Creating a Kick-Ass Brand Identity in 6 Easy Steps

brand identity
Take Coke and Pepsi.

Two giants in the world of dark, sweet, sticky sodas.

Their ingredients and taste are pretty similar. In fact Professor Read Montague showed that most people could not tell the difference in taste when the drinks were unlabeled.

However when the drinks were labelled, people showed a strong brand preference.

Now research by Hunch.com found that they’re measurable differences between the demographics of Coke fans vs. Pepsi fans.

For example: Coke people like visiting art galleries and eating sushi, Pepsi people prefer watching TV and eating Spam.

This is why creating a brand identity is so powerful.

Want to know more?

Here’s another example:

Take Dell, Sony and IBM.

Three giants in the world of computers.

Their machines all run the same software. But in the eyes of computer buyers, one stands for flexibility, one for innovation and one for quality.

Now over to you:

Does your business have a unique, instantly recognisable brand identity? Is your audience able to readily distinguish you from your competitors?

In this post, I’m going to show you how to create a brand identity. Then I’ll give you some advice on how to draw up brand identity guidelines. The guidelines are important to ensure consistency throughout your marketing.

But first, let’s look at what we mean by brand identity.

Brand identity definition

Do you drink Coke just to quench your thirst?

Do you drive a BMW just to get from A to B?

A Coke can quench your thirst. But so can water.

A BMW can get you from A to B. But so can a secondhand Ford.

When people are asked why they chose product A over product B they come up with all sorts of rationalisations. They give reasons based on the product’s tangible features. But there’s something else driving their decision. That something is the power of brand identity.

Brand identity is something beyond the characteristics of a product, beyond a logo or colour scheme.

So what is it?

A brand identity:

  • Exists outside the product or market need.
  • Has a distinct personality and style.
  • Has a distinct unique quality, even if that uniqueness lies in the associations it generates.
  • Generates feelings and associations.
  • Informs every interaction customers have with the company.
  • Makes customers think of the brand, not the product.
  • Is something people will happily pay a premium for (e.g. Coca-Cola over a supermarket branded cola).

In the words of Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon:

“Branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room”

How to create a brand identity in 6 easy steps

You can create your brand identity in 6 easy steps.

Just ask yourself these questions:

1. Where do you sit in the market?

With any successful brand strategy you must start with your audience. These are the people you’re talking to. These the people whose lives you’re going to make better.

Ask yourself:

  • What is your target market?
  • What is their demographic ?
  • What are their buyer personas?

Now take a good long look at yourself to understand your purpose and place. The classic SWOT analysis is great for this:

  • Strengths: What do you do better than anyone else?
  • Weaknesses: What do you need to improve?
  • Opportunities: What trends can you capitalise on?
  • Threats: What challenges do you face?

In finding answers both sets of questions, involve everyone in your company. Involve your customers too, by sending them a survey. Don’t rely on yourself or your core team. The more different perspectives you have, the better.

2. What’s your mission?

Making money is important to every company  But the brands that we admire emphasise their commitment to something greater.

For example, IKEA is not just about selling furniture. They have a mission statement: “to create a better everyday life for the many people”. Their vision is central to their brand identity. It helps them to attract and retain a loyal following.

Drawing up a mission statement is a good way of defining your values.

So what’s your mission statement?

Ask yourself:

  • Why do you exist?
  • What do you care about the most?
  • How do you treat others?

In answering these questions, you can put together a set of values that underpin your brand. These values shape your culture. They guide your decisions.

Your values should influence not just your dealings with your customers but also your dealings with your own colleagues.

Zappos, the online shoe and clothing shop, is famous for its inspiring customer service. Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh is fond of recounting the following story:

Hsieh took his clients out for a night on the town. When the bar closed they all went back to their hotel room. One of his clients craved pizza but the hotel’s room service was closed for the night.

Hsieh suggested that this client call Zappos for this request, despite his company selling fashion, not pizzas. Hsieh was that confident about his company’s customer service.

Now Zappos did not deliver the pizza. But the rep who took the call at 2AM, found three pizza parlors that were still open near the hotel. The rep made the order and the client got their pizza.

3. What makes you different?

If your company is offering products and services which no one else is, you’ve got this covered. All you need to do is to shout it from the rooftops.

Most likely, your company is not unique in your marketplace. Is there something about what you offer that stands out from the others? Are you:

  • More fast?
  • More effective?
  • Less expensive?
  • Less complicated?
  • More attractive?

Now you may not be able to differentiate yourself based on your offerings alone. So think about the way you deliver those offerings. Are you:

  • More reliable?
  • More knowledgeable?
  • More responsive?
  • More understanding?
  • More likeable?

Also think about how you’re marketing yourself. Are you pumping out the same articles, videos and offers as everyone else? What can you do differently?

Final question. This is a big one.

What would your customers be missing if your brand didn’t exist?

4. What’s your essence?

Great marketing appeals to both emotion and logic. As copywriting legend Joe Sugarman says:

“We buy on emotion and justify with logic.”

Consider someone who’s just bought a BMW. They may convince themselves that they made their decision based on the technical features of the car. Like its horsepower, driving dynamics, or power steering. But the real reason is that they wanted the prestige and status associated with the brand.

This holds true even with B2B purchases. A recent study performed by the CEB found that 71% of buyers who feel an emotional connection with a B2B brand will end up buying.

The most iconic brands have their own distinct essence.

  • Walt Disney – “Magic”
  • Nike – “Inspiring”
  • Ben and Jerry’s – “Playful”
  • Apple – “Innovative”
  • Target – “Everyperson”

Harley Davidson has built a community around its brand. With  HOG (Harley Owners Group) they’re able to tap into their customers’ desire to form relationships, to be part of a group, to feel a sense of belonging. In this way they’re able to connect with their customers on a deeper, more emotional level. This strengthens their relationship with their customers and builds loyalty.

To develop your brand essence, consider the emotional makeup of your prospective buyers.

Copywriting legend Eugene Schwartz identified three dimensions of a prospect’s emotion:

  • Desires: What they want.
  • Identifications: Who they wish to be.
  • Beliefs. How they see the world.

Which of these emotions can you tap into to create your brand essence?

5. What’s your personality?

If your brand was a person, what would its personality be like?

Your brand personality is a powerful marketing tool. If you’re doing this well, your audience should be able to identify your content with your brand, even without seeing your logo.

Have a look through your content. Single out examples that best embody your brand, that could not have come from anyone else. What personality traits are being expressed in these examples?

Professor of Marketing Jennifer Aaker identified 5 dimensions of brand personality and their corresponding traits:

  • Sincerity: Down-to-earth, honest, wholesome, cheerful.
  • Excitement: Daring, spirited, imaginative, up-to-date.
  • Competence: Reliable, intelligent, successful.
  • Sophistication: Upper class, charming.
  • Ruggedness: Outdoorsy, tough.

Maybe you can think of additional traits. Like ‘irreverent’, ‘friendly’, or ‘compassionate’.

Now you can start to define your brand personality.

Your brand voice is the expression of your brand personality. Everything you say or write should be done using your brand voice.

  • Do you use formal or colloquial language?
  • Do you use technical terms or pop-culture references?
  • Do you follow convention or break the rules?

6. What is your message?

Your brand message is a short, memorable statement letting the world know who you are and what you do.

Branding expert Kevin Keller calls it your “brand mantra”. This is the “heart and soul” of your brand.

Kevin shared his five favourite examples of real brand mantras.

  • Nike: Authentic Athletic Performance
  • Disney: Fun Family Entertainment
  • Ritz-Carlton: Ladies & Gentlemen Serving Ladies & Gentlemen
  • BMW: Ultimate Driving Machine
  • Betty Crocker: Homemade Made Easy

Brand identity guidelines

Now you have established your brand identity, you need to ensure it’s reflected in the way your operate: in your content, social media, visual design, and your customer service. For your brand identity to make a mark, it must be consistent and seamless.

Drawing up brand identity guidelines for your company is a good idea. Set out:

  • The right tone of voice to use.
  • The topics you want to focus on.
  • The topics you want to avoid.
  • The values you want to spread.
  • The way you position your products and services.
  • The responsiveness and engagement levels to customers.
  • The way you deal with crisis and controversy.

Gap Inc. is famous for it’s no-nonsense social media guidance:

“If you #!%#@# up? Correct it immediately and be clear about what you’ve done to fix it. Contact the social media team if it’s a real doozy.”

Regularly monitor your content to ensure it’s expressing your brand voice. If you don’t do this, you can end up with a mish-mash of different voices and tones that will confuse your audience.

Every quarter, review your brand strategy. As your products and services evolve, as new competitors emerge, you may need to refresh and tweak your guidelines.

Brand identity exercise

Trust me on this: Your brand has an identity.

You just have to find it.

Here’s a simple exercise to start you off.

Are you:

  • Casual or professional?
  • Cutting-edge or traditional?
  • Accessible or exclusive?
  • Spontaneous or meticulous?
  • Outspoken or reserved?
  • Energetic or calm?
  • Fun or serious?

Give it a go and let me know how you get on.

Special bonus: We’ve covered a lot of ground in this article. To help you, I’ve created a “Kick-Ass Brand Identity Checklist” that covers all the main points. Keep it handy as you create your own kick-ass brand identity. To download your checklist now, click here.

Image Credits: vadymvdrobot / 123RF Stock Photo

I create strategic content with authority and personality. My work has been featured in Search Engine Journal, Problogger, and Jeff Bullas. Businesses hire me to grow their traffic and boost conversions. If you’d like to know how I can help you, click here.

Comments

  1. Great tips on creating a brand identity. It’s important to know where you want to go with your brand identity and where your business is currently at in the mind of consumers. Companies can try to, for example, be sophisticated but end up appearing stand-offish and snobby. A feedback loop to see what results brand identity efforts create is vital for really hitting home with consumers.

    • Hey Alphonso

      Great point about the importance of a feedback loop. We always need to monitor the effects of our marketing on our audience.

      Appreciate your comment.

      Clement

  2. Wow, Clement! Such a well-considered, thoughtful post. It took me two sessions to read through it all, and well worth it. This is one to read over and over.

    Carol Stephen

    • Hey Carol

      I’m glad you found it useful. Sometimes I have to read things twice to absorb everything too.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Clement

  3. This is probably the most comprehensive list of everything related to brand identity that I could ever imagine! I especially love the list of what defines a brand identity—this is now my go-to post to explain brand identity to people. Your posts are always so comprehensive, I really appreciate how you cover every base! Thanks Clement!

    • Hey Adam

      I’m thrilled that this will be your go-to post to explain brand identity to people. I try to cover every base whenever I write. And I do it all for you guys!

      Thanks for your comment.

      Clement

      • I appreciate your effort. The level of detail is just fantastic, and I really appreciate that. Nothing grinds my gears quite like opening a post and realizing it’s about 50 words long with a link. This is some beautiful, long content!

    • Mine too!

  4. Phenomenal article!! One of the best I have read in a long time which breaks creating a brand identity down into simple, no-nonsense terms anyone can use to start building theirs!

    • Hey Robert

      Thanks for the compliment. I try to be no-nonsense, it’s one of my highest aspirations in life.

      Appreciate the comment.

      Clement

  5. I found this through Adam. I’m not sure which social media outlet – as I was looking to thank him too. Great piece. I was looking for my strategic handbook so I can create my “identity” for one of my businesses and THIS, THIS article is what I really needed. I’m almost all the way through my SWOT. I cannot thank you enough for this. It lit the fire under my @## and I am getting organized. Sincere gratitude!

    • Hi Beth

      I’m so glad you foud my article useful. Good luck with creating your “identity”.

      Get out there and kick ass!

      And thanks to Adam for referring you to me.

      Clement

      • Hey Beth, glad you read this! It’s such a great piece, and incredibly useful. Just read everything Clement has written—it’s all good stuff.

        You’re very welcome Clement!

  6. Scott says:

    This is really good. I’m thinking an upcoming Wednesday Roundup should talk about branding.

    • Hey Scott

      Good to see you here. Glad you found it helpful and let me know when your Wednesday Roundup is up.

      Clement

  7. You are really doing an amazing job with this blog. Your articles are almost scientific in my opinion! And this information about creating a brand is something which I was looking for, not exactly the same but thanks to you I know which way to go now 😀 Thanks for sharing.

    Best wishes to you
    Hellen

    • Hey Hellen

      Thanks for commenting. I’m glad you find my articles scientific. There’s definitely a ‘science’ to marketing, but the ‘art’ is important too!

      Glad you found it useful

      Clement

    • That’s how I always think of his articles — it’s like he’s got a doctorate in marketing. I always feel like a subject has been covered extensively when I read his posts.

      • Thanks Adam

        Well I when I read your writing it’s like you’ve got a doctorate in creative writing. Come to think of it you do, don’t you?

        Clement

  8. Hey Clement,

    Great post you have there on brand identity. Loved how you explained the term and the steps that you gave were really helpful and insightful. Sharing it on Facebook! Great piece!

    • Hey Chloe

      Good of you to drop by. Well I’m really glad you found it useful.

      Thanks for sharing, and stay in touch!

      Clement

  9. Hey Clement.

    Incredible insights and great actionable steps we can take to create a stronger brand. When you start asking yourself the right questions, you can start finding the right solutions. Loved the Sugarman quote! But it’s so true. We use our own value system, this is just one example how ever customer is unique. Really enjoyed it and always appreciate the effort you make to put out great content Clement.

    • Hey Richard

      Finding the right questions to ask is tough but will always pay dividends. Glad you liked the Sugarman quote. He’s one of the greats for sure.

      Good to know you’re enjoying my content. Thanks for the kind words.

      Clement

  10. Hi Clement,

    This is a great resource. As much as I’d like to consider myself a dedicated blogger and marketer I haven’t taken enough time to create a detailed brand identity like you’ve suggested.

    I know these things intuitively but I feel having it all written down in a concise way will improve my copy, my choice of content, and overall direction of my website.

    I’m off to share this on social media.

    Keep up the GREAT work.

    • Hi Ayodeji

      Many time we do feel we know things intuitively. But we can learn so much more if we take the time to put it into words.

      Thanks for the kind words.

      Clement

  11. Hey Clement,

    Superb post.

    I remember in High School they had us do the Pepsi vs. Coke challenge and it’s true no one could tell the difference. But when they labeled each, it was clear who favored what.

    I like your point about what makes you different.

    That has to be one of, if not the main thing, to focus on and understand because if you’re like everyone else, you’ll constantly struggle.

    Great stuff here.

    – Andrew

    • Hey Andrew

      On some level we’re all the same. But on another level, we’re completely different. Just like Pepsi and Coke. Understanding how to be different is the key.

      Thanks for your contribution.

      Clement

  12. Nicely done Clement. It’s always best to understand something as complex yet important as branding (and how to go about doing it) with real-life examples. And you’ve jam-packed this post full of ’em!

    A lot of business owners still seem to think that branding is logo design. And even when they do understand that it is about their entire company’s personality and how people connect emotionally to it – they still often forget to brand their blogs. To make sure that their content is also unique, memorable, meaningful, relevant, consistent etc – as they’ve done with the rest of their brand copy and design. And with such a saturated online world full of regurgitated content and lookalike ‘thought-leaders’ I think it’s more important than ever to really dig deep and work out how to make your content consistently unique, while still in line with your core brand values and goals. Content marketers should be thinking about their angle, topics, tone of voice, imagery and other graphical elements – and how these all tie in together.

    Sure, it’s super important to model your methods on content marketing masters. To copy and implement their proven formulas and strategies. But if you take it one step further, get creative, and do/say things that aren’t being done/said elsewhere in your industry – and consistently so – then you’re on for a winner.

    Anyway, that’s my two pence.

    Ramble over!

    Thanks for the juicy read, and for your constant support and banter on Twitter. This deserves a share…

    Konrad

    • Hey Konrad

      Thanks for such a considered comment. It’s worth a blog post of its own!

      I agree that learning to convey your company’s personality is essential in branding. As you say, it’s the way to create emotional connections. If you can do that, your audience will grow.

      And that’s what we’re all about.

      Clement

  13. Hey Clement,

    Building an online brand is a challenge. People need to figure out about their goals and position in the market.

    I like the way you have mentioned about standing and the qualities which should be considered before starting.

    Thanks for sharing with us.
    Have a good day.
    ~Ravi

    • Hey Ravi

      Sometimes people are so focused on building their product they neglect their brand.

      Branding is important. It can make the difference between success and failure.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Clement

  14. Hey Clement!

    Fantastic post. Great tips for anyone who is trying to write their own marketing messages. Brand identity is often the number one issue many of my clients face. You simply can’t start writing anything about your business and your offers if you don’t have a clear idea what your brand stands for, why your business exists, and what people on the outside think of you.

    At the end of the day, how can people get to know you if you don’t know yourself? 🙂

    Well done!

    • Hey Rhonda

      Thanks for your valuable insight. I completely agree. To succeed in marketing you must know your audience and know yourself.

      I remember what Sun Tzu said about military strategy:

      “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

      Funnily enough, it applies equally as well to marketing.

      Clement

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