As marketers and business owners, we all know how important branding can be. That’s why we spend so much time and effort perfecting things like our logos, our standard colors, our messaging, and even our fonts. But here’s a question many of us have never stopped to ask: What exactly is a brand? More importantly, what is your brand?
Before we dive into what a brand is or isn’t, let’s do a little experiment. Here’s what we want you to do:
Step 1) Write down 10 words that you think best describe your brand.
Step 2) Ask three of your coworkers to do the same thing. Don’t give them any other directions, and don’t let them share their answers with anyone else.
Step 3) Ask someone outside of your company to do the same thing. If you’re feeling extra wild, ask a few strangers to do the exercise, too.
Step 4) Review all the answers at the same time. It might be helpful to toss them up on a whiteboard or create a spreadsheet.
So, what happened? Did you wind up with the same 10 words from all the people you asked? Probably not. You probably got very different answers from each of the participants. Sure, there may have been some overlap among the words, but what this shows is that everyone aware of your brand has different thoughts and feelings about it.
This little exercise is a great way to understand what a brand really is. Your brand is not your logo, your color palette, or your typography. It’s not the collateral you produce or the videos you share. It’s not even the words that appear in your brand standards.
That’s it. It’s as simple (and complicated) as that. According to The Dictionary of Brand, a brand is defined by a person’s perception of a product, service, experience, or organization. In other words, things like your logo, messaging, colors, and design elements can only influence your brand — they can’t define or create it.
Yes and no. At the end of the day, the way people feel about your company is out of your hands. If you have a specific vision for how you want your brand to be perceived (and you should), your job isn’t to “make” your audience feel that way — because you can’t. But you can guide them in the right direction.
That’s why we’ve created a list of six simple ways to take control of your brand. While it’s not an exact science, these tips and strategies can help align the ways you present your brand with how you want to be perceived by your audience.
The first (and possibly most difficult) step in any branding exercise is to figure out what sets your brand apart from the competition. Everyone wants to think their company is different, but the fact of the matter is that “unique selling points” usually boil down to one of four things:
Not-So-Unique Selling Points
If your initial answer to, “What sets our brand apart?” looks something like these, it’s time to dig deeper. Remember, brand perception isn’t about the benefits of your business. It’s about how your audience feels. Start by asking questions like:
A great way to dig into your brand’s uniqueness is to host a focus group or two. These could be with all internal team members, all external folks, or both. Understanding who your business is and what makes them special — really special — will go a long way to helping you position your company accordingly.
Sidebar: M&Ms did a fantastic job of uncovering what set their brand apart and distilling it into a simple, memorable slogan: “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.” It’s simple, it demonstrates convenience, and it shows how their product is superior without saying any of those things. Take that every other chocolate company.
Remember, your brand is defined by your customers and their thoughts and feelings. So, it makes sense that one of the most important steps in branding is understanding your audience, and if you can figure them out before you launch, that’s even better.
To get an idea of your audience’s mindset, start by asking a few basic questions:
This is an exercise in psychoanalysis. You’re trying to dig into your audience’s mindset. Put yourself in their shoes. Think about why you purchase the things you do. Why do you care about certain brands? What helps you connect with a business?
Pro Tip: Try creating a Venn diagram. On one side, put your beliefs about your brand. On the other side, put your customer’s perception. That space in the middle? That’s where your branding statements will come to life.
Numbers are great. They tell it like it is and leave no room for interpretation — so go find them! Look for both qualitative and quantitative data pertaining to your target audience. Since you’ve already identified your audience and you know which channels they’re actively using, see what you can learn from those platforms.
Start by identifying which of your competitors gets the most engagement online. Then break it down by post. Which ones are getting the most comments? The most likes? The most shares? Which platform is your audience the most active on, and how does that activity change between platforms?
Next, it’s time to take a look at your own analytics. Start with your website and see where visitors are spending the most time. Which pages have the highest bounce rate? Which pages have the longest session lengths? Why do you think that is?
After that, it’s time to reach out to your sales and customer service teams. Are there any questions they hear over and over again? Are there certain concerns or roadblocks they run into consistently?
Once you’ve compiled all the data, gather up your team and break down the numbers. Try to attribute certain behaviors with your customers’ values, wants, and needs that you defined earlier in the process. This will not only help guide the tactics and channels you use in the future but will also help solidify your understanding of your audience moving forward.
Look, there’s a reason the Coca-Cola logo has been the same since 1893. They knew who they were then — a company committed to community and making people feel good — and they’ve stuck with it for over a hundred years.
Be like Coke. Find out what makes your brand special, decide how to represent that, and don’t look back (not for a while, at least). Remember, you and your team look at your brand every day, but your audience probably doesn’t. That means that certain tactics and messaging might start to feel stale more quickly for your internal team than it will for the people who really matter — your customers.
Keep pushing, keep expanding on what’s working, and resist the urge to make drastic changes for the sake of making drastic changes. Your customers will appreciate the consistency, and their ability to recognize your brand will continue to grow.
Imagine you’re at the grocery store. You’re walking down the cereal aisle and a particular brand catches your eye. All of the boxes are perfectly aligned, nice and square, absolutely identical in every way.
Then, just to the right of those, you spot another brand. These boxes are haphazardly tossed on the shelf. The logos are all over the place, some of the boxes are missing graphics altogether, and you’re pretty sure you see a bird fly out of a half-open box on the top shelf.
That’s the difference between a brand that has a consistent visual identity and one that doesn’t. (To be clear, even if you’re a huge fan of birds and modern art, you want to be like the cereal on the left.)
To establish your visual identity, start by coming up with a scalable design system. Pay special attention to the following elements:
While most customers won’t notice a minor inconsistency here or there, the differences in treatments will become more obvious over time. Setting rules for your brand’s visual identity at the beginning of the branding process will help you create consistency from the get-go and avoid any possible confusion or friction with your audience as your brand grows.
One of the best ways to understand when and how your customers want (and need) to be communicated with is to take a walk in their shoes. What’s the best way to do that? Create a map of every touchpoint you have with your audience.
Start by identifying all the collateral your brand has out in the world. Then, think about the order in which your audience might interact with those pieces.
As an example, let’s assume your brand sells high-end exercise bikes. Your customer’s journey might look something like this:
Example Touchpoint Map
While this is just an example, it’s easy to see that there were multiple opportunities where the journey could have ended for the user. What if the friend they spoke to had a bad customer service experience? What if they became frustrated by too many ads? What if the website wasn’t mobile friendly?
Understanding every possible touchpoint can help you create a smoother, more personalized experience for your customers that highlights your brand is the most consistent and impactful way.
The fact of the matter is that the way your customers think and feel about your brand isn’t totally within your control — but that doesn’t mean you’re powerless. By leveraging unique, consistent, and impactful branding, you can help influence your audience’s opinions to better align with how you want your brand to be perceived.
It’s important to know that your audience’s perception of your brand will change over time, sometimes even from one day to the next. Your mission is to stay the course, commit to your brand, and keep delivering on the promises your brand makes to its customers. As your brand continues to grow and change, your branding might evolve too, but if you’ve earned your customer’s trust and you think about those changes from your audience’s perspective from the beginning, those evolutions will only strengthen the relationships you’ve built.
Want to learn more about Infinity’s brand-building expertise? We’d love to share what we’ve learned since 1993. Get in touch with our team today!
This blog was written by Taylor Boyd, Creative Supervisor, and Josh Tankersley, Senior Copywriter.