The story is all too familiar: an entrepreneur decides to chase the American dream. They have an idea for a product that will change the world. They bootstrap or maybe raise some money from friends and family. Then, they spend months, if not years, working out production methods, supply chains, and unit economics.
They have their product in hand.
First of all, let’s stop there for a second and say congratulations. That’s a feat in and of itself. Here, however, is where so many entrepreneurs go wrong.
They hire a freelancer on Upwork to bang out a brand name and logo, slap together a basic e-commerce website and start running expensive ads without defining their brand.
Now, this isn’t the only reason so many brands don’t make it. It’s a tough (and very saturated) world out there, with new brands popping up every day. And with consumer commerce going digital at breakneck speed with COVID accelerating internet retail adoption by nearly two years in about six months, it’s only getting louder.
But brands can give themselves a leg up by investing the time and resources into developing a comprehensive brand identity based on a set of concepts and guidelines to tell their stories to their audiences across all channels consistently. By doing so, companies can improve revenue by 23%.
Most companies don’t know where to start, though. Branding exercises are often more nebulous than the work an entrepreneur has done to get them to this point. It doesn’t have to be. Here, we’ll break down what brand development is and exactly how to define yours before you spend a ton of money.
What is Brand Development?
Brand development is the process of defining and articulating the key concepts that make up a brand, as well as creating guidelines for keeping these concepts consistent across all channels.
In our digital world, customers buy the best story, not always the best products.
Most brands have done some level of brand development. Without completing the picture, brands will find it more difficult to create lasting relationships with their target customers.
Brand vs. Branding vs. Brand Development
Because brand development is such a creative and conceptual process, the terminology can get confusing. Before we go any further, let’s make some important distinctions.
Most simply put, your brand is your promise to your audience. It’s the set of values, benefits, and purpose that differentiate and distinguish you from your competitors.
Your branding is how you articulate the concepts that make up your brand. It’s the messaging and look and feel that your audience experiences when interacting with your marketing, website, products, packaging, etc.
As mentioned above, brand development is the process of discovery and creation that distills and articulates key concepts that make up the brand and guidelines for keeping everything consistent throughout every manifestation of the brand.
Brand Development Strategy and Process
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to brand development. But, brands should follow a general progression of exercises to drill into what makes them who they are and how to express it.
1. Determine how your branding aligns with the overall marketing strategy.
Your brand is part of a bigger picture. It’s only one component of your business, but it’s the link between your product and your audience.
Your branding has to align with your product strategy. For instance, if you’re selling expensive furniture, you’ll probably want a minimal brand with a clever buyer persona.
Your marketing strategy should be the starting point for your general brand direction.
2. Research your target market.
It’s crucial to understand your audience. And we mean really understanding them, on as personal a level as you can get.
80% of consumers don’t think brands understand them personally. This means that being one of the few that does understand their consumer will set you apart.
Saying that you’re targeting “millennial women,” for example, is not enough. You need to build detailed profiles of your various customer segments to understand their motivations.
Create customer personas based on data garnered from robust platforms like Google Analytics and Quantcast (both free to use!), direct feedback from customers via tools like SurveyMonkey, as well as your own understanding of an ideal customer.
Try to pin down more than just how old they are and where they’re from. Think about attitudes, goals, problems, and more.
- What is the transformation they seek?
- What do they wish to affirm about themselves with your products?
- What products and tools do they use to find solutions to problems?
- How might you target them through digital marketing?
- Where do they hang out?
- What keeps them up at night?
3. Define your brand’s positioning.
Where you fall within the competitive landscape will be a significant factor in your brand direction. Perform competitive analysis to see what audiences similar brands are targeting and what kind of branding they use to resonate with those audiences.
Keep in mind that you’re competing with other brands on more than a product level. You’re also competing on outcomes.
For instance, a CBD brand isn’t just competing with other CBD products. They’re also competing with anything that effectively relieves stress, including yoga studios, tea brands, meditation apps, and more.
Often, “doing nothing” is a brand’s biggest indirect competition!
It’s important to consider all forms of competition when determining where you stand in the landscape. From there, you can outline a set of unique differentiators to call upon in the next phase of brand development: messaging.
4. Define your brand’s core messaging.
Once you know your position and how your competitors are trying to reach their audiences, you can focus on developing the messaging concepts that articulate your brand to potential customers.
Putting care into developing an authentic narrative will pay dividends: Customers who connect with a brand emotionally generate 3x higher lifetime value.
- Start with your mission and vision. Why do you exist, and how do you see the world changing thanks to your brand?
- Using your differentiators as a guideline, outline a set of value propositions – the facets of your brand and products that will be valuable to you.
- Then, determine a set of characteristics that make up your brand persona. This is your brand personality. You’ll use different elements of the persona to resonate with different segments of your audience. Think of it like being at a cocktail party - you might have an intellectual discussion about politics with one person and crack dirty jokes to another, depending on their interests.
- Lastly, determine your tag lines - the succinct but impactful phrases that convey your brand message, utility, value, and personality. This is your brand promise.
5. Create your visual identity.
Many brands jump past the first few stages to jump into visual identity right away. Even then, they don’t dig deep enough into a full system of brand positioning logic and guidelines to keep their look and feel consistent.
A logo is not a visual identity, and neither is a stand-alone color palette. A true visual identity includes color and typeface hierarchies, pattern exploration, and rules for implementing everything in the real world.
Color and type may not seem important, but brands with unique brand colors are 80% more recognizable!
Use the concepts from the preceding exercises to guide your logo design. If your messaging is minimal and elegant, apply that direction to your visual development. If it's bold and humorous, go in that direction. This is the foundation of your brand image.
5. Launch the brand.
Once you’ve organized all of your brand elements into a brand guide, you can begin to implement them across your site and marketing channels. This includes company social media accounts, employees' LinkedIn accounts, business cards, email signatures, and so much more.
Stay consistent! Use the same tag lines and messaging concepts in your content marketing strategy, email marketing, and copywriting. Also, keep brand imagery aligned. 60% of millennials say they expect a consistent brand experience.
That means you have to make a great first impression and maintain it throughout the whole experience!
It takes a while - usually, at least five touch points - to earn recognition and trust.
6. Manage the brand.
Your work isn’t done once you launch your site and marketing strategy. Stick to the rules you just spent so much time creating!
This is a crucial part to your overall brand building, and ultimately is how you’ll turn the brand development process into a recognized, strong brand over time.
While 95% of companies claim to have formal brand guidelines (though we doubt they’re as thorough as everything we’ve outlined here), only 25% of brands actually stick to them. Save yourself a headache by always referring to your guidelines.
Another key point to brand management is testing. Always. Be. Testing. Make adjustments to dial up what works and tone down what doesn’t.
Because branding is a mostly creative endeavor, rather than strict science, you’ll be working off an educated guess a lot of the time. It’s OK to be wrong.
If you thought your audience would appreciate bold messaging, but they don’t - scale it back! Trust your gut, but don’t be too proud to make changes when the data indicates that’s the best move. This constant testing and iterating is a crucial part of an effective brand strategy.
Why Branding is Important
Branding is important for perception, consistency, and longevity. You can’t afford to let bad branding get in the way of a good first impression, and nothing erodes consumer confidence like confusion (and 71% of companies agree).
Creating a high-quality, reliable, enjoyable experience will keep customers coming back for more.
1. It makes a good first impression.
Your branding is almost always the first thing potential customers see, especially in this digital age. Most consumers will interact with your brand before your products.
48% of all consumers say their first purchase or interaction is the best time to earn their loyalty. You only have a few seconds to grab someone’s attention before they move on to something else. If your visual branding isn’t eye-catching and your messaging isn’t compelling enough to encourage potential customers to care about learning more, you’re leaving massive revenue opportunities on the table, even if your products are fantastic.
2. It creates consistency.
Think of your brand as a restaurant.
If you’re not using recipes to guarantee your signature dishes’ quality and consistency, you won’t be in business long.
When your branding isn’t consistent across channels, it creates confusion. Without a clearly defined brand, you could end up sending mixed messages and being visually unrecognizable.
3. It earns trust.
That consistency is crucial to establishing recognizability and reliability among your target audience.
Take Aesop, for example. Every one of their brick and mortar retail locations is designed with a unique theme but still aligns with basic brand principles so that no matter where you are in the world, you’ll know you’re at an Aesop store. You can trust in a thoughtful, crafted experience that encourages you to go in and try some products.
4. It helps generate social proof.
Your customers can (and should) become your biggest (and cheapest) marketing assets.
With a consistent brand experience across your marketing and site, you can arm your audience with what they need to become brand champions, broadcasting the virtues, values and benefits you’ve instilled in their minds to extoll your brand and products.
5. It supports your marketing initiatives.
Your branding doesn’t end with your website or packaging. Every single ad, email, blog post, social post, and more must align with your brand guidelines and overall style guide.
But these rules aren’t limiting. In fact, they make creating effective marketing assets more straightforward and more effective by giving you and your team the inspiration, subject matter, and best practices for weaving a consistent brand experience throughout your marketing.
6. It improves employee pride.
Having a beautiful look, feel, and compelling narrative will inspire not just your potential customers but also the people working on your brand - even if that’s just you!
It’s the same reason why companies invest in beautiful office spaces with amenities - it sparks pride and excitement.
When the people helping to move your brand forward are as inspired as the audiences they are seeking to attract, it generates the kind of sustained effort and creativity that takes brands to the next level.
Brand Development & Brand Guideline Examples
Many brands publish their brand guidelines publicly to educate partners, press, and others on exactly how to understand, implement, or even consume their brand.
Though some of these publicly available guidelines are truncated versions that provide only the practical assets and instructions needed, leaving out fundamental messaging and positioning analysis, these guidelines can be extremely helpful templates for anyone looking to create brand guidelines for themselves through the brand development process outlined above.
Below are examples of publicly available brand guides from major companies that have risen to prominence thanks, in large part, to their consistent branding.
Airbnb has built an incredibly successful brand, due in large part to a major rebranding after it was already a well-known and used platform. Unlike many brands, Airbnb spent the time crafting informative content marketing around the basis of its design system.
Shopify’s published guidelines are more straightforward. They provide downloadable assets with instructions on how to use them. This addresses common pain points associated with their brands, and helps partners, media, and more properly position the company.
NASA offers a very design-forward graphics manual for sale on their website as if it were a digital coffee table book, taking an opportunity to capitalize on their brand’s cultural relevance to generate revenue. Even your brand guidelines, when done well, can become a new product and larger part of your marketing plan.
Nike invested a lot of time, thought, and development resources into its interactive brand book, sacrificing practicality to make it a more engaging and comprehensive experience for users. This is because Nike is one of the great brands of our time, and their marketers (and company as a whole) deeply believes in the company's positioning statement and purpose.
Even though your brand is only one part of your business, it’s one of the most critical. It’s the creative and expressive force that conveys the things that make you, your company and your product stand out.
Don’t be one of the many brands that skips the crucial steps toward building a complete and comprehensive brand identity as the foundation for consistent growth.
Although it may be impossible to calculate an exact ROI on the time and money you invest in brand development, there’s no question it elevates the brand experience, attracting more customers and creating long-term relationships that will pay dividends long into the future.