You’ve got something that people need and you’re looking to launch it; it’s a product or maybe a service.
If you’re a small business, having a brand strategy is critical for getting your name out there. You need to get noticed and – most importantly – be remembered for all the right reasons.
Make no mistake. Building a brand isn’t just about the visual side of things.
Designing your logo, perfecting your aesthetic, and setting up a business email address should all take shape pretty far down the line.
You should first have a good think about how you want people to perceive your business. Build that reputation.
And have no fear: designing brands isn’t just an art reserved for the big shots.
We’ll show you how to build a brand online from the ground up. Here are 6 questions that you should tackle if you want to build a brand that people will notice and fall in love with.
Table of Contents
1. Who are you selling to?
Figure out your target market straight away.
You’ve got a great product to sell, so establishing who should be buying it as a matter of priority. Otherwise, you risk derailing your entire brand strategy.
You probably had a customer in mind when you were creating your product. It’s hard not to, whether you’re developing something completely bespoke to your business, or buying trend-led products in bulk.
That’s a great first step, but there is so much more to envisioning your customer.
Don’t shy away from being a little obsessive about perfecting a target market. It will form the foundation for your brand identity.
Work out who needs you
You’ll frequently stumble upon quotes from Steve Jobs while researching how to build a strong brand.
It only makes sense; that man is a branding genius.
He once said: “a lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
This might be true if you are a visionary who has redefined and reinvented technology with your products.
If you’re not quite at his level yet, or want more data-driven evidence, check out market research.
As a brand innovator you will need to ask yourself some critical questions to be able to start narrowing down your target audience.
You can’t be all things to all people, so:
- What has your brand got to offer people?
- Who would benefit most from your brand?
- Why would people choose your brand over others?
Dollar Shave Club is one brand that absolutely nailed it with understanding their target customer from the outset. They were entering a hyper-masculine market with a basic version of a widely-available product.
Who needed their brand?
The product solved a problem for the founders, so they identified that their target audience was men just like them. By creating a brand identity that was humorous and no-nonsense, they were perfect in their customer approach and brand positioning.
Build a customer profile
Brands construct and reconstruct customer profiles at many points throughout their existence.
Gaining customer insights when you have been operating for a while is incredibly valuable. Building a customer profile while you work to build a brand identity, however, gives you a great head start.
This could be the difference between you aiming at anyone with a beard to shave, then realizing your ideal customer is specifically someone with a beard and a sense of humor.
Map out a list of demographics that you can pick from to build your brand’s target audience. Think about:
- Age, income, and marital status
- Education level, location, and spending habits
- Interests, lifestyle, and brand affinities
Consider your competitors
Whoever you target with your business, they will already have their brand favorites. People may not know they need your product yet, but it’s more than likely you’ll have competitors in some form.
Understanding brand affinities is core to understanding your target market.
For starters, knowing which non-competitor brands your potential customers use will help you find where to pitch your brand.
Getting to grips with your competitors will give you the insight you need to set your brand apart when it comes to identity. You can authentically drive your brand’s point of difference when you understand what everyone else is doing.
Your product doesn’t need to be completely unique as long as your brand strategy is. Make a visual competitor analysis document, and ask yourself:
- How is the competitor marketing themselves online and offline?
- What is the quality of their product? Look at price points and customer reviews.
- Are they consistent in their messaging? Is their brand identity clear?
2. How are you special?
You should give your potential customers a reason to believe in your brand. Don’t just sell something that people need – make them want it, too.
Your brand’s desirability doesn’t start and stop with a great aesthetic. Being able to provide a story and making your value proposition clear will form the basis of your success.
Once you have scrutinized your competitors and created a target customer profile, take some time to figure out what makes your brand unique.
Your proposition will become the first impression your brand makes to everyone who comes across it, so make it good.
Don’t hide your proposition behind buzzwords or sentiments – make it clear. This is intended for your potential customers, so show:
- How your product can solve a problem or meet a demand
- What benefits your product has
- Why people should buy your product and not your competitors’ products
Take a look at some of the brands behind products you use on a daily basis.
See how each one makes a proposition that completely encapsulates what the brand offers. Not that you’ll be surprised – that’s what convinced you to use their products every day.
Netflix is a great example.
When Netflix, a highly successful brand, evolved into a streaming service, they constructed a very clear, deliverable proposition:
“Unlimited movies, TV shows, and more. Watch anywhere. Cancel anytime.”
In just a handful of words, a prospective customer can see exactly what the product is, that it’s convenient and that it’s flexible.
The clever choice of words also adds an element of power and intrigue: how are the movies unlimited? What’s the “and more”?
Once you’re in the declaration-making flow, turn your attention to your brand mission statement.
This one’s for you.
Whereas your value proposition helps explain your brand to customers, your mission statement explains your brand to you, and anyone else you hire.
Set out a mission statement while you’re perfecting your strategy, and you’ll be future-proofing your brand identity.
It will allow you to maintain focus in everything your brand does.
Netflix’s mission statement commits great service to its customers, profitable growth to its investors, and excitement to its employees.
Here’s a formula:
- What is your brand’s purpose?
- How will your business deliver this?
- Why will you do it in that way?
Everyone has a story.
It’s what sets us apart from all the other humans on the planet and helps us form emotional connections with others.
And that’s exactly what you want your brand to do, too.
Storytelling goes hand-in-hand with your value proposition: one hooks the customer in, the other makes them want to stay.
Take the glasses company Warby Parker.
This brand’s story introduces a problem that the founder had experienced and wanted to solve.
It makes clear that the brand is filling a gap, reiterates their mission statement, and declares a commitment to a cause.
If you’re able to humanize your brand’s identity, you’ll be going some way to ensuring lasting profitability for your business.
We’re all wired to engage with a narrative, so not only will your brand story gain your customer loyalty, but it’ll also motivate any future employees.
- Explain your brand’s reason for existing. Keep it brief and relevant.
- State what you stand for. Show what sets your brand identity and values apart.
- Be transparent. Some of the best success stories are seasoned with lows as well as highs.
3. What’s your personality?
This is where you truly get to decide how your brand will speak to people. Whether you’re building a brand for a business or for yourself, it needs to have its own personality.
As with the story of your brand’s existence, a solid personality will humanize your business and help set your brand identity apart from its competitors.
As you build your brand’s personality, you should revisit all the steps you have taken so far. Check in with everything from your target audience to the story you’re telling.
Find your voice
Further along in the brand-building process, a clear personality will help you establish visual branding – what your brand should look like. Before you figure this out, though, decide what it should sound like.
You want your brand identity to resonate with the customers you have worked hard to target.
As your business picks up speed, the brand will need to engage more directly with these customers. Making sure your tone of voice is aligned with their expectations is crucial.
- Consider which adjectives best describe your brand. Is it witty? Exclusive? Reliable? Pick four or five words that stand out to you.
- Imagine your brand as a character. Separate from logos and visual language, this step can help you personally put a face to the brand.
- Think about which platforms your brand will use to communicate with customers. What language would suit these platforms?
Look at Wendy’s, the American fast-food chain. Although it was founded over 50 years ago, the brand’s values still influence a very notable, young personality.
Wendy’s was founded on three main principles: quality, affordability, and comfort. Very simple and very approachable.
The tone of voice that the brand employs is colloquial to say the least. Describing its Spicy Chicken Sandwich, Wendy’s declares it is “all about that nugg life.”
A play on words, a popular cultural reference, and an abbreviation popularized by teenagers: this brand’s personality is crystal clear.
Appeal to your customers
If you want your brand to appeal to an older, more affluent audience, telling them you’re “all about that nugg life” probably won’t fly.
You’ll already have a detailed picture of your prospective customers, so be sure to carry that through as you build the brand’s personality. Don’t try to emulate the people you’re selling to, but be what they will relate to.
The Rolex customer is professional, organized, and definitely wealthy. Embodying what their target audience will understand, the brand’s personality exudes competence.
In describing its products, Rolex uses phrases like “scrupulous attention to detail.”
The brand is striving to attract pretty no-nonsense people who admire good design. Their watches are “classic,” “ultimate,” and “prestige.”
Active across nine social platforms, Rolex knows its customer lives their life online. The brand has adopted a tone of voice which is simple enough to be repeated on every platform.
- Do your brand adjectives align with adjectives you’d use to describe your customers?
- Will you be doing your brand justice with its personality? Think about how people will perceive it.
- How will your customers want to engage with your brand? Is it how you imagined?
Pick your platform
If you value your spare time, you probably won’t want to do as Rolex does and give your brand nine different social media accounts.
That said, you really shouldn’t build your brand without considering a social media presence.
It gives your business the opportunity to connect instantly and directly to your customers, so think about which platforms will work best.
Let’s return to Wendy’s, whose brand strategy is so entertaining it’s worth referencing twice.
The brand is very active on Twitter, where it engages in hilariously spiky conversations with customers. Although the dialogue seems to fly in the face of sensible brand strategy, Wendy’s Twitter presence is actually consistent with the messages the brand conveys elsewhere.
This approach wouldn’t work so well if the brand’s website was polished and aspirational. We’d all think the social media manager had gone rogue.
When you build your brand’s persona, bear in mind:
- Which platforms will suit the brand. You’ll likely want a cross-section to capture as much of your audience as possible.
- How you’ll remain consistent. Can you maintain a strong brand tone at all times on every platform? If not, it might be worth reconsidering the language.
- What the brand will look like visually. Will your captions suit your photography or your logo?
4. What do you look like?
Grab your pencils.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this part came earlier. Designing the branding is the most fun part of brand strategy and building.
But now we’re here, aren’t you glad we covered how to create a brand strategy first?
Your logo may well be the most memorable part of your brand identity. Some logos are so iconic, just their shape can say everything about the business they represent. Take McDonald’s golden arches, for example.
There’s some psychology behind the visual components of a brand. From logo, the colors, to typography and beyond – you can make constructing your brand identity very scientific.
As you build, consider the blocks that have made up your brand strategy so far.
The core component of your branding, your logo will appear everywhere. From your website, your products, to your business cards: this is how you get the brand name out into the world.
Designing a brand logo should be given the time and talent it deserves.
If you aren’t the creative type, outsource your logo design to someone who is.
Don’t lose all the direction that has brought you to this point, though. Construct a creative brief that lists out every important part of your brand strategy.
You want to ensure that this single visual emblem of your business is able to convey its personality, story, and values.
You should make sure that it will resonate with your customer base, as something that makes your brand attractive and desirable. Remember:
- To check that your logo is scalable. How does it translate from your website homepage to your Instagram icon? You certainly don’t want it to have any tiny elements that would look illegible when shrunk down.
- To make it represent your product or service. Make sure it relates.
- To make it unique. It might be a blindingly obvious tip, but copying is rife.
Even if you’re a small business, it pays to learn from big brands. Adopting the ‘keep it simple’ approach will help your logo become and stay identifiable.
A simplistic design will also lend itself to tweaks in scale or color. Think of the Nike swoosh tick, for instance.
Fun fact: Nike’s iconic logo was designed by one of the founder’s students, he paid $35 for it and didn’t even consider it that great at first. Phil Knight was quoted as saying he didn’t love it, “but it’ll grow on me.”
So much has been said about the science behind colors. The color palette you land on can really heavily impact the impression your branding has on people.
Color is well known to elicit emotional responses. This extends beyond your logo to every visual aspect of your business: your website, product labelling, even physical stores, if you have them.
The palette you choose should be designed with your target audience in mind, as with all elements of your brand identity. What kind of personality did you decide was right for your customers to engage with? Perfect your palette and:
- Research color meanings. Yellow can represent happiness. Red is energetic and passionate. Find what’s right for your brand.
- Remember the end user. If your business is fun, go for brights. If you want to be trusted, pick soothing shades.
- Keep it edited. Don’t plaster a single color over everything, but have a select range.
Take your branding all the way to perfection by making sure your typography is on point.
The typography you choose for your brand is just as important as the logo and colors. Imagine paying good money for a stellar logo and making your palette into something emotionally compelling, only to roll out Comic Sans as your chosen typeface.
Do some research on typefaces: you can find them for free, pay for them, or get a typeface that’s custom-made for your business.
There are some invaluable guides online which will talk you through all the steps you should take to nail your typography.
As with every one of your design choices, bring it back around to those core principles you have already established for your brand.
Broken record? Yep, but you’ll be grateful that you checked:
- That the typeface works with your logo. Particularly if you have opted for one that’s ready-made.
- That the typeface aligns with the brand personality. It sounds a little snobby, but this is a worthwhile sense-check. An angular, capitalized typeface probably won’t gel with a cute, colloquial persona.
- That you’re not copying your competitors. That would be awkward.
5. Are you consistent?
We’ve covered consistent dialogue – you don’t want one personality on your website and another one on your Twitter. Well, the same applies for visuals.
Your branding – made up of those visual elements that distinguish your brand identity – should always be consistent.
Not only will a joined-up visual message make you look professional, but it’ll go some way to foster familiarity with your customers, too.
Set brand guidelines
Right from the get-go, create a guidebook for your brand. Alongside the mission statement, some clear guidelines will help protect the integrity of what you’ve built.
Sounds a little intense for a small business?
This tool will simply help you and others – like future employees – to contextualize your brand’s identity. You’ll find that most companies with a brand that they consider worth protecting will lay out their design rules in this format.
Effective guidelines will instruct whoever touches your brand’s identity to:
- Not touch the logo. Some brands have secondary logos: maybe they’re black and white instead of color. But never let your logo be stretched, squished, or reconfigured.
- Stick to the typeface. And remember the font size, among dozens of other design related things, such as the color palette.
It pays to make your guide short and to the point. You can cover a lot of ground in a few pages.
The American Red Cross went a step further when they came to design brand guidelines, and created a poster to make their message crystal clear.
The section of the poster dedicated to tone of voice is something that should be made use of more often. You know that personality is a huge chunk of your brand’s identity, so it’s worth integrating into the guidelines.
The American Red Cross states that “how we talk is as important as what we talk about.” In four concise paragraphs, the poster efficiently displays the brand’s guiding principles.
Find a photography style
Whether you’re offering a product or service, one way you’ll promote it quickly and effectively is through photography.
You know how important it is to push a visual message when it comes to your business. Don’t let photography get left behind – this is a piece of your branding that deserves consistency.
The style of photography that you choose for your business branding should, unsurprisingly, tally up with the personality you’re pursuing. Ensure whatever you post on social media mirrors the statement you’re making on your website, too.
Filling your business Instagram page with memes is not that frowned upon in 2020. But if your business is Rolex? Probably not cool.
Run through some checkpoints to figure out what style of photography is right for your branding:
- What will your target customer understand? Highly conceptualized content won’t necessarily suit a professionally-minded audience, for instance.
- Does it match the tone of the product on offer?
- Is it your only route? Perhaps you’d prefer to work with illustrations, or graphics, or a combination.
Believe in the brand
Future-proof your brand.
One final step in ensuring consistency when you build a brand is to make sure that the plans for your business are water-tight.
You’re only really at the beginning of your brand’s life, and while you can’t tell the future, you can give it a good shot.
Every brand building block in the process resembles some future-proofing when you think about it. So once you’re comfortable enough with your brand’s strategy to set it into guidelines, take some time to reflect.
Where identity is everything that helps distinguish your brand, image is something created through marketing.
You want to feel confident that as you go forward and launch your business, that your image will do your identity justice. Ask yourself:
- Does the brand or branding have space to evolve?
- Have you got a strategy to maintain your brand image?
- Do you believe in the brand? If you don’t trust all the things you’ve said about your business, it’ll be tricky to convince anyone else.
6. Should you build a personal brand?
Are you prepared to embody your business?
The concept of a personal brand won’t appeal to everyone. It takes a lot of self-filtering and impression management.
Prepare to be in it for the long haul and prepare to do a lot of speaking.
Personal brands are great for entrepreneurial types: artists, authors, content creators.
Sometimes they’re tied to big businesses: think Oprah, Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs, of course.
Now that you understand how to start a brand for a company, you can apply a lot of the same elements to yourself.
If you’re set on creating a personal brand, consider if these actions align with your way of thinking:
- Owning what you do. Both the good and the bad, it all comes down to you.
- Staying active online. Alongside your website, pick the right platforms and remember that the sum of your activity is more important than your follower count.
- Storytelling. You’ll need to know exactly what you’re offering, and you should become a master at the elevator pitch.
A personal brand can absolutely work for a small business. If you’re already known for something, like being a graphic designer, using the brand building blocks on this list can take you to the next level.
One great benefit of creating a personal brand is the unexpected flexibility that it brings.
With a more traditional business model, it can be trickier to change direction. Say a store sells sofas, and suddenly it decides to sell clothes. Way to alienate your customers.
But with a personal brand, your target audience is invested in you. They trust what you say and think as an individual, so if you flip flop from one thing to another, it’s likely your crowd will follow.