How to Build a Strong Brand Identity That Sets You Up for Success

by James Winter

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Creating a strong brand is hard.

With so many businesses fighting for visibility and relevance in today’s overcrowded market, putting your brand out there sounds like an uphill battle.

Thankfully, there’s a solution. By building a brand identity that helps you rise above the noise, you can position your brand so that your target audience can easily look to you as the go-to solution to their problems.

What is brand identity, and why does it matter?

First, it bears noting that brand identity is different from “brand,” since many people conflate the two. As Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos so deftly put it, “brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” In other words, “brand” is how your company, and by extension, your products and services, are perceived by the consumer. 

Brand identity, on the other hand, is the summation of all elements that inform how people perceive your brand. Your brand identity is comprised of visual, verbal, and emotional attributes, which when taken together helps position your brand in a way that separates it from the pack.

Larry Ackerman nailed the differences between “brand identity” and “brand” perfectly:

“Identity is cause; brand is effect, and the strength of the former influences the strength of the latter.”

Put another way, when your brand’s elements work hand in hand to tell a cohesive story, your brand is more likely to have a stronger impact on your audience.

Humans see through the lens of storytelling. In an age where content overload is the norm, the only way your brand can be seen and heard is to create and maintain a narrative that can make your company’s “face” distinct from others. By taking on an identity your audience can recognize and remember, it becomes much easier to connect with them on a deep and personal level.

How a strong brand identity helped Starbucks dominate the retail coffee landscape

Have you ever wondered why Starbucks became one of the most recognizable and trusted brands in the world? Why most casual coffee lovers are willing to pay $3 for a single cup of joe? No, it’s not the coffee.

When you see the Starbucks logo, you’re not just seeing the Starbucks logo. That iconic image of the twin-tailed mermaid has associations that engage all five senses. The cozy couches, the hip-yet-laid-back atmosphere, the sweet aroma of coffee grounds, the communal vibe, the special recipes, and so on.

It’s the totality of a brand experience entirely unique to Starbucks.

Do you want that level of connection with your target audience? Follow these steps to achieve a brand identity that sets you up for success.

Step 1: Get to know your brand better

Think about it: How can you determine how best to serve your audience if you don’t know your brand in the first place?

If you don’t have an authentic and fully-realized brand identity that customers can trust, support, and identify with, it’s less likely they’ll give your company the time of day.

So, know your brand first. And to do that, you need to do a brand audit.

To begin, ask yourself the following questions:

Give yourself some time and space to dig deep and reassess. To arrive at the most accurate answers, make sure to throw away any preconceived notions you may have about your brand. And you don’t have to go it alone. For better results, invite managers, stakeholders, and employees to join you in the brainstorming session.

Once you’ve recorded all the answers, you should have a composite picture of what your brand is about. It’s probably a big mess at this point, but that’s okay. What’s important is that you’ve got plenty of material to work with as you articulate, distill, and define your brand’s essence. Are there common themes and insights? Be prepared to write them down as clearly as you can as you proceed to the next steps.

Define your brand mission

Your brand mission, to put it simply, is the reason why your brand exists. It gives your company a clear direction and an ideal to aspire to. Moreover, your brand mission clarifies your company’s objectives, helping you come up with steps and solutions that will fulfill them. 

But for your brand mission to have a significant impact within your company’s ranks and on your target audience, it must be expressed clearly and in a way that resonates. The general rule of thumb is to keep it short, easy to understand, and aspirational. More importantly, it must be tied into your business goals—both short term and long term.

Here are good examples of brand mission statements:

American Express: We work hard every day to make American Express the world’s most respected service brand.

Honest Tea: To create and promote great-tasting, healthy, organic beverages.

IKEA: To create a better everyday life for many people.

To learn more about how to write an effective mission statement, feel free to give our comprehensive guide a read.

Define your core values

If your brand mission defines the “why” of your company, yourbrand’s core values form the attitudes and beliefs that reinforce it. Values are the compass that guides your organization’s behaviors and decision-making process, ensuring your brand is always “on the straight and narrow.” They shape your company’s culture, reinforcing behaviors and attitudes that will benefit your organization as well as the audience it serves.

Your core brand values make you unique, allowing you to differentiate your brand from the competition. They help you connect with your audience on a meaningful, personal level. In fact, studies show that consumers are more likely to be loyal to brands who share their own values.

Now go over the results of your brainstorming session from earlier. What are the values you can derive from them? Does your brand prioritize excellent customer service? Do you place a high premium on authenticity? Organize your brand brainstorm conclusions into 3 to 5 core values, and make sure you can articulate each of them in powerful single statements. 

Here are the core values that helped establish Starbucks as one of the most memorable brands over the years:

Want more? Here are other good examples of brand core values to provide some inspiration.

Define your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

If you want your audience to sit up and take notice, you need to bring something unique to the table. You need to offer a unique selling proposition (USP).

Simply put, a unique selling proposition is a defining characteristic that differentiates your brand from the competition. A USP is more than a slogan. It can also be used as a marketing tool that reminds your teams to stick to the plan.

Here are some popular examples:

M&M’s: Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.

Avis: We’re number two. We try harder.

Bellroy: Slim your wallet without turning your world upside down.

Struggling to come up with ideas? Again, go back to the results of your brainstorming session. What makes your brand better and different from competing brands? Do some competitive analysis while you’re at it. Go over your core brand values again and see what you can run with.

Once you’ve decided on a USP,  feel free to incorporate it into your mission statement and other marketing collateral.

Step 2: Develop your brand voice

Your next step is to develop a brand voice. Without one, you’ll be hard-pressed to engage your audience and connect with them.

But what does “brand voice” exactly mean? In a nutshell, your brand voice is how you communicate with your audience. But there’s more to it. You can think of your brand voice as a projection of your brand personality and your core brand values. And if you want your brand to be seen and make an indelible impact in the minds of your target audience, your brand voice needs to be implemented consistently across multiple marketing channels.

Protip: Maintaining brand consistency can be a challenge when your teams are working with a truckload of digital assets across multiple platforms and devices. Thankfully, using a DAM platform gives you more control of your branded assets, saving you plenty of time and resources.

What’s your brand personality?

If you want your audience to trust and love your brand, you need to give it a human ethos. And like any other human, your brand should have dominant characteristics that make it distinct from others. You can’t develop your brand voice if there’s no distinct brand personality to base it on.

So, how do you give your brand a personality? Easy. Just assign human-like attributes to your brand. Is your brand adventurous, capable, and daring? Or is it professional, sophisticated, and practical? Go over the results of your brand audit again and see which dominant traits come up. Whatever these traits are, they must be conveyed in every piece of marketing collateral you’re putting out. Remember, the goal here is to implement your brand voice so consistently that it sounds like it’s coming from an actual person. 

Want a more in-depth explanation on how to develop your brand voice? Our very own five-step guide’s got you covered.

Step 3: Develop your brand’s visual language

Once your brand voice has been established, you (or your designer) need to translate that voice into a visual language. ‘Language’ is the operative word here. Visuals, after all, are a form of communication, capable of conveying thoughts, emotions, and ideas in ways even words can’t.

Visuals are only part of the big picture (yes, pun intended). If you want your content to have a profound impact on your audience and your bottom line, make sure your visuals are working in perfect tandem with your brand voice and brand identity.

A brand’s visual language is composed of:

Your brand’s logo is the “face” of your brand. It’s what people remember most when people interact with your brand for the first time, after all. An effective logo is powerful because it anchors the perceptions people have about your brand. If your company’s logo is drab or boring, people are likely to assume that your brand is drab or boring as well.

For your logo to be effective, it must:

To create a truly impactful brand logo, go over your core brand values and translate them into symbols that will communicate or reinforce those same values to your audience.

Color scheme

Your color scheme can do so much more than make your visuals “pop.” Colors, after all, are powerful tools for conveying emotions and mood. Paired with the right branding elements, a well-thought-out color palette can make any marketing content impactful and memorable. In fact, extensive research confirmed that using the right colors can boost brand recognizability by 80%.

Want to choose a color palette that will make your target audience respond favorably to your brand? Some basic knowledge of color psychology is in order. Our Color Palette Quiz can also help you figure out the color palette that suits your brand personality.

Typography

The value of typography in branding is often overlooked, but it’s just as important as your brand’s imagery, color scheme, and photography. After all, your target audience won’t bother to buy your products and services if your words are not being read.

The importance of typography, however, goes beyond making your words attractive and legible, and has more to do with web design. In fact, many designers will tell you that web design is 95% typography. And in an era where attention is considered the most prized asset, you need to use typography that can draw your audience’s attention to the page and keep it there.

So before you pick a font for your marketing collateral, ask yourself: what emotions or mood do I want my words to convey? How would it translate to the page from an information design standpoint? 

For example, if you want your marketing collateral to come off professional, using Calibri or Open Sans will deliver you the best results. Of course, picking the right font also depends on how it works with other typographical elements in drawing your audience’s attention to where it’s supposed to go. 

If you want to learn more about typography, this beginner’s guide will prove helpful.

Shapes and imagery

As with colors and typography, shapes and imagery have a way of communicating ideas, moods, and emotions. There’s a science to it—if circles can elicit feelings of unity and harmony, then triangles can evoke rationality, creativity, and balance.  For a deep dive on how to use shapes to, well, shape your marketing message, this Psychology of Shapes guide will prove helpful.

Step 4: Implement your brand identity

After your brand identity has been thoroughly fleshed out, you need to make sure it’s being implemented consistently in your content creation efforts, be it in social media, ad networks, blogs, or print media. Branding is a long game, and all that time and effort will be wasted if your branding strategy is not hitting the mark. 

So, what can you do to ensure that your brand identity is coming through to your audience?

You can create a brand style guide, for starters.

Brand style guide

A brand style guide is a document that provides guidelines on how your brand should be presented to the world. It contains your brand’s DNA, so to speak, and as such is integral to establishing and maintaining your brand identity. Think of it as a quick-reference guide that helps your teams create engaging content while capturing the look, feel, and voice of your brand. 

Want to get more in-depth? Check out our blog post on how to create a brand style guide!

Creative brief

Whether you’re creating a video advertisement, an eBook, a blog post, or a radio ad, you can’t call any creative project or marketing campaign a success if it doesn’t reflect your brand identity. After all, content that is not consistent with your branding is not scalable. When you’re trying to build a reputation, you can’t afford to make the wrong impression.

You want your deliverables to stay on-brand? Then use a creative brief

A creative brief is a document that outlines the overall strategy of a creative project or campaign. It serves as a playbook that helps creative teams, agencies, or designers create deliverables that align with your branding and project goals.

A creative brief generally contains:

Final Word

Your brand identity is not just the foundation of all your marketing efforts; it can also serve as a catalyst for business success. Building a brand identity that endures doesn’t happen overnight. It takes consistency, intention, clarity, and the ability to stick to your guns.

Ready to build a brand identity your customers will never forget?