Corporations like Apple, Nike and Starbucks are known for their solid, instantly recognizable brands that are woven through everything they do. While the same can be said for many smaller businesses, building a brand from the ground up can be daunting for entrepreneurs, especially if you’ve never done it before.
While you don’t have to spend millions to create the next cult logo, it’s worth going through the process of strategically developing your brand. Think of building a brand as part of the foundation of your business. Although the brand is not necessarily a tangible thing, it is important for connecting with customers, shaping their perception of your company and building trust among them. In addition, having a recognizable brand can help potential or one-time customers remember you or help you stay on top of your mind in the future.
These days, the strongest brands have a clear “why”. During each interaction with the company, it is clear to customers why it exists, why it stands out and why they should buy from it. With that in mind, here’s a step-by-step process that companies of any size can use to create a prominent, memorable brand.
How do potential customers feel when they see your name, logo and colors, or when they read your emails and posts on social media? Are they related to your business? Do they want to be a part of it? Will he remember that in the future? These issues are at the heart of branding.
Step 1: Define “who” is your company
Business, of course, is not a living thing, but it should contain some of the same elements. It is necessary to have a personality, to live according to certain values, to have goals and to provide a source of connection.
After all, a brand is not just a name and logo, it’s about who your company is and how people feel when they see that name or logo. So before you start thinking about design elements, you need to define who your company is.
Mission and goals
A great place to start is your company’s mission and goals. You probably have some idea of your company’s main goals; they are the reason why you started your business or what you hope to achieve, both in the short and long term.
Your mission statement embodies that. Think of it as a statement of action that describes what you are striving for and how you will achieve it. Ideally, it should also reflect how you will do it in a way that stands out from other companies.
Keep it short and focused, like these well-known examples:
- Tesla: “Accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”
- LinkedIn: “Connect global professionals to be more productive and successful.”
- Nordstrom: “To provide customers with the most impressive shopping experience possible.”
Once you get your mission statement – your guiding light, so to speak – start thinking about the values of your business or the basic principles you want your company and its employees to live by.
This can be tangential to your goals and mission, but feel free to think outside the box. You may want to ensure that your employees and people who are in partnership with the company feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions. One of your values, then, can be honesty or openness.
Try to keep your list at the five or six you feel most comfortable with. This is a lesson we learned first hand in Buffer. We originally had 10 values, but we found that was too much for most employees to remember. We have narrowed them down to these six in 2018:
- Default on transparency
- Nurture positivity
- Show gratitude
- Practice reflection
- Consistently improve
- Act beyond yourself
Your mission and value statement may live on your website or social accounts, or it may exist only for you and your employees. In any case, the most important thing is to determine how you will implement them and truly live by them day by day. More than just the words on the page, your mission and values need to be incorporated into every aspect of your business.
Not everyone on the planet likes the best brands; rather, they aim to really resonate with a certain group of people. (This is especially true for small businesses with limited inventories and marketing budgets.)
To determine who your audience is (or the ideal audience), research who buys your product or service the most. Think about who you had in mind when you started the business. What problem are you solving and for whom? It can also be helpful to think about who your competitors are targeting and whether you want to serve the same group of people or reach a completely different group.
Once you get a general idea of your target demographics, develop personalities for them. Have fun with it! Name these proverbial people, sketch their personalities and really bring them to life in your head.
A local cooking school, for example, may decide to focus on one of these specific people:
The Savvy Gourmet: Skilled in the kitchen, these cooking lovers like to master new skills that will impress their friends and are willing to work (and pay) to do so.
Motivated parent: These moms, dads and caregivers are always trying to broaden their children’s horizons, build their interest in cooking and entertain them on a rainy Saturday.
New homeowner: Whether it’s new students, transplants from roommates full of roommates, or people who simply have never learned how to get along in the kitchen, these people want to learn the basics of cooking in a friendly environment without condemnation.
Once you keep these “people” in mind, it will be easier to develop a brand and content that addresses them directly.
Step 2: Create a cohesive visual identity
Now that you have a better idea of what you want to achieve, what you want to stand by and who you talk to and who you sell to, you can start creating a visual identity that fits that.
Don’t even think about logos or other design elements – start with the bigger picture. Consider:
- What moods or emotions do you want to provoke when people see your brand?
- What should people believe about your company just by looking at it?
- Do you want to comply with industry standards or stand out from them? For example, both financial companies and health food brands tend to use green, so it is up to your brand to decide whether to follow the norm or avoid it.
With that in mind, create mood boards that draw inspiration from the things you see. It can be anything: the colors you see while walking, a design element of another brand that you would like to emulate and make your own or a work of art that inspires you. Looking for a brand style guide on Pinterest can also help you gather ideas.
Look for common themes in what you have put together. Is it colorful? Full of shades of gray? Are the images bright and saturated or more muted? What does the typography look like? All these seemingly small things send a certain message. And if that’s the message you want to send, they can become visual elements of your brand.
A graphic designer can help you develop a cohesive visual identity, but there are also free resources that can help you put these elements together. Canva, for example, offers tools for logo design and color palette selection, while Looka and Mojomox are all-in-one brand identity generators.
Whichever approach you choose, keep the bigger picture in mind and ensure that the logo, fonts, brand colors, and images work together to serve your mission, audience, and overall goals.
A few things to remember:
- The colors of the brand are more than the colors on your logo. Most brands have a primary color and one to three accompanying colors, including neutral, such as black or white.
- You will need to select at least two fonts: one for titles or titles and one for auxiliary text.
- If design is not your strong suit, it’s okay to keep things simple. While it’s fun to be bold and creative, a basic logo (for example, your company name in a sleek, simple font) works perfectly well. You want your brand to stand out, but it goes also it can excessively diminish professional feeling.
- Working with templates on sites like Canva is a great way to ensure design consistency on your website, marketing materials, social media posts and more.
Step 3: Find your voice
People can see your brand, and now they need to hear it (or read it on their screens). The voice you use when communicating with your audience via email, on social media and in person is an essential part of your brand that should be in line with your values and visuals.
Pay attention to how you speak in person and how you talk about work. Then go back to the way your audience will best connect with you. How do they want to be talked to? How do you want them to feel? What tone and style will help them find out what your company is all about?
Write down a few words and phrases that come to mind. Then, while talking to customers or writing posts on social networks, see what it does, what you like and what your audience connects with. From there you can define and specify.
Here are some things to consider when developing your brand voice:
- Overall tone you would like to achieve: Think about how, if your brand could speak, you would talk to someone. Some brands are confident and authoritative (I mean Apple), others are warm and hospitable (like Starbucks), and a few well-made ones are funny and smart Twitter feed Taco Bella).
- Words and phrases you would like to use (and avoid) on a regular basis: This can go back to your original research on the emotions you want to evoke and the values of your brand.
- Writing style you will use: Short, direct sentences have a different feel than longer, more detailed ones, and things like exclamation points, emojis and slang can contribute to a different voice and tone.
This is another great time to draw examples of things you read and love, especially if they are for your target audience. Recognizing words, phrases, expressions, and styles that work (and those that don’t) can help you slowly build your own brand voice.
Step 4: Let it grow
It’s perfectly fine to tweak or modify your brand as you go. In fact, it should. Think of it as a living, breathing entity that evolves how your business and audience work, and how the world changes. While you want to maintain consistency in your visuals and voice, it’s okay to check back from time to time to see if there are any elements of your brand that you’d like to change, update, or remove.
If your budget allows, you can run A / B tests with members of your ideal audience to see what resonates are (for example, running two Facebook ads with different text). Use this type of research to make a particularly difficult or close decision or to solidify that your brand has the impact you would like.
Build your brand
Now that you know what steps you need to take to start building your own brand, take a notebook or open a blank document and start thinking. Then edit and refine your work, keeping in mind that each of the above elements should work together, staying true to your vision, the goals of your business and, of course, your “why”. After all, that is what the most authentic, unforgettable brands are built on.
Friendly communicator. Music maven. Explorer. Pop culture trailblazer. Social media practitioner.