A brand is not one thing.
It is a thousand things coming together into a whole, a feeling that your customer gets when they see you in a department store or online, an experience that can only be had through contact with that which is, by definition, irreplaceable.
It is more than mere logo and colors.
It’s a new friend reaching out a hand and asking you to have a coke, it’s Disney Land inviting you to the happiest place on earth, it’s Nike telling you to get over your fears and just do it.
But if it’s not mere logo and colors, then what is it?
To break it down, a brand is what comes out when your brand story, brand strategy, tagline, visual identity, persona, positioning, vision, values, and company culture come together to create a bigger picture, one that is perceived to be ultimately more than the sum of its parts.
In many ways, a brand is like a puzzle: each piece plays an important role in fitting with the rest, but to finish the puzzle, you must first have a consistent brand identity across all touch-points.
Once complete, your brand becomes the foundation on which you want your customer to perceive your product or service, helping you and your stakeholders get aligned on what makes you truly you.
What a proper brand strategy can give you
A well-built brand is a gift that keeps on giving. It helps you develop customer loyalty, forge a relationship with your customers, and eventually reap brand equity.
But you can’t do any of that without first striking an emotional chord with your customers.
And to do that, you must start at the very beginning.
The right time to start
Most businesses realize what they’re missing out on when it’s too late. They will have already built their empire when they start to ask themselves the big question: who are we, really?
By that time, they’ll be paying way too much for customer acquisition than they would have needed to if they started when they really should have.
Others figure it out when they hit a plateau - they have simply played the technical game for too long and got about as far as their arms could reach.
And by the time they get there, they will have undoubtedly lost more to competition with a stronger message than they lost to actual quality.
For both cases, the right branding could have helped them go much further.
That’s why the best time to start is at idea inception. As you build out your product or service, you must find answers to all your toughest questions at the very beginning and have everyone aligned before you proceed.
Here’s what a strong brand looks, and feels, like:
You have a consistent brand tone
Wherever your customer looks, starting from your social media channels and down to your packaging, they should be able to hear your voice.
Coming upon your banner on the road, your customer does not have to look twice to recognize your brand. Your presence is immediately felt, beyond your basic presentation, in all the little details and phrases that represent your brand in written or spoken form.
This is achieved when branding successfully creates a strong perception in your customers’ minds through a consistent brand tone.
You know where you stand with each campaign
Those who don’t have their branding down to a tee are faced with a recurring problem: every time they sit down to come up with a brand idea, they simply don’t know where to start.
The reason is self-explanatory: they have to figure out what their brand stands for every time they need to communicate it.
On the other hand, those who have a strong understanding of their brand can easily extract seasonal messages to apply to each campaign, integrating all-year-round campaigns into a cohesive whole that communicates the same, bigger message.
You have an emotional connection with your customer
In today’s world, a purchase is more than a money transaction, it’s a vote.
It says: “I stand by what this brand represents, and I want to be part of it through this purchase.”
Big brands know this, and that’s why they allocate thousands of dollars each year to corporate social responsibility programs and influencer campaigns, surrounding their brand with as many testimonials as they can from celebrities and trusted public voices to create a resonating field.
That’s because an emotional connection goes beyond a one-time preference, it’s what makes your customer choose your brand even though there might be a dozen other choices on the market.
To create this, a brand must go above and beyond a market test and lay the foundation for something deeper.
Your employees are here to stay
Your brand is not just customer-facing.
Your brand pervades your organization and company culture.
If a brand is known for transparency, then transparency likely started at the office, not on the market. And if your brand is inherently aggressive, it will be similarly felt throughout your employee ranks before it even enters the market.
This culture-brand connection is the true basis for an integrated brand identity, and it is what ultimately sets the narrative that your brand will come to be known for.
So, to start conceptualizing your brand identity, you must not only start from the beginning, but also from the inside. Your real starting point is the core of your organization, what is said about your brand when you leave the room.
Now that you know when to start, the next and final step is to ask yourself how you can go about it.
Where to start
Find a trusted agency/consultant/freelancer
A brand is a delicate thing, it takes a long process with milestones and landmarks that only a professional can truly navigate.
Skip the in-house brainstorming and find someone within your budget that you can trust with building a lasting brand.
Local options are best, because they know what the market requires, so don’t be tempted by the sages of faraway lands. Your next-door sweetheart is where it’s at.
Prioritize what’s crucial
If you’re constantly brand brewing, it’s easy to be lost in the melting pot.
Don’t work on everything at once, that’s a surefire way of getting absolutely nothing done. Instead, pick your priorities and set them out on a timeline: what’s most pressing, should definitely come first.
This approach is also helpful if you’re working with a limited budget, and it is most effective in achieving short-term objectives, which in turn translate to long-term goals.
Invest in your strategy
Speaking of where to start, your brand strategy should be your top priority.
A good strategy has a ripple effect: it is where all your decisions will come from, starting from where you identify your product and conduct research and all the way down to what your brand archetypes are and what your vision and mission should be.
Because ultimately, if you don’t know who you are, how can you ask others to know you?
Love this article? Stay tuned for our branding series, where we will dive deep into everything that makes a brand what it is.