If you’re reading this, you probably recognize that a strong brand is an important part of business development. But you may be wondering how to create a brand identity. That's a great problem to solve. But before we dive into our recommended strategies for creating a strong brand, let’s make sure we’re clear on a couple things.
First, when we say brand, we’re not just talking about logos. Your brand is the collective perception of your company in the minds of your audience (meaning, what others think and feel about your company). It’s their perception, and they own that. But you can shape it and make it strong.
Second, when we say brand identity, we're referring to all the ways you can affect that brand perception—look and feel, language and behavior, the visuals, and so on.
The seven strategies below are intended to help you get the most from working with the brand and marketing teams responsible for creating and implementing your brand identity.
1. Achieve clarity
Do I have to meditate for this? Nope. We’re talking about practical clarity here, where everyone understands and accepts the same things about a given topic.
Start at the beginning (business strategy)
If you haven’t sorted out your business strategy yet, you might be putting the cart before the horse. Imagine marketing your business if you hadn't decided if you were going to sell luxury yachts or fishing boats. It would be an expensive and flawed effort.
We’re not business strategy experts, but the basics include what you’re selling, who’s buying, and the reasons they’re buying from you. These business strategy components, in the context of your high-level business goals, are critically important pieces of information for creating and marketing your brand.
Internal buy-in and shared clarity
When your leadership team has a shared and accurate understanding of your business strategy, and all understand the reasons for working on your brand, you’ll see better outcomes. All will be evaluating and informing the work through the same lens. All will be rowing toward the same destination.
When this isn’t the case, and leaders each have a slightly different understanding of strategy, and those two members are grumbling because they think brand is a waste of money, it causes problems. We’ve seen problems like miscommunication, subjective feedback, design-by-committee compromises, and sabotage. These all get in the way of the work, either by slowing down, diluting its effectiveness, or both.
Bonus! It’s much easier to hold your brand team accountable when you haven’t given them any cracks to slip through.
2. Assemble the right resources
There are two idioms that come to mind here. “Get the right people on the bus.” And “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” What cooks you invite onto the bus will depend on your situation.
To start, you can include the person who has final approval, the person who signs the check, and the person responsible for implementing the work when it's done. If you have an executive team and board of directors, we will recommend (and almost insist) that a key member of each group be involved in foundational brand-building work.
A rule: If someone is going to be involved in reviewing work, they need to do so in the live review meetings. This allows everyone to be ‘read in’ before review, and minimizes the kind of subjective feedback that happens when a stakeholder’s family member is asked what they think over dinner.
Your brand team might be entirely external, entirely internal, or a mix of internal and external talent. But, collectively, they must know how to build a brand identity. We recommend having these skills at the table.
- The ability to understand your business strategy and communicate professionally with your highest-level stakeholders
- The ability to create unique and meaningful creative work and to explain how they do that
- The humility to engage with you in a meaningful and respectful way (no egomaniacs)
- A working knowledge of how branding affects your core channels—branding and web design, branding and print, branding and packaging, branding for social media, and so on.
Remember that title doesn’t always reflect expertise. And neither does a portfolio. And any single person who claims they can do it all is probably lying.
Skills, experience, and quality all cost money. And like most things in life, you get what you pay for. If you value your business, value its brand. That’s how most people will encounter and remember it, after all. Understand that quality work will deliver better results. And paying less means lesser results. You may not be able to see the difference, but your audience will.
3. Strategy first (brand strategy, that is)
This is a really important step. And it’s way easier if you checked that business strategy box up above. Components of brand strategy include important things like audience, audience research, competitive analysis, purpose, values, persona, positioning.
In short, your brand strategy identifies your current brand as it is now, how it needs to evolve to meet your business goals, and the brand-building activities that can get you there. A roadmap. And it prioritizes those activities. You probably can’t do everything on the list. Be strategic about which you invest in.
This is a hard one to do on your own. There is a tendency to rely on anecdotes, intentions, hope, the boss’s memory, or delusion rather than data. An outside perspective, based on real research and data (even a little bit), will always yield better results.
A strong brief
A good team will provide a project brief (often called a creative brief) that clearly states the project parameters and necessary background information, and defines the problem and desired outcome of the project. All creative work and recommendations should be tied to this brief, as should all client feedback.
Asking someone to design or build any component of your brand without a clearly defined problem and desired outcome is a waste of time and money. It’s like paying someone to build a house without giving them any plans or parameters.
4. Trust the process
Process is key
If you’re hiring a creative team, be certain that they have a process designed to produce what you’re asking for. And be certain they can talk about why it applies to your situation. They should be able to answer without any evasiveness or over-generalized answers. And then trust them to be creative for you. Let them do their work and show you how and why they’re doing what they’re doing.
What not to do
We have talked with people who tell us, “I know what I need, I just need someone to make it.” Usually, this is done because 1) they’re excited and have been brainstorming, and 2) it’s scary to cede control of something so important to an outsider. The thing is, the high-level of importance is exactly the reason to hire an outside expert. They will see things objectively in a way that you never can.
Your creative team is not a pencil for you to wield. They are skilled professionals trained to translate abstract ideas into visual form. You wouldn’t tell your surgeon, “I know what needs to be removed, I just need someone to do the slicing.” So don’t do that with your brand team.
Quick! When I say homebuilder, what are the first images that come to mind? If you’re like most people, a hammer and a house or roofline. This is perfect for Pictionary, but if your brand team stops there, your logo (your core brand visual) will be just another unnoticeable entry among the millions of hammer/house/roofline logos in the world. It will certainly categorize your business—hopefully correctly. But it won’t make you distinctive. It won’t differentiate. Differentiation will require an exhaustive exploration of concepts.
Why the extra effort? Because that’s where the unique and surprising ideas happen. That’s where meaning is woven in. That’s where distinctive concepts come from.
*Pro tip: Services that will assemble a logo for little (or no) money are not exploring at all. They are creating the most superficial of superficial ideas (like hammers and rooflines), which perfectly reflects the small investment. The results are often plagiarized and ineligible for trademark protection. And AI will not solve this problem.
5. Get the right tools
More than a logo
Yes, the logo is a core element. But the right team will define your brand well beyond a logo. They will consider how your brand will show up on a website, in social media, and at that trade show. A brand identity system answers these questions with guidance for the use of color and typography, and for the selection and treatment of photography and video. It defines your brand’s voice and vocabulary, and what it says most often.
If your team only delivers a couple logo image files and disappears, ask for your money back. That’s not good enough. They should set you up with tools to roll out your new brand identity.
6. Use it well
Put it to work
Working with a brand team can be costly, so don’t let the results of that investment sit unused in a drawer. Its most valuable role is to support business development activities, which is how it pays for itself.
Implement your new brand identity first in the places that are highly visible and easiest to change. That will often be your digital branding—a small-scale update to the branding of your website, presentation template, and other digital components can be rolled-out pretty quickly. Printed materials can take longer to update and produce, though you may have critical sales materials at the top of your list.
7. Revisit often
The world changes
Your audience and customers will change. Technology will disrupt. Your business will need to change with it. Regular assessments of your brand efforts will reveal new gaps and opportunities that call for adjustments to be made. These small and frequent course corrections are a great way to remain current in all parts of your business, including your brand-building efforts.
Story time: Cost of complacency
A client came to us after three decades in business because they were running out of customers. Their business was built on repeat customers, but those customers were now in their 70s and 80s and didn’t need their product any more. The business hadn’t evaluated and adjusted their brand over time—they were blinded by familiarity and didn't see the problem growing. And the younger generations of customers they now needed to serve weren’t finding their brand relevant.
Think of it like car maintenance or your annual health check-up. If you notice something acting strangely, address it quickly or you cause a bigger problem.
What are you waiting for?
If you made it this far, I’ll wager that you’re looking for insights and resources for your brand journey. Hopefully this has been a helpful resource.
If you want to communicate with your audience with a strong, cohesive brand that oozes credibility, do it right. Take the time needed to achieve clarity and assemble your resources. Then let your amazing team guide you through the creative processes to deliver the tools you need to shape your brand in the minds of your customers.
If you think we might be the right team for you, let's find out.