It’s time to get serious about your brand identity.
How can your small business build a lasting brand identity that will stand the test of time? In this post, I’m going to show you how to establish, define, and develop your small business branding by showing the important key factors that successful brands are doing.
In this article, we will be discussing:
- What Is Brand Identity?
- Common Mistakes When It Comes to Branding
- Crafting Your Brand Identity
- 10 Steps to Creating a Meaningful Branded Identity
The sole purpose of this guide is to be useful as possible and keeping it as simple as I can. If you do find any parts of this post difficult or wonky (SORRY), please let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to help you out. Let’s get started.
What Is Brand Identity?
According to Investopedia, “brand identity is the visible elements of a brand, such as color, design, and logo, that identify and distinguish the brand in consumers’ minds.”
Important business development elements like positioning, messaging, personality, voice, mission, and values will help your business discover things like what your long term goals are, who your ideal target customer is, and craft a story that will resonate with said target audience.
What is Visual Identity?
Are you part of the 65% of visual learners? I know I am. After all, words aren’t enough to keep customers and prospects engaged these days.
I like to think of visual identity as the integral visual accomplice that helps create a comprehensive, unified brand identity.
So seeing that the majority of us humans are visual people, visual identity in 2019 is a must. But a brand isn’t solely the physical or visual elements that represent your organization. It’s also the feeling people get when interacting with your business, marketing materials, products, services, team members, and physical locations, also known as brand image. Your visual identity largely shapes the impression you leave on your clients and customers. It was Jeff Bezos that said, “A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.”
A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.Jeff Bezos
Common Mistakes When It Comes to Branding
Are you guilty of the following 3 branding mistakes? If so, it’s time to fix it! After all, this post is all about you figuring what you’re lacking in your branding efforts so you can make the necessary changes to get to the next level. So what are these branding mishaps you 100% want to stay away from?
- Meager visual design – Usually when I see a business that has strong branding and visual design, I can tell a lot about them. Of course, it doesn’t paint the full picture of what the company stands for, however, the professional visual design should fall in line with your core messaging on a consistent basis. (More on this in a sec)
- Lack of updating your marketing materials. – Don’t forget to do a marketing material refresh and make sure that your materials are all on message, throw out the old so that your brand is front and center. You don’t have to redo all of your marketing materials, but it’s vital that you create updated materials that share your core services and offerings.
- Inconsistency – Consistency in core messaging is key when it comes to building your brand, but companies will often work to brand certain components really well, while forgetting other components such as their telephone messaging, website, business cards, etc. You get the idea. Just remember, striving to be consistent will help you be taken seriously in your marketing. Consistent customer experiences and marketing messages drive positive sentiment.
Crafting Your Brand Identity: Important Preparations to Make Before The Visual Branding Process Starts
This is a crucial brand identity tip for all startups and small businesses. In fact, it’s hard to work with businesses that lack these elements in my experience.
Why? Well, it can be easy to overspend on visual design services and get ahead of yourself if you don’t have the core elements of your business strategy down first. It’s easy to get caught up in the design process. I know, I’m a designer, but I’m also trained and experienced so I know not to get ahead of myself. (and neither should you)
So the first 4 steps are integral pieces you need before you should even consider the design process. The more you dive into this post you’ll understand what I mean.
10 Steps to Creating a Meaningful Branded Identity
1. Before anything else, dive into your business strategy first
It’s important you work on your business strategy because that is what dictates the direction of what your branding represents to paint the picture of what type of design your business needs. Defining your business will help your business grow much easier. So it’s important to understand a few things:
- Who you are?
- Do you offer great value?
- What problems do you help your customers solve?
- Where do you want to go?
- What’s your voice?
- Why should people care about your business?
By answering the “tough” questions, you’ll be able to paint a vivid picture of what exactly your business represents and help you craft a mission statement. A mission statement defines a purpose for existing. It expresses what your company is most passionate about and all aspects of your brand building revolve around it.
And the only way to answer these tough questions is by really getting your hand dirty and figuring it out. It’s not that hard so don’t worry. However, you do want to commit a significant amount of time to work on any business planning to make your mission statement as clear as possible.
It’s important all pieces of your identity reflect your mission, such as:
and your mission should:
- Include core values
- Build communities
- Thrive on consistency
- Be unique
- Come from the heart
- Have meaning
So as you see, by building your business plan, you are creating an opportunity for envisioning a strong mission statement for your business that should reflect your core business model for time to come. And don’t worry if you don’t get your business plan perfect because as your business grows and changes, so should your business plan, and as a good rule of thumb, we all should be going through them once a month to refine anything that you see fit.
2. Establish who your target customer is
Business Partner: “So, who are we going to target?”
Other Business Partner: “Everyone”
We’ve all been there at some point it seems. What’s interesting to me is that lots of small business owners have a hard time with buyer personas and figuring out who their target market is. Not just having a hard time but truly struggling with it.
So what happens? “Let’s just target everyone”
And then, sigh… (fail)
See, not every business have an outrageous marketing budget to blow on a campaign like these mega brands. So it’s important to be grounded in reality and realize that not focusing on your target group of customers first and targeting everything and everyone is the wrong thing to do in your small business.
You should really be spending time on having a crystal clear vision of who your true clients are if you want to grow faster. Actually, the slimmer your target focus, the speedier the growth. The broader the audience, the more noise you will have to fight off. As you see, aiming, spraying, and sweeping is a slippery slope in this game.
Introducing the Buyer Persona
So, how do we actually slim down your target focus to understand who your target client is? Meet the buyer persona.
I’d actually bet you’ve heard of one. You might have printed one out or maybe even filled one out online before.
If you don’t know what a buyer persona or a customer persona is, it’s a basic document that you fill in that will help you figure out key elements of your customer. Now, let me be clear. There are many ways to go through the persona process. This happens to be the way that I do it and is probably the most excepted way to create personas.
The first thing you do is fill out your persona sheet. You can jot down the bullet points I’m about to list, or you can simply download our Buyer Persona template. Then you are going us the persona template to describe your ideal customer.
- Prospect Name
- Marital Status
- Household Income
- Net Worth
and you can drill it down further.
- Hobbies & Interests
- Personality Traits
If you think it’s a lot of work, then you’re right, it is. But just like your business plan, it is essential.
Smaller Target Market Mean More Success
Rather than targeting a broad audience and pulling your hair out after shameful attempts of promoting and advertising not working, you just have to work really hard to figure out a smaller group of people that want to see your goods.
But you’re not out of the woods. At least you’re carving a path in your branding strategy, and feel good about it because it’s the correct path.
After all, you want the right person discovering your business. Everything from your website, social media, ads, email optins, or any content for that matter. And determining that customer is a crucial step you don’t want to ignore.
Tip: don’t fill it out just to fill out. Put some genuine thought and research behind who your customers are. The goal is to not create a fake persona and move along with your day. No. Think hard, ask friends and family, do some research, search Google or any other search engine, search forums, directories, social media, review sites, trade publications, and any other media you can get your hands on that may help you in your research.
The deeper you dig into these exercises, you’ll have a better understanding of their perspectives and priorities, and better anticipate their needs so you can put your message in front of them IN LANGUAGE that resonates with them. And I’m sure you’re figuring out, it could lower your marketing costs by cutting out ineffective messaging to the wrong prospect.
Feel free to bookmark this post and come back to it when you worked on your personas. And if you did that already, let’s move on to developing your positioning.
3. Spearhead your positioning
Now you have a killer business plan and a better idea of who your target customers are. The next step is creating a three to five sentence long statement that communicates and reinforces your positioning to customers. Usually, you really want to dig in what your unique benefit is and what makes you a better solution than your competitors.
You’ll notice, by working on defining your positioning, you’re strengthening your long-term business goals by further communicating your value to your prospects.
After writing your positioning statement, you’ll have a strong foundation to support your products and services. Your prospects should read this statement and by the end, they know they will make a better decision by choosing your product or services over the rest.
Now that you’re positioning is ironclad, (and if not, I’ll wait) it’s time to move on to messaging.
4. Create your messaging strategy
Your messaging is the foundation of what you say about your product or services to your audience. So you have to translate your positioning into your messaging. So all of your messages should be rooted in how your product or service helps customers be better and solve their problems.
Still with me? Cool
Think of it like this. Your positioning is constant while your messaging can change, in fact, you should always test different messaging and find which types of messaging resonates with your customers the best.
This goes back to studying your buyer personas and having a better idea of who your customer is on an intimate level. If you have multiple types of customers, you will have multiple types of personas, thus you will have multiple levels of messaging that needs to resonate with each group of people. That’s why messaging is so critical and is worth your time to evaluate and map out your messaging.
Your positioning and your messaging are heavily rooted in your business plan. Since we worked on that in Step 1 of this post, (you did stop reading this article earlier to work on your business plan, right?) you should have an idea of a voice you want to represent your company.
Presto, you now have a message to go along with your voice! And you did it all by really digging into the tough questions and answering them in a logical fashion. Now you’re ready to move on to the visual branding phase and this is where it starts to get fun people. Your positioning and your messaging are heavily rooted in your business plan.
You get to take everything you worked incredibly hard on and turn your written communications into your “visual face”.
5. Create your logo
You worked so hard to create your business name in the beginnings of your strategy, now let’s give it a face. After all, you want to show people you are professional and mean business!
How to Choose the Right Logo for Your Business
If you want to choose the right logo for your business, keep this in mind. A great logo should:
- Create a solid first impression
- Grab attention
- Be memorable
- Champion brand loyalty
- Differentiate you from the competition
What Are the Different Types of Logos?
Not all logos are created equal and there are different styles you should be aware of.
So which logo style should you choose for your business? To simplify things, I’ll break these logo types into 3 categories:
Wordmark logo design – Google, eBay, and Toyota all represent the wordmark logo. Typically, this type of logo relies on text, typeface, and typographic treatments that express the brand’s unique position. This is actually one of the most popular types of logos because of the sheer effectiveness of projecting authority if done right. The lack of graphics in the logo usually makes for a business name that has to project what it does though name alone. Usually, that makes for a better business name.
Lettermark logo design – Think of a lettermark logo as a monogram for your business. Unlike wordmark logo design, lettermark logos rely on initials to represent the brand. Think IBM, HP, and even the New York Yankees. (Though I’m a Dodgers fan, don’t laugh)
Lettermarks can be a simple monogram or an anagram. FedEx represents an anagram lettermark logo, drawing on the first few letters of each word of the corporate name — Federal Express.
Brandmark logo design – Otherwise known pictorial marks – are logos that are made up of a graphic symbol or icon. Think McDonald’s iconic golden arches, Amazons famous smile, or Dropbox clever open box design. The object could be something simple, clear-cut and could tell the story of what your company does.
Considering Color Options
Color means everything in design. It’s one of the most noticeable, definite components of a brand.
But how do you come up with a color palette when developing your brand? There are many things to consider such as how many colors to use, how to use colors together, and how to differentiate their colors from competitors.
In my experience, keep the colors in a logo to a minimum. 2-3 max in your first palette. Too many colors can quickly get messy quickly.
Now, as far as secondary color palettes and advanced visual branding, there is a place for that. It depends on what emotions you want to convey to your audience (we’ll get to that in the sec). But first, let’s check out the research.
In this post, I talk about how people can make 62% – 90% of their snap decisions about products based on color alone. We can use colors to increase or decrease appetite, enhance mood, calm down customers, and, reduce the perception of waiting time, among others.
Or you can get the study here. It’s really fascinating stuff: https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/00251740610673332
After your logo is developed we can move on to the next step which is developing your visual elements and mood board.
6. Develop your Visual Elements and Mood Board
Mood boards seem to be all the rage nowadays, and with good cause. Think of the case for an interior designer for a second. Put yourself in their shoes. If you were a fabric upholsterer working on an upholstered chair, wouldn’t it make sense to come up with a few different color swatch combinations, fabric samples, drawings, and ideas and show your client rather than showing them a completed idea? Sure it does.
Mood boards establish the aesthetic and visual feel of a site that will give you inspiration going forward. Sure, they are not always necessary, however, if you are looking for a more established and elaborate branded feel, you need to explore ideas to develop. You don’t just create magic like that, it’s 100% a developmental process so you have to split test, or even multi-variant test to get the desired result.
7. Build Out Your Style & Brand Usage Guidelines
So how important are branded guidelines to a business? Businesses like Amazon, Flipboard, Airbnb, Nike, and Skype use style guides to keep their branding assets organized and on brand.
A style guide is a document that provides guidelines for the way your brand should be presented from both a graphic and language perspective. The purpose of a style guide is to make sure that multiple contributors create in a clear and cohesive way that reflects the corporate style and ensures brand consistency with everything from design to writing.
A strong brand style guide will include the following items:
- Logo size and placement
- Color palette
- Typography and fonts
- Photography/image style
- Web elements
Your style guide and brand guidelines are more important to your business than you think. Think of a style guide and brand guidelines as your wireframe for your website. Your wireframe is your website’s blueprint and your brand guidelines are your brands blueprint.
8. Develop your website
By this point, if you’ve been using this post as a guide and have accomplished everything thus far, you should be super proud! Many business owners will not have their business plan dialed in like you have before they dive into a web design project.
But when you have your voice, your messaging, your targeting, positioning, visual identity, and style guide dialed in, you have full control. You built a foundation that is going to set your website up for success.
What about content marketing, SEO, Paid Advertising and all that other stuff? How do you get traffic to your site? Again, great questions, but I will touch on that in a bit.
Recommended Reading: How to Create Smart & Effective Website Objectives to Achieve Business Goals
9. Build your marketing toolkit
This step will build out convincing collateral that describes your core products or services and shows prospects why you’re the #1 choice.
It should describe a compilation of different media types, which is used to help improve the sales of a product or service.
But today, companies use marketing collateral to inform potential customers about their products or services, so this term now refers to both offline and online media.
Your marketing toolkit should include (but not stop here):
- Presentation decks
- Lead Magnets
- Sales one-sheets
- Business cards
- Blog posts
- Product guides
- Case studies
If prepared appropriately, these tools serve not only a business development function but also are important for brand development.
10. Promote, promote, & promote (Did I say promote?)
This brings us to our final Step. Now, this step deserves its own post. (or 500) I’ll share some of my favorite posts on the following promotional methods but I’ll leave this up to you to explore. I don’t claim to be an advertising wiz, I only know what works with my branding design agency and I share that with you with hopes you can take that and use that in your personal work.
My favorite online promotion methods nowadays: ( the following posts are content that’s either published in 2019 or updated in 2019. I wanted to make that clear so you know you are getting up to date info. After all, in this industry, information changes Flash Gordon quick.)
Facebook Ads ( these posts comply with Facebook’s recent changes)
The greatest voice you can give your business is one that is clear and consistent. And you now have solid building blocks to build upon. And if you haven’t got started yet, I encourage you to bookmark this post for later.
How Neon Flamingo Can Help:.
At Neon Flamingo, we drink our own cool-aid. These are the same steps we’ve taken visually branding our business and we execute visual branding design for businesses exactly like yours.
Neon Flamingo Creative can help your business with its visual branding and design so you can stand out, appeal to your target audience, and drive sustainable growth.