Brand Identity 101

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 L. Blake Harvey is the founder and chairman at Lawrence Blake Group Int’l. Follow Blake on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/BlakeHarvey

What’s your organization's brand identity?

Sure, you’ve got a logo, a website, business cards, signage and perhaps even a storefront – but your brand is so much more than the “look” of your business. While all these can help you project a carefully crafted image to your customers, true branding runs a lot deeper.

Think of Apple, for example – One brand that springs to mind as exemplary in their markets. Customers like doing business Apple. They feel a connection with the brand. But how did they get there? Much of this is down to great products and innovation, but it’s more than that. Customers know what they are going to get when they interact with Apple, they’re invested in them, and that this requires a brand strategy.

Advantages of a Strong Brand Identity

  • Reveals your unique value proposition and develop a competitive advantage in the market.

  • Reflects the voice of the brand through social interaction and outreach.

  • Improve the consumer’s experience towards your company through visual elements (logos, color scheme, typography, emotional resonance, etc.)

  • Maximizes your ability to increase awareness and brand loyalty with your customers.

Tips for building a strong brand identity

Research: The first step in creating or renovating a brand identity for your company is to research several things: your company, your competition and your market. Even if you have a great grasp on your company, or you are rebranding for an already well-established company, you should take some time to research the history, goals, mission and values.

Your branding should be reflecting these things, so knowing exactly what they are before you begin is key. Researching the market is also incredibly important. You should have a good idea of your market’s demographics:  age, gender, income, education level and even interests. These elements can determine how your market will perceive your brand. For instance, if you live in a college town, you might consider a more intellectual brand than if you live in an urban area.

The last step is researching your competition. Make a list of your biggest competitors, as well as others in your industry, and see what they are doing in their branding efforts. Check out their advertising and marketing, including website, social media accounts, newspaper and television ads and community outreach. Think about what aspects their brands represent – trustworthiness, friendliness, ease of use – and how they compare to your company’s vision and value.

Determine Your Business Goals: Once you have a grasp on your business, market and competition, it’s time to decide what your brand is going to represent. Determine a few key goal, then create a list of words that you’d like your customers to use to describe your business. Brainstorm elements you’d like your brand to include, such as imagery or photography that has meaning to your company. This is also a great time to determine your voice and personality, which will carry through in advertising, marketing, public relations and social media.

Determine Your Corporate Brand Identity: Developing a brand identity is a five-step process that aims to clearly define what your brand stands for -- its goals, its personality, the emotions you want people to experience when they come into contact with your brand, and a clear conveyance of that identity through a positioning statement. Here's what you'll need to create to do that:

Vision Statement: A vision statement describes what you want your company to become in the future - hence the name "vision" statement! It should be aspirational and inspirational. Ideally, the statement should be one sentence in length and should not explain how the vision will be met. Don't worry, that'll come later. When developing your vision, keep these questions in mind:

  • What are your most important products and services?
  • What products and services will you never offer?
  • What is unique about doing business with your brand?
  • How would your customers describe your brand?
  • Where do you want your company to be in five years?

To give you an idea of what you should end up with, take a look at JetBlue's vision statement:

JetBlue Airways is dedicated to bringing humanity back to air travel.

Mission Statement: A mission statement defines the purpose of the company. It should be simple, straightforward, articulate, and consist of jargon-free language that's easy to grasp. It should be motivational to both employees and customers. When crafting your mission statement, keep these tips in mind:

  • What are the specific market needs the company exists to address?
  • What does the company do to address these needs?
  • What are the guiding principles that define the company's approach?
  • Why do customers buy from you and not your competition?

To give you an idea of what a good mission statement looks like, take a look at Mickey Mouse's. I mean, The Walt Disney Company:

The mission of The Walt Disney Company is to be one of the world's leading producers and providers of entertainment and information. Using our portfolio of brands to differentiate our content, services and consumer products, we seek to develop the most creative, innovative and profitable entertainment experiences and related products in the world.

Essence: Say, what? That's right, your essence. Talk about fluffy. But seriously, you need to develop an "essence." The essence of the company speaks to the intangible emotions you want your customers to feel when they experience the brand. A brand's essence is the representation of the company's heart, soul, and spirit, and is best described with one word. When defining the essence of your brand, consider these points:

  • When your customers experience your product or service, what emotions does the encounter elicit?
  • If your brand was a person, how would you describe their personality?

Here are some great samples of brands' essences:

Volvo is "safe"Disney is "magical"Lamborghini is "exotic"

Personality: Just as with humans, a brand's personality describes the way a brand speaks, behaves, thinks, acts, and reacts. It is the personification of the brand -- the application of human characteristics to a business. To generalize an example, Apple is young and hip. IBM is old and stodgy. See what I mean? So, what personality do you want to put forth when people experience your brand?

  • Are you lighthearted and fun?
  • Are you serious and all-business?
  • Are you down-to-earth?
  • Are you playful or matter-of-fact?

Position or Value Proposition: A brand positioning statement is a one- or two-sentence statement that clearly articulates your product or service's unique value, and how it benefits customers. The positioning statement must define the audience, define the category in which the brand exists, cite a clear product or service benefit, set your brand apart from your competitors, and instill confidence the brand will deliver on its promise. When crafting a positioning statement, consider:

  • To whom are you speaking? (Target market, demographic, and persona)
  • Which market segment does your product or service serve?
  • What is your brand promise? (Both rational and emotional)
  • Why is your product or service different from the competition, and why should your customers care?

For instance, Zipcar has a great brand positioning statement:

To urban-dwelling, educated techno-savvy consumers, when you use Zipcar car-sharing service instead of owning a car, you save money while reducing your carbon footprint.

In order to develop successful branding strategies, your business needs to stand out. You must emphasize what you have that your competitors don’t have. You need to tell your customers what makes your business different from other companies. You need to be consistent, proactive and informative with your brand messages. Brand awareness and purchase intent are highly correlated with repetitive viewing and consistent branding. For example, you should encourage viewers to return to your website by placing frequently updated and informative content.

Partner with other brands whose customers are same as yours. Keep your relationships with them growing since they’ll be your long lasting brand evangelists. Get them to know more about your services/products by giving them discounts or free versions of what you are to offer to them. Promote other brands as well through social media and content marketing.