Corporations like Apple, Nike and Starbucks are known for their solid, instantly recognizable brands that are woven by everything they do. While the same can be said for many smaller businesses, it can feel daunting for entrepreneurs to build a brand off the ground, especially if you’ve never done it before.
While you do not have to spend millions to create the following iconic logo, it is worthwhile to go through the process of developing your brand strategically. Think of brand building as part of the foundation of your business. While a brand is not necessarily a tangible thing, it’s important to connect with customers, shape their perception of your company and build trust among them. In addition, having a recognizable brand can help potential or one-time customers remember you or help you stay on top in the future.
Nowadays, the strongest brands out there have a clear “why.” During every interaction with a business, customers are clear about why it exists, why it stands out and why they should buy from it. With that in mind, here’s a step-by-step process that companies of any size can use to create an outstanding, memorable brand.
How do potential customers feel when they see your name, logo and colors, or when they read your emails and social posts? Do they make contact with your business? Do they want to be a part of it? Will they remember it in the future? These questions are the core of branding.
Step 1: Define “Who” your business is
Of course, a business is not a living thing, but it must embody some of the same elements. It must have a personality, to live by certain values, to have goals and to provide a source of connection.
After all, a brand is not just a name and a logo, it’s about who your company is and how people feel when they see that name or logo. So, before you start thinking about design elements, you need to define who your company is.
Mission and goals
A good place to start is with your company’s mission and goals. You probably have an idea of your company’s main goals; this is why you started your business or what you hope to achieve, both in the short and long term.
Your mission statement embodies this. Think of it as the action statement that describes what you are aiming for and how you are going to get there. Ideally, it should also reflect how you would do it in a way that stands out above other companies.
Keep it short and focused, like these famous examples:
- Tesla: “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”
- LinkedIn: “To connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.”
- Nordstrom: “To give customers the most compelling shopping experience possible.”
Once you have your mission statement – your guideline, so to speak – start thinking about your business’s values, or the core principles you want your company and its employees to live by.
It may be tangentially related to your goals and mission, but feel free to think outside the box as well. Maybe you want to ensure that your employees and people who work with the company feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions. So one of your values can be honesty or openness.
Try to keep your list at the five or six you feel most strongly about. This is a lesson we learned firsthand from Buffer. Originally we had 10 values, but we found that it was too much for most employees to remember. We limited them to these six in 2018:
- Standard for transparency
- Cultivate positivity
- Show gratitude
- Practice reflection
- Improve consistently
- Act outside of yourself
Your mission statement and values may exist on your website or social accounts, or they may exist only for you and your employees. Either way, the most important thing is to determine how you will implement it and truly live accordingly every day. More than just words on a page, your mission and values need to be incorporated into every aspect of how you do business.
The best brands do not appeal to everyone on the planet; rather, they aim to really appeal to a specific group of people. (This is especially true for small businesses with limited inventory and marketing budgets.)
To determine who your audience is (or ideal audience), examine who is likely to buy your product or service the most. Think about who you also had in mind when you started the business. What problem are you solving, and for whom? It can also be helpful to consider who is targeting your competitors and whether you want to serve the same group of people or reach a very different one.
Once you have a general idea of your target demographics, develop personas for them. Have fun with it! Name these proverbial people, sketch their personalities and bring them really alive into your head.
For example, a local cooking school may choose to focus on one of these specific personas:
The Savvy Gourmet: Able in the kitchen, these cooking enthusiasts love to master new skills that will impress their friends and are willing to work (and pay) to do so.
The motivated parent: These moms, dads and caregivers are always trying to broaden their children’s horizons, build up their interest in cooking and entertain them on rainy Saturdays.
The new homeowner: Whether they are new college students, transplanting apartments full of roommates, or people who have simply never learned their way around the kitchen, these people want to learn the basics of cooking in a friendly, non-judgmental environment.
Once you have these “people” in mind, it will be easier to develop a brand and content that speaks directly to them.
Step 2: Create a coherent visual identity
Now that you have a better idea of what you want to achieve, what you want to stand for, and to whom you are talking and selling, you can start creating a visual identity that suits you.
Do not even think about logos or other designed elements — start with the bigger picture. Consider:
- What moods or emotions do you want to evoke when people see your brand?
- What should people believe about your company, just by looking at it?
- Do you want to join or break with industry norms? For example, both financial companies and health food brands tend to use the color green, so it’s a decision for your brand whether you should follow the norm or avoid it.
With that in mind, create mood boards that draw inspiration from things you see. It can be anything: the colors you see as you walk, a design element from another brand that you would like to imitate and make your own, or a work of art that inspires you. Searching for brand style guides on Pinterest can also help you gather ideas.
Look for common themes in what you have put together. Is it colorful? Full of shades of gray? Are the images clear and saturated, or more muted? What does the typography look like? All these seemingly small things send a certain message. And if this is the message you want to send, it can start to become the visual elements of your brand.
A graphic designer can help you develop a coherent visual identity, but there are also free resources that can help you pull these elements together. Canva, for example, offers tools for designing a logo and choosing a color palette, while Looka and Mojomox are all-in-one brand identity generators.
No matter which approach you choose, keep the big picture in mind and ensure that the logo, fonts, brand colors and images will all work together in service of your mission, audience and overall goals.
A few things to remember:
- Brand colors are more than just the color on your logo. Most brands have a primary color and one to three supporting colors, including a neutral such as a shade of black or white.
- You will want to select at least two fonts: one for headings or titles and one for supporting text.
- If design is not your strong point, it’s good to keep things simple. While it’s fun to be bold and creative, a basic logo (for example, your company name in a sleek, simple font) works great. You want your brand to stand out, but go also over-the-top can detract from a professional feel.
- Working with templates on sites like Canva is a great way to ensure design consistency across your website, marketing materials, social posts and more.
Step 3: Find your voice
People can see your brand, and now they need to hear it (or read it on their screens). The voice you use when communicating with your audience via email, on social media and in person is an essential part of your brand that needs to be in line with your values and imagery.
Pay attention to how you talk personally and how you talk about the business. Then go back to how your audience will connect with you best. How do you want to talk to them? How do you want them to feel? What tone and style will help them know what your company is about?
Write down some words and phrases that come to mind. Then when you talk to clients or write social media posts, see what works, what you like and what your audience connects with. You can define and refine from there.
Here are some things to consider when developing your brand voice:
- The overall tone you would like to rate: Think about how, if your brand could talk, it would talk to someone. Some brands are confident and authoritative (think Apple), others are warm and welcoming (like Starbucks), and some well done are funny and clever (just look at Taco Bell’s Twitter Feed).
- The words and phrases you want to use (and avoid) often: It can go back to your original research on the emotions you want to evoke and your brand’s values.
- The writing style you will use: Short, direct sentences have a different feel than longer, more detailed ones, and things like exclamation marks, emojis, and slang can all contribute to a different voice and tone.
This is another great time to get examples of things you read and like, especially if it’s for your target audience. Identifying the words, phrases, expressions, and styles that work (and those that do not) can help you slowly build your own brand voice.
Step 4: Let it grow
It’s perfectly fine to adjust or change your brand as you go. In fact, you have to. Think of it as a living, breathing entity that evolves as your business and audience do, and as the world changes. Although you want to maintain consistency in your imagery and voice, it’s perfectly fine to check in every now and then and see if there are elements of your brand that you want to change, update or remove.
If your budget allows, you can run A / B tests with members of your ideal audience to see what resonates (for example, by running two Facebook ads with different text). Use this type of research to inform a particularly difficult or close decision or to determine that your brand has the impact you want.
Build your brand
Now that you know what steps to take to start building your own brand, grab a notebook or open a blank document and start brainstorming. Then edit and refine your work, remembering that each of the elements above must work together, stay true to your vision, your goals for your business, and of course your “why.” After all, this is where the most authentic, memorable brands are built.