The iconic curve of a soda bottle, the swoosh of a certain sports giant or the purple wrapper on a milk chocolate bar. These are companies that have all built instantly recognisable brands - we not only know what they sell but also what they stand for.
This is the result of great brand building. However, this goes beyond an attractive logo or witty slogan. It is the company’s story, its purpose, its unique personality. Brand is identity.
As a small business you might think branding is only for the big players. Think again. As start-up branding expert, Muneebah Waheed describes, “Branding is as crucial for small businesses as it is for the Apples and Virgins of the commercial world. A successful brand emotionally connects with its customers because they share the same values and beliefs, in much the same way as successful human relationships transpire.”
As advertising tycoon David Ogilvy said, “products, like people, have personalities, and they can make them or break them in the market place”. Research tells us that brand personality not only plays a crucial role in customer retention, but also has a profound influence on a company’s performance.
Building your brand may seem like a daunting task. Here we break down the fundamentals so you can’t start your journey.
According to the experts at The Branding Journal, brand positioning ‘describes how a brand is different from its competitors and where, or how, it sits in customers’ minds.’ This is the foundation of your brand journey.
It starts with research. Giles Edwards, Founder of award-winning branding agency, Gasp encourages founders to disregard assumptions they might have about competitors and customers and use a variety of methods to uncover unbiased insights:
“You need to empty your mind of everything, mentally shake out your neuro limbs of all their assumptions and preconceptions. You need to become market-orientated; that is to separate your own biases, thoughts, and views from those of who the real consumer is.”
Once you truly understand your market and your customers, you can determine how to position your brand so it stands out, answers unanswered challenges and speaks in your customer’s language.
Cultures the world over are defined by stories. As humans we are hardwired to respond to storytelling that sparks curiosity, elicits emotion and inspires empathy. For brands, an emotive, compelling and - importantly - truthful ‘origin’ story tells your audience where you came from and why you do what you do.
As Behavioural Scientist, Dr Pragya Agwhal puts it: “Successful brands create a narrative, something that positions them as unique, and creates an emotional connection with the customers. Good storytelling is all about forging an emotional connection.”
1 - What is your mission?
You started your business to close a gap, answer a problem, to solve an issue. Your mission is your starting point. Write down what it is that drives you and what your mission for customers is. Patagonia is a great example of a business that has nailed its mission story. It doesn’t just make clothes, it is starting a sustainability movement. Check out their denim story here for inspiration.
2 - Tell your origin story
Were you inspired by a life event? Were you moved to design a service you simply couldn’t find for yourself? Your personal story can strengthen emotional connection with your target customer. Science tells us that as buyers, we are driven by emotion over and above rationality. For example, the founder of underwear brand Spanx tells of the power of her personal ‘white pants’ story in winning over investors, stockists and customers. It’s a simple but powerful example of bringing your business to life.
3 - Focus on the customer
Remember, your story is designed to be told to an audience. Even though it’s about you, it’s really for your customer. Think of the details that will connect with your specific customer. Show them you understand them and their lives. For example, if you’re a surfwear brand, include mention of surfing terms or the swells that inspire you. Use their language.
Finally - don’t worry about perfection. Brand stories evolve and develop. Showing your human side means embracing imperfection!
An important distinction to make in this journey is the one between your brand (your organisation’s values, purpose and personality) and branding.
Branding is one way in which you bring your brand to life. They are not one and the same. However, it’s worth exploring what branding is so you can understand how it is a tool of your brand.
Branding creates a cohesive visual marker for your brand. Where your brand might be the ‘feel’ of your brand, branding is the ‘look’.
The first visual element you’re likely to consider is a logo. However, branding goes far beyond this to incorporate all marketing collateral, websites, menus, packaging, uniforms, social media profiles and, where appropriate, your physical business space. You want to make sure that your visuals and branding match your story.
For example, colours play a huge role in perception, with psychological responses to certain colours making an unconscious impact on customers.
Branding can even include sound – as Danish brand agency Essencius explains, “Sonic branding involves connecting a brand with an original sound effect, song or jingle. Sound is increasingly used as a marker for brands.”
Brand guidelines - the colours, shapes, fonts and images you use will ensure that no matter where your brand is represented, it remains consistent and recognisable. This may be a job for a professional designer, and it can be worth investing in outsourced help in creating your brand design bible.
Brand starts with asking some fundamental questions. The Design Council suggests that any organisation, large or small should start their brand journey by considering:
The big idea – what lies at the heart of your company?
Values – what do you believe in?
Vision – where are you going?
Personality – how do you want to come across?
These four questions could help set you on the path from being just another business to a truly iconic brand.