Branding and brand identity may sound similar, but they are actually different techniques. In a nutshell, your brand is how the outside world sees you. You do have some influence on your image in the things you do, the messages you put out — branding — and how you respond when things go wrong. You know who you are as a business and how you want the world to see you. This is your brand identity. You do have a lot of control over your brand identity, whereas you can’t always control brand perception.
People are influenced by the visual elements of your brand identity. About 90% of people admit to being influenced by factors such as color. Obviously, your identity is about a lot more than color, so figuring out how to pull all the different elements together (or even which ones you should focus on) isn’t an easy process.
If you want to stand out from your competitors, it’s vital to develop a strong voice in the marketplace. Here are the top eight things we suggest you work on to develop a strong brand identity in the minds of consumers.
1. Choose a Memorable Name
Your name doesn’t have to be fancy. In fact, something a bit more common may be more memorable. McDonald’s is one example. The name “McDonald” is a fairly common surname, yet the fast-food giant embraced the name and made it their own.
Once you’ve chosen a name, however, don’t change it to something more difficult. An example that comes to mind is Ebates.com. The name explained what the site did and everyone knew who Ebates was due to heavy advertising and sharing. Then they were bought out and the brand name was changed to Rakuten. This is more difficult to remember and has nothing to do with online rebates. Part of the brand identity was lost with the name change.
2. Conduct Research
Spend time figuring out who your target audience is and what makes them tick. The better you understand the ways they perceive your brand and why, the easier it will be to guide your brand identity and show them the view of your company you’d like them to have.
Proper research takes time and financial investment and must be an ongoing endeavor. When you release a new product, conduct additional research to ensure it matches up with what people expect from your business.
3. Study Your Competitors
A strong brand identity should be unique. If your competitor has a brand identity that, for example, embraces the cause of feeding hungry school children, your brand identity should be a bit different. Perhaps you are the fun, cutting-edge option and you believe keeping the local environment green is important for everyone, including the children.
Make a list of what elements make your competitors unique and try to find your identity through a different channel so you stand out from what they’re doing and who they are. If everyone is the same, consumers will just go with the cheapest option.
4. Choose Brand Colors
You knew this was coming, right? People relate to color on an emotional level. When you see the golden arches, you know a McDonald’s restaurant is near. Red and white signals Coca-Cola and elicits a bit of excitement. There is an entire psychology behind the feelings colors create in the viewer, so think about your brand identity and which colors best define who you are and what you do.
5. Logo It Up
Your logo needs to say a lot with few to no words, depending on the design. Some of the best logos around include sheer simplicity, such as the Nike swoosh or the FedEx logo that looks as though it’s in motion.
You have your brand colors, so utilize those in your overall logo design. Also, think about where your logo will appear and different versions you might need, such as on the outside packaging of a product, on your website, at the top of letterhead and even on social media sites.
6. Develop a Style Guide
One of the ways you can develop a brand identity is through consistent use of the same elements over and over again. Consumers have to see a name, emblem or message many times before it resonates.
Part of the reason for the multiple exposures before they remember your brand is due to a noisy landscape where so many brands clamor for consumer attention. A style guide gives anyone who promotes for you, plus your designers and executives, a roadmap so they use the same language, look and style no matter where they mention your brand.
7. Consider Customer Emotions
Know what your unique value proposition (UVP) is and how any changes to your sales model or image impacts customers. The last thing you want is a bunch of angry customers who go around telling others how angry they are about your brand.
Netflix is a company that made a big mistake in this area. To remain profitable, they needed to do away with their DVD-by-mail services. However, they didn’t take into account how angry this would make some of their customers.
Their UVP was that they offered an inexpensive subscription service with the value of physical DVDs and streaming. They didn’t take the time or get the research needed to know how to transition without angering their customer base. What they offered was a separation of their DVD service and a new streaming service, with a different name and which cost more money. They lost hundreds of thousands of customers almost overnight, which made them backpedal and rethink their strategy.
Always consider how customers will react to anything you do to maintain a positive image.
8. Monitor Your Brand Name
As your business grows, you’ll find that you have less and less control over the smaller aspects of your business. It’s smart to monitor social media channels and watch for online and media mentions of your name. You may be able to head off a problem, such as a growing reputation for poor customer service, before it becomes part of your brand identity.
Above all else, be authentic to your brand and yourself. Just as the world doesn’t always understand us as individuals, the public won’t always “get” why your brand makes certain decisions or has a certain personality. All that matters is that your tribe of people — your target audience — understands and relates to you. Don’t try to be something you aren’t. It will eventually show and people will find you untrustworthy. Embrace who you are, where you’ve come from and where you’re going.
About The Author
Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her re-reading the Harry Potter series, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or hanging out with her dog, Bear.