How to Create a Brand Identity in 7 Simple Steps
Why small businesses struggle to get noticed and what they wish they knew about building a competitive advantage.
The branding process allows a business to intentionally create and establish a unique position in the minds of a specific target audience.
Before I show you how to create a brand identity that will set you apart from competitors and grab your prospects’ attention, let’s take an in-depth look at how your identity facilitates a connection with prospective customers.
How People Really Think
Whether you are aware of it or not, your prospective customers are already developing impressions of you and your business as it pertains to the following:
- Level of expertise
- Quality of work
This “sizing up” process is taking place right now, even as you read this, and will continue as long as you’re in business.
It will also occur rather quickly.
As one example, the moment potential customers land on your website, they will begin scanning the page. Consciously and subconsciously, they assess what they see and will decide to stay on your site to learn more about your business or leave it immediately.
How long will it take them to make this decision?
Research has found that website visitors reach a conclusion about a site within two-tenths of a second. They then spend the next two and a half seconds verifying their initial impression.
Similar data supports this finding. A study performed by psychologists discovered that the average human being develops an impression of another 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 seconds to make a favorable impression or ten seconds makes little difference. The bottom line is we have to make the best impression possible and do it fast if we hope to hold our prospects’ attention.
Now, if people are going to judge you and your business anyway, shouldn’t you take control right now and create the impression you want to make before they show up?
If so, you need a brand identity.
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, what a brand identity is becomes vague, especially for small business owners.
Even within the branding and marketing world, the definition of brand identity will vary but is usually limited to a business’s visual design. However, I have chosen to expand on it because, as we will learn in the sections that follow, long-term business success is based on retaining customer relationships. Yet these relationships cannot be forged on looks alone.
In other words, a brand identity is not one thing but a collection of things that, working together, create an entity your target customers can connect to.
READ MORE: If you would like to learn more about the different personalities a business can have, read this article.
Businesses Without Identities Are Like Trees
By creating a brand identity, you’re bringing your business to life. This is important because human beings, by nature, desire to make connections which precede long-lasting relationships. Yet certain qualities must exist before the connection can take place.
For example, you would probably have a difficult time bonding with a tree. I’m sure there are folks out there who 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—an essence—such as being able to give and receive love.
Many small business owners jump straight into selling their products and services without considering the impression they want to make on their target market. 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 prior to the sale. Establishing this connection is the difference between transaction-based businesses and ones built on relationships.
The Mistake Your Competitors Are Making
Steve Jobs once said, “People don’t buy products, they buy better versions of themselves.”
This improved version is the result of the benefits received from the products they buy. These benefits come in multiple forms—functional, technical, and emotional.
To make the strongest connection with prospects, you must demonstrate that your product or service offers them all three benefit types.
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. This is its ability to deliver with consistency, at an exceptional level, without errors or other issues that cause problems or delays.
Finally, emotional benefits are a powerful driving force behind purchasing decisions because people want to experience more from the products and services they buy.
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 could tell customers your boxes are manufactured from recycled paper goods via hydropulping? Now you have added an emotional component—preserving the environment—to your list of reasons why people should buy your boxes. Now, prospective customers who recycle become a target market segment as well.
Unfortunately, most business owners try to convince people to buy based on functional or weak technical benefits. They spend a lot of time telling people how good the product is while leveraging affordable prices as a differentiator.
But these selling points fall on deaf ears because people have heard these promises so much, they have no impact, of they ever had any at all.
The good news for you is that by creating a powerful brand identity, you give your business a unique competitive advantage.
Creating a Brand Identity
Now let’s get into the details of actually creating and building your brand identity. Be sure to take your time on each step. This requires doing a lot of work up-front but will pay dividends indefinitely going forward.
Step 1: Know Your Why
In this initial step, examine why you started your business. 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 keep 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 and how you help them. Now, learn as much as you can about these people. Here are some questions to help guide you through this process:
- 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’s absolutely 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 with yourself about what you offer your customers. What can you do for them that 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.
In a previous section, I leveraged functional, technical, and emotional benefits as selling points for a business that makes boxes. Follow this same process to create all three benefit types for your product or service.
What promise can you make to your target audience? Identify one central theme you want to convey. If you need help with this, read this article.
Step 4: Find Your Voice
Just like human voices, brand voices are 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. Choose a voice that is a good fit for your business and for your target audience. Both of these must align.
For instance, if you own a woman’s clothing store, your voice should resonate with women who match your target customer profile and at the same time, should reflect your business’s personality. In this case, if your audience was comprised 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 combine the image you want to portray and what will resonate with your prospective customers. Some of this will be based on opinion but use your best judgment.
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. Color psychologists claim blue creates a sense of trust with customers.
But while this may be true, how to you plan to stand out by choosing the same colors most businesses use? The same is true for fonts.
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 certain combinations that might work well with your target audience that haven’t been used?
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 possibly put it—websites, uniforms, letterhead, social media profiles, company vehicles, etc.
Logo design goes beyond the scope of this article but creating a good one requires planning. I caution clients against using one graphic designer. One of my favorite sources for design services is 99designs. It provides an excellent venue for working with designers and soliciting multiple logo concepts.
Step 7: Brand Associations
This component of a brand identity is not discussed often, but it should be. It has been said that “bird of a feather flock together”. The is true for people and for brands.
Technically, a brand association is “anything such as a symbol, activity, famous person, etc. 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. You should choose these for your business as carefully as you would choose them for yourself.
It’s also possible that other images can serve as brand associations. For example, an image of a mountain may symbolize freedom, success, or a desirable lifestyle.
This tactic has been used successfully by many large brands throughout the years. If you want people to associate your brand with certain images, be aware that it may take a long time to accomplish this but can be valuable if you remain patient.
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 your integrity.
Step 8: Be Consistent
Consistent branding can increase revenue by as much as 33%.
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’re going to create a brand identity, you must stay the course. When we’re tempted to quit, we’re usually close to our biggest breakthrough.
Do you have questions?
Email me personally at [email protected].
If you would like to know more about how to create a brand identity that will set your small business apart from competitors, sell your value, and close more sales, click here.
Until next time,
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