Editor’s Note: Samantha Tetrault, freelance copywriter and founder of Samanthability.com penned this fine post as a Leadpages Guest Blogger. Interested in writing for the Leadpages blog? Hit us with your best shot!
Whether you’ve just launched your company or you’ve been around for years, your brand identity is one of your most vital assets. Having a strong brand can make the difference between a successful business and one that falls prey to the growing competition.
So what exactly is a brand identity?
A lot of new marketers and business owners are surprised to realize it’s about more than just your logo and your font selection. It’s how your customers recognize your company and it’s what makes you stand out. While we wouldn't ever downplay the power of a catchy logo, that shouldn’t be your first step when building your brand identity.
As small business owners and marketers, we have to work harder to stand out. Big-name businesses are taking over industries across boundary lines, and that means branding is more valuable than ever. These brand differences are what helps you stand out. They’re what will lead users to convert on your website and landing pages. Without a clear brand, your business will be lost in the digital noise.
If you want to succeed today, you have to go beyond those aesthetic steps. Before the design can even begin, you need to understand your audience, your goals, and how you’re going to make real connections that translate to long-term relationships with your customers. Without these steps, you can’t expect to convert visitors into paying customers whether you’re designing a landing page or a new blog post. Let’s dive into the 7 basic steps you need to cover to create a brand identity that lasts.
Step 1: Understand branding
You can’t jump into the pool if you don’t know how to swim. What is branding? How does it apply to your business? 72% of marketers argue that branded content is more effective than advertising in a print magazine. In essence, branding is the new foundation of marketing today. Billboards and TV ads probably won’t get you as far anymore, and these methods are better left to the past.
Branding today means knowing who your ideal customer is. It combines messaging, values, and visual elements to target the exact demographic you’re trying to reach. It’s a promise to your customers that they can expect a certain level of service and quality when they choose your brand. You need to understand the importance of brand identity before you begin creating your own.
Brand identity includes things like:
- Logos and color selection
- Email marketing messaging
- Blog post content
- Social media posts
- Interactions with customers online
- Customer service
It might sound simple when broken down in those terms, but it’s not something you can achieve overnight. Good branding takes time, and it’s not a magic solution. What we can promise is that over time, your branding will lead to more sales, projects, and referrals.
What can you do now?
- Decide what aspects of branding apply to your business
- Create a list of messages you’d like to communicate with your branding
- Look to your favorite brands to see how they utilize brand identity to stand out
Step 2: Determine your audience
If you’re trying to talk to everyone, nobody can hear you. Your target audience can’t be everyone. A lot of new businesses make the mistake of casting the widest net when trying to attract new clients and customers. It makes sense, but it doesn’t work in practice. That wide net will just let everyone slip through the holes.
Instead, you have to get specific. You can’t be everything to everyone, so don’t try to be. What are you trying to reach with your products and messaging? Dig deep into the specifics until you understand this audience and their lifestyle.
How does your audience spend their time? What do they want from their products or services? What would make their lives easier? These are the questions you’ve got to ask yourself before you can move to the next step. If your audience is as broad as “millennial students,” you’re not going to get very far. A better, more niche audience would be “tech-savvy millennials applying for jobs.” This is a clear audience that you can target with your brand.
What you can do now
- Create an ideal customer profile
- Research your market demographics using tools like the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Factfinder, State Data Centers, or the recent Economic Census
Step 3: Write a mission statement
What is your company passionate about? This is the foundation of your brand. Now that you know your audience, you need to know how your mission statement will connect you with this demographic. Small businesses are the most likely to skip their mission statement. Because they’re “small,” they make the mistake of thinking their mission statement is implied or less important.
Your mission statement does matter. It is important. Let’s look at some examples to make our case. Where would Nike be without it’s Just Do It tagline? This comes from their mission statement: “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” This mission statement is a promise to its customers. Who are their customers? Athletes. What do they aim to do with every product and customer interaction? Inspire and innovate. This is something every employee can take into every step of the process from marketing to customer service.
Let’s look at another. JetBlue, the commercial airline company, has this mission statement: “To inspire humanity - both in the air and on the ground.” Here, we learn that JetBlue promises to be inspiring and forward-thinking both while traveling with customers and when on the ground. Like Nike, we get a promise.
You need your own statement for your small business not so that you understand your business. Yes, it’s always a good idea to articulate your thoughts clearly, but that’s not the real reason behind a mission statement. Your mission statement makes it possible for every employee and customer to also understand the goals of your company. For employees especially, this provides clear direction and a deeper understanding of your company values.
Forbes claims you can develop your mission statement based on 4 clear questions:
- What does your company do?
- How does your company do this?
- Who is your audience?
- What is your value?
While this might be a simplified formula, this is a great start. Make sure your mission statement is something that can grow with your business. Finally, don’t forget to keep your audience at your focus.
What you can do now
- Review successful mission statements from other businesses for ideas
- Write a draft of your mission statement based on the 4 questions above
- Review your draft with peers to ensure it’s clear
Step 4: Know your competition
Strong branding means knowing how to stay in your own lane. If every online retail brand tried to be exactly like Amazon, they’d quickly be lost in the noise. While you should never copy or imitate anything you see other big brands doing in your industry, that doesn’t mean you need to exist inside a vacuum.
Being aware of how your competition is marketing itself is an important step in staying ahead. You don’t want to accidentally step on any other company’s toes. You want to clearly differentiate yourself from the competition, and that means knowing what they’re currently doing.
How has your competition succeeded? How have they failed? What gaps are there in this industry that you can fill with your branding techniques? Choose 2-4 competitors that offer similar products or services. Now, it’s your job to convince your customers to purchase from you instead of them. You’ll need to be different, and you’ll need to offer something unique.
What you can do now
- Research a few competitors in your industry and identify what they do well and what they could improve on
- Find gaps in offerings, services, or marketing efforts that apply to your business
Step 5: The visual basics
Now that you have the fundamentals out of the way, you’re ready to get to the good stuff. This is where your visuals come in. This is also where you might need the most help.
While you could probably handle the steps up until this point on your own, it’s worth bringing in a professional when doing anything involving design. We’ve all seen some logos and designs that have seen better days. Your logo is important. Arguably, it’s the most important visual representation your brand has. It’ll be on your website, your packaging, and your personal business card. It needs to be good.
While the Twitter logo famously cost less than $20, you can expect to pay a bit more than that when it comes to your own design. You can reach out to a local marketing or design agency that can help with a more comprehensive visual branding for your business, but this will likely be more expensive. If you’re on a budget, you can find qualified logo designers online on platforms like Fiverr and Upwork.
When making visuals, it’s useful to create a style guide. A designer can help you work out the details, but you’ll want to include:
- Logo and sizing information
- Color palette
- Image styles
- Web elements
What you can do now
- Using your mission statement, research visual elements that express your key ideals
- Find a graphic design or branding specialist online or locally and explain your goals to them to begin working on a style guide
- Consider how your style guide (logo, colors, etc.) will tie into your messaging
Step 6: Craft your voice
How do you communicate with your customers? A software company shouldn’t have the same voice as a student-focused organization, and that means you need to craft a brand voice that speaks to your audience. There are endless possibilities, but you’ll need to make sure you’re consistent.
Take it back to step 1 and decide on a voice that focuses on your target customers. You’ll use this voice online with your digital content, in video content, and even during customer service interactions. No matter what platform you’re publishing on, you’ll want to commit to this voice.
We’ve all seen popular social media posts featuring sassy brands. These work because they’re distinct, funny, and human. Nobody likes to feel like they’re following a robot on social media, so don’t let your brand sound like one. Be a real human being, and learn how to interact with your audience in a way that speaks to them.
What you can do now
- Research your audience to learn more about their favorite online publications, blogs, and social media profiles
- From this list of online content, identify what stands out about these voices, tone, and messaging
- Ask yourself how your company can appeal to these same standards while crafting a unique voice
Step 7: Be transparent
Transparency is more important than ever right now. Let’s be honest: consumers are getting smarter. They know when companies are trying to fool them, and they can sense when you’re being dishonest. The Guardian calls this “conscious consumption.” In essence, consumers are seeking ways to make positive decisions about what they’re buying.
Thanks to social media and online reviews, it’s really easy to tarnish your brand with even a small mistake. Nobody’s perfect, and it’s better to just be open with the good, the bad, and the ugly. Your customers will thank you for it. 94% of people are likely to be loyal to brands that are completely transparent.
Make transparency a pillar of your brand identity. That means being upfront about what customers can expect when they purchase from you or work with you, as well as rectifying situations when they don’t go according to plan. In today’s market, you can’t afford to take transparency seriously.
What you can do now
- Update landing pages, web pages, and social pages with clear, honest messaging
- Be upfront with costs for your products or services and don’t hide fees or extra expenses
- Include transparency in your branding and marketing effort
Make an impact
Your brand identity is something you should hold sacred. It’s what sets you apart from the dozens (or billions!) of other companies in your industry. With so much competition, branding can’t be overlooked. Customers want to buy from brands they trust, and your brand identity is a way to build trust with the right audience.
Avoid the common mistakes we discussed above. Don’t try to sell to everyone, and don’t hide important parts of your business from customers. Your customers need to know, like, and trust you before they’re willing to make a purchase. They already know the big-name companies out there, so you’re a few steps behind. Don’t stress. You can catch up using the key steps above, being consistent, and building trust.
When users first stumble upon your content online, they don’t know you yet. If your brand identity is worthwhile, unique, and genuine, they’ll want to learn more. That’s how you warm up your cold traffic and create an audience of paying customers. As long as you’re genuine in your approach in communicating with your ideal customer, you’ll create authenticity your audience can trust again and again.
It’s time to get real with your brand identity if you want to see not only a rise in conversion rates but also in customer loyalty.
Wondering what to read next?
Here’s what we suggest:
→ Small Business Hindsight for 2020
→ Perfectly Time Your Seasonal Promotions
→ Grow Your Small Business During the Age of Social Distancing
Meet the author
Samantha Tetrault is a marketing and technology content writer from Orlando, Florida. Her blog Samanthability.com empowers young women to start their own businesses.