Brand identity has become a hot topic but many marketing pros have only a vague idea of what it really means. While it may sound superficial to some and academic to others, a strong brand identity is critical to the success of any organization, whether B2B, consumer-facing, or not-for-profit. Once you’ve gained a better understanding of the key components and underlying purpose of brand identity, you can use this foundation to create a brand identity for your own company. The fundamentals provided below will help get started.
What is brand identity? In its most basic terms, your brand identity is who you are and what makes you unique. It encompasses how you think, what you believe, and how you operate. It reflects the value you create for employees, customers, investors, and indeed, the world.
Your brand identity can be expressed in many ways, including the visual and verbal tools used to convey your reality. Visual branding is comprised of not only logos, but also fonts, colors, image types and placement, symbols, and wordmarks. When these tools work together as a system, they create a cohesive presentation for your organization. Verbal brand identity is an equally important part of your overall toolkit and may include your company’s name, tagline or slogan, and voice or tone.
Visual and verbal tools should work hand in hand to express your unique promise across all touchpoints and reach your audiences in memorable, authentic, and compelling ways.
Now that we’ve defined brand identity, let’s explore why you need an effective one. Above all, the better you know and express your brand identity, the more effectively you can help others understand and value you. A compelling brand identity creates clarity, relevance, and appeal among both external and internal audiences. It also sets clear expectations, drives decisions and behaviors, and builds strong customer relationships.
When your brand identity is clear, things fall into place and decisions become easier. Team members are motivated to do the right things. Customers and investors come to you for the right reasons. If you think this sounds too good to be true, think again: strong brands can successfully weather all kinds of ups and downs whereas weak brands often fail in the long term.
To create a brand identity, you must first understand your organization from the inside out. This can be a big undertaking, as perceptions held by different stakeholders and audiences may differ. Once you truly understand all facets of your organization, you can then create a differentiated and lasting brand identity.
While no two situations or strategies are identical, there are core phases of work that apply to all brand identity development projects. Below, we spell out an approach that will help you surface unique opportunities and arrive at a powerful brand identity.
Step 1: Set Clear Objectives
Before you can communicate your unique essence, you need to identify desired outcomes. Do you want to build customer awareness or differentiate yourself from a particular competitor? Has your established brand identity become stale – or are you creating a new brand identity from scratch? To generate a disciplined analysis of brand opportunities, challenges, and objectives, you must immerse yourself in your organization, engage your internal community and analyze your competitive environment. Typical activities at this stage include internal workshops, stakeholder interviews, market research and communications and competitive audits.
Step 2: Know Your Audience
Any objectives you establish must resonate with the needs and aspirations of your key audiences. This doesn’t mean you simply tell people what they want to hear. However, it does mean that you know what their perceptions are today, so you can set their expectations for the future. Qualitative and quantitative audience research can be very useful in getting a read on current needs and perceptions among your audiences. More importantly, it can help you understand the gaps in their knowledge of you and expose opportunities to communicate in a new way.
Step 3: Think About Why You Exist
Once you have a clear understanding of your opportunities, objectives, and audiences, you can begin to develop your identity strategy. The ideas you develop must express your unique promise and build a sustainable competitive advantage. In addition to focusing on who you are and what you do, you must also articulate why this matters. What would the future look like without you? Put another way, how can your presence make the future different and better for those around you? These questions can help you think differently about the practical and emotional promise you make to the world.
Step 4: Tell Your Story
With your brand promise, core ideas, and audience messages now solidified, you need a visual and verbal form to help you express them in a way that’s simple and inspiring. Verbal expressions in particular should be aspirational but backed with clear proof points. In addition, designed visual identities should encompass a language and attitude that is true to your brand and flexible enough to be applied across different marketing and communications media.
Brand identity systems typically include:
Once you’ve created a set of communication tools that exemplify your brand identity, you should compile these into Brand Identity Guidelines to help different audiences represent you clearly and accurately.
We’ve helped scores of organizations across industries define and express their brand identity. With the knowledge we’ve shared here, you too can be on your way to creating a powerful brand identity.
Learn more about our approach to helping clients develop a winning brand identity.