Your company’s brand is, in effect, your company’s identity. Collectively, the elements of your brand are what your customers will come to recognize as the essence of your company, and if you are successful and consistent in your branding strategy, they will reward you with praise and loyalty.
However, shaping an effective, engaging brand cannot be done overnight. It takes thought, time, and effort to cultivate a brand that captures the interest of your followers, distinguishes your company from its competitors, and creates an interactive community around it. Of course, you’ll need a name, a logo, a font, and a set of colors, but your brand also captures your company’s personality—and that’s the legacy that people will grow to become familiar with.
As you develop (or revise) your brand, you’ll need to consider and map out these seven elements:
These represent what is most important to your company. Your vision is the culmination of your goals and your central mission, while your values are the characteristics of your brand that will allow those goals to be met most efficiently.
For example, the vision of a nonprofit could be “ending hunger,” and the values could be a focus on education, community empowerment, and personal motivation. The vision can be expressed and reiterated subtly, while the values should become evident through your use of language and the presentation of your ideas. Let’s say this nonprofit decides to publish a newspaper. Obviously, they’ll want to make reference to the fact that their main goal is reducing hunger in the community, but each entry in the newsletter should be in line with the brand’s values of education, community empowerment, and personal motivation. A spotlight on an individual’s attempts to unite the community with an awareness program would fit in perfectly with the brand.
You’ll have to decide where your brand voice falls on the spectrum of formality and informality. Formality usually requires strict adherence to grammatical rules, full and detailed sentences, and a straightforward, logical structure. Informality has no such structure, allowing more colloquial phrases, swear words, and unconventional structures to convey messages. Formality is often considered in higher regard, earning more respect from readers, but it can also be seen as rigid or impersonal. Conversely, informality is much more conversational and approachable, but can be seen as immature or inexperienced as a result.
Consider your main demographics. As an example, if you run a chauffeur service, your clientele will be wealthier, better educated, and demanding of a formal experience—so incorporating a layer of formality into your brand will improve your reputation. Alternatively, if you’ve created a new phone messaging app that you hope teenagers will use, you can afford to be more informal with your communicating.
This is another important spectrum to consider for your brand, and it might change slightly depending on your purpose and medium. Emotion-based communications try to persuade readers and followers by making an appeal to emotions. For example, a dog food company could create messaging that dramatizes your relationship with your pet and focuses on that bond to sell dog food. Logic-based communications, on the other hand, use logical and rational appeals. Using the same example of a dog food company, the company could emphasize the objective nutritional superiority of their dog food versus a competitor’s.
Every company will need to use both emotional and rational messaging to convey ideas, but some brands will gain value by using one more than the other.
Some branding experts use humor and informality interchangeably, since most jokes and humorous language can be classified as informal. However, the humor and sarcasm factors of your brand are separate, and can be incorporated regardless of how informal or formal your brand is.
The level of humor your brand adopts should be directly related to how personable you want your brand to seem; if you want your brand to seem very approachable and down-to-earth, include more humor. If you want your brand to seem more distant and revered, less humor is appropriate. No matter which direction you choose to go, make sure you use humor appropriately in the messaging of your brand. All it takes is one tasteless joke to compromise your reputation on the web.
It might seem strange to have a separate category for “personality,” since much of your brand’s identity can be described as its personality to begin with. But we’re using “personality” to describe the personal characteristics of your brand beyond simple identifying factors. Think about what your brand would be like if it were a person. What does your brand look like? How does it interact with others?
Imagine interacting with your brand in an engaging conversation. Is your brand younger or older than you are? Is your brand more masculine or feminine? Does your brand walk stiffly and quickly to a new destination, or does it take its time with a leisurely stroll? It probably seems silly to think of your brand in such terms, but it’s actually quite helpful in identifying the defining traits of your brand’s personality.
Showing and telling are opposite forms of communicating, and while all brands will rely on both at some point, most brands will favor one over the other. For example, Apple tends to do very little in the way of telling users what its products are about and very much in the way of showing them. Instead of releasing a commercial bombarded with words and descriptions, Apple will simply demonstrate how the product works.
Other brands rely on explicit, often written messages to fully describe their capacity, and that approach can work too. How much you show and tell matters to your audience, and you’ll need to find the right balance for your company.
I’m not talking about how politically conservative or liberal your brand is. Politics should not be a considering factor for your brand at all. Here, conservative and liberal refer to how willing your brand is to try and experiment with new things. A conservative brand, like an investment firm, might stick to the fundamentals and try to minimize change whenever possible in order to guarantee a reliable, familiar experience for its customers. A more liberal brand, like a company based around a phone app, is more mobile and more willing to change rapidly. Startups are commonly more liberal companies, making radical changes to their mediums, messages, and formats without blinking an eye.
If you aren’t sure where to start when making major decisions for the course of your brand, do some research. Research your competitors’ blogs and brands, and see what brand elements have allowed them to be successful. You can borrow some of these elements, but be sure to distinguish yourself in some unique way. You can also perform some market research through surveys and interviews, or A/B tests with sample messaging and content.
However you choose to approach your decisions, once you’ve outline the shape of your brand, stick to your plan. Inconsistency is the death of branding, so keep your alterations gradual and to an absolute minimum.