Establishing a brand identity is one of the first key tasks for a new business to accomplish. No matter what industry you are in, and no matter what your goals for the business may be, branding is essential. The earlier you can think about what you want your brand to represent, the easier it will be to craft that image.
It’s easy to think about branding in terms of visual assets alone. And that certainly is a good place to start. For instance, a brand’s logo plays an important role in how the business will be seen by customers and competitors alike. But branding is about much more than a logo. In fact, the very first step you take in forming your business – giving it a name – is the start of your branding journey. We’d like to walk you through the importance of business branding and how you can chart a course toward establishing a trusted, respected brand of your own.
Why Branding Matters
Some business owners struggle to understand – or accept – the importance of branding. New business owners tend to believe that if they offer quality products or services, at a competitive price, that will be enough. But that is rarely the case. Building a brand is about building an identity for your business, and that identity has the potential to be even more powerful than anything you sell.
Your brand is how your customers relate to your business. It might help to think of your brand as the ‘personality’ of your business. If your brand was an actual person, how would it behave? Often, a brand is simply an extension of the owner of the business, especially in the case of smaller businesses. When a customer gets to know your brand, it is like they are getting to know you personally.
The power of branding is immense for every business from those just getting started to the biggest in the world. How branding impacts your company will depend on your market and how you choose to approach this matter, but some of the key points are as follows –
- A common motivation - Often, brands build their audience by aligning their goals with that of their audience. A great example of this is the eco-friendly space. Many businesses have opted to do business in a way that helps the environment in some manner. As a result, that eco-friendly image becomes part of their branding, and they develop a following of customers who share an interest in helping the environment. What’s important here is that the motivation is authentic – these brands legitimately want to help the environment, and they can build a following at the same time by sharing that passion.
- Expand your business - Without a strong brand, it will be hard to grow your business over the long run. For instance, if you start your business with a single product, it would be easy to become known for just that product rather than your brand as a whole. Then, when new products come along, they may not be well-received because customers associate with that first product instead of the brand itself. Building brand identity right from the start can open up bigger opportunities later on.
- Loyalty - This is one of the most important reasons to focus on branding. No matter what you sell, there is certainly someone else out there selling the same thing, or something very similar. Even if you think your product or service is the best available, you still need a way to retain customers rather than having them drift around to competitors. Your brand will help you do just that. Instead of buying whatever product they happen to see at the store or online, your previous customers will intentionally seek out your brand.
You can’t overestimate the importance of branding, or the value it can offer your business. When you think about the biggest companies in the world, branding is something they all have in common. Take a look around your home or office – brands are everywhere, and chances are brand identity had something to do with why you purchased those products.
The Big Picture of Your Brand
We hope you are now convinced of the importance of branding for every business. Building a known, trusted brand should be one of your top priorities as a business owner. But what does that mean? How do you go about building a new brand? It’s not easy, but it’s likely to include at least some of the following components.
- A price identity - Very few brands play at both the bottom and top of the market. Generally speaking, a brand will either be known as a ‘luxury’ or ‘high-end’ brand that offers quality goods at a high price, or it will be a ‘budget’ brand that competes on low prices. Those two are hard to mix, and you probably don’t want to try to do so with your business. Early on, you need to decide where in the price spectrum you are going to land with your products and services. It’s possible to build a successful business anywhere along the price curve but orienting yourself to the right market segment is important. There is a difference in how you market to the top of the market as compared to the bottom, so you’ll want to know who you intend to serve right from the start.
- A cultural identity - Is your brand going to take up any particular social cause? This is becoming more and more popular in the internet age. It’s not only a great way to do something for the greater good, but it also makes business sense. We already discussed the example of companies who align themselves as eco-friendly, but that’s just one of many options. You could also take on a charitable cause that is close to your heart, or a common social issue like homelessness or hunger. You’ll want to be fully committed to whatever you choose, because once it is attached to your brand there may be a permanent association in the minds of your customers.
- A service identity - There are many different ways to offer great customer service. Pretty much every business needs to provide outstanding customer service to thrive, but different companies approach it in different ways. For instance, some pride themselves on always having a representative available to talk to customers live. Others like to leverage technology and offer a library of support videos online to solve common issues quickly and easily. Decide how you want to serve your audience and use that style of service as part of your branding. By setting the standard early for what kind of service can be expected, this will become another element that is rooted deep in your branding.
It should go without saying that the three points above are just a starting point for how you can outline your brand. Other ways to stand out as a brand include being an innovator in your industry, offering products that are highly customizable, serving a very narrow niche better than anyone else, and so on.
While this all can sound a bit overwhelming, it’s actually pretty easy for most business owners to sketch out how they want their brand to look. After all, you had the idea for the business in the first place, so branding it should come naturally as long as it is authentic. Spend some time on the task of outlining your desired image and the following steps should become clear.
A Visual Identity to Match
Finally, we get to the visual piece of the puzzle. This is when the ideas you have for your brand come to life in the form of designs like logos, marketing materials, merchandise, etc. The task here is simple but not always easy – to create visual assets that align perfectly with the desired identity you have in mind for your brand.
If you are just getting started with your business, you don’t need to worry about immediately developing every visual asset you will ever need. There are, however, a few pieces that you will want to address right away.
- Logo - This one is obvious, and it is probably the piece that most people complete first when getting started with a new business. Your logo is going to be prominently displayed in a variety of places, including at the top of your website, on business cards, in ads, and more. In other words, your logo is going to be everywhere your business is, so it needs to be good. The possibilities are endless with logo design but try to have it tie back into your business identity in some way. For instance, a children’s brand could use bright colors and cartoon-style imagery, where an accounting agency may opt for clean lines, bold fonts, and professional styling.
- Fonts - It’s a good idea to use consistent fonts throughout your business. That doesn’t mean you need to stick with just one font everywhere you go – but you should have a handful of options (at most) that you turn to for every job. This is going to allow you to build consistency across the brand. Also, you can provide this information to any new designers you bring in for projects, so they know where to start.
- Color scheme - Selecting colors that you want to represent your business can be a mind-boggling chore. There are seemingly endless shades available to use, and you can drive yourself mad comparing one to the next over and over again. The idea here is to keep it simple and establish a basic color scheme that will run throughout the visual assets that you create for your business. For instance, your main color can be featured in the logo you have designed, and it can also be used on your website and on your advertising materials. From there, you can use other complementary colors to round out your designs and bring your brand to life.
The combination of logo, fonts, and color scheme will take you a long way toward establishing a solid visual identity to go with your brand. The look of your brand will likely change some over time, and that’s okay – try to stay true to your roots while also allowing the visuals to keep up with the times.
Balancing Identity with Growth
Once you have defined your brand and given it a distinctive look, it will be time to take it to the market and get down to work. If you are successful, you’ll start to gain a share of the market in your field and you’ll be able to grow along with your customer base. It’s a thrilling experience to create something from scratch and have it catch on with your target audience.
As time moves along, your task is going to shift from defining your brand to helping it grow and adapt as necessary. This is tricky because you don’t want to abandon the identity that you established from the start, but you also don’t want to be so stuck in your ways that you refuse to adapt to what the market is telling you about your business. We mentioned above that the look of your brand is likely to change over time – that is also true for the identity of the brand as a whole.
Whether it’s the type of products and services you sell, the way you deliver service, or something else entirely, don’t be closed off to the idea of letting your brand grow. The challenge here is to hold on to what is working and what your customers like about your brand while also leaving room for improvement and change. It’s a balancing act to be sure, but the brands that stand the test of time are constantly paying attention to this challenge.