Whether you’re a fresh new start-up on the tech scene or an established multi-national corporation, branding is an important factor to ensure the continued growth and success of your company.
But what exactly is branding? Branding is a marketing practice enlisted by a company that uses it’s name, logo, tagline, and more to become easily identifiable and distinctive against the competition. And when it comes to securing yourself in the first place, it’s an essential ingredient.
In the article below, we will discuss the importance of branding, how to build a branding strategy from scratch, and why it’s an important first step in your branding endeavors. We will also provide you with plenty of branding ideas to get you started.
Why branding is important
Branding is important because it shapes how your brand is perceived by existing or potential customers. Branding also helps to drive new business, retain customers and increase brand equity.
What is brand equity? Great question! You can learn more about it in our article: What is brand equity?
What is a branding strategy?
Like with any big project that requires different stages and team members, it’s best to devise a strategy to help guide you throughout the process. A branding strategy can stretch out for any amount of time (from a few months to several years) and can include elements like:
- The long-term goals for your branding campaigns
- How you will achieve these goals at a step-by-step level
- Key stakeholders responsible for different projects
- How this will benefit the customers
- Competitor analysis
Branding tip: Building a brand, is not the same as building a branding strategy. Building a branding strategy is about using your core brand assets like logo, color palette, websites and social media accounts to convey a feeling, emotion or purpose to your audience.
When outlining the goals you would like to achieve, it’s important to think about:
- Brand awareness. What qualities of the brand do we want customers to be familiar with?
- Positive brand associations. What is the first thing that comes to a consumer's mind when they think about us?
- Brand loyalty. What does a loyal, regular customer look like?
- Perceived quality. When referring us, what qualities will customers highlight in our product or service?
- Brand preference. How do we ensure customers choose us over the competitor?
- Brand experience. What will customers say after trying our product or service for the first time?
Why is building a branding strategy important?
There are several positive outcomes that come from developing a branding strategy. Here are just a few:
A branding strategy helps align your marketing efforts
One of the clear benefits you will see from your branding strategy is that it will help you align all your marketing efforts—and ensure that you're on brand with your campaigns, imagery and social media marketing. It also helps serve as a framework for any marketing brainstorm meetings.
Having a cohesive brand strategy helps you communicate with your customers more clearly. And the more consistent your messaging, the more likely you are to attract and maintain loyal customers.
It helps align multi-disciplinary teams
Not only does it provide consistency for your customers, but it provides a focus for employees too. With varying specialties, large projects can sometimes become unclear and more complicated than originally intended. A clear branding vision allows you to come back to the drawing board on a regular basis so that you can refresh and ensure that every decision helps achieve the larger branding goal.
It helps you evaluate what worked and what didn’t
An important part of any big project is to reflect and analyze how it performed. A branding strategy helps refresh the team about what the goals were and easily assess if they were met.
How to build a branding strategy
Define your brand
The first step in building your brand strategy from scratch is to define your brand. This can be broken down into a few different categories:
- Brand personality. A brand personality is a set of human characteristics that are attributed to your company. Building a consistent brand personality that permeates through all of your external facing communication helps build brand equity. When ideating your brand personality, it’s important to ensure that it aligns with your product or services. For example, if you’re a law firm, it’s likely that you want to be seen as trustworthy and strong. However, if you work for a creative agency, you’d want to ensure that you are seen as creative and playful.
- Brand voice. Similar to brand personality, brand voice is about ensuring there is a uniformity in grammar, tone and word choice so that they accurately communicate the brand. It is how a brand conveys its brand personality to the external audience. Some common themes brands use are personalities like friendly, approachable and understandable.
- Brand identity. Your brand identity is compromised of the visual elements that help communicate your brand. This includes your color palette, graphic design, logo, and images. The goal of these visual aids is that it’s easily distinguishable to new and existing customers.
- Brand values. These days, a brand is a lot more than the products or services they sell, it’s also about the values and ethics they have. Customers like to believe that they are putting their money to good use, and interweaving your values with all of your messaging helps achieve that.
Above is an example of WeWork’s brand values. WeWork is a company that provides shared workspaces for freelancers, startups, and communities around the world. As we can see from their website, they have taken that product and iterated it into a brand mission to “Create a world where people work to make a life, not just a living.” Here, the company is allowing its audience to envision a flexible and stylish lifestyle—with the help of imagery.
Its values are also clearly displayed on the website. This helps take the audience further down the funnel, connecting with them on a deeper level.
Establish your brand purpose
While it can be confusing the discern the difference between brand values and brand purpose, it’s easiest to think of brand purpose as—the core reason that the brand to exists aside from making a profit.
For Nike, according to AdWeek, this purpose is to “Bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world … by creating groundbreaking sport innovations, by making our products more sustainably, by building a creative and diverse global team and by making a positive impact in communities where we live and work.”
For Apple, Bolt Group outlines that it is to, “To empower creative exploration and self-expression.”
Tip: When ideating your brand purpose, think about the start of your company or brand, and the gap that it was trying to fill.
Determine your brand objectives
Similar to what was mentioned earlier in the article, it’s important to define what you would like your branding efforts to achieve. This is usually awareness of the brand, brand associations, brand loyalty, perceived quality, retention, and conversion.
Identify your focus audience
It’s not unusual to want to build a brand that appeals to a wide net of varying demographics, however, it’s important to identify who your key audience is for various branking campaigns to that you can target them to speak to different types of audiences. It’s important to invest time and effort into narrowing down your focus audience and experimenting with how to communicate best to them.
A core element of any branding endeavor is to use the power of design to help communicate to your target audience. This is where a brand kit comes in. When thinking about your branding strategy, it’s important to assess whether the visual elements of your brand—think logo, brand colors, fonts, photography—align with the overall branding strategy and what you are trying to achieve.
If you feel like it’s worth tweaking some elements or rebranding, don’t be afraid! It’s something that many mega-companies have invested in before.
Want to learn more about the art of rebranding? Here’s an article on the 10 questions to ask yourself before starting a rebrand.
One easy way to improve your services or product is to assess your competition. The primary goal of this type of analysis is to assess strengths and weaknesses and as a way to inform your own branding decisions. Some helpful initial questions to ask:
- Who are our competitors?
- What do they do better than us?
- What are some of their weaknesses?
- What branding strategies are they employing and does this look successful?
Remember, a strategy can always grow and change
One important last note to remember—your strategy isn’t set in stone. In a world that moves so quickly, it’s easier than ever to experiment, pivot, shift a completely rewrite strategies that aren’t working. While it’s worth giving your original ideas a go, it’s also important to remember that there are always learnings that can be added in the future.
01. A logo that reflects your brand essence
When we think of brands, a lot of us first think of a logo. But, since we’ve cleared up that “brand ≠ logo”, we’re now able to discuss the idea of logos as a separate entity, a building block of a brand. And I’d dare say that a logo is one of the foundation blocks of a brand.
A logo is a graphic element that depicts your brand visually, which is a lot to ask of one graphic. There’s no set formula to a good logo, consider some of the biggest brands you can think of—Google has a simple serif typeface, Target has a minimal graphic element that usually has no accompanying type, and Starbucks has a logo that combines graphics and type. The combinations are endless.
Check out this set of logos. Some are type-based, some pictorial, and some are a combination of the two. Each type of logo has its benefits. For example, the type-based logos are great for communicating a brand name instantly, while the pictorial logos are good for creating a unique visual representation of your brand. The combination of the two gives you more flexibility when it comes to the range of applications.
A successful logo doesn’t happen in an hour, nor does it happen overnight. Think about it, do revisions, experimentations, feedback and brainstorm sessions, and create hundreds of potential solutions until you hit on something that looks and feels right.
02. A unique form
For retail-based brands, the product that you supply is a tangible and literal representation of your brand, so it makes sense that you should make something memorable and fitting.
Let’s take, for example, the shape of a KitKat bar. The shape of two trapezoid bars of chocolate encourages the consumer to snap the bar in half, making the experience of eating this particular chocolate bar unique and branded. Even though the act of snapping the bar or having that trapezoid shape doesn’t have an overtly practical purpose, what it does do is brand both the physical form and experience of eating a KitKat bar.
This unique shape as devised by KitKat has helped brand them as the snack you eat when you need to have a break, with the tagline “Have a break, have a KitKat”. Such a simple consideration of shape and form have had such a huge payoff in helping to brand KitKat as a memorable, universally enjoyed product.
Another form-based element that can play a part in branding is materials. What would it say about your brand if you heavily promoted eco-friendliness, and then sold your product in extravagant, unnecessary and non-biodegradable packaging? One brand that has thought about this and taken action against it is the cosmetic retailer Keihl’s.
As Keihl’s explains, “Packaging is one of the areas where we’ve found a number of ways to make eco-friendly choices. Our team has thought creatively about ways to make the packages for our Kiehl’s products as earth-friendly as possible.”
From recycled bottles and caps to the non-PVC laminated labels, right down to the recycled look and feel of their brown card packaging, Keihl’s has fostered and maintained their eco-friendly brand through careful and deliberate decisions when it comes to form.
Whether you’re designing a chocolate bar or a cosmetics brand, be sure to leave no stone unturned when it comes to maintaining your brand, every little element counts.
Letting people know about your brand's advocacy and supported causes can go a long way to building your reputation. Posters like Teal and White Coral Reef Photo Environmental Protection Poster and Informative Illustrated Environmental Protection Poster are great inspirations for your own event, or try our poster maker tool for personalised poster recommendations.
03. An intentional use of color
Color plays such an undeniable part in branding—it can influence the tone of your brand, generate certain emotions or sentiments, color can make or break a brand.
First port of call when discussing color is to make note of color theory and which colors can have specific effects. You might notice that technology or finance companies use blues and cooler tones in their branding, or that health food brands often use greens and earthy browns. This is in part thanks to color theory and the effect that these colors have on us. For a quick rundown, check out the graphic to see what certain colors mean to us.
Some brands use color so specifically and effectively that it is trademarked. Tiffany & Co.’s cool blue color offset their signature silver jewelry so well that the color is now trademarked. Other brands have taken legal action to protect their choice in color, such as Home Depot’s orange, Cadbury’s purple and UPS’ brown.
So, how do you achieve a color palette so perfect for your brand that it warrants trademarking? Mainly through experimentation. Pay attention to color theory, but don’t feel constrained. Similarly, pay attention to trends within similar brands, but don’t feel that you have to follow suit.
A handy tip is to find distinct colors from your brand’s product or history and sample tones right from there. Do you have a common palette in your imagery? Try to build a palette that works around that. Take a look at these examples that show just how easy compiling a palette can be when you have the right imagery. Find a photo that you love or that you feel represents the tone and essence of your brand and sample directly from it to create a quick and easy palette.
At the end of the day, look at your own brand objectively and figure out what works best for your tone, objectives, audience and (ultimately) your brand.
Pick a color that best represents your brand. With Grayscale and Neon Green General Media Kit template, the logo's color stands out from the stark background, while White with Pink Borders Blogger Media Kit plays on the femininity of the lifestyle blogger. Find out how to create your own media kit with Canva.
04. An addictive brand name
We all instantly recognize what that lowercase ‘i’ in front of nouns means—iPod, iPhone, iMac. Apple is just one example of a company who has used simple yet memorable, flexible and catchy brand names. The success of Apple and it's little ‘i’ branding only proves that a successful brand name is a key to a successful brand.
One of the other hallmarks of a successful brand name is when it turns from a name into a noun or a verb. Take, for example, the phrase “I’ll Google it”. Google has moved past the point of being a brand name and has entered the realm of being a verb, a synonym for “search”.
Similarly, “Band-Aid” and “Frisbee” have become the dominant descriptive nouns for the items they represent to the point that some people don’t even know they are calling the item by the brand name (this is why you’ll find generic brand versions advertised as “adhesive bandages” and “plastic flying disc” respectively).
So, what kind of brand names are there? A lot, actually. Check out this compilation of a few of the more common ones. From made up words, through to using only initials, there’s no strict formula to a successful brand name which means you are given a high degree of flexibility.
When planning out a brand name, be sure to not take on all of these ideas at once. As is the general rule of thumb with branding, simple is best. It’s not advised to combine your founder's name with a neologism and descriptor and then shorten it into initials for example. Choose one method, make it simple and evocative of your brand as a whole.
Find what works for your brand, ask others’ objective opinions and take them seriously, be sure that it’s unique and not too alike a similar brand, be sure it is easily pronounced and ultimately, be sure that it fits.
05. An intentional use of language
We all know the value and importance of language and how certain words carry certain meaning. If you were to describe a car as ‘powerful’, this would attract people who want a faster, tougher car, but it may detract people who want a safer, more child-friendly model to drive their family around in.
An example of careful and intentional use of language comes from the corporate giant Apple. In 2012, Buzzfeed broke down all the adjectives ever used to describe the iPhone into a 2 minute video. The most frequently occurring words were “Revolutionary” “Breakthrough”, “Beautiful”, “Faster”, “Thinner”, “Gorgeous”, and “Lighter”.
As a brand that focuses on a marriage of cutting-edge technology and stylish design, Apple intentionally uses a lot of comparative adjectives like ‘faster’ and ‘thinner’ along with a lot of aesthetic-based adjectives like ‘beautiful’ and ‘gorgeous’ to communicate this brand focus.
Another brand that uses language effectively and as a part of their brand is Disney. When putting together words like ‘magical’, ‘kingdom’, ‘fantasy’, ‘dreams’, it conjures up images of Disney—and for good reason. They use these words consistently and constantly. Below is a list of words used by Apple and Disney respectively.
Disney’s specific use of language doesn’t just end on the advertisements or within their movies though, this language spans right through to their employees. Disney’s theme parks are populated with employees (or “cast members” as they are dubbed by Disney) ready to wish you “a magical day!”
As a former cast member of Disney, Robert Niles explains, “Disney World had its own code language.” Employees must never say a ride is “broken” or “down” but rather “temporarily unavailable”, customers are known as “guests”, being on or off the clock is known as being “on stage” or “off stage” and the theme park as a whole is known as a “show”.
This thorough maintenance of theatrics and cheerfulness through a specific branding of language has been enforced so consistently to maintain the magical brand of Disney.
06. Clever and composed taglines and slogans
Following the discussion of language is the topic of taglines and slogans. These are incredibly useful tools; the careful compilation of words helps to explain what your company does, what your brand values are and gives you space to get a little creative.
A good brand will create a tagline or slogan that stays with you and keeps you thinking beyond your encounter with the brand.
Two examples of memorable, informative and carefully composed taglines and slogans are from audiobook service Audible and pharmaceutical company Abbott.
Audible recently featured the slogan “Stories that surround you”, a clever and simple message that emphasizes the immersive nature of audiobooks, and draws on the idea that each spoken story is taken from the world around you.
Similarly, Abbott Pharmaceuticals exemplifies their passion for quality and their consumers’ health with the tagline “A Promise For Life”, cleverly using keywords ‘promise’ and ‘life’ to guarantee a healthy life for the consumers as well as a pledge of service ‘for life’.
A good tagline complements your brand and your brand name and is memorable. Have a look at some of these commonly used taglines and note how simple they are. While some expand beyond, the sweet spot in terms of word count is at about 3-5. The fewer words, the easier it is to remember.
Let your taglines and slogans communicate the beliefs, functions and/or tone of your brand in the simplest and quickest way possible. Don’t be afraid of getting creative with them, but also don’t be afraid of just keeping them simple.
07. Carefully crafted tone
Gone are the days where your only way to communicate with brands and organizations was out in public. Nowadays, brands have Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, consumers communicate with these brands from the privacy of their own homes. This constant communication between consumers and companies means that the tone carried throughout these conversations is a crucial part of the branding.
So, how do we brand tone? Well, let’s look at two examples.
First, we have Nike. This multinational sports goods retailer has an extensive presence on social media, from Twitter to Facebook, even Pinterest. And over these platforms, Nike has created a specific tone, best described as motivating, authoritative and determined, very in-keeping with their brand. Their authoritative tone and motivating energy encourages consumers to ask questions and heed the advice, simultaneously strengthening the brand.
On the other end of the scale are brands like Old Spice, a men’s grooming supply company that has branded itself as satirically masculine. Their Twitter page, for example, is full of humor and banter with an occasional plug of their product. Old Spice’s choice of tone engages with consumers by having an easy-to-replicate formula to their jokes, which encourages the consumers to participate in the satire which in turn provides content and brand maintenance/awareness.
Ask yourself this: If my brand were a person, how would they speak? Find a tone that is both fitting, functional and unique to your brand.
08. A compelling mission statement
A brand with no mission is like a car with no fuel – it has just about all the right equipment but isn’t going to get anywhere fast. Brands that have a clear message, intention and driving force behind them are generally more successful than brands without.
Consider Oxfam’s mission statement: “Oxfam’s vision is a just world without poverty.” Clear, concise and reflective of their brand, Oxfam’s mission statement provides a solid foundation for the brand to build itself upon. Any and all publications, designs or campaigns Oxfam undertakes calls back to this one mission statement which helps direct focus and strengthens the consistency of the brand.
All mission statements don’t have to be about changing the world like Oxfam’s is, but instead, it should be tailored to your own brand and a reasonable mission for it to take on. A good mission statement is obvious and clear.
Let’s consider Google for a second. What would you assume Google’s mission statement would be? Something about information, order and searching, right? Well, according to their about page, “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” There we go, an obvious and clear message that they most definitely achieve and seek to continue achieving.
A good mission statement helps give your brand direction, keeps everything consistent and strengthens your brand’s values and effectiveness.
09. Genuine connection and emotion
Picture a Coca-Cola, or Coke, ad in your mind. Did you picture young people drinking Coke on a beach or at a party, surrounded by friends, dancing, having fun? This is Coke’s brand, this is what people buy when they reach for the red bottle of dark liquid—not always the taste or the price, but (somewhat subconsciously) they set out to buy the experience that they expect to have.
So, where do these expectations of experience originate? Yep, you guessed it: branding.
A good brand establishes an emotional connection with its consumers that often actually surpasses the product. Giving your brand a distinct and authentic ‘personality’ helps it sit apart from the rest. This is a large reason why we often gravitate towards name-brand products even though the generic products are often just as good and often more cost-effective. We do this because these name-brand products have established some form of a connection with us through careful branding.
A study from Germany actually reported that while the average consumer cannot taste the difference in a blindfolded taste test, peoples’ brains often register more enjoyment and pleasure if they think they are drinking Coke or Pepsi.
As Tom Jacobs explains, “This suggests the term “Coca-Cola” instantly cues up the idea of pleasure… (it) creates a shorthand reaction that bypasses the part of the brain that might actively evaluate its quality.”
There we have it, scientific proof of the effect that quality branding and a strong emotional connection can have on consumers. So, rather than treating their brand as an emotionless object, a good brand will give it personality, use emotion to create a lasting connection with consumers.
Whether it’s a dose of sentimentality, security or perhaps just friendly service, create connections from your brand to your consumer, so that when they see your brand out in the wild, they will feel a certain way about it emotionally, rather than feeling distant and viewing it simply as a product on the shelf.
Appealing to the audience's emotions is a powerful too, particularly your brand is running a campaign like in these templates, Red Pizza Party Fundraiser Flyer Green Dog with Shades Pet Fundraising Flyer
10. Appeal to the everyday consumer
Think about the most successful brands in the world, they all span across countries and continents, known and experienced by people of all ages and cultures. And how do they do this? By appealing to the everyday person.
There are certain emotions and life experiences that are common to the human race, whether we experience them ourselves every day or see them experienced by others, there are certain traits we can identify and relate to in some way. Successful brands use these experiences to build a universally accessible brand.
A good example of a brand that appeals to the universal emotion of happiness is McDonald’s, particularly with their product, the Happy Meal. Introducing the Happy Meal to McDonalds’ brand was a smart and simple way to strengthen the brand by appealing to a key demographic—children, and by extension, their families.
And how does McDonald's project happiness through a children's’ meal? By appealing to the other simple yet universal idea that children like to play with toys. And even better, McDonald’s appeal to the every-child has let them partner up with popular children's’ movies to create toys of their favorite characters of the moment—keeping the toys new, relevant and in demand.
With the simple act of putting a topical toy in every Happy Meal, McDonald's has helped create an overall brand for themselves as a restaurant that makes children happy. And when the children are happy, the family is happy.
In this way, by appealing to universal truths like ‘children like toys’, ‘families want to be happy’, McDonald's has turned itself from just another fast food restaurant to a place families can routinely go to make their children happy, something that McDonald's knows is a priority for many families.
To keep your brand appealing to as many people as possible, consider what emotions or sentiments you can play up. Family, love, happiness, trust, humor, are commonly relatable emotions. Research your audience, consider what people like and need and think universally.
11. They dare to be different
The key to standing out from a crowd is originality. But, the thing about originality is that anyone can do it. Anybody could start up a brand with a unique point of sale or an outrageous design—the trick is finding a point of uniqueness that works.
A prime example of a brand that stands out from its competitors is, once again, Apple. As previously mentioned, Apple’s brand focus is on pushing the limit on its products, always thinner, faster, more patented, but it also has an equally as heavy focus on aesthetics. This is what set Apple apart from the competitor companies such as Android, Microsoft etc.
A heavy focus on the aesthetics of the product and the software let Apple tap into a market that hadn’t really been delved into before. Their advertisements focussed (and still do focus) on the capabilities of each device, but also on the design, the colors, the feel of it in your hand. This bold move quite clearly paid off as the focus on stylish design appeals greatly to people who prefer a little form over function in their technology.
While taking risks with your brand can be, well, risky, a well-calculated and informed risk can pay off big time. Whether you want to stand out with an atypical product, a distinctive design, or unique brand objectives, just be sure that you don’t make decisions that are illogical or ruin the effectiveness of your brand in the name of being different.
12. Religious consistency
To put it simply, you could have the biggest, most well-crafted brand in the world and ruin it all with shoddy consistency.
Imagine, for example, if Dove, the brand that promotes natural beauty, released a line of Botox injections. Or they suddenly started using a mockingly satirical tone on Twitter in the vein of Old Spice, or if they changed their logo 5 times in the space of a year. The well-curated and carefully maintained brand Dove could be torn down in no time at all, simply through inconsistent choices.
There are many reasons why inconsistency occurs, but one of the main causes is lack of communication. This is where a brand identity manual comes in handy big time (for actionable tips about beginning that process, be sure to check out these 20 points). Set rules, show examples, plan for the worst and hope for the best. Be sure to communicate with every channel of your brand, from the designers right through to the social media managers to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
A brand should work like a well-oiled machine. Maintaining your brand should only look effortless when in reality there should be constant communication, guidance, and evaluation.
A brand that has kept things consistent is Nike. We’ve talked about Nike’s consistent use of tone, but on top of the language-based elements, Nike has also kept itself aesthetically consistent. Check out these ads for Nike; the calls to action on each ad are consistently motivating and authoritative, and the type that they are set in is just as big and punchy, making a Nike ad easy to spot from a mile off.
Whatever your branding is, from its tone right down to its aesthetic look, be sure to keep it consistent. While brands have ‘makeovers’ every few years and develop new styles as the times change, be intentional with any changes you make with your brand. Have good, solid reasoning for any drastic changes you make. A good brand doesn’t have to change that often, so when you set the foundation, be sure that you’re happy to build upon that specific branding for time to come. Consistency, consistency, consistency!
For more handy ideas to keep your brand cohesive and consistent, be sure to check out these tips!
A good brand is timeless, communicates well and is ultimately memorable. While there is no strict formula to creating a successful brand, a consistent and thoughtfully executed plan of attack is paramount to success.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and nor were the top brands. It takes time, effort, communication across the board and it takes purpose. Plan it out, seek advice, seek feedback, seek opinions. Find solutions that make sense and that feel right and go from there.