Ten aspects of building a strong brand identity.
The three most valuable brands globally — Amazon, Apple, and Google — are worth $1 trillion. While most companies don't need to reach mega-brand status to stand out in their niche, some lessons challenger brands can take away from the giants. Most importantly, they need a solid brand strategy to support a strong brand identity.
Brand identity isn't just a logo or an advertising campaign; it's how a brand presents itself to the market and interacts with its audience. It covers product design, audience targeting, employee relations, and customer support. There's no aspect of a company that's not a part of its brand identity.
Let's look at the top 10 elements you should address to create a strong brand identity, from the most basic to the most complex.
In this article:
Look and Feel
Unique Value Proposition
"What's in a name?" Shakespeare famously asked. When it comes to branding, the answer is "a lot." A name identifies, differentiates, and reflects the owner's essence, which is valid for brands. The brand name is its first impression; it's strengthened by good customer experiences and destroyed by bad ones. Choosing a name isn't a straightforward process, so it helps to follow a few basic principles to make sure the name advances the overall brand strategy:
Be simple. While sophisticated wordplay might be tempting, it's more important to be understood. A good brand name is easy to pronounce and conveys the brand's purpose and character. When part of a broad, rich brand strategy, even the most straightforward names are the most powerful. Think Apple, Facebook, or Toys "R" Us.
Be memorable. The strongest memories are emotion-based, and influential brand names do an excellent job of conveying emotion. For example, Land Rover taps into a sense of adventure and escape.
Be original. A strong brand name must be one of a kind, and that's a tough ask in a saturated global marketplace. Yet, there are many ways to convey originality. For example, did you know that the brand name IKEA is an acronym for the founder's name and hometown? Or is the name Lego an abbreviation of two Danish words meaning "play well"? A unique name has another advantage — it'll be easier to obtain trademarks, and domain names are more likely to be available.
Building a solid brand identity boosts brand awareness and perception, and this can only be done correctly by targeting the right audience. For example, if the target audience is new mothers, a brand will naturally focus its advertising strategy on parenting websites and online wellness forums. If the audience is teenagers, it might include native ads on gaming sites or sports channels. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 90% of top-performing B2B content marketers focus on the audience's needs rather than what the brand wants to say.
A deep understanding of your audience, what matters to them, and their needs and challenges should directly shape a company's brand — from the visual design to developing its core values. Everything should center around the target audience.
Neuroscientific research at MIT demonstrated that the brain could process images in 13 milliseconds, and logos provide instant brand recognition. The world's most famous brands are recognizable by their logo alone, which is why companies place so much importance (and so many resources) on logo development. For example, BP spent millions of pounds introducing its new sunflower logo to the market, and it was still met with controversy.
A brand logo should be instantly recognizable: simple, unique, appropriate, and memorable. Most importantly, it should convey the company's messaging. Companies should also consider the sizes and shapes their logo will be expected to take, from website headers to products to stationery. Make sure the logo scales easily or comes in variations that fit common shapes and media.
4. Look and Feel
Strong brand identity comes from high design standards applied consistently in every aspect of the brand's strategy — from office design to product packaging, web design, and social media posts; this is achieved with a brand style guide or brand book. A solid brand book comprises a wide range of information governing the brand's distinct look and feel, font types and sizes, brand colors, logo design and size, layout rules, and more. Minor discrepancies in design can erode brand identity; even seemingly trivial matters — such as the letter spacing of the brand name — can negatively affect it. A brand book can help prevent that from happening.
5. Unique Value Proposition
A critical element of any brand strategy is defining the brand's unique value proposition (UVP). The UVP describes how the brand differs from its competitors, its benefit to customers, and how it solves its pain points. By clearly outlining the brand's value offering, the UVP also establishes the brand's positioning in the market. A UVP should not be complex or sophisticated but clear and descriptive. Take the UVP of raw cookie dough maker DŌ: "the original gourmet edible and bakeable cookie dough confectionery." It clearly describes the product ("cookie dough confectionary") and its features ("edible and bakeable") while positioning the brand as "the original" and "gourmet" to competitors.
6. Thought Leadership
An effective way to strengthen brand identity is by cultivating a market position as a thought leader. Thought leadership is when an individual or company is recognized as an authority in its field or niche. It's cost-efficient to build a brand presence as it harnesses the company's team's inherent skill, talent, and charisma. Thought leaders are sought for their expertise and opinions and often feature articles, blog posts, industry journals, webinars, podcasts, live speaking events, TV, and more. Imagine Microsoft without Bill Gates or Tesla without Elon Musk. The good news for smaller businesses is that thought leaders don't have to be world-famous to impact brand strategy significantly.
7. Brand Values
Every memorable brand stands for something, whether saving the environment or something specific, like making clothes that fit every body shape. These brand values help the company focus its efforts toward unified goals, often expressed as aspirational statements or promises. They also help cement a brand in the minds of its target audience, giving them a powerful bonding tool with the people they hope to market.
Failing to create and communicate brand values leads to brands that don't feel "alive" — brands that remain abstract and corporate and don't resonate with any audience. Some executives see this as a positive: If you don't align yourself with specific values, you won't risk accidentally turning off potential customers. But unfortunately, these companies also won't attract prospective customers and risk creating a brand that doesn't stand out from competitors.
Setting and communicating brand values is essential to creating a lasting brand image. The values a company picks should reflect the importance of its audience and staff — they also have to be reflected in its marketing and products. Most of all, any brand values a company espouses need to be considered sacred and unbreakable. Customers might shop with an organization with clear values but won't shop with one that breaks their brand promises.
Over three-quarters of consumers make purchasing decisions because of the brand. That's why it's so essential to cultivate brand memorability. It's tempting to think that memorable brands are the ones appearing in Super Bowl ads or flashing on billboards in Times Square. That may be true of the world's largest and most famous brands, but any brand can achieve memorability without spending millions of advertising dollars. Brand memorability comes from some basic strategies: excellent customer service and responsiveness, high product quality, and authentic marketing messages. Take the below Christmas video, produced for $130 by a mom-and-pop hardware store in Wales, UK. They didn't need an advertising agency or a six-figure budget to create a powerful, memorable campaign with over 2 million YouTube views in 2 weeks.
9. Employee Advocacy
More and more brands realize the power of their employees in building a solid brand identity. Some of the statistics surrounding employee advocacy are truly impressive — brand messages shared by employees got 561% higher reach than those promoted by regular brand channels. Plus, employee advocacy contributed to a 65% increase in brand recognition. Employees of an organization are natural partners in brand marketing; they know the company inside out and have a personal stake in its success. In the best case, they're loyal and proud of the brand, creating a positive flow of brand messaging to their social and personal networks. Employee advocacy is also prized for its high ROI — brands can boost their reach and exposure at minimal cost simply by providing content for employees to share.
A strong brand identity is a coherent one. It provides a consistent, logical, and satisfying customer experience that fulfills the promise of the company's unique value proposition. Of course, an essential aspect of brand cohesion is ensuring consistency in design across all marketing activities, such as websites, social media pages, and ad campaigns. However, true brand cohesion is much more than that. It means not just fulfilling customers' current needs and expectations but anticipating new ones as they arise and before the customers even realize they have them. Brand cohesion demands a flexible, integrated organizational infrastructure that supports this dynamic approach.
Brand identity is a broad concept, and it can be challenging to know where to begin. However, with the help of the elements outlined above, large and small brands can build an identity that engages and excites their target audience while remaining true to their authentic values. That's the basis for an effective brand strategy.