You’ve just started out: you have a product, but no language with which to communicate it. Tepid words form silent drops. The markers are wrongly placed. The real value has been missed, and potential audiences can’t find the threads they need to connect.
What is a brand identity?
A brand identity is a codex for a brand; it is the primary means of translating an organisation, product or service to a customer, and frames their rationale and emotional understanding of it. In markets saturated with like-to-like claims – faster, cheapest, most innovative – it is a brand’s personality that separates. Just as the reception of a good product can be compromised by an underwhelming brand identity, so can the reception of a middling product be bolstered by a powerful brand identity.
How we perceive a product guides our experience with it; quality is a subjective assessment that is made in accordance with expectation. A brand identity frames experience. It outlines the non-tangible as well as the tangible: the emotions, associations and sensations connected to a brand, and associated with the brand’s products. Brand identities should speak to an audience’s pain points, and identify their needs.
A brand identity isn’t just a first impression. It’s an impression remade through every communication. It is how a product is talked about, communicated and positioned; the pedestal upon which its success can be realized, or the impermeable box into which its benefits are lost.
Starting from scratch
Many new companies have a peripheral awareness of what brand identity is, and why it’s important. When we start from scratch, we start with what we know. For product owners, this will be their products’ USPs: its key benefits and competitive differentiators. But a brand identity has to be more than a collection of best characteristics; it has to express a reason, and for that reason to capture an emotion, connecting to a need. Your brand has to tell a story that positions your audience in the middle. A journey made. A need discovered. A solution found.
A brand is not the protagonist of a story. The customer is the protagonist; the brand – whether represented by a product or service – is a guide. Its role is to take the customer from where they are to where they need to be. It enables the protagonist’s success, and resolves their lack. A deeper understanding of this can be found in Joseph Campbell’s famous essay, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Throughout time, we’ve told the same stories. Our world may be different, but we’re driven by the same needs. We operate using the same hardware, and are spurred by the same emotions.
A starting guide
Founders have an instinct of what their brand is. But identity has to go beyond the experience of those involved in the brand’s creation, and reach into the minds of customers. Many businesses make the mistake of highlighting their story: where they’ve come from, the challenges faced and success achieved. This may impress an investor, but will do little to enchant new customers. Humans are selfish beings; in most cases, we care more for what another can do for us than what they’ve been able to do for themselves.
The success of a business – its story described in literal, painful detail – doesn’t translate to the success of the customer. A cake already eaten is less captivating than a cake being served. Even established brands may have to retrace their steps, and revaluate their brand identity. A product can be successful without one. Coherent, inspiring brand identities only further success, however, and provide access to new possibilities. To begin, consider these steps:
1. Understand the need you’re addressing
Different customers have different needs. These can be literal or emotional. A common need of humans is to feel creative, so brands are created around products that empower a sense of creativity. Identifying a need will tell you something about your customer. It provides the basis for understanding from which further research can be carried out, and subsequent assumptions made. Brands also create needs; or rather, they inform customers of unrealised needs. An example is easy, relaxed banking: to be talked to as a friend in places they’d usually expect formality and rigidity.
Needs don’t have to be big for them to be significant. This step is about understanding what your customer wants to achieve, and specifying the ways in which your brand helps them do it.
2. Create a story that captures the problem-solution narrative
Stories aren’t your story; it’s the story of your audience, and the challenges they face that your product or service resolves. Most products address a problem, known or unknown. A spray to clean shoes. A new leash for difficult pets. Software that makes paying taxes easier, or unifies information from across different applications. You know the problem you’re addressing. The customer may not; they may not even know the problem is a problem they’re experiencing. Brand identities take time to understand the customer being served in order to understand the problem being solved.
3. Formulate ways to express that story, visual and written
Once you know what to say, you need a language with which to express it. Brand identities should establish a written and visual language. This could mean deciding upon a colour palette, the appropriate use of imagery or describing a tone of voice. It also involves establishing a set of do’s and don’ts for communication, and agreeing to a set of defining statements that can be used to communicate the brand across different mediums.
With this, you’ll have a start; brand identities evolve over time as audiences and markets evolve. To get started, or for advice on your brand communication strategy, contact us today.