The Making of a Brand: A Guide to Defining and Building a Powerful Brand

The Making of a Brand: A Guide to Defining and Building a Powerful Brand
  • Your brand is the identity you present to the marketplace, encompassing your business’s purpose, personality and character.
  • Your brand must quickly and precisely define who you are and why your products and services exist.
  • If you need to rebrand, consider your company’s current state, priorities, philosophy and audience.
  • This article is for small business owners interested in creating a powerful brand or rebranding to fit their current circumstances.

To connect to your target customers and help your business grow and thrive, entrepreneurs and small business owners must understand and own their company’s identity. Your unique business philosophy, personality and how you stand out from the competition comprise your brand.

When you define and build a powerful brand, you prioritize growth while understanding your business and target customers. You can connect with your audience meaningfully and encourage loyalty. We’ll explore the importance of building your brand to stand out, create an identity, and back up what you’re selling.

What is a brand?

Your brand is your marketplace identity. Many people are familiar with visual brand elements, including logos. However, your brand goes beyond what people see to include a comprehensive internalized image of your company that includes who you are, why you exist and who comprises your target market.

Consider iconic brands and the images they conjure in your mind. For example, when you see Levi’s denim products, your impression likely goes beyond jeans. Levi’s may conjure images of the rugged West and evoke impressions of durability and even the “cowboy” mystique and charm. Similarly, when you see brands like Coca-Cola or Patagonia, your mind likely automatically evokes feelings that go beyond images of soda cans and fleece jackets. Powerful brands stay with consumers, going beyond the products themselves to capture emotions.

Your brand is your identity. It will extend to every aspect of your business communications, including marketing, advertising and public relations. It comprises the images and feelings you want to evoke in consumers’ heads when they hear your brand name.

Your brand should quickly and precisely define who you are and why your product exists.

How to build a brand

When you begin the process of identifying and building your brand, consider the following three questions:

  1. Who and what are you?
  2. Why do you exist?
  3. Who is your target market?

The answers to the first two questions may seem obvious. However, when you take time to define and understand your answers, you’ll be better equipped to express your identity. These answers will also help you identify your customer base, leaving you better positioned to deliver your brand’s message to your customers and to continually improve your offerings.

1. Who are you?

What identity do you want customers to associate with your brand? Brainstorm to create a list of descriptive words that can give your target audience a sense of who you are. Are you cutting-edge? Reliable? Youthful? Classic? Do you want to be perceived as bold, friendly, classic, trustworthy, luxurious, sexy, quirky or smart?

Ask yourself what words you’d use to describe other brands. How are the words they use to describe themselves a good fit?

List the descriptors that best fit your business before creating any communications about your company, including a logo, ads, small business marketing materials, business website, business cards, social media business platforms or any medium you plan to use.

Did you know?: Creating your visual brand is about more than your logo. Consider product images, advertisements, social media images and more.

2. Why do you exist?

As a business, you want to make a profit. However, why you exist must go beyond money. Customers want to know what you believe and if it’s something they also believe.

Why your business exists is as important to your messaging as who you are. Review your company’s mission statement and ensure your branding is consistent with its message. If you don’t yet have one, define your business’s tangible values and establish a company mission. A mission statement defines your cause and purpose; it should suffuse your brand and every communication.

A few years ago, the author Simon Sinek gave a TED Talk in which he explained that people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. For example, megabrands like Apple don’t sell anything other companies couldn’t provide. Instead, they sell a belief. Apple’s message, Sinek said, is “We believe in thinking differently.” This resonates on a deeper level than “We sell great computers that are easy to use.”

What does your company believe? Your brand should convey that to a target audience that believes the same.

3. Who is your target market?

Everyone can’t be your target customer. When identifying your target market, be specific. Take the following steps:

  • Determine your target market’s demographics. Look at your target market’s demographics. Who do you see buying your product? Go beyond age to consider who will pay for your product or service.
  • Look at your competitors’ customers. Research brands similar to yours to see who they’re selling to. Do you want to go after a share of that target market or a different business niche?
  • Brainstorm descriptors for your target market. Descriptive words can help you understand your target audience, even if you don’t use them in branding materials. For example, do you see your target market as athletic? Are they readers? Do they pay attention to sourcing and want natural products? Are they nonprofit organizations, retailers, or consumers? What kind? Don’t be afraid to use your imagination.
  • Look for your natural customers. Be realistic about who you’re looking to attract. Most of all, consider who your most natural customers might be. Who are the people already seeking the solutions you’re selling?

Essential elements of creating your brand

When you know who you are, why your product exists, and who your target market is, it’s time to create your brand. Every choice you make when presenting your brand to the world — photos, images, sounds and words — should reflect the same essence and identity.

Consider the following essential elements:

  • Choose your brand name. First up is finding the perfect business name. If you don’t already have one, give your company a name that reflects who your business is and why it exists.
  • Develop a brand logo. Your brand name will inform how you create the corporate logo — the visual image that instantly identifies your company or product in the marketplace. Your logo goes on every communication your company sends out, so shop it around to people who will tell you the truth. How does it make them feel? What does it tell them about your brand? What tweaks could better convey your identity? Your logo is your brand’s icon, and it’s costly and difficult to change after it hits the market.
  • Develop a marketing aesthetic. Your marketing aesthetic includes your logo and all marketing materials, including your website design and social media presence. Consider an aesthetic that best depicts your company, including a color palette. Use research that explains how color and hue affect consumers as a guide. Colors, logos and other design elements all say something about your company. Ensure you’re sending the right message.
  • Choose platforms that suit your brand. How you market your business, including its social media platforms, will convey information about your brand. Using TikTok for business can be a boon if your target audience is active on TikTok. Opt for Instagram for business if your customers primarily use Instagram. Your customers may span multiple social media platforms, and if so, you can tailor your messages for each platform. Your brand won’t change, but you can subtly alter your messages, language, images and sounds to be appropriate for each platform.

What if you need a rebrand?

For a company to remain agile, it must evolve and adapt to new realities, including new offerings, methods and audiences. Sometimes, evolving means rethinking your brand identity.

You may need to rebrand your business for the following reasons:

  • The marketplace has changed.
  • Your product line has evolved.
  • You want to introduce a new offering.
  • A leadership change has shifted the company’s philosophy.
  • Your product appeals to a different audience than you first thought.
  • Your brand is outdated.

When rebranding is your best option, go back to the original questions that shaped your brand and answer them again to identify what has changed:

  • Who are you now?
  • Why do you exist now?
  • Who is your target audience now?

Here are some tips for rebranding:

  • Salvage what worked for your brand in its original incarnation. Dig into your company’s past experience. Look at sales reports and successful marketing campaigns. Can you integrate successful practices into your rebrand?
  • Examine your competitors. Do another deep dive into your competition. Are they staying relevant? Have they changed their messaging or image? Do their positive customer reviews give you insight into what your market wants? Do their negative customer reviews offer insights for your improvement?
  • Stay honest with your company and customers. Be honest with yourself, your team and your customers while rebranding. Ensure everyone understands why you’re refreshing your image. Never make new promises with your rebrand that you can’t keep.

Risks of rebranding

Rebranding can come with the following risks:

  • Rebranding is expensive. You must remake every element of your brand, including your business cards, ad copy, website, business blog, social media accounts, newsletters and any other materials your brand uses. You’ll have to rethink your content strategy and pay graphic designers, content developers, web designers and other professionals to recreate materials.
  • Rebranding can confuse customers. A rebrand can cause confusion and uncertainty among existing customers. It’s imperative to communicate with them and let them know what they can still expect from your brand and what will change. Tell them why you’re making the change, and be positive. For example, “We feel that a fresh look is compatible with our evolving business” inspires more confidence than “Our sales are flagging, so we’re giving this a try.”

Key takeaway: Customer loyalty is a crucial asset. Don’t lose loyal customers by springing a new brand on them without communicating.

Why the right branding is worth the trouble

Branding can require significant effort and expense. But when you understand how to create a brand identity and invest in determining the right strategy, you’ll save yourself time, work and money in the long run. You’ll have already made fundamental choices about how to present your company.

Your brand reflects your company’s mission and purpose. That goes a long way toward helping you communicate with your customers concisely and consistently so they’ll be able to recognize your brand instantly.

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