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Creating an offline or online brand identity is one of the biggest challenges for present day startups, regardless of their size or funding corpus, as it gets increasingly difficult for them to differentiate their products or services (which more often than not suffer from the me-too syndrome).
While things like your logo, office stationery and website colours don’t matter a lot at the initial stage, if the going gets good, things could quickly start to get complicated.
Before creating your online brand identity, here are some essential questions you should ask
Nevertheless, a lot of people tend to waste precious hours on finding the perfect name, mulling over the colour of the logo and going on vision quests (okay, maybe that doesn’t happen too often). While branding is important, it doesn’t always warrant precedence over your core business when getting a viable product to market and growing your revenue stream in the process.
Here is a way out: simplify the process by asking yourself these 12 questions before creating brand identity.
How important is my brand to my business?
Sometimes we tend to give more importance to design and branding, thanks to all the marketing and branding hogwash we are fed over the years. Preserve your sanity by not getting caught up too much in branding, as it is a mind-numbing, exhausting and never-ending process.
The US Small Business Administration lists ten steps to starting a business, but note, worrying about your brand identity isn’t one of them.
What does my research say about my audience?
If you’ve researched your target market over social media or using traditional methods, you hopefully have buyer behaviour profiles for different customer segments. Use this information to create three or four personas that represent your most valuable customers. What is the average age of your audience? What are their interests? When are they most receptive to a sales pitch?
Answers to these questions will help decide the tone of brand messages that you send to each persona.
Can I describe my business in five words?
Before you create your marketing and sales collateral or even think about launching a website, make sure you spell out a clear mission statement for your business.
When you have an unambiguous statement of what your business is about, you’ll have clarity in the brief you give your designers and developers when the time comes to create your logo, website and brochures. Write down five adjectives to describe your business and its synonyms to ensure you don’t end up with something like the London Olympics logo.
Speaking of logos…
Can I create a logo myself? Should I even do it?
Yes, you can, but not with Microsoft Paint or PowerPoint. There are quite a few photo editing tools online (including free ones) that help you do the job professionally. Shopify has a free tool with drag-and-drop functionality that allows you to create a high-quality logo with professional finesse — this is ideal if your site is built on a ready-made ecommerce platform.
If you don’t feel like taking up the brush yourself, your best bet is to take advantage of an online marketplace like 99designs, where once you share your brief, multiple designers who compete to design your logo. You choose the one you like out of all their submissions and pay for it, along with copyright.
How much am I willing to pay for it?
Yes, this is a real and important question. You will find thousands of designers on Fiverr who can design a logo for five bucks. You will also find people who charge thousands of dollars for a small job. The former will pick a stock vector from a free resource library, get your business name below it, and ta-da — it’s done.
You need to decide beforehand what you are willing to spend and how it will impact your bottom line in the short term and reputation in the long term, in order to avoid nasty surprises later.
What is the message I want to convey through my branding?
Your website, brochures and everything in your press identity kit should convey a consistent message. Many times, we see the logo is corporate-ish but the tag line is playful or vice versa:
What will be the tone of my branding?
Once you know your audience’s tastes, you can decide the tone of your branding. For instance, if your audience is between 17 and 25, a fun, young and enthusiastic tone with vibrant colours might work well for you. Also keep your product/service in mind when deciding the tone. If your audience is young but you’re selling a serious product (such as a medication), it is better to have a caring and sensitive tone.
Does my brand have to tell a story?
A lot of brands choose storytelling to establish themselves. It is one of the proven ways to get in people’s minds. From whitepapers to webinars to trade events, you have tons of ways to tell stories through your brand.
Do I want to deviate from the industry norm?
A lot of companies blindly follow the industry standards, getting lost in the crowd in the process. We’ve simply lost the ability to recall companies that just use the letter their company name begins with as a logo. If you want to stand out and cut through the noise, you need to go off the beaten track.
In the same vein, you also need a certain amount of restraint so as not to go too over the top. Just make sure you don’t end up in a Worst Brand Failures listicle on the internet.
How are my favorite brands doing it?
Make a note of ten (or 50) brands – they don’t necessarily need to be ones you like; you can be inspired by competitors too! Find out what you like about them and decide which points you would like to incorporate in your brand image, messaging and relationship with your customers.
Do you want your logo to be a typographical one like Coca Cola or minimalistic and symbolic like Nike? Do you want your social media presence to be fun and conversational like Denny’s or data-driven and informative like IBM?
Can I expect ROI from my branding? Is it measurable?
Yes, in parts and to some extent.
If you want to see if you are getting ROI on your branding, watch out for any short-term lift in engagement on social media or your primary marketing channel. You can track awareness through pre- and post-branding surveys. You can also stay on top of brand sentiment and loyalty by tracking your Net Promoter Score (NPS).
Will my current identity survive business diversification or future expansion?
With time and experience, your vision of the business may change. You will need to diversify, pivot or expand and you might feel your logo doesn’t do justice to the evolved nature of your product line or service. While it is impossible to know what is going to happen in the future, if you are in a volatile business, it’s best to play it safe by basing your branding on typography as compared to images.
A caveat: frequently changing the voice, logo or colours your business uses can pose a huge problem in brand recall. Contemplate a change in your brand identity only if your business has pivoted or grown to another level and your existing representation doesn’t do justice to your products and services.
These are some of the most frequently asked questions and considerations when it comes to creating, establishing and maintaining a brand identity.
If you have any processes or checklists that help prevent PR disasters or create a brand personality that sticks, let us know in the comments!