How Do You Build a Brand?

Building a brand is no walk in the park, but exactly how do you build a brand? I’d love to cover every possible detail here, but there’s simply too many variables for each and every possible brand or future brand. Heck, the process of branding might even change over the next ten, twenty, or perhaps fifty years. I will however try to provide a comprehensive and detailed list on the major factors which go into building a brand from the ground up. So, hopefully you’ll have a solid idea of what goes into building and launching a successful brand.

What is a Brand?

It’s important I clarify what a brand actually is first. This is often something that’s referenced inaccurately, or haphazardly, so some clarification is needed. A brand is likely not what you think. It’s not a logo, not an ad campaign, not the colors a company uses, and definitely not their products. “Okay… So what’s a brand?” I hear you ask. A brand s a persons gut feeling about a product, service or organization. Why is a brand a gut feeling? It’s a gut feeling because people are emotional and intuitive beings. It’s a persons gut feeling because brands are defined by individuals, not companies, not markets, or the public. Though, arguably, the public can largely influence others opinions or at the very least, influence other’s choices. So a brand is not what you say it is.

who you are and what you do

Start Here

First and foremost, we have a couple things to cover. First, what makes your brand tick? This is something I talk about with prospects and clients all the time. Usually I phrase the question “what do you do?” and that’s an important question. First, it’s important because you need to know what the heck it is that you actually do. I don’t mean some generic answer, I mean the nuts and bolts, what’s actually holding this idea of yours together, and is it really a good idea? There’d be little point answering that question with some half-hearted response. Dig deeper and find your answer, but not too deep. Save that for question number two.

Second, I ask “why does it matter?”. Maybe now you’re seeing the bigger picture? Perhaps you’re a startup business that’s tired of looking for quality clothing for young children that’s not made to last. And, perhaps you’re so tired of it that you’re starting a business that aims to remedy this issue like a recent client of mine. See, without vision it’s hard to steer your ship, as you have no bearing, no direction for which to aim. The first part of successful brand building is positioning and vision crafting. So ask yourself: What do you do, and why does it matter? Your next question should be “who do we do it for?”

Ideally, you should write out a positioning statement. Something along the lines of:

We produce/provide [PRODUCT/SERVICE] for [TARGET MARKET] to [WHY YOU EXIST/VALUE PROPOSITION]. Unlike [COMPETITOR/CURRENT ISSUE], we [KEY SOLUTION/DIFFERENTIATION]

Example: We produce beautiful, quality, organic cotton children’s clothing to celebrate the sweetness and innocence of childhood, so parents can rest assured in knowing that their little one’s clothes will last for generations. Unlike our competitors, we aim to combine beautiful design and functionality to create garments that are as easy to wear as they are adorable and long lasting.

Now you’re defining your company, how and what you do, and who your audience is. This is a key component many startups and small businesses fail on, or don’t realize until many years into business.

how to start a brand where to start board

Ready To Build a Brand?

Good. The next steps toward building a brand are repeatable, and much more straightforward than most would think upon learning what they are.

So what’s next?

Personification
Differentiation
Relationships
Innovation

That’s it. It’s a pretty simple list, and almost everyone overcomplicates this or adds to it because of FOMO (fear of missing out). You know, that little voice that nags at you in the back of your head “maybe I should do this or that” because you think you’re not getting the best deal if you don’t take a specific step or action. Well, we’re not always right, and for the most part, a lot of businesses build brands wrong. Plain and simple. This is why big companies spend big money on branding. There’s a lot of creative thinking and strategy that goes into these four steps. So, let’s dive into what this is and what you can do to build a brand.

how to build a brand and brand personification

Brand Personification

This is your company’s soul. Personifying a brand starts early, usually with a brand identity designer and brand strategist. Personification of a brand is essentially finding its personality. There’s a few questions I go over with clients to establish this, and one of the simple ones is “If your brand were a person, who would it be?” Usually a few other questions about the type of personality or style a clients business may have helps shape this answer.

You need to personify your business and brand. Imagine your brand as a person. How would they treat people, how would they react to particular questions or judgements, etc… You’re looking to create an entire personality around this, one you can imagine talking to, hanging out with, maybe being friends with. There’s numerous studies which have found that personifying a brand and giving a brand distinct human qualities helps people better connect with the company. Don’t overlook the importance of this. Most small to medium businesses fail to dive this deep into brand strategy and identifying their brand.

How can I personify my brand?

I could sit here and type until I’m blue in the fingers about how you need to personify your brand. I won’t, because it’s simply not that difficult. The tricky part is sticking to that brand personality, and making sure you personify your brand well. There’d be no sense telling everyone your brand is a duck, if it’s just a dog wearing a duck costume. People will see right through that. It might be cute at first, maybe even a little funny, but it won’t be true. Not to mention you’ll lose any real opportunity at credibility with your potential audience.

Part of my discovery with new clients involves a brand personality questionnaire. Inside, it’s full of carefully crafted questions to help them understand the subtle differences or contrasting traits of particular personalities. It asks simple questions like: Is your brand a caregiver or hero? Do you consider your business more of an outlaw or creator? these are just a couple questions, but you get the picture. It’s also important to find contrasting alternatives. This is done by asking questions like, Is your brand more: organic or manufactured? Is it more hard or soft? Is it gritty or clean? This isn’t an exact science, it’s more about finding descriptive adjectives that help build brand personality. This is what brand personification is about. Remember, we’re looking to find the brand personality and refine it so that it’s tone of voice nd style can be accurately represented.

Speaking on representing tone, you may find my post on how to pick the right fonts for a brand useful. As fonts can portray a lot of character and overall tone.

After brand personification, if you don’t already have a business name, you should consider coming up with one, or enlisting the help of a professional brand and identity strategist/designer to help with this step. Naming a business can play a huge roll in brand perception. It’s completely okay to make up words. The word may have no meaning now, but your brand and audience will give it meaning. Some of the most common household names started with zero or little meaning. The name Google is a play on the mathematical term googol, which is a one followed by 100 zeros—and it was a total accident. If you’re interested, here’s some more well known brand names and their origins.

If you’re going to give naming your brand a crack yourself, here are some important factors to keep in mind:

Distinctiveness
Brevity
Appropriateness
Ease of spelling & Pronunciation
Likability
Extendibility
Protectability

brand relationship group of people

Build Relationships

Building relationships through empathy and humility results in loyalty. I’m not just talking about customer loyalty either. That’s just one bad enough experience away from disowning a brand entirely. I’ve personally had a couple of experiences in my life where I’d never willingly do business with some brands in particular because of the way they handled specific situations or situations they had put me in directly. However, I’m talking about brand loyalty too.

Let me pose a question to you. Let’s suppose you’re in the market for a new phone. How do you know which phone to buy? perhaps it’s the features, color, or it’s part of an ecosystem? Okay, so lets suppose that every phone on the market was just available in black or white. Then, let’s suppose they all more or less have similar features, and let’s also in this example say there’s little variation in price and meaningful features. How do you make a decision? Unless there’s a highly niche feature you’re buying based on trust. Not your trust necessarily, but the trust of others too. You’re buying based on the trust of others, what you’ve heard them say, or not say. You’re buying on the trust of the brand, what they say and what they do.

They’ve given you no reason not to trust them, and so many others trust them. You’d be foolish not to make an educated choice not based on trust, wouldn’t you?

Solid relationships build trust and loyalty, trust in people who stand behind your brand and buy based on that trust and loyalty to your brand. Keep in mind that’s it’s important how these relationships are crafted. If your brand is cocky, loud, energetic, and so on… The relationships (mostly) that you build with your audience will follow this trend. One of best ways to build relationships with your audience is through social media. Wendy’s make a hilarious and genuine connection with almost everyone they talk to on Twitter. Their Twitter personality is pretty bunt by business standards, but people love it. According to a survey in 2021, 84% of consumers are more loyal to a brand that aligns with their values.

creative brand differentiation example

Differentiation

Brand differentiation is a strategy in itself. It’s a business strategy that revolves around making your company, service, product more unique, so that it stands out from others in your industry. Or, on a larger scale, makes headlines for (hopefully positive) impact that it has on people because of something it’s recently done, or is doing.

The action or process of differentiation, is to be different in a compelling and meaningful way. What brands instantly come to mind when you think of differentiation? I’m positive you remember Nike’s marketing strategy behind the Colin Kaepernick controversy. It’s arguably one of the biggest, most recent branding and marketing successes through brand differentiation. Regardless of where you stand on the subject of Kaepernick, you were probably talking about, or hearing about the situation and Nike for quite a while because of it.

Differentiation isn’t about creating more noise though. It’s about being meaningfully different for a reason. It’s about going further, caring more, or pushing harder in ways that other brands don’t, or don’t care to. We only need to look at a company like LUSH to see the impact of building brand differentiation.

LUSH’s top competition comes from brands like Etsy, BOMB, Sephora, and Urban Decay. But how have LUSH differentiated themselves? Brand followers of LUSH are committed to ethical purchases, and typically obsessed with the purity that typically comes with hand made items. The companies largest success is understanding that its customers value the social and corporate business responsibility over he appearance of luxury, high brow fashion type brands. Not to mention, LUSH’s visual branding is simple, clean, and leans into their personality heavily, drawing on that hand crafted and clean voice of their products.

Innovation

Now that you’re deep into understanding the four pillars to building a brand, you can start innovating, right? I’m sure we’re all aware of the famous quote about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the very definition of insanity. Branding works very much the same way. One of the reasons The Beatles were so successful is because they never did the same thing twice, they innovated. To build a brand, you need to innovate. Well, to build a successful brand you need innovation. Doing the same thing as everyone else and expecting that your brand will see extraordinary results is nothing short of insanity and an impossibility.

Look around, use what you’ve discovered about your brand thus far to be innovative. It doesn’t need to be groundbreaking, but different enough to help you stand out in a positive light. Though, arguably some terrible brand campaigns have made headlines through history. We only need to look back at Kodak or Yahoo (for those of us old enough to have grown up around these names when they were much, much bigger brands) or Apple and Starbucks for contrasting difference. A flexible brand that’s willing and open to growth and exploration, will continue to innovate and come up with new ways to innovate. Continual innovation will increase brand perception and reputation.

So how do you know you’re innovating and coming up with great, potentially market leading ideas that help separate you from competitors? It’ll scare the heck out of everyone.

Recap & Conclusion

To reap the points here on creating your disruptive brand, you need 4 key goals to constantly strive at.

  1. Personification
  2. Relationships
  3. Differentiation
  4. Innovation

Sure, it’s a simple list, but it’s a list you’ll always be working on. There’s no simple quick remedy to building a brand, let alone a disruptive one that gets everyone talking. Some of the biggest brands out there know this, and some of the smaller ones. So, who are you and what do you do?