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How to Define Your Brand Identity

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The foundation of any business is defining a brand identity – a sort of personality for your business that resonates with your audience, and if done right it carries measurable returns for your business.

It can be the critical groundwork for developing trust, loyalty, customer retention, and competitive advantage for your startup – and research confirms that.

First impressions matter. A lot.

“Your brand is what other people say about you after you leave the room.” – Jeff Bezos, Amazon

Creating an impactful brand identity is a critical part of building a business. Without a well-crafted and maintained brand identity, your marketing will always feel unoriginal.

Your brand identity is what makes your brand unique and sets it apart from competitors. By giving your brand a personality, a distinct image, and a unique voice, you differentiate it from other brands.

A great example is Nike. What comes to mind when you think of Nike? Most likely their famous swoosh, or their colors, or their sneakers, or brand representatives like famous athletes. All of the above make up Nike’s brand, and their brand strategy is carefully thought out to bring about this response.

Every company needs a brand identity. Even “boring” brands in industries like consulting, manufacturing, and B2B organizations. Your company might not be able to adopt a sassy, conversational tone like Taco Bell’s Twitter persona, but that’s okay. Maybe you’re more in line with the fun-loving, hard-working brand identity of Hubspot.

What’s Brand Identity?

Good question. Your brand identity is how your audience perceives you, it’s the face of your business.

Without a well-defined brand identity, your audience will find it challenging to resonate with you and recognize your business. It’s important to mention that brand identity is not the same as branding (people often confuse the two). Brand identity is the result of effective branding. It’s the end goal that everyone wants.

Brand identity is also not the same as visual brand identity, even though marketers sometimes confuse the two. Brand identity includes:

  • Visual Brand Identity
  • Brand Voice
  • Brand Values
  • Brand Personality

These components work together to create the tone, look, and feel for your company that attracts people to you. And brand identity, just like your company, is a living organism – it can evolve over time as your organization and your branding evolves.

A strong brand identity can help boost your credibility and gain trust, give you focus and direction for the future, and set higher prices.

Questions to ask when building your Brand Identity:

1. Who’s your ideal customer?

If your brand hasn’t developed buyer persona profiles or robust profiles of your ideal customers, this is the first place to start. Your buyer personas should shape almost every aspect of your brand identity.

Determine what your buyer personas value from a brand. Are they looking for cost savings or the highest quality? Do they want deep relationships with their vendors or convenience? By understanding your ideal buyer’s pain points and priorities, you can formulate a relevant identity.

2. What pain points do you solve

Your customers don’t start looking for your company because their lives are perfect. Chances are, you offer a product or service that will solve a problem. Maybe you offer personal finance software, and they’re tired of over-drafting their bank account. Perhaps you do compliance training, and they’re worried about regulatory requirement related fines. Your customers need you because of an existing pain point, or problem.

Your brand identity should instantly communicate how you solve these problems. Do you offer peace of mind? Workplace efficiency? The most convenient office supply delivery around? Regardless of how your brand connects with your customers, your ability to solve problems should be at the core of your brand identity.

3. What’s your brand personality?

Brand personality is the human set of characteristics that are connected to a brand. Brands with a strong, well-defined personality instantly win some likeability points because customers can relate to them on a personal level.

Human personalities are rarely single-faceted, and brand personalities shouldn’t be either. When you are in the beginning stages of defining your personality, it may be helpful to think in terms of archetypes. Some household brands and associated personality archetypes could include:

  • Apple: Rebel
  • Burger King: Jester
  • Patagonia: Outdoors-lover
  • Target: Bold
  • Subway: Optimist
  • Whole Foods: Peace-lover

4. Who is your competition?

Competitive analysis can be a helpful first step towards developing any marketing strategy. Brand identity is no exception. The branding lessons you can glean from your competitors can vary significantly according to your industry, and the level of competition you’re facing.

Your competitors could be textbook examples of poor brand identity. They may have little-to-no voice or tone consistency across digital mediums, and a logo that’s unoriginal. Perhaps they have an excellent brand identity that’s memorable, unique, and incredibly easy to like. Regardless of where your competitors stand, you can use their status as a starting place in creating your own brand identity to differentiate yourself.

5. How do you make your clients feel?

When your most satisfied new customers communicate with your sales or account management team, what do they have to say? Listening to the interactions of new, satisfied customers can reveal a wealth of information about how you make your customers feel. Do they express:

  • Relief?
  • Inspiration?
  • New-found energy?

The most frequent positive emotion your customers associate with your company is critical information for building a brand identity. Use this emotion to select visual identity aspects, including the optimal colors and fonts.

6. What makes your brand different?

What does your brand offer that your competitors can’t? Perhaps more importantly, how can you communicate this in your brand identity? Whole Foods is one of the most visible and well-known organic grocery chains. Their difference is communicated clearly in the brand’s logo, which is green and includes a leaf.

But simply being different isn’t enough – you need to actively make a difference. Anyone who’s shopped at Whole Foods knows the grocery chain isn’t trying to compete on price. In order for Whole foods to maintain their niche of fresh, local, and specialty foods items, they simply can’t compete on price – and it works with their brand identity.

7. Why should clients trust you?

Conducting customer interviews or talking to your sales team can be an important tool for learning why your customers ultimately pick your company. The factor that leads to prospect trust and customer conversions can provide important clues to your brand identity.

Your company’s unique trust factor could be:

  • Transparency
  • Expertise
  • Flexibility

Use this trust factor as a way to show your clients how you’re different and why they can trust you.

8. What’s your story?

Brand stories are an important component of branding. This includes both your literal story – such as how and why you were founded – and the story of the role you play in your customer’s life.

Your brand’s story should ultimately make your customer a hero and can be an important basis for your brand identity and marketing content.

9. What 5 words describe your brand identity?

An important exercise towards defining your brand’s identity can be developing a list of five adjectives that describe your brand’s personality, look, and voice. If Chik-Fil-A were to create a list, their five words might be:

  • Quality
  • Consistency
  • Values
  • Customer Service
  • Commitment

Why did you start your company? How are you different from your competitors?

By answering these questions and getting clarity around the values that run through your company, you can start building out a list of descriptive words that help your customers identify you.

10. What brands do you admire?

Developing a list of brands, you admire can offer various types of lessons that can be helpful.

Maybe you’re a huge fan of Patagonia for their intense focus on company culture and customer service. Or maybe you’re a fan of Lululemon for their dedication to health and fitness. These concepts can be translated to companies in any sector, but following good industry leaders will help you understand what good brand identity is.

12. How will you test your brand perception?

Once you’ve developed a brand identity, it’s important to test it with your existing and potential customers. You would want to capture your customer’s honest perception to see if it connects with them.

If testing brand perception is outside of your budget (as it is for many startups!), you can perform research on how colors, fonts, and other aspects of brand identity resonate with your audience. Existing marketing and psychology research can provide brilliant insight into your brand’s future perception.

13. What is your customers’ language?

What are the words and terminology your customers use to describe your industry, products, and services?

There’s a good chance they don’t head to Google to search for “enterprise marketing solutions.” Chances are, they’re looking for “startup apps,” or “social media scheduling apps.” Keyword research can be a critical step towards defining your language.

14. How does your logo communicate your brand?

Your company’s logo is one of the most important aspects of your visual brand identity. Your logo will be one of the few original aspects of your visual identity, and an effective logo can create a lasting impression. An effective logo design is:

  • Original: contain some visual elements, such as color combination or design elements, that no other company has.
  • Timeless: avoid incorporating trendy design concepts, to ensure your logo will “age well” over time.
  • Adaptable: the logo should scale well from thumbnail to a much larger scale. It should also translate well to both print and digital formats.
  • Memorable: While “memorable” can be a difficult concept to test, your logo should leave a lasting impression.
  • Relevance: Your logo should be clearly connected to your industry or products and services.

And logos don’t have to stay static – they can mature and change as your company matures and grows.

15. What is your typography and font?

Typography communicates a lot more than just letters.

It can impart feelings of energy, fun, humor, traditionalism and more. Much like colors, humans associated emotions and adjectives with fonts. Common associations include:

  • Serif Fonts, including Times New Roman, Georgia, and Garamond: Authoritative, Traditional, Respectable
  • Sans Serif Fonts, including Helvetica, Arial, and Verdana: Modern, Clean, Stable
  • Slab Serif Fonts, including Rockwell, Courier, and Museo: Bold, Strong, Modern
  • Script Fonts, including Lobster, Lucida, and Brush Script: Elegant, Friendly, Creative
  • Modern Fonts, including Politica, Eurostyle, and Matchbook: Fashionable, Stylish, Exclusive

Most brand’s visual guidelines include a list of 3-4 fonts. By selecting typography from within the category that best aligns with your brand’s values, you can get the right message to your target customers.

16. What are your brand colors?

People associate colors with emotions.

Your brand’s primary and supporting colors are an important component of your visual identity. By selecting colors that relate to your brand value, you can instantly communicate your company’s mission.

Common color associations include:

  • Blue: Integrity, Trust, Tranquility, Loyalty, Intelligence
  • Green: Money, Growth, Freshness, Environmental-Friendliness
  • Yellow: Happiness, Originality, Energy
  • Purple: Royalty, Spirituality, Luxury
  • Pink: Femininity, Compassion, Playfulness
  • Red: Power, Strength, Passion
  • Orange: Courage, Originality, Success
  • White: Cleanliness, Purity, Freshness
  • Black: Elegance, Drama, Strength

It is important for global brands to take note that color associations can vary according to culture. Blue’s perception in the U.S. may be drastically different than in the Middle East.

17. How do you interact with your customers?

The voice you use to interact with customers via social media and content marketing is an extension of your brand voice. Are you humorous, or straight-to-the-point? Do you respond to questions with experience, or links to peer-reviewed studies? Your brand guidelines should include instruction for social media and customer interactions, in order to deliver a consistent brand experience.

18. What’s your brand voice?

When it comes to defining your brand voice, look to your customers for inspiration. When your buyer personas read and speak, what do they sound like?

  • Are they academic or conversational?
  • Do they reference studies and statistics frequently?
  • Are they prone to incorporating anecdotes or stories?
  • Are they long-winded or straight to the point?

Your brand’s voice should sound relevant to your buyer personas’ education level, language preferences, and tone.

TL;DR

Brand identity is a crucial tool for developing customer loyalty, trust, and brand recognition. It’s an essential first step towards developing a digital customer experience across multiple platforms, including your website, social media, and others.

If your customers don’t relate to your brand’s visual identity, voice, and values, they won’t remember you, let alone develop the loyalty needed to make a repeat purchase.

Let your customers’ insights guide your brand identity, you can develop a relevant brand that your customers will love.

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