Brand identity is more than a logo or a style guide. Your brand identity is your reputation, and if you don’t have the appropriate brand identity guidelines in place, that reputation is at stake.
According to Hubspot, “a brand identity influences your customers’ experience at every touchpoint.” Whether they’re aware of it or not, your brand identity affects how consumers view everything—from your relevance to your reputation and credibility. Brand identity is the sum total of how your brand looks, feels, and sounds—and you don’t want to get it wrong.
We uncovered nine essential steps to build brand identity guidelines that keep your brand at the forefront of consumers’ minds, while simultaneously instilling a greater sense of confidence about what you stand for in the marketplace and among the employees of your organization.
STEP 1: Conduct a SWOT Analysis
Break out your textbook! The first step toward creating brand identity guidelines is to conduct a SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis will help you understand your organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. In other words, a SWOT analysis will help you determine why you need to update—or create—brand identity guidelines in the first place.
Find out what’s working and what needs improvement. That way, once your brand identity guidelines have been established and implemented, you and will know for certain whether your new brand identity is helping you fill those gaps and reach your goals. By first conducting a SWOT analysis, you’ll have a better chance of developing initiatives that improve your organization’s reputation and—hopefully—its ROI.
STEP 2: Do Your Research
Research is a vital component of any project, whether you’re working on a new brand identity, a website redesign, or a blog post. You need to have a robust understanding of the competitive landscape, as well as stakeholders’ perceptions of your brand, before you dive into developing updated brand identity guidelines. Why? Without doing your research, your new brand identity guidelines won’t drive your strategy—rather, they’ll be a shot in the dark.
Brand identity guidelines are the foundation on which your strategy should be built. You want to make sure your brand meets the wants and needs of your target audience, which is why you need to dig deep into their motivations. Research includes:
- Competitor audit
- Content audit
- Website and social media data analysis
- Internal and external stakeholder interviews
STEP 3: Identify Your Audience
We mentioned appealing to your target audience, but who are they? Your research should give you a relatively clear idea of who you’re talking to with your brand—but, if you’re still not quite sure who you’re trying to reach, consider these questions:
- Who is buying your product or service?
- Why are they buying your product or service? What need are they trying to satisfy?
- What are their demographic, psychographic, and geographic characteristics?
- Who engages with your website and social media content most frequently?
Identifying your audience is the first step toward understanding them both as individuals, as well as consumers. Ultimately, identifying your audience will help you create an experience that helps them recall what your organization offers and why they should care. You have a lot to contribute, and your target audience needs to hear about it! You’ll be able to reach them where they’re at once you know exactly who they are.
STEP 4: Develop Personas & Buyer Journeys
Once you’ve determined who you’re speaking to, it’s time to dive deeper. When it comes to truly understanding your target audience, the first step is creating personas. Personas are archetypes of the various groups you’re targeting with your marketing. They are created using a combination of quantitative and qualitative data analysis that allows you to understand your consumers’ online engagement and use it to predict future behavior. The more detailed you are, the better!
‘It’s best practice to even name your personas. Refer to them by name in internal discussion and think of them as your friends and colleagues. The better you understand what motivates your personas, the better you’ll understand your real-world customers. Carefully crafted personas help you offer the best possible product or service to the audience most likely to buy it.
Buyer Journeys help you understand your personas’ motivations as they move through each of the following four stages:
- AWARENESS: In this stage, your target persona is only tangentially aware they have a problem to solve or an opportunity to pursue. Sometimes, customers in this stage just know they need a change. They’re not looking for fully-baked solutions here, they’re simply exploring their situation and trying to fully understand which next step makes the most sense. Content that’s non-promotional and designed to spark interest, entertain, or answer a basic question can help keep your brand top of mind.
- CONSIDERATION: In the consideration stage, your target persona understands and can articulate their need or problem. They are actively researching ways to answer their question, meet their need, or solve their problem. Content that educates, informs, and provides comprehensive answers to their questions can be a valuable resource as they compare their options and move closer to making a decision.
- DECISION: The decision stage is where prospects become customers. They have decided how to solve their problem or pursue their opportunity, but they need encouragement and validation to choose your organization to help them do it. Branded content that reinforces your organization’s unique value proposition can be a great way to differentiate your brand from your competitors.
- ADVOCATE: The holy grail of marketing. Once your customers have chosen your brand and you’ve wowed them with your product or service, they’re likely to share that information with their friends and peers. Consumers today are far more likely to trust an objective review or a friend’s recommendation than an advertisement, so by engaging their own networks, your current customers are actively helping to build credibility in your brand for future ones.
STEP 5: Explain Your Brand
Without explicitly defining who you are and what you stand for, your target audience will have difficulty determining whether your service offering can meet their needs and, if it can, why they should choose you. Effectively explaining your brand means taking the time to write out a mission statement, a vision statement, and your core values.
A mission statement tells people what you strive for as an organization; a vision statement tells them where you’re going; and core values speak to what you stand for. Additionally, you want to make sure your brand identity is distinctive, relevant, and consistent.
- DISTINCTIVE: Does your brand stand out among the crowd?
- RELEVANT: Does your brand satisfy a need in a credible manner?
- CONSISTENT: Does your brand consistently deliver value and communicate a core message?
STEP 6: Create Your Brand Ethos
Brand ethos is the single most enduring quality or value your brand provides its audience. It represents and explains the distinguishing characteristics of your brand that help you stand out from the crowd and provide the highest quality products and services to your target audience. There are many cogs in the brand ethos wheel, including:
- BRAND POSITION: This is your elevator pitch. Your positioning statement provides a clear path to communicating what you do and how it makes a difference for your customers.
- BRAND ATTRIBUTES: Attributes include brand competencies (what you do); standards (how you do it); and your style (your brand’s unique personality).
- BRAND PROMISE: A short, inspiring statement used among your internal team that captures the essence of your brand and how your organization holds itself accountable to customers.
- BRAND VISION: A statement with long-term perspective that addresses the aspirations and goals of your organization in terms of your relationship with your customers.
- CORE VALUES: Your core values should express the principles your organization is built on.
STEP 7: Define Your Voice & Tone
Any language used to represent your brand should follow a consistent tone of voice representative of your brand’s core values. Keep your personas in mind as you define your voice and tone: Who are you talking to? What resonates with them throughout each stage of the buyer’s journey? Do they respond to playful messaging, or something more serious? Is your collateral meant to be conversational or informative?
Once you’ve reached a decision, you can implement updated messaging across your website, blog, social channels, and other pieces of collateral. Consistent, updated messaging is paramount to reaching your target consumer—whether they learn about you online, via social media, or from a piece of print collateral, they should be receiving the same messaging across the board.
STEP 8: Design
Now for the fun part. After you’ve conducted research, determined your target audience, and defined the various elements of your brand, it’s time to ramp up your visual identity.
- LOGO: The singular graphic, symbol, or phrase that represents your brand and makes your brand stand apart from the crowd.
- BRAND COLORS: Establishing brand colors is a way to enhance your brand identity. Using consistent brand colors across all pieces of collateral also guarantees cohesion. Your audience will come to recognize the look and feel of your brand wherever they see it.
- TYPOGRAPHY: Similar to brand colors, using consistent typography (i.e., the same fonts) across various pieces of collateral keeps your brand professional and clean.
- APPLICATION: Once logo, color, and typography has been agreed upon, think about how you will implement your new visual identity across your website, emails, ads, and more.
A visual identity overhaul can create consistency across all your company’s assets. Consistency goes a long way in building consumer trust in the products they choose to be loyal to.
STEP 9: Show Off Your New Brand!
All that hard work is about to pay off. With an understanding of your target audience, an updated brand ethos, and a fancy new look, you’re ready to take the world [wide web] by storm—and ramp up your reputation across a wider, more engaged audience. Throughout the rest of the fiscal year, take steps to implement your new brand across all collateral, including:
- Email Campaign(s)
- Social channels
- Capabilities brochure(s)
- Print and digital ads
Brand Identity Guidelines Made Simple
Conducting adequate research, defining the core of your brand, and designing an updated visual identity system are not “quick fixes” when building strong brand identity guidelines. But with these nine steps, you’ll be well on your way to establishing strong brand identity guidelines that keep you ahead of the competition for years to come. Now that you know what to do, get out there and do it! Gather your team, establish your goals, and follow these nine steps to create brand identity guidelines that work for you.