Every company has a brand. At its most basic, it's represented by the name you’ve got scrawled across your awning, written on your business cards, or attached to your email signature. But that doesn’t mean it’s doing anything for you. The difference between a strong brand identity and a weak brand identity is the difference between standing out in a crowd and getting lost in a sea of faces: it’s the difference between life and death.
Your brand is your most valuable asset, and it’s a lot more than just the name of your business. It’s your whole identity, the distilled essence of your company. It encompasses your name, design, symbols, or really any identifying feature that makes you distinct from other sellers on the market, and it should convey everything you want your brand to represent. It's your business's unique personality.
Or, as Jeff Bezos put it, branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. That means that having a strong brand is a key component of building a successful marketing strategy – and it’s where you have to start.
There are three basic factors you need to keep in mind when you’re developing a brand identity:
- Your Core
- Your Audience
- Your Market
This is the heart of your business: it’s who you are and why you’re in business. It’s the “identity” part of brand identity, and it’s something you need to have well-defined. If your sense of your core is “to make money,” you aren’t going to have a brand that resonates with anyone.
Defining your core can take some serious introspection and internal discussion, but should revolve around a few basic questions:
- What are you trying to accomplish and for whom?
- What makes your company unique?
- What’s your unique value proposition?
- What’s your company’s personality?
- How would you sum up the experience you want your customers to have in one word?
At the center of these questions is the need to clearly establish the parameters for your brand; your brand, after all, defines you, so it needs to conform to a well-considered outline that correctly defines what your company is all about. Do you want to be thought of as young, hip, and innovative like Apple? Do you want to focus on providing a magical feeling like Disneyland? Are you interested in owning luxury the way BMW does? Are you lighthearted? Serious? Staid, freewheeling, energetic, tough?
Defining the traits, values, goals, and personality that drive who you are and what you do is the key first step.
It can be tempting to think of branding as essentially being a statement about yourself and your company: what it values, espouses, works toward, et cetera. But any statement necessarily has an audience, which means you’re trying to communicate something to someone.
So the real question you need to be able to answer isn’t just who you are, but who you want to reach. Who’s your audience?
The fact is that your brand identity should be located at the intersection between who you are and who your customers are, because, quite simply, you have to appeal to people, and a brand that doesn’t resonate with your customer base isn’t a brand that’s doing you any good. Imagine, if you will, a company called “X-Treme Staxx Investment Banking;” while perhaps the brand will get attention, it almost certainly won’t attract much in the way of business no matter how true it is to your company’s commitment to extreme sports.
In short, branding that doesn’t take its customers or market into account only alienates business. So how can you avoid this?
Two words: pay attention.
If you’re new to this industry, it’s time to start conducting market research; if you aren’t, simply think back on who your best, most reliable customers have been. A market segment is usually pretty self-explanatory and consistent, which means that figuring out who your primary customers are isn’t the hardest thing in the world to do.
What this lets you do is focus how you communicate your values by keeping you informed of what your customers respond to. That can be anything from your value proposition to how you want your business to make them feel; in either case, at the end of the day your brand identity is something being communicated to someone.
So many law firms in America have the same website. So many have the same message. So many make the same claims. Very few do much to truly stand out in the marketplace, at least as far as branding is concerned.
Which means that a brand that does break that mold is going to find itself getting attention.
This is the case in lots of industries; habits become hard to break, and messages start to coalesce around generic ideas of acceptability and faux standards; the end result is a market that feeds on conformity and doesn’t encourage innovative thinking or imagination. And this is normal! Because the processes behind this are driven by risk-averse brands trying to look professional enough not to alienate anyone – while not doing enough to get any attention.
By engaging in a comprehensive audit of other businesses in your market, you can assess what’s working, what’s not, and what you can do to break out of the same-old same-old. What sets your business apart? What experience do you offer that you can communicate through your brand identity that nobody else is using? What makes your business something other than just one more company?
Because that’s ultimately the entire essence of building a powerful brand identity: demonstrating why you’re special and different instead of exactly what they could find anywhere else. That’s the idea that the most powerful brands of our day – Apple, Amazon, Nike, Uber – are built on. And the answer lies at the intersection of who you are, who you’re after, and what everyone else is already doing