6 Steps To Creating A Brand Identity In A Competitive Market
Creating your brand identity can seem like a daunting task and you might have questions like: How will my brand look? What will its tone of voice be? How will my audience perceive my brand? But before tackling things like colour palettes and font styles we need to think about what is at the heart of your brand. Once you understand the core of your brand’s identity you’ll then feel confident to progress on to it’s “look and feel”.
What is a brand identity?
A brand identity is how your audience perceives you. Although it includes the visual aspects, a brand identity holds your company’s voice, values and personality at its core. Without a clear brand identity, your audience might not understand who you are.
The difference between a brand identity and branding is that branding encompasses all the individual elements that are unique to a brand. Colours, fonts and tone of voice are branding elements that help to portray your brand identity.
A good way to understand the difference between branding and brand identity is by using a fashion analogy. Brand identity is the core look and feel e.g. 1970’s rocker. Branding is the specifics e.g. denim flares.
Why do you need a strong brand identity?
Without a clear brand identity, your audience might not understand who you are.
In a competitive or saturated market there may be very little difference in one competitor’s product to another. A strong brand identity may just be the USP that edges out the competition.
For example one brand may highlight their environmental values through their product messaging. With effective product branding that showcases the company’s core values, their product may just outdo the competition.
Case study: The disastrous rebrand of the Royal Mail
Back in 2001, the 500-year old institution, Royal Mail, changed its name and branding to something completely different. You may not remember or have even heard about it because it was so unsuccessful that soon after the name reverted back! As the Royal Mail had so many new services and operations the rebrand was initially aimed at consolidating all these strings into one bow. The name changed to “Consignia” with it’s branding also changed to attract a more corporate customer base. It’s iconic brand identity had been dropped and the Royal Mail logo was ditched in favour of something more modern and corporate-looking. There were many problems with the rebrand. Namely, the new name “Consignia” didn’t mean anything. In fact, it sounded like it came straight out of the corporate book of buzzwords. For a brand rich in history and memories for its customers, it’s crazy that none of this heritage was taken into consideration. The whole exercise cost the Royal Mail £2.5m – Of which £1m was spent on a rebrand back to the Royal Mail!
How to find your own brand identity
While discovering your brand’s true identity can be a difficult challenge to pinpoint, there are a number of methods you can use to start exploring what makes your brand unique.
Step #1 – Word association
Begin by naming 3 competitor brands. Try to pick wide-ranging ones. For each of those brands list 5 to 10 words that describe their identity. Words that might come to mind could include: complex, hard, expensive, aggressive, powerful, for beginners, innovative, elitist, approachable.
Now, in order to take inspiration from outside of the box, do the same again but with 3 brands that are completely irrelevant and different to your industry and field of work.
Step #2 – Word pairing
The next step is to take all your descriptive words and begin pairing words together that sound like opposites of each other. For example, “approachable and elitist”, “soft and aggressive”, “basic and complex”.
Once you have a list of 5 to 10 word pairs, list each pairing with one word on the left side and another on the right with a line between them to create a slider.
Step #3 – Sliders
The next part is to place where you feel your brand should sit on the slider for each word pairing. In this exercise it’s good to have a couple of sliders where your brand sits at either the extreme left or extreme right as this will help to show a clear identity down the line.
Step #4 – Competitor matrix
This final step brings together what we’ve learnt so far about your brand and visually shows where you sit among your competitors.
Firstly, choose the most important word pairings from step 3 for your industry. The pairings should reflect what the most important aspects of the marketplace are. Then place these words at the 4 points of the matrix graph.
Start by placing where you believe your competitors are on the graph. The more competitors you can place the better.
Step #5 – Your brand matrix
Now, place on the graph where you feel your brand currently sits.
This may bring up some really interesting talking points: Which competitors are performing well because of a strong brand identity? Which brands have a weaker brand identity? Why is it that you currently sit in this position?
Step #6 – Your brand’s identity
Finally, place on the graph where you feel your brand should be positioned going forward.
Step back, take a look at the graph and ask yourself the following questions: Why should we move our brand into this new position? Are there any competitors close to our new position? Are there any gaps in the graph which might make for an interesting competitive brand?
How to base future marketing decisions on your brand identity
These exercises aim to help to begin to lay the foundations for a successful brand identity. Once this has been established, when thinking about brand and marketing decisions in the future you can ask yourself, “does this align with our original brand identity?”.
For example, if you noted that your brand is (or going to be) “expressive” and “pushing boundaries”, then this should help to underline your future marketing activity.
Perhaps your brand was looking to increase its brand awareness by sponsoring an event. The local annual arts festival may be your best bet, rather than say a golf tournament, as this better reflects your brand’s core identity.
Why you should get support from a creative branding agency
Realistically your brand will probably need more than just these 6 steps in order to establish its brand identity. Depending on the size and budget of your company, market research and focus groups can also play an important role too.
But also, it’s vital to get external support from a creative branding agency or expert, otherwise you may run the risk of thinking too much inside the box. That external support will help you avoid phrases like “this will never get signed off!” and instead lift the bar higher for creative thinking.