A brand is essentially a promise to the customer. It communicates what you stand for, what customers can expect from your products and services, and how you’re different to your competitors. Your brand is what makes you more than just a commodity, it’s what creates loyalty among your customers and, if you’re really good, sometimes even love.
Ultimately what you’re trying to do is create a distinctive and cohesive brand experience for your customers over a period of time and across different touch points. In theory, this means that if you hide your brand name then your consumer can still identify the branding elements as being associated with your particular brand.
To achieve this, you’ll need to choose those core equity elements that will really represent your brand in the eyes of your customers and will become associated with, or perhaps are already associated with, your brand. Playing around with these elements too much, making changes too often, will leave your customers confused, they won’t associate your advertising with your brand, they won’t find your product on shelf or online, and ultimately you will lose all the benefits associated with building a distinctive brand.
Here are 4 questions to ask yourself in order to build a brand for your business:
1. What’s your overall mission?
The best place to start to build your brand is with your why, your purpose. This is the reason you’re in business. It’s who you are, what you believe in, and why you exist.
A good example is Amazon: “Our vision is to be the Earth’s most customer-centric company.” If you’ve ever contacted their customer service, or seen some of the fun conversations that have gone viral (most recently, Thor speaking to Odin – Google it if you haven’t seen it), you’ll know that they are doing all they can to live up to this mission.
Another one is Nike: “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. *If you have a body, you are an athlete.”
Having a purpose is becoming ever more important as Millennials and younger generations favour an emotional connection with a brand, and a degree of social responsibility, as they make their purchase decisions. Your brand purpose will also determine the overall direction of your company, it will guide your decision making, and it will shape your strategy going forward.
2. What qualities do you want customers to associate with your brand?
What does your brand stand for? What are the key messages that you want to communicate about your brand?
Established brands are likely to have very clear attributes associated with them:
- If I say Volvo, you’ll probably think safety.
- If I say Apple, you’ll say something like design or innovation.
- If I say Disney? Imagination, magic, family…
What are the words you want people to use to describe your brand? Note that these should be broader concepts, not products. If Apple stood for computers, they would never have been able to successfully expand into mp3 players and phones; nor would they have inspired such fierce brand loyalty.
In order to get these qualities firmly associated with your brand, they’ll need to be distinctive versus your competitors, relevant to your customers, and credible based on what your brand actually does. Once that’s established, everything you do will need to support and reinforce those qualities.
3. What benefits does your brand provide?
Your benefits are how the products or services you provide will actually help your customers.
The first type to consider are the functional benefits. This is not just a list of the functionalities of your products, however. As an example, Steve Jobs first sold the iPod as “an amazing little device that holds 1,000 songs… and it goes right in my pocket” – highlighting what the product could do for you in real-life terms, rather than simply giving you the technical specifications, “with a 5 GB hard drive”.
The second type are the emotional benefits. When I worked on marketing perfume, these were pretty much the only benefits we had to communicate about – beyond simply ‘smelling good’, a perfume is all about the story, an emotional insight that involves feeling sexy or confident, for example.
Looking at those benefits that you’ve identified, make sure you distinguish between those that are the same as your competitors’ benefits – ‘points of parity’ – and those that are different, or better – ‘points of difference’.
4. How will you bring your brand to life?
This is where the logo comes in and you probably have that already, as it’s something that most people do right away. Think beyond the logo, however: Do you have a tag line? What are your brand colours? Typography, fonts? Imagery? Music? Pricing?
What’s your brand personality? What tone of voice will you use [see also Shut Up and Let the Brand Speak: Finding Your Tone of Voice]?
In order to build a consistent brand identity, you’ll need to be consistent in terms of these executional elements. Think of the Nike swoosh; the red you associate with Coca-Cola (and which they recently made more prominent in the re-design of their different product lines); the distinctive shape of the Pringles can, instantly recognisable; Red Bull’s “gives you wings” tagline…
Now this doesn’t mean that you have to keep each and every aspect of the branding the same for all eternity; your brand can and should evolve over time (although be prepared to face your customers’ wrath if you make too drastic a change!). When you have a new business, however, and you want to build a brand, you’d do well to be very consistent as you try to construct an identity – an authentic one – in the minds of your customers over time.