If you are already established, and are searching for ways to build your brand, then we have written a guide titled: How to build your brand in 10 steps? just for you.
You may not know the answers to all the questions below, or be able to bulk them out in any detail. But the act of testing the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘who’ of your business is a great place to start in order to work out what your brand could become.
This guide aims to be straightforward. Feel free to skip ahead using the contents above, focusing on any areas of weakness for your business plan. But first, let’s look at the definition of branding to ensure we are on the same page.
What is branding?
Branding is how people perceive your company. It’s not just your logo, it’s the tone, the message and the idea. Brand stems from understanding the ‘why’ of your business and then designing an identity that matches what you need to communicate. In other words, the brand is built by the business; the designers are able to visually communicate those communication goals in the form of a logo and other touchpoints.
Therefore, when thinking about branding you need to work out the answers to a number of questions (listed below) before you start thinking about what it looks like.
Follow these 8 steps to create a brand:
- Clarify why your business exists
- Find your brand personality using value words
- Research your potential audience
- Choose your name
- Research your competitors
- Understand how to speak to your audience
- Creating the look and feel
- What do you need from your designer?
Build you brand using our brand toolkit
Over the years, we’ve developed a toolkit that helps our clients make decisions about their brand that are cost effective, and speak directly to their clients. Below I’ve set out a snapshot into this process to build a brand. Soon, we will be making our resources available for companies to use this process internally in the hope that more people will benefit from the power of thinking about brand. If you would like to receive an email once these resources have been launched, please pop your address in the following box.
1. Clarify why your business exists
You will know why you have started your business – it may be for deeply personal reasons, or it might be because you’ve found a gap in the market. Whatever the reason, it is part of your brand story, and worth sharing.
For example, take Toms shoes – their reason for starting is still a thread running through the entire company today. Their founder, and now Chief Shoe Giver, Blake Mycoskie started the footwear company from an idea when travelling; to give those in need a pair of shoes, for every pair of shoes sold in the developed world. The Toms story took an idea and built it into a powerful business model.
What happens if your reason for existing as a company is less obviously inspirational? If you were made redundant and wanted to set up on your own? Or are a mum looking to get back into work? Perhaps you found a gap in the market and recognised an opportunity to make a difference. Whatever the impetus there is always a reason. Often that reason is interesting to others, and can cement a connection between company and customer.
Working out your ‘why’
You may have come across Simon Sinek’s Golden circle – if not, I recommend listening to the Ted talk now.
He speaks about why finding the ‘why’ of your business is incredibly important. That every business on the planet knows what they do; the product they sell, or the service they offer.
Some businesses know how they do it; the things that make them unique but very few know the reasons why they do what they do. The ‘why’ is the purpose of an organisation. If money didn’t come into it, what would be the driving force of your business?
Working out your ‘why’ will be the easiest route to establishing yourself as unique amongst your competitors.
2. Find your brand personality using value words
Your brand values are at the heart of your business. Words that define you, and help steer the company. We believe that a set of well-defined brand values can really benefit how you see your brand and how you communicate it to others.
What are brand values?
In short, brand values are a set of three words that communicates what your company stands for. The three adjectives aren’t talking about what your business does (its service or product) but instead speak of its personality.
At a dozen eggs, our brand values are Approachable, Capable and Creative.
Our sister venture, the Brand Toolkit has values of Playful, Optimistic and Practical.
Brand values can shape everything about your business, and provide a filter or measurable to help you make decisions. For example, if you’ve just received a design for your nexts month’s Instagram grid – does it fit with the 3 words you have chosen for your business? Do you get feedback from clients that include your brand words? We love it when we get reviews and clients have used the word ‘integrity’ to describe us. Or, looking a little wider – can you make hiring decisions around your brand values?
Why is it important to define brand values?
Customers buy from brands. For instance, many have a strong tie to Coca-Cola over Pepsi, or Burger King over McDonalds. If you were to ask people their reasoning, I can imagine the majority wouldn’t respond with talking about the advertising or marketing, but instead about taste – which may not be replicated within a blind taste test.
Knowing your brand values will create a brand that is strong, and can be understood by your customers. They will add clarity to anything you produce. It is also very useful when working with a designer. Rather than responding to design work with ‘yes I like it’ or ‘no, it doesn’t seem to be working’. Brand words can be a useful filter for any verbal or visual communication – does it match my brand values?
3. Research your potential audience
You can’t design for everyone
Who is your audience? Often, the first answer to this question, when posed to our clients is ‘everyone’. Whilst this is a commendable business goal, it’s nearly impossible to achieve through brand. A strong brand strategy requires you to think about the main audience you want to speak to. This isn’t going to limit the number of people you could reach in time, but it will give you a more targeted approach.
Think about the brand identity for Fisher-Price (designed by Pentagram). I can be sure that this wasn’t designed for my 70 year old neighbour. The intention for the brand is for children. The bright colours, simple shapes and vibrancy can tell us that. An obvious example, maybe, but I can assure you that no brand is designed for ‘everyone’.
We need to adapt our language depending on who we speak to. We do it naturally day to day. It is no different within design. We need to understand what our audience will react well to, what they will find aggressive or rude? What would make them part with their money, or what would be off putting? Equally, how are other brands talking to them?
Find your audience
It is better to build a brand for a niche audience. Over time, you can expand into a number of audiences fairly easily, and targeted design material can work well to extend the reach further. But, building a brand with a niche audience in mind will ensure clarity. The key is knowing who the main people you want to be speaking to are.
One of the first questions to ask yourself is – who do you want to work with? Who do you want to be using your products.
Abercrombie took this notion to an extreme. Whilst it’s an appalling moral stance, from a branding perspective it throws up some interesting questions. Back in the 2000’s, Abercrombie and Fitch decided the type of customers that they wanted to grace their stores. And the type they didn’t. They wanted the ‘attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends’¹. It made for a brand that had clarity, they stood out and most likely, they made a lot of money from the decision. Abercrombie and Fitch became an aspirational brand. Thankfully, the tide has turned, and no longer are they making quite the same statements, but for a long time – it was a successful strategy.
Robin Lewis, co-author of The New Rules of Retail, told Business Insider that the retailer’s CEO, Mike Jeffries:
Thankfully this notion wouldn’t work in 2020. Consumers care about causes, peoples rights and brand activism to a higher degree. But, whilst it is an extreme example it does demonstrate how useful having an audience in mind is. Abercrombie and Fitch could make brand led decisions. They could create rooms that felt intimidating for anyone other than their target audience. They hired models as shop floor assistants. And, they placed their ideal of physical beauty onto everything; bags, advertisements, signage.
Who are your audience?
Finding your niche audience will allow good decisions to be made around how to speak to them. Who would you like to use your products? Who would you like to work with? Will your audience be able to support you financially?
Once you have selected your proposed audience, the next step is to learn what you can do about them. At a dozen eggs, we often build personas to establish an understanding of the type of person the audience is.
A persona is a fictional character that has been put together to represent a larger target audience. They are often referred to as pen portraits, customer avatars or buyer personas. They provide thoughts on common outlooks, behaviours and potential issues surrounding the target audiences. Personas are useful for designers to make decisions. It is substantially easier to create a visual language with one person in mind than creating a visual language for hundreds of thousands in mind.
4. Choose your name
Choosing a name for your new business is tricky. Ensuring it is available at Companies House, that a higher level domain name (.com / .co.uk / etc) is available and that you can trademark it are all important factors. However, perhaps the most important factor is that it feels right!
As with any ideas generation task it is important to start with an inclusive mindset – don’t be critical! It is much easier to choose a name if you have generated a list of 60 names, most of which are rubbish, but with a couple of gems than a blank sheet of paper with just a few overworked suggestions.
Involve other people. Let your friends and family know about your value words and then ask them to add to your list. Be encouraging, and get excited about the possibilities.
Don’t be precious. Try to stay objective and keep assessing your list next to your brief and your brand words. Having a favourite is inevitable … but are you the target audience? If not it’s vital not to let your own preferences get in the way of the decision making process.
Read! Spend time being absorbed by reading, you will extend your vocabulary and notice a few more potential names. That is how it worked for us, at least!
We’ve written another blog post around types of business names, and tips on how to choose one, that you may find useful.
Once you have a wealth of names to choose from, it is at this stage that you can put your critical hat on. Does your name reflect your brand values? Does it fit into the industry you are going into? Then, can you find something memorable whilst striking a balance. The solicitors based in Leamington, Wright Hassall, always brought a smile to my face. The process of choosing a name can be tricky, but you will get there. Allowing a name to sit with you for a week or so, before dismissing it, is a wise move.
5. Research your competitors
It is useful to have an understanding of the landscape of your industry. Knowing how businesses in a similar area are operating, where their growth areas are and how they speak to their clients. You don’t necessarily need to make decisions off the back of this knowledge. But, you can make informed decisions around standing out or blending in, rather than accidental ones.
Creating a brand is as much to do with establishing purpose as finding a gap in the market. Finding your own unique selling points will be more important than dissecting your competition. However, learning as much as you can about them will mean you are less likely to fall into the same traps, and will be able to identify possible areas for growth.
Innocent Smoothies are a great example of a company who chose to follow their own path, so much so that they struggled to get financial backing. With a risky proposition and a lack of experience within the industry. However, they knew that they had an idea that could work, and a brand positioning “to be natural, generous, commercial, entrepreneurial and responsible“.
So, whilst we advocate for thinking about your brand strategically, it is worth looking at your competition tactically.
Understanding your competitors website will give you an insight on their strategic plans. For example, the a dozen eggs website will rank well for ‘responsive logo’ and ‘flexible branding’ as we believe those areas are fundamental to the future of branding. So, how do you find your competitor’s keywords? Tools like Alexa, Ahrefs and Google’s Keyword Planner are the places to start. Most SEO keyword tools have free trials, where you can enter keywords and find competitors, or enter competitors and find their keywords.
Check your competitors reviews
Your competitors will likely have an online presence, and with an online presence comes reviews. Depending on the industry, you will be able to find reviews on a host of business areas; quality, customer service or value for money to name a few. The big names to search are TrustPilot, TripAdvisor, Google My Business, Facebook and Feefo. However, you can also find plenty of review sites for more niche areas, for example Influenster for beauty brands, and our favourite StudentCrowd for all things University. Find your competitors reviews and put together a picture of what is working, and what isn’t within their business.
The basic stats
How well are your competitors doing financially? Whilst it is useful to understand how they are marketing their products, it’s also useful to know if its working! You can search Companies House for their financial accounts (if you are in the UK) and download any recent filings. It is also useful to understand the price points of each product or service in order to do the maths!
6. Understand how to speak to your audience
Where is your audience likely to spend their time? How could you start to speak to them? Are they more likely to respond to your brand in an online or offline world? Once you know who your audience is, you will need to understand their habits and behaviours.
You will notice that you will be able to approach your sales, marketing and the brand itself in different ways, depending on the audience. For example, younger audiences are extremely brand literate. They will understand, and be able to link the key messages of your brand together. A logo doesn’t need to be plastered everywhere. They will want you to convince them of your brand story, the reason you exist, and will be often less interested in the features list. The older generation often prefer brands they’ve heard of, brands that feel safer. If you are an up-and-coming brand, it might be that you looked to get featured in a Sunday supplement, or speak about the problem your company solves on Radio 4!
Use data to increase your understanding
YouGov profiles lite is a very useful tool to add data into your understanding. It takes data gathered from YouGov surveys and organises it.
It is set up to answer the question: If someone likes x, what else do they like? In this context it works well to use a mainstream competitor as the search input, or perhaps a brand that you know your audience will interact with and have a positive association with.
For example, fans of Arsenal have politics that are centre right. Readers of the Guardian’s favourite sport is cricket, and second favourite is cycling. Fans of Ludovico Einaudi are online for 36 – 40 hours a week. And, alpine skiing fans describe themselves as ‘gentle’ and sometimes ‘boring’.
What do you do with this information?
Knowing which newspaper your persona reads (if any) and which social channels they frequent has obvious benefits. However, when creating a brand it is also incredibly useful to know which brands your audience already trusts. If your audience trust ASOS or Jigsaw, then looking at how those companies speak to them already can be incredibly useful for establishing a tone of voice.
7. Creating the brand look and feel
Branding is the tool people use to influence how others see their brand or service. As humans we are influenced by what we see and hear and companies don’t want to be inadvertently sending out the wrong messages. As designers we help companies communicate their brand values clearly, and to the right people.
When done well, branding encourages engagement, makes things happen and can bring a sense of fun to unexpected places. Branding is always evolving – audience change, companies grow and the way we communicate shifts.
Using visual languages
Once you know who your audience is, you then need to work out how to speak to them. Every audience has a visual language. Your designer should be able to identify it, and work within it.
So, for example, take the below photographs from Martin Parr. These sets of people will have very different styles, and will be spending their money on completely different items.
Every person has cultural, environmental, historial and genetic reasons for their preferences, but people can also be split into groups, or tribes. These tribes have visual attributions. For example, the bronzed lady might be partial to a bit of glitz, lots of gold and silver and bright colours. Whereas, those in uniform could be more likely to spend money on watches and neckties.
Brands are made up of visual, verbal and written communication, all of which communicate different messages.
It is at this stage when some of the larger decisions are made. At a dozen eggs, we create moodboards to help make decisions around brand look and feel. Gathering together existing brands and visuals which will steer your project.
8. What do you need from your designer?
Then comes the detail! Whether you have a design eye yourself, and an understanding of how to put a brand together, or whether you will need the guidance of a brand designer, the next stage of the process is when it all comes to life.
Colour, typography, illustration style, scale and layout all have an affect on the visual direction of a brand. A good designer will supply you with options that all work to communicate your goals.
At a dozen eggs, we start by creating a number of different options that could work for the brand. We supply initial ideas to the client, and then work closely with them to decide which concept to take forward and develop.
From here we continue to build a bespoke visual identity that works for the client’s target audience and clearly communicates who they are as a company. At the end of the process the client has a set of design assets that they feel confident and excited to use. Along with a set of practical guidelines to help ensure their brand evolves consistently and effectively over time.