How to Create a Brand Identity in 7 Simple Steps
Why small businesses struggle to get noticed and what they should know about building a competitive advantage.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the people who are an excellent fit for your product or service could, somehow, see why they should choose you over a competitor?
Well, it’s possible.
A professional brand identity makes a memorable impression on your target audience and differentiates your business from competitors.
However, developing a brand that makes this kind of impact is much easier said than done.
A simple logo and catchy website copy won’t do the job. Building a brand identity is a process that starts with your business’s purpose and extends far beyond the sale.
In this post, you will find out:
- how your customers really think
- why businesses without a brand are like trees
- what your competitors do that you can use against them
- how to create a unique brand identity in 7 simple steps
Let’s get started.
How Customers Really Think
Whether you are aware of it or not, your prospective customers are currently developing impressions of you and your business as it pertains to:
- Level of expertise
- Quality of work
This “sizing up” process is happening now, even as you read this, and will continue as long as you are in business.
As one example, the moment potential customers land on your website, they will begin scanning the page. Then, consciously—and more importantly, subconsciously—they will assess what they see, determine if it interests them, then decide to stay a while or leave it immediately.
And they will make this decision rather quickly. How long?
Research has found that users form an opinion of a website within two-tenths of a second. They then spend the next two and a half seconds verifying their initial impression.
There is more data to support the theory that humans pass judgment at lightning speed. For example, a study performed by psychologists discovered that the average human being develops an impression of another person within one-tenth of a second when meeting them face-to-face.
It appears people have more grace for businesses, albeit not much. This article from Forbes tells us your prospective customers will assess your business within seven seconds.
Whether you have two, seven, or ten seconds to win people over makes little difference. The bottom line is we have to make an impact and do it fast if we hope to hold our prospects’ attention.
What Is a Brand Identity?
Ask ten people how they define the term brand identity, and I promise the number one answer will be “a logo”. A few may say “a logo and colors”. Beyond that, the idea of a brand identity becomes vague, especially for business owners.
Even within the branding and marketing world, the definition of brand identity will vary, but is usually limited to an organization’s visual design. However, I have expanded on this definition because, as we will learn in the following sections, long-term business success is based on retaining customer relationships. Yet long-term, profitable relationships cannot be forged on looks alone.
A brand identity is not one thing but a collection of things that, working together, create an “essence” your target customers can connect to.
Don’t believe people connect to brands? Then, spend fifteen minutes perusing The Robb Report. It’s eye-opening but proof that people want emotional experiences from the products and services they buy.
The connection is real. Otherwise, people would not pay premium prices for a wristwatch that makes them feel like James Bond or a bottle of wine that conjures images of west coast America.
Businesses Without Identities Are Like Trees
A brand identity breathes life into your business. This is important because human beings, by nature, desire to make connections that evolve into long-lasting relationships. Yet certain qualities must exist first.
For example, you would probably have a hard time bonding with a tree. I’m sure folks out there love trees, but they don’t make good pets.
However, dogs make great pets. Bonding with a dog is easier, practical, and fun because they possess qualities trees don’t have, such as the ability to give and receive love.
A brand gives a business an essence that enables it to take on life-like qualities. Cumulatively, these life-like traits and characteristics form the brand’s persona. The brand persona empowers an entity to make an emotional impact on people—a strong motivator of purchases.
Yet many small business owners jump straight into selling their products and services without considering consumers’ perceptions of their business. Instead, they wholeheartedly believe if they have a good product, people will buy it.
However, while they will make some sales, focusing solely on selling puts these businesses at a disadvantage. Why?
Because they rely too heavily on the product itself as the basis for a connection with the customer. Establishing a bond before the sale separates transaction-based businesses from those built on lasting relationships.
This is important because it is much easier to sell more products and services to an existing customer than find a new one.
The Mistake Your Competitors Are Making
Steve Jobs once said, “People don’t buy products, they buy better versions of themselves.”
This improved version of self results from the benefits received from the products customers buy. These benefits come in three forms—functional, technical, and emotional.
Functional benefits refer to the capability of a product or service to satisfy a need or desire.
Technical benefits relate to its features and performance. Examples are a product’s ability to deliver consistently, at an exceptional level, without errors or other issues that cause problems or delays.
Finally, emotional benefits are the most potent buying motivators. As you learned in the section above, people want to experience more from the products and services they buy.
To impact prospective customers, you must demonstrate that your product or service offers them all three benefit types.
For example, let’s assume your business sells a simple product, like boxes. One functional benefit of a box is that it can be used to store things. A technical benefit of your box is that it may be more durable than those sold by competitors.
But can a box actually produce an emotional benefit?
What if you manufactured boxes from recycled paper goods via hydropulping? You can now add an emotional benefit (preserving the environment) to your list of reasons people should buy your boxes. Prospective customers who recycle or care about global warming are likely to become more interested in your boxes.
Unfortunately, most businesses—including your competitors—try to convince people to buy using only functional or weak technical benefits. So they spend a lot of time telling people how good the product is (or how great they are), relying on low prices as a differentiator.
People have heard these claims so often that they have no impact, if they ever had any.
The good news is that you can take advantage of this mistake your competitors are making. By creating a brand identity, you can deliver all three benefits and give your business a unique competitive advantage.
Creating a Brand Identity
Now let’s dig in and build your brand identity. Be sure to take your time on each step. This process requires a lot of work up-front, but will pay dividends indefinitely going forward.
Step 1: Know Your Why
In this initial step, you must explore why you started your business. As time goes on, it is easy to get caught up in the hustle and forget the real reason you wanted to be a business owner.
What did you intend to accomplish when you began? Who do you help the most and how?
As you answer these simple questions, your business purpose will unfold. It’s possible that you already know the answers but haven’t written them down. Documenting your purpose keeps you focused on where you are and where you want to go.
Step 2: Know Your Customer
In the previous step, you identified the person or people you help the most. Now, learn as much as you can about them. Here are some questions to help guide you through this step:
- What problems do these people have that you help them solve?
- How do their problems make them feel?
- What words do they use to describe their problems?
It is essential to know your target market better than any other company in your niche. The better you know them, the easier it will be for you to connect with them—which is the key to increasing conversions from marketing and advertising campaigns.
Step 3: Brand Values and Promise
In this next step of the brand identity process, be honest about what you offer customers. How can you deliver your product or service in a way no one else does? What unique offer can you provide that your competitors can’t?
Write down your core values and business philosophy. Then, look for ways to tie these to your customers’ needs and wants.
You learned how to use functional, technical, and emotional benefits to sell boxes in a previous section. Follow this same process to create all three benefit types for your product or service.
What promise can you make to your target audience? First, identify one central theme you want to convey.
Step 4: Find Your Voice
Like human voices, brand voices are unique. They can be authoritative, friendly, casual, or formal—there are many to choose from.
You must determine what impression you want to make in all verbal and written communication. Then, hone a voice that is a good fit for your business and your target audience.
For instance, the brand voice for a ladies’ clothing store should resonate with women who match the target customer profile and reflect the business’s personality. If your audience consisted of young females, it might make sense to use slang and jargon common among members of that demographic.
Step 5: Choose Brand Colors and Typography
Now we come to a step many people associate with brand identity—colors and fonts. These are integral to your brand’s visual design, so choose wisely.
If you have thoroughly researched your target market, you will know their moods, attitudes, and behaviors. Select colors and fonts that form the image you want to portray and resonate with your prospective customers.
For example, pink might be one of your favorite colors. Therefore, you may be tempted to use it in your brand color palette. But does it make sense to use pink for your business’s image, and will your target audience respond positively to it?
Many businesses choose blue as a primary color to represent their brand. In fact, about a third of the world’s top 100 brands employ blue in their color scheme. In addition, color psychologists claim blue creates a sense of trust with customers.
But how do you plan to stand out by choosing the same color most businesses use?
Look at your competitors’ logos and brand colors. Some of them may not even have these. But of the ones that do, what trends do you notice?
Can you think of less common color combinations that might work well with your target audience?
These same principles apply to fonts. You can use the WhatFont app to identify fonts on websites that you like. Some of these fonts will be free, and some won’t.
Step 6: Create Your Logo
Finally, we have reached the brand identity component most people are familiar with. Your logo is the primary image that represents your business and should be included everywhere you can put it. Examples are websites, uniforms, letterhead, social media profiles, and company vehicles.
Logo design goes beyond the scope of this article, but creating a good one requires planning. I caution clients against using one graphic designer. If possible, work with multiple designers so you can have several design concepts from which to choose.
99Designs is one of my favorite design platforms. You can work with several talented designers while only paying for the concept you choose. (Yes, if you get a design with 99Designs by using the link in this post, we will receive a small commission.)
Step 7: Brand Associations
This component of a brand identity is not discussed often, but it should be.
Some say that “birds of a feather flock together”. The is true for people and for brands.
Technically, a brand association is “anything such as a symbol, activity, or famous person that makes a consumer think of a particular brand or product”. (Cambridge University Press)
Just like people, your partners, associates, and groups of which you are a member will influence how prospective customers see you. Therefore, choose these for your business as carefully as you would for yourself.
It is also possible that other images can serve as brand associations. For example, a picture of a mountain may symbolize freedom, success, or a desirable lifestyle.
Many big brands have used this brand awareness tactic successfully. It may take a while for people to associate specific images with your brand, but it is worth the effort.
A word of caution: never attempt to make an association with people, businesses, or charitable organizations with the sole intent of driving sales. This rarely works because these relationships must develop naturally and benefit all parties involved. Forced arrangements and partnerships never end well.
Also, remember that a good reputation is difficult to establish, but it only takes one incident to destroy one. Forming associations for the sake of making money compromises integrity.
Bonus Step: Be Consistent
Communicate the same messages, images, and associations over time and you will see results. Consistency separates the small businesses that succeed with brand building from the ones that don’t.
If you are going to create a brand identity, you must stay the course. When you are tempted to quit, you are usually on the brink of a breakthrough.
Do you have questions about creating a brand identity or need help?
Email me personally at email@example.com.
Until next time,