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Building Your Brand Identity: 11+ Big Questions to Ask Yourself

Building a Brand Identity
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Gets the Wheels Spinning by Asking the Questions that Evoke Your Brand Identity.

So you’ve got a logo…

Maybe even a slogan…

But that doesn’t mean you’ve got a brand.

Too many people in this world think that branding begins with choosing a brand name and ends with hiring a designer on Fiverr to pop out some generic logo with a couple of your favorite colors on it.

Logo Brand Iceberg

If you’re one of those people, I demand you keep reading!

…And I was once the same. I’ll admit it. I used to think building a branding was a task strictly left for graphic designers…

But the truth is branding is for marketers and business owners…

Branding takes place at every touch point and every time a customer interacts or even thinks about your brand…

And, most importantly, branding is ultimately controlled by the customers, and not by you, the marketer.

Branding is the mix of what you do and say and how your customers feel
Credit: http://www.studio-18.co.uk/brand-values

That’s right, after all the hard work you put into building out your perception of your brand, it’s the customer that chooses what that brand means to them, and not your business.

Too many companies think they get to choose their brand… You only get to influence your customer’s opinion of your brand, not choose it!

3 Experts Reveal The Most Important Part To Building Out Your Brand Identity

We asked a handful of our favorite branding experts “What do you think is the most important aspect to building a brand identity?” And here are their responses:

Shana Haynie, from the digital agency SplashOPM responded:

Shana Haynie SplashOPM

“Consistency. And you don’t just build things because they make you happy, you take an action, get feedback and data to see how the customer responds, and adjust your brand accordingly.”

Brian Lischer, from the branding firm Ignyte said:

Brian Lischer - Ignyte

“The back of our firm’s business cards are stamped with a slogan that reads: ‘There’s one thing every brand should know. Itself.’
 
Of all the concepts related to branding, authenticity should be one with teeth. It should mean something to say a brand is authentic. And the fact is that authentic brands outperform their competitors time and again.
 
But just what does it mean for a brand to be authentic?
 
Authentic brands understand themselves at the deepest level and act in congruence with that understanding. They’re able to foster meaningful and enduring relationships with their customers. And not only are customers more likely to trust an authentic brand, they’re more likely to recommend it.
 
Brand authenticity is no accident, though. It’s the direct result of a well-planned and even better executed strategy.”

 

Rebrandly’s own Gianluca Anzardi – visual designer and branding expert:

Gianluca Anzardi - Rebrandly

“Brands, like people, have their own personality: a character and a reputation. In my opinion, the first thing to do is to start from the values, the vision and the mission.”

We also ran into Jeremiah Gardner from JeremiahGardner.com and author of “The Lean Brand,” while we were at Startup Week San Diego, and this is what he said:


Transcripts:

“Brand Identity means a lot of things to a lot of people. I think at the end of the day in the startup world, it’s what is the baseline that we will be known for?

The identity that we have is the relationship with our customers.

So confusing brand identity with our logo, our color scheme, and those sorts of things, actually gets in the way of discovering new value in the relationship with your customer.

The identity should be based on your relationship with your audience.

What does that look like? That forms the basis of that identity.

And all the artifacts that you create: logos, colors, websites, are a reflection of that identity. That relationship between your audience and you.”

How Rebrandly Works

Creating A Branding Strategy

A brand, like a product and a website, is never truly “done.”

Branding evolution

While these are just their logos (and again that’s only a small piece of the brand), you can see that, over time, every good brand evolves.

You don’t just create a branding strategy and then you’ve got a brand…

It’s a daily process of bringing multiple aspects of your voice and your business together, and then adjusting them to what the customer expects from you.

So while these questions will get you one step closer to building your brand identity, they will not truly build your brand for you, that requires execution over the next few months and years.

Think of these questions as a great foundation for executing on building your brand over the next few months…

Brand Vision – Where do you see your business going? What are your goals? How is your business going to have an impact?

We start with the end in mind…

But it’s worth noting that a brand’s essence really doesn’t coalesce without a great business, standing behind a great product, supporting their customers viewpoint of themselves.

Our brand vision can be broken down into these key components:

Purpose – What is the fundamental purpose behind your business that inspires everyone in and outside of the organization to do what they do — and love doing it?

Brand Purpose
Credit: http://brandnewpurpose.com/

Without a purpose, it’s really hard to unite people around your cause, or your brand. Think about the very root problem that you are solving and try to describe that with as few buzzwords as possible.

Think about Starbucks Purpose:

Starbucks Purpose

Notice it has very little to do with coffee, but actually to do with “The Starbucks Experience” (which  is also a book worth reading if you’re a big brand marketer or marketeer).

Starbucks purposefully (that’s a play on the topic, get it?) does not say “coffee” in their statement of brand purpose. Even though we know Starbucks as the coffee place, they want to leave the door open for any beverage at all.

And that was a wise choice, as Starbucks has recently started selling wine and craft beer.

To really understand the value behind crafting your brand purpose, I highly recommend watching this TED talk by Simon Sinek:

Position – What is the fundamental idea that you own in the consumer’s mind?

When I think of soda, I think of Coca-Cola… When I think of singing competitions, I think of American Idol… What’s the one thing that you want to be known for?

Promise – What is the value that you promise to deliver to the consumer?

This is the core benefit of using your product(s). I’ll give you a hint, it’s not, “Saving you time and money,” and it’s not, “connecting you with the people you love.” It’s more along the lines of “We won’t rest until we end all suffering from X by providing our customers with Y.”

Think about Kodak for a second. This is a company that created the first digital camera…

Kodak First digital camera

But ultimately filed for bankruptcy after continuously missing the change to digital.

And why did they fail at this?

Because they thought they were in the business of making cameras and film, but they really should have been in the business of capturing and sharing moments.

It all comes back to the value that they decided to provide their customer. They provided people with cameras and film so that they could take pictures. But people don’t want pictures. People want memories!!!

Do you see the key difference in positioning your core value here? Make sure you are providing your customers with the core benefit, not the core feature – the camera in this case.

Mantra

Your mantra is a short 3-5 word phrase or motto that you live your business, and hopefully life, by.

Nike’s mantra, “Authentic Athletic Performance,” quickly explains their core belief, and what you can expect from their products. Having a company mantra helps increase brand equity.

Reasons to Believe – Why will your target market believe your promise?

I want to believe

This is the credibility aspect of your core value.

Why should anyone think you’re the best social media agency? Or the best pizza shop in the neighborhood? Or whatever?

You obviously need to backup your claims with some level of credibility.

This is probably one of the key reasons why most startups fail.

Here’s how it usually goes with a startup:

What happens is two people come up with an idea about solving a problem. Their developers, or maybe hobbyists or enthusiasts in the subject matter…

They start out building a solution to the problem they’ve identified…

They never talk to any customers, get any feedback or reach out to any experts in their new field…

Months later their product is ready to launch, they open the doors AND…

Crickets.

No one shows.

They flop. They lose. The business fails and collapses…

You Fail

They never stopped to ask the question, “Are we the right people to be building this?” or “Are we credible enough to make this company work?”

When you ask that question, and you find the answer is, “No,” you realize you need to shift focus to go build credibility.

This could be through hiring a subject matter expert, partnering with the right company, or in Canva’s case, recruiting brand evangelist Guy Kawasaki.

In any case, if you’re not credible, that’s OK. Accept it. Work to become credible and people will eventually start to recognize your expertise. It doesn’t happen overnight, so get started today!

Brand Story – What is your unique hero tale?

This relates back to credibility in a sense.

How did you as a company come to be, and what makes you so passionate about solving this problem?

The term “storytelling” has been buzzing across the content marketing world for a while now, but this isn’t just about making up a good story, it’s about getting people to relate and stand behind your ideals as a company.

Getting them to understand why you gave up your everything to start this business. Sometimes, such as the case with Tom’s Shoes – the company that donates a pair of shoes to a needy child every time you buy a pair of shoes from their store – the story is the brand.

How will you tell a story as compelling as theirs?

Here’s a very detailed breakdown of building a brand story, by content marketing legend Robert Rose.

And here’s a really goofy infographic on storytelling, just for fun.

Brand Essence

Company Core Values – What principles are going to shape your company’s culture and support your brand vision?

This is the traditional core values that so many companies claim differentiate themselves. “We’re transparent…” but you’re not really.

“We have a great culture…” I certainly hope so.

“There’s no company out there like us…” That’s what they all say.

These “unique core values” that so many companies profess have become a standard for tech startups. Which is good! This means we can all stop repeating the obvious and find truly fantastic ways to differentiate ourselves.

Besides, unless you’re as transparent as Buffer, or Pat Flynn, you really aren’t working hard enough on your transparency.

One of my favorite core values, that I live by as a marketer, a husband, and a father, is to “To show people, not tell people.” This is why I link to Buffer and Pat Flynn in the previous sentence. If you don’t know about their acts of authentic transparency, you might want to find out. So rather than searching Google, I’ve provided you the exact places to go… How thoughtful of me.

As someone that has edited 100+ guest blog posts, I can tell you that most marketers are not showing, they are just telling… telling and selling. And that is really annoying… annoying and lame.

Think of what truly unique values you have and build those into your daily routine as a company.

Character What is your backbone made of? What’s negotiable and what is not?

This relates back to the brand archetype we talked about in a previous post:

Brand Archetype

What type of hero or villain are you?

Are you going to make outlandish claims? Or back everything up with data?

Are you going to be edgy or vanilla?

Personality and Voice – How do you present yourself? Do you have a sense of humor or are you honest to a fault? Are you a casual brand or a “suit and tie” mentality?

Are you going to cuss? Or maybe you want to use a ton of corporate jargon for some reason…

Do you want people to have fun? Learn? Question their beliefs?

How will you act?

And your voice can be slightly different based on the medium you are interacting on.

For us, we take a slightly more educational approach to the blog, and stay extremely playful on Twitter, even when pitching potential investors (hit play for LOLz):

Brand Expressions – How does your brand come to life across the broad spectrum of media? What type of content are you going to be known for? How are your customers going to experience your brand?

Where do you want them to go for “the goods?” Your blog? Your Instagram account? Or maybe the sign outside your storefront…

Do you want to be known as the “infographic” company, like Kissmetrics? Or maybe you want to have the best email newsletter on the planet. You could even be known for sending cutesy packages in the mail, if that’s you…

You need to decide where to concentrate your efforts, because unless you have an unlimited budget and massive team, you’ve got 2 channels max (and 1 is advised) to focus in on.

Use this simple Venn diagram to decide what channel works best for you:

Where you make content is at the intersection of where your customers hang out, where you like to hang out, and where you are good at creating. Venn diagramm.

Feel free to draw your own and actually put the channels in the circles to find your answer.

Using this process, you can see that while you may think Snapchat is the next coolest tool for marketers, the diagram quickly reminds you that if you aren’t a Snapchat pro already, you probably shouldn’t make it the main channel for your business.

And don’t think your choice is forever.

This decision could easily change over time. It’s really only a test of a channel – called a traction test via Traction the book.

Find your sweet spot and run with it until it don’t work no more.

Brand Differentiation

Copying the same strategy as another company is a tactic reserved for the rare breed of super villains that aren’t creative enough to come up with their own great ideas.

Don’t be a copycat. Originality is way more fun.

In order to truly be different, you need to have a deep understanding of everyone else, and a unique take on an old classic… A Content Tilt.

Take The Chicken Whisperer, for example.

Chicken Whisperer

Here’s a guy who loves backyard poultry farming, a hobby many people practice (sadly my condo doesn’t allow chickens).

He found that when he wanted to learn about chicken farming, there wasn’t much information, and he set out to change that.

He found the intersection of backyard poultry and education, and grew a massive following from being the only person in the industry.

Another great example is Nutrition Gone Wild.

Nutrition Gone Wild

There are a lot of nutrition sites on the web…

Many talk about weight loss, diet fads, and exercise.

Not this one. This site combines the Venn diagram of “partying” and “nutrition” to give uniquely powerful information to those who like to have fun, but are still concerned about their health.

Competitive Analysis

A great brand stands out from the competition. Brian Lischer from Ignyte Brands tells us to “experience the competition” to get a feel for each of the players in our space from a customer perspective.

What is it that they think they are? What is it that their customers think they are? What are they missing that you can capitalize on? And so much more, including visual and language analysis. You could really spend a full week analyzing your competitors to position your brand ever so perfectly.

Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

What do you have that the competition does not? How do you position the brand in such a way that no one can replicate you. This goes back to understanding the one thing that you are best at, and turning that into a message.

Brand Audience

We saved the most important section for last. Our overall audience, which consists of 3 main components: our buyers, our non-buyers, and our influencers.

Buyer Persona

Nothing new here, we have to know who is buying from us in order to properly position our brand, our content, our everything…

But in case we haven’t nailed the point home enough for you already, you absolutely must have a written template of your most ideal customer in order to succeed in any new or emerging business.

… If I had a nickel for every time someone told me that “everyone” was their ideal customer… I’d have like 6 nickels…

It’s “most ideal” for a reason. We are looking for the easiest person to convert, not the hardest.

Our Ideal Customer is at the intersection of our ability (or cost) to get in front of them, the size of their problem, and their willingness to pay. Venn Diagram

We want to focus our marketing efforts in order of: the size of their problem, their willingness to pay, and our ability (or cost) to get a message in front of them.

Non-Buying Audience Persona

You think that everyone that comes to your site is a buyer, don’t ya?

Well they ain’t! Most of them are there to just steal your thoughts and move on.

Understanding the “who” of your non-buyers is an often overlooked aspect to the process of branding your business.

When it comes to scalable things, like blogging, social media, or even letting window shoppers come into the store, we want to have a massive following of non-buyers.

Well… We don’t want to… We’d prefer they be buyers… But we’d prefer them to be aware of us.

Our goal of having non-buyers is two-fold:

Non-buyers are influencers. They may share, tell someone else, or promote our brand to someone else.

Non-buyers become buyers. Obviously a portion of our non-buying audience will eventually convert at a later date. Our job is to nurture them through the “awareness zone” and wait patiently for them to become interested.

How Rebrandly Works

Think about it like this, if the CMO is your ideal buyer, the social media manager might be someone in the audience. This makes them both an audience member and an influencer.

Or, in other situations, such as when I wrote “The Top 10 Digital Marketing Agencies in San Diego,” one of my key audiences was my competitors.

I linked to them and talked about them, and they wanted to read the article.

So what did I do? I targeted them with Facebook ads, which eventually got them to read the article and link back to the article. That got that blog post to the #1 spot for it’s key term.

Influencer Persona

Understanding who the gatekeepers are to your buyers is crucial. While we can all buy traffic on all the major media platforms, it can be far cheaper to devise strategies to influence the influencers.

This is what Dennis Yu does with the Golden State Warriors Facebook page (and more from Dennis in AdWeek here).

Understanding how to group and target influencers, whether with blog posts, with cold Twitter outreach, or simply running Facebook ads is crucial to jump starting a business.

Why get 1 reader of your blog, when you can get 1 reader that has 10,000 followers. Think viral, not direct acquisition.

Customer Value Proposition / Statement of Value – Why should your customer buy a product, use a service or consume your content?

“People don’t buy products or services, they buy outcomes…” says legendary marketer and CEO of DigitalMarketer.com, Ryan Deiss.

How do we get the outcome, and what is the outcome? We need to move people from before, to after:

Before and After Statement of Value
Credit: http://www.digitalmarketer.com/customer-value-optimization/

And the further we move them, the more money we make:

Statement of Value Digital Marketer
Credit: http://www.digitalmarketer.com/customer-value-optimization/

This is distinctly different than our unique selling proposition because it’s all about why the customer buys. Not why we sell. Sounds similar, but it’s really quite important to differentiate the two.

Final Thoughts

If you read this whole post in one setting, I’d recommend bookmarking this page and coming back later to follow each section independently.

If you’re starting out on a new endeavor, or rebranding an old business, you need to take the time to build a written branding strategy to ensure that you, and anyone that is now or forever on your team, can align their voice, their goals, their visual elements, and all the other things that cohesively portray your brand.

At the end of the day, it’s the customer who decides who we are…

So ask them what they think. See if you’re doing a good job building your brand by frequently polling your customers with surveys.

Your brand is never done being built…

But after you answer the questions above, you will have a solid foundation to launching a successful brand to back a hopefully successful business.

Good luck!

 

What do you think? Are you having trouble sorting out your brand? Are there any questions you would like some help answering? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Head of Growth at Rebrandly. Derric is a lifelong entrepreneur and passionate about helping startups and marketers not suck. He speaks, practices, and blogs about growth and digital marketing on Rebrandly and across the universe.