Let’s talk about something near and dear to my heart – branding.
Side story: You probably don’t know that I bartended for many years to put myself through college. During my bartending days, I worked at several steakhouses, and do you know what else steak houses sell besides steak? Bourbon and Scotch. Lots of it. During my time in the restaurant business, I learned an old saying that “all scotches are bourbon, but not all bourbons are scotches” – and what that means is that all forms of scotch are, in general terms, made from the same ingredients that bourbon is made out of. However, in order to be called a ‘scotch’ it must be distilled and bottled in Scotland. It sounds like a minor difference simply based on geographic region, but in reality, it’s quite a major distinction. Scotland has a completely different climate, terroir (dirt), barrels – all of which contribute to the distinct flavor of scotches.
A similar concept applies to those of us who call ourselves “marketers” vs those of us who call ourselves “brand strategists.” Allow me to explain – like bourbon and scotch, all brand strategists are great marketers, but not all marketers are great brand strategists. What I mean by that is, being a great marketer is already a complex discipline. There are so many facets to marketing, and the practice of marketing continues to become deeper and more expansive. Oftentimes, marketers must align their efforts with other areas of the business, in particular, operations and sales in order to understand effectiveness and impact.
Brand strategists – on the other hand – not only have to fully understand the complexities of marketing, but they also need to correlate their efforts across ALL aspects of the company from the user-experience, to design, to function, to implementation of the brand at every level of the company. It’s that minute, yet important, distinction that separate these two disciplines. And my reasoning for drawing this correlation is because branding is really hard to define – whereas marketing can be tracked, sliced and diced with data and other corrections. Branding relies heavily on the emotional experience someone has with your brand at a deeper level – and don’t get me wrong – some of the BEST marketing campaigns rely on emotions, too – but branding takes it a step further.
So for this post, I wanted to peel back some of the layers to what makes a brand so relatable, lovable, and therefore – sellable (marketable). THEN, I’ve included a free template towards the end to help you start to formalize your brand identity – yea!
So let’s start with Brand Identity – WTF is it, exactly?
A brand identity is a collection of all experiences a potential customer has with your company. It’s how your brand looks and feels, what your values are, how you communicate yourself, and what you want people to feel when they interact you. Essentially, your brand identity is the personality of your business and a promise to your customers.
‘Your product leaves an impression on your customers long after you’ve made the sale. Brand identity is the process of shaping that impression.”
So, now you might be asking what the ingredients are to creating that lasting impression on your customers. To tackle that, I’ve summarized three of the most important components of a well-defined brand identity.
1. The leading lady — the face of your brand (i.e., your logo)
Okay, so don’t fret here – I want to start this off by addressing a myth that everything about your brand can be found in your logo – that is 100% not true. Your brand is more than your logo – remember, it’s the collective experience someone has with your company, and there’s no way to communicate a collective experience with one design element. However, your leading lady, your logo, is an important character in this story. She tells a lot about your company and acts as the person who opens the door to your brand experience. In fact, I like to lovingly refer to her as the welcome committee – the hostess with the mostess!
The reason everyone gets so hung up on the logo is because it’s typically the first interaction with the brand. Imagine going to someone’s gorgeous house for dinner and being welcomed by a rude ole’ prune who doesn’t pay attention to you, throws together a meal that sucks, and then proceeds to complain about everything in her life to you for the remainder of the meal – would you stay for desert?
Now imagine going to that same gorgeous house and being welcomed by a dear friend, or a stranger whom you might not know, but they’ve greeted you with open arms and they’re warm, generous, and are genuinely interested in getting you settled and making your experience comforting. Not only would you probably stay for dinner, but you’d come back a second time if invited.
That is the feeling your brand communicates – and your logo is the woman who opens the door.
2. Mission, Vision and Values
I have a large section dedicated on how to do this in my program, and it’s for good reason. We are living in a buyer’s market, so as a result, buyers have a strong say in how brands interact with them. So when you’re creating a brand identity, you are also telling a story about what your brand stands for – no matter what you are selling. As a result, your mission, vision and values are based on the framework of what your brand stands for. So, if your brand doesn’t stand for or represent anything, you’re going to have a really hard time with this.
The good news is that your brand can stand for whatever you want it to stand for – you don’t need to be saving the planet or addressing global issues with your company to do this well (although that would be really cool). Do you represent helping small businesses? Are you addressing a need within a marginalized market? Are you creating a new technology to help with problems x,y,z? Are you creating a food product that’s made from alternative ingredients? There’s an endless amount of ways to communicate your brand’s purpose and story, and your mission, vision and values help you to craft that story so that your customers can relate to it on a deep emotional level.
3. Brand Personas (i.e, personality traits)
This is probably one of my favorites. I’d like to ask you a question – if your brand where a person, who would you be, and why? What personality traits would you have? Are you shy, dynamic, sarcastic, gentle, professional, funny, rebellious – some combination of everything? Building a strong brand identity requires that you tap into human traits so that other humans can connect with you – seems pretty straightforward, right?
If you’re able to define a brand persona to help you channel these personality traits, it’s much easier to create that experience across all areas of your brand. I once worked with a marketing agency that said their brand personas were a combination of Louis CK and Robert Downey Jr.’s character in Sherlock Holmes (weirdly specific, and weirdly awesome). The reason this was important for them to define was because they could then figure how to actually talk and act like those personas. Their copywriting became a lot more witty and sarcastic, they started creating bolder design styles, and it trickled down into all aspects of how they showed up for their customers.
So now that I’ve shared with you ways to create your brand identity, so I’d like to share with you a free Brand Guideline template I created to help you formalize that brand identity.
What is a brand guide?
Simply put – a brand guide is a set of rules that a company follows when presenting their brand to the world. It details things like the story, mission, vision, values, voice and audience of the company to ensure consistency across all communication channels. It also typically includes logo usages, color codes and typography guidelines to ensure that all creative assets are designed with intention and stay “on-brand.” Everything I wrote above is collected into a “guide” so that anyone you show it to can understand how your brand needs to function. Think of a Brand Guideline as your lighthouse – when you’re lost or unsure of which direction to go, you always refer back to the Brand Guideline.
Why do you need a brand guide?
Every business needs a brand guideline because it keeps your creative and marketing in check. How many times have you thought this, “let me just whip up (or ask my designer) something quick in Canva and post it on social?” If there aren’t some sort of standards put in place for those use cases, overtime, your brand will look incredibly inconsistent and it’ll create confusion for your audience. Even if you’re a one-person show, if you have a logo and plan on creating content, having a *basic* brand guide will go a long way.
I hope this was helpful for you, and enjoy this free template!
Author, Jessica Korthuis
Jessica is the founder of Sohuis, and educational platform and membership community that provides marketing and branding educational resources to help early-stage founders brand and market their businesses. She has a passion for writing and educating and an obsession with teaching others how to bring their brands to life.
Jessica has been featured by Thrive Global, Girlboss, the Lean Startup Company, is a 40 Under 40 Award recipient and has been listed as a “Woman to Watch in 2019 and Beyond” by the national publication, Biz Journals. She is a contributing writer to Girl CEO Inc., proud mompreneur, and to keep up with her super inspiring and fun content, follow her on Instagram @jessica_korthuis.