Building a brand from the ground up that stands out is no easy task.
“What should it look like?”
“How should it make people feel?”
“Will it resonate with my target audience?”
These are questions that inevitably come up when you start thinking about how to connect the dots between what you’re selling and who you’re trying to reach.
Whether you’ve got nothing but a business idea or want to pivot your existing brand, here’s what you need to know about building a strong brand identity for your business.
What exactly is a “brand”?
A brand isn’t just a recognizable name and logo that distinguishes you in a crowded market.
“Your brand is how people perceive you wherever they interact with your business—both the impressions you can control and the ones you can’t.”
When you think about it, people have brands too. We each have a name, a face, a style, a way of communicating, different impressions we make on different people, and what they say about us when we’re not in the room.
Likewise, businesses have names, products, logos, colors, fonts, voices, and reputations to manage that make up who they are and affect how they’re perceived.
You can’t build a brand without being consistent and maintaining that consistency as you extend your brand to every part of your business. But it all starts with establishing what that consistency is going to look like and the feeling you want it to evoke.
How to Build a Brand
Building your own brand essentially boils down to 7 steps:
- Research your target audience and your competitors.
- Pick your focus and personality.
- Choose your business name.
- Write your slogan.
- Choose the look of your brand (colors and font).
- Design your logo.
- Apply your branding across your business and evolve it as you grow.
While you might revisit some steps as you pivot your brand, it’s important that you consider each aspect as you shape your brand identity.
Let’s start with laying the groundwork to inform the way you go about building your brand.
1. Figure out your place in the market
Before you start making any decisions about your brand, you need to understand the current market: who your potential customers and current competitors are.
There are many ways to do this:
- Google your product or service category and analyze direct and indirect competitors that come up.
- Check subreddits that relate to your customers and eavesdrop on their conversations and product recommendations.
- Talk to people who are part of your target market and ask them what brands they buy from in your space.
- Look at the relevant social media accounts or pages your target audience follows and are receptive to.
- Go shopping online or offline and get a feel for how your customers would browse and buy products.
As you go about your research, make a note of:
- Who your “lowest hanging fruit” customers are—the ones you could most easily sell to.
- Who your top of mind competitors are—the brands that are established and known in the market.
- How your customers speak and what they talk about—the interests they have and the language they express them in.
It’s important to have a handle on this before moving forward as it will inform what your brand should focus on and how it can position itself apart from competitors.
2. Define your brand’s focus and personality
Your brand can’t be everything to everyone, especially at the start.
It’s important to find your focus and let that inform all the other parts of your brand as you build it.
Here are some questions and branding exercises to get you thinking about the focus and tone of your brand.
What’s your positioning statement?
A positioning statement is one or two lines that stake your claim in the market. This isn’t necessarily something you put on your website or business card—it’s just to help you answer the right questions about your brand.
Your unique value proposition is the one thing you’re competing on. Find it, go in on it, and make it a part of your brand’s messaging.
Alternatively, if the company you want to start has a cause at its core (e.g. if you’re starting a social enterprise), you can also write this out as a mission statement that makes a clear promise to your customers or to the world.
What words would you associate with your brand?
One way to look at your brand is as if it was a person. What would he or she be like? What kind of personality would your customers be attracted to?
This will help inform your voice on social media and the tone of all your creative, both visual and written.
A fun and useful branding exercise is to pitch 3-5 adjectives that describe the type of brand that might resonate with your audience. I compiled this list of traits to help you get started.
What metaphors or concepts describe your brand?
Thinking about your brand as a metaphor or personifying it can help you identify the individual qualities you want it to have.
This can be a vehicle, an animal, a celebrity, a sports team, anything—as long as it has a prominent reputation in your mind that summons the sort of vibe you want your brand to give off.
For example, if I wanted to create a brand targeting entrepreneurs I might choose to use the raccoon as a starting point: They’re scrappy survivors that will do anything to thrive.
If your brand was an animal, what animal would it be and why is it like that animal to you?
3. Choose a business name
“A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet. But Nike by another name would be seen on fewer feet.
”Shakespeare (sort of)
What’s in a name? Depending on the kind of business you want to start, you can make the case that your name matters very little or it matters a lot.
As we’ve said before, a brand is so more than a name. The personality, actions, and reputation of your brand are really what give the name meaning in the market.
But as a business owner, your company’s name is probably one of the first big commitments you have to make. It’ll impact your logo, your domain, your marketing, and trademark registration if you decide to go that route (it’s harder to trademark generic brand names that literally describe what you sell).
Ideally, you want a business name that’s hard to imitate and even harder to confuse with existing players in the market. If you have any plans to expand the product lines you offer down the road, consider keeping your business name broad so that it’s easier to pivot than if you chose a brand name based on your product category.
You can use any Business Name Generator to brainstorm some names.