on what your brand stands for. Think about this – in our Dunkin’ example above, the logo and color palette got your attention, but it was something deeper that made you pull into their parking lot to get your drink. It was the words that created an image in your mind or a message that reminded you why you loved the brand.
- Defining Messaging
Brand messaging is the bridge between your brand’s soul and its audience. It’s the language used to convey your brand’s value proposition, intrinsic personality, and unique differentiators across many channels. But brand messaging isn’t a one-dimensional affair. It transcends the literal ‘what you say’, encompassing the tone (how you say it) and the audience (who you’re saying it to).
- Creating a Resonant Brand Message
To create a brand message that resonates and sticks, you need to ask yourself some pivotal questions, and pay attention to the answers:
- Differentiation: How does your brand stand apart from competitors? Are you the disruptor, or the timeless classic? Is your brand’s persona the outlaw or the jester? Do you wisely guide customers through their journey, or are you a fellow traveler?
- Value Proposition: What unique benefits and experiences do you bring to the table? Why should consumers choose you over others? Why should they tell friends about you? Why should they care?
- Audience Resonance: What kind of messaging strikes a chord with your target audience? What are their desires, fears, and aspirations? Think about the way we talk to others in our lives. We talk differently to our colleagues at work than with our friends, for instance. Or differently with our children than with our parents. So it’s critical to know who we are talking to and tailor our messaging to them.
- Target Demographics: Who precisely is your ideal consumer? Understanding their preferences, values, and lifestyles can make your message more attuned to their needs.
- Narrative Arc: Does your brand message weave a tale? Stories are relatable, memorable, and shareable – they humanize brands and foster deeper connections. And they are key in creating long-term relationships, rather than transactional events.
- Brand Realism: While aspirational messaging is captivating, it’s equally essential to be genuine. Recognizing that no brand is flawless makes you more relatable. What are your growth areas? And how do they align with your overarching goals? This is one way brands can demonstrate empathy, and empathy is the quickest way to build lasting trust.
- Intrinsic Values and Experiences: What does your brand hold dear? Is it sustainability, innovation, or perhaps community welfare? Your values should be the compass guiding your messaging. And by sharing this with your customers, you’ll find those with whom you share an alignment of interests. This is the factor that allows people and brands to create belief with others, the single most important element to building loyalty. Why is this so? Think about the people you are most loyal to. Is it because they did you a favor years ago? Is it because they live next door to you? Or is it because you and they share some common value or experience? There’s a very good chance that you’ll have an immediate affinity with someone who shared a challenging or significant experience with you, like serving in the same military branch or attending the same college.
Messaging Matrix: Systematizing Your Brand’s Voice
Once you’ve answered the tough questions in detail and reviewed the answers to ensure that they are honest and complete, the next step is to structure this newfound knowledge into a tool that can help ensure consistency and reduce the effort to create messaging for your brand. Enter the messaging matrix.
So… what is a messaging matrix? A messaging matrix is a strategic tool designed to streamline your brand’s communication. Think of it as a recipe book that encapsulates your brand’s positioning and messaging. With it, every piece of content, be it a tweet or a billboard, aligns seamlessly with your core value proposition.
- The Benefits of a Messaging Matrix:
- Consistency: With a defined matrix, every department, from marketing to customer service, sings the same brand tune. It fosters brand consistency across channels and touchpoints.
- Agility: In the fast-paced world of marketing, you often need to recalibrate messages. With a matrix in place, tweaks in messaging can be implemented swiftly and cohesively and then shared across the organization as needed.
- Efficiency: The idea is to eliminate lengthy brainstorming sessions where you’re trying to define your brand voice again and again. And you can greatly reduce content that feels ‘off-brand’. With a clear blueprint, content creation becomes more streamlined and impactful.
- Elevated Brand Perception: A consistent and well-articulated message elevates brand perception, instilling trust and fostering loyalty among consumers. This happens because people come to have certain expectations about your brand and when you live up to it, you make a “deposit” into the “brand familiarity account.” Our brains are constantly trying to reduce the energy they spend on making decisions – it’s an evolutionary process. And it’s one that helps reduce what we call decision friction – that imperceptible lag we have as consumers where we are almost sold on an idea or product but we hesitate. Consistent messaging removes one hurdle from the brain’s process.
In essence, while your brand’s visual identity might draw them in, it’s your messaging that keeps them around. Both are two halves of a whole, essential in their own right, working together to carve a distinctive and lasting brand image.
What goes into professional brand development?
First things first, we believe that great brands are not created solely by great agencies, but through collaboration with ambitious businesses and their leaders. Through collaborative workshops and engaging exercises, we dig way beneath the surface to find truths and angles you likely never considered.
In every brand workshop we’ve ever done, there is an “aha moment” where our client begins to really understand the power of what they can bring to the world. We call it brand therapy. And together, we’ll uncover the ‘what’, ‘how’, and ‘why’ of your business – the elements that will differentiate you.
We’ll spotlight the unmistakable value you offer to your customers and tune you into what they’re genuinely asking for, both the emotional and functional needs they need for you to solve. And we’ll establish the brand attributes that’ll make your brand truly shine.
So, is it really brand therapy?
Yes, across the hundreds of workshop sessions we’ve led, clients have similar experiences – a feeling of relief as clarity comes over them. Brand development is the opportunity to think through and refine your vision before putting it out into the world. It’s the chance to think beyond the service or product you offer and focus on the impact you want to have in people’s lives.
Put in the work now to simplify marketing later.
Think of a brand workshop as the rehearsal for the main performances to follow. Workshops lay the foundation to name your business and design a compelling visual identity. By getting it right from the start, everything that follows is harmonized.
Some advice: have fun, but take your workshops seriously. You’re tapping into the essence of your brand, which will simplify all the marketing activities that come after.
Walking through a brand workshop:
Let’s talk about the mechanics of a brand workshop and what you can expect when taking part in one. Here we’ll break down each element for clarity, and describe what we want to achieve, and how we do it:
1. Mission & Vision Statements
- Process: This is your opportunity to reflect on the brand’s overarching purpose. We’ll ask a series of in-depth questions to understand why it was founded and where it intends to go. On the surface, you may think you know all of the answers to these questions, but in reality, there are likely additional factors you may not have considered. That’s a good thing because it means there’s room to develop a richer story.
- Activity: We’ll facilitate group discussions to zero in on the essence of your brand. In addition to prompts like “In an ideal world, our brand would…”, or “Our brand exists because…” we’ll throw a few curve balls to approach the topic from new angles.
- Outcome: Succinct statements that encapsulate the brand’s reason for existing and its future aspirations.
2. Core Values
- Process: Why do we put so much emphasis on identifying and defining core values? Because our values, whether in life or in business, determine our actions. And actions create deep connections to the people in our lives, such as our customers. Here, we’ll identify the guiding principles that your brand will uphold at all costs.
- Activity: More than just asking questions like in the first exercise, now we begin to brainstorm to encourage participants to think of the values that will become their guiding stars. You’ll start with a long list of options that seem to be on target, but we’ll then narrow the list down to get to the handful of critical values that matter most to you.
- Outcome: A list of non-negotiable principles that guide internal decisions and external communications.
3. Tone & Voice Attributes
- Process: Here we begin to personify the brand, giving it some human elements and establishing the brand’s personality. Is it formal or casual? Whimsical or serious? We’ll find out!
- Activity: Clients tend to really get into these exercises because they can feel that they’re building something tangible. Role-playing can be effective here, so we’ll imagine the brand living out different scenarios and taking part in real-life situations. For instance, as a person attending a party. How would it introduce itself? How would it respond to various conversations?
- Outcome: Guidelines that dictate the brand’s communication style across all platforms. We’ll nail down the types of words your brand uses and the type of language that doesn’t feel right for your business. it doesn’t.
4. Brand Positioning
- Process: Determine the brand’s unique place in the market landscape relative to competitors.
- Activity: There’s a range of activities we’ll do, including SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) and competitive landscape mapping. You have likely thought through your competitors before launching your business, especially if you’ve worked in the industry for a long time. Your experience has given you a vision into what’s missing and what people want.
- Outcome: A clear understanding of the brand’s distinctive place in the market and how it differentiates from competitors.
5. USP (Unique Selling Proposition)
- Process: Identify the one thing that sets your brand apart from the rest. The critical objective is to understand how you serve your ideal customer in ways that no one else can.
- Activity: As in other activities, we’ll begin with the surface-level information asking “What do we offer that no one else can?” Then we’ll dive deeper to push the question further. Many business leaders believe that their process is different, or they “care more” – these might be true. But the thing that matters most is figuring out what matters most to your customers.
Remember, “brand” can be described as the intersection of the one thing that you do better than anyone else and the thing customers need most from you.
- Outcome: A clear statement that summarizes the brand’s unique offerings and benefits.
6. Brand Story & Manifesto
- Process: Now we are getting to the more creative aspect of brand development as we weave a narrative around the brand’s inception, journey, and vision.
- Activity: For us, this is another opportunity for true collaboration with our clients. They get to think through the brand’s milestones, challenges, and successes and we get to turn that into inspiring, poetic copy.
- Outcome: An engaging and compelling narrative that humanizes the brand and fosters deeper connections with the audience. The real power of these narratives is to inspire and guide internal teams, but they can be revised to use in your outward-facing marketing, like in the About Us section of a website or a press release.
Bringing It All Together
What’s the outcome of all this work? It’s the distillation of a wealth of information that fleshes out a brand blueprint or a brand book. This document serves as the North Star for everyone interacting with the brand, ensuring consistency and clarity in every interaction.
But as brands are continually evolving to meet changing customer needs and stay relevant in an unpredictable world, regular revisits and tweaks to this process are crucial. Periodic reviews ensure that the brand remains aligned with its core values while adapting to the changing environment.