Creating a brand identity is an exciting step toward growing a successful business. You’re seeing the personality of your business start to take shape. Until this point, it only existed in your head.
Andrew Ramm, president and general manager of Alexa.com, emphasizes that brand identity is key to building trust with customers. “Creating a brand identity should start with obtaining a deep understanding of your audience – and knowing what makes you, or potentially makes you uniquely valuable and important to that audience,” he said. “Incorporate that knowledge into every aspect of your brand identity in a way that shows the customer you empathize and identify with their challenges, fears, and goals. Feeling understood will create long-term loyalty and advocacy.”
But a brand identity is a big investment and one that’s often overlooked when you’re just starting out. How can you make sure your brand identity is as powerful as it can be? We’ll discuss what makes for a strong brand identity and then walk you through the steps to creating one for your business.
What is a Brand Identity?
A brand identity is how a company presents itself to the world. It refers to all the elements that you might use to convey the essence of your business to your customers, including your messaging, logo, website landing pages, signage, and product packaging, and the colors, fonts, shapes, and language that appear on them.
Your brand identity should be the result of careful research and deliberation. Once created, your identity will project your personality and a set of promises about what your brand is and what it will deliver — to both clients and employees.
Brand identity is different from a similar concept, brand image, which refers to how people actually perceive your brand. Brand image can also be thought of as how customers feel when interacting with you. Your goal should be to create alignment between your brand identity and your brand image, meaning that customers should perceive your brand the same way you do.
How to Create a Brand Identity: 6 Steps to Success
A strong brand identity is clear, unique, and memorable, repeated consistently, and resonates with your target audience. Creating an identity like this is more easily accomplished when you follow six specific steps in order. Proceeding in this order allows you to first understand where your brand identity currently stands and decide how it should look before you start making any potentially large changes.
1) Research Your Audience
Think deeply about the type of customers you want to serve. If you don’t know who you’re marketing to, your attempts to grow your business may be unsuccessful.
Conducting research with Alexa’s tools can give you powerful insights into your current or potential audience. Alexa’s Audience Overlap tool helps you understand where your target customers get information and inspiration and where they purchase products and services. It also provides information about their demographics, so you can better understand what this audience looks like and how they find you.
Additionally, Alexa’s Competitor Keyword Matrix tool gives you insight into the top keywords that send search traffic to the websites of your competitors. As you’ll learn in the next step, a large part of defining your own brand comes from knowing what your competitors are doing with theirs.
Lastly, the Audience Interest tool in the Alexa Advanced account gives you an idea of what interests your audience shares, and what sites they’re likely to visit based on those interests. You’ll likely find sites that have spent a good deal of time on their own identity, and you might be able to learn something from those who have done this research.
2) Audit Your Existing Brand
Before developing a new brand identity, you should first develop an understanding of what your identity looks like right now. You might be surprised to find that you already have a consistent brand experience between your website and product packaging. Or you might discover that you need to update your marketing to match new guidelines.
To audit an existing brand, examine your online branding (like your website and social media) and offline branding, including your packaging, event materials, and physical promotional materials. Closely examine these branding factors:
- Your logo
- Your slogan(s) or tagline(s)
- Your tone, voice, word choice, and sentence structure
- Your choice of colors and fonts
- Your choice of images, illustrations, or photos
You may find it helpful to create a spreadsheet to log your audit findings and efficiently track which channels are already using specific colors, logos, or wording, and which are in need of an update. Log any inconsistencies between marketing channels, too, so you can make needed updates in the final step of the brand identity process.
3) Analyze Your Competitors’ Brand Positioning
Learning how your competitors have positioned their own brands can give you ideas for your own company. While you shouldn’t imitate your competitors’ brand strategies, analyzing what they’re doing well and what they aren’t doing well may highlight gaps in the market and allow you to capitalize on new opportunities to reach your audience.
Look closely at the following to analyze your competition’s brand strategies:
- The marketing channels they use, like their website, social media, or events
- The tone and voice of their communication — for example, do they speak confidently or take a passive tone?
- The types of photos and images used and their style — for example, are they colorful or neutral?
- Their logos, taglines, or slogans
Analyzing your competitors may also help you find your niche. Notice which types of customers are choosing your company over the competition, and begin to develop a story around your identity and a unique selling proposition.
4) Define Your Brand’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
What makes your company different than your competitors? What do you have that they don’t? This is your unique selling proposition, or USP, and is what your brand identity should work hard to express.
To develop a USP, consider your unique resources, personality, and customers. Think deeply about what you and your customers care about. Ask questions like:
- What motivates our customers? (Factors like money, status, social causes, family, health…)
- Alternately, what frustrates our customers?
- Why do customers choose (or why should they choose) our products or services instead of our competitors’?
5) Create On-Brand Messaging
Your USP is expressed in both words and visuals: The words you communicate with, the photos and graphics you use, the colors you choose, and so on. Once you’ve decided on this aspect of your brand identity, you’ll need to create on-brand messaging and elements to use both online and in-person.
Consider using a brand book to formalize what is and isn’t considered “on-brand” for your company. This book should outline the specific features of your brand identity in painstaking detail:
- Your brand tagline or slogan — Include how and when to use it (and not to)
- Logo or other brand images — Include different color and size options
- Fonts — Include not just font names but also sizes and format options and when to use which combination
- Colors — Again, explain not just which colors to use but when and how to use them
- Photos or graphics — Visual examples of proper and improper use are vital
- Writing style and word choice — Examples of “right” and “wrong” styles and choices are particularly helpful
6) Implement Your Identity Consistently
Once you’ve defined your brand identity, apply your new messaging and visual identity across every medium you plan to use in your marketing strategy.
Check your traffic sources in Google Analytics to help identify which marketing channels are sending you the most traffic. To check what channels your competitors are getting traffic from, you can use the Site Comparisons tool in your Alexa account. Once you’ve identified the most popular channels for your industry, prioritize your brand identity improvements by focusing on high-impact channels first.
Remember, consistency is crucial: If your website and social media profiles don’t match, customers might become confused or even think you’re not who you say you are. This consistency also establishes a feeling of professionalism across your branding. Update both your online and offline assets, including packaging and event materials, so each and every customer sees your current branding no matter where they first encounter you.
Learn From the Best: 3 Brand Identity Examples to Follow
Each of the three following brand identity examples is from companies that have carved out an identity with their marketing messaging, photos, and content.
Lululemon is an activewear clothing company whose brand identity is grounded in seven core values: “quality, product, integrity, balance, entrepreneurship, greatness, and fun.” Each is present in the website’s product photos and the content it’s created about its designs.
But Lululemon’s brand identity is more than a look it has honed. Its belief in its core values is evidenced further in how it operates:
- Supporting its active community with events, fitness classes, and customer stories.
- Enlisting the help of ambassadors, which can help extend a brand’s reach and identify new customers.
- Providing community resources, like its “Here to Be” yoga program, which can help make a positive social impact.
BMW is a luxury European car manufacturer. Its brand is known for its focus on technology and high performance, something its tagline, “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” succinctly relays. Its brand identity of performance and innovation is conveyed in other ways, too:
- A powerful “Build Your Own” feature that allows shoppers to design their own car.
- A close management of the BMW product lifecycle to remove any vehicles that might be perceived as declining or out-of-date.
- A local dealer experience that looks and feels the same between websites.
Intercom is a SaaS company that makes a customizable messaging suite, including live chat, chatbots, and email. It has built a standout brand by focusing on its values, voice, and visual identity.
As once stated on its blog, Intercom believes that “a great brand system is about attitude and emotion, not pixels.” It works hard to convey that identity:
- Consistently uses messaging that is friendly but succinct, speaking directly to a B2B audience that is serious about growing their companies.
- Relies heavily on content marketing written in the first person, often offering strong and sometimes controversial opinions.
- Uses bright colors to evoke strong opinions. As it says in a blog post about its recent website redesign, it believes “it’s better to feel something about a brand than nothing at all.”
Experience a Competitive Advantage by Developing Your Brand Identity
Creating a strong brand identity is a step toward building a long-term competitive advantage. But make no mistake: This isn’t a one-and-done project. Monitor the impact of your brand identity over time, and carefully consider when it’s time to tweak or pivot. Altering your identity can help your business, as Starbucks’ experience shows. but it can also potentially harm it if you’re not cautious.
One last word of advice: Make sure your employees are on board. You can ideate, research, and create what you think is a powerful brand identity, but you need your staff to champion it going forward. Sign up for a free trial of Alexa’s Advanced Plan to give your employees the resources they need to find opportunities for an improved brand identity, including detailed audience and competitor analysis.