Finding Your Brand Identity

I have been in the world of branding for over 20 years creating brand strategies, and designing and implementing projects that range from small local restaurants to big corporate projects. For example, I recently worked on the rebranding of American Airlines. I am now changing professional gears to create PaperGirl Collection, a children’s lifestyle brand that will launch next year beginning with a clothing line for little girls that will eventually grow to include room décor, toys and more.

Let’s start with the basics: what is a brand? You may already have an interesting name or a nice logo, a trademark, even a product in the market, but you may still lack a BRAND.

This big, much used and abused word is what connects a company and its consumers. A brand is what conveys the true spirit of a company. It makes you special and memorable in the marketplace. It delivers a promise and drives loyalty. A brand is certainly expressed in tangible things like the logo, the packaging, and the labels; it is embedded in your product, in how it’s made, its materials, and its style.  But it is also infused into more intangible things, such as your voice, how you and people in general talk about your brand, or the emotional connections your brand generates.

When the essence or DNA of a brand is rock solid for you –the designer–you’ll know what is on-brand and what is off-brand.  With an established brand in place you will better be able to make decisions on behalf of your brand and it will appear as a cohesive story to the world beyond your team. If customers, media, and the general public get it––they understand your brand and your vision–– they can become your best ambassadors.

Before you spend time or money on designing a logo, STOP! First, give it some thought yourself. You are the one that most intimately knows what the company is about. After all, you are the one who envisioned and created it. I’ve seen both lengthy branding processes and quick ones, but the following exercises are necessary for branding a company of any size. Dedicate a few afternoons to doing these exercises and it will pay off. Having a clear vision will help you pave the road for a strong brand and facilitate a lot of decisions (plus if you do decide to hire a branding expert, he/she will love you for showing up with so much of the thinking process already completed).

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1. Make a Positioning Map

Know thy enemy. Identify all your competitors, direct and indirect. They could be brands that have products similar to yours or  brands that sell in the same places you intend to sell. You should also pick a few dream-scenario well-established competitors that you admire.

Next, think of creating a couple axes (one vertical and one horizontal) so that you can create a map to place all these brands in.  For example, think of an axis that reflects a price range or point of sale from online only to brick and mortar retail, or an axis based on style from casual to fancy. Try a few axis combinations and eventually you’ll find which are most relevant for determining  your competitors. Then, plug in your competitors based on how they relate to your axis.

2. Know Your Customer

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Statistical data is important but you need to be specific: “age 20-30, professional woman” or “sophisticated, independent, strong woman” won’t cut it. Instead, envision your target customer’s personality and daily life.  Write a page or two about them, him/her: where they  live, their family and friends, hobbies, work, interests, and habits.  Where have they travelled? What other brands. do they buy? Where and how do they shop: online, boutiques, department stores, or does someone else shop for them?

Think of it as if you were creating a character for a  book or a movie: the more intimately you know your specific target customer the better you will be able to create products that speak to their style and the more likely they will be to buy from you. Melissa Hall from The Emerging Designer gave me this advice for my own brand PaperGirl and I found it immensely helpful. I ended up writing 4 pages describing the specific type of mom that buys my dresses and it has been integral to helping me focus and clarify my brand image and goals.

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3. Identity Your Brand’s Top Attributes

These are the 3 or 4 words that define your brand and make you unique; these attributes are adjectives, not nouns.

» Think about how you would describe your company and product and write down a list of adjectives that come to mind.  You should should ask the other members of your team, your friends, and any customers you have to do the same as well

» Next, combine everyone’s list and notice which words or synonyms appear over and over. Create five columns with the headings  WHO, WHY, WHAT, HOW, and WHERE and add each word into the category in which they fit best.

For example:

WHO brand: Martha Stewart centers her vision around her consumer’s aspiration to be multitalented domestic divas.

WHAT brand: H&M is about affordable style.

WHY brand: TOMS is focused on the end benefit of helping others. Whether you’re purchasing their shoes, glasses, or coffee, ultimately, their brand and mission centers around the charitable donation from their products that help others.

WHERE brand: Denotes origin, as in Brooklyn Industries.

» Think of your competitors. What kind of attributes would they have and how are they different from your own?  Then refer back to the target consumer you wrote about and select the attributes that would be most relevant to them.

» Finally, it is time to select your 3 or 4 main attributes from the group. Try to select a good mix of words from each  WHO, WHY, WHAT, HOW, WHERE category.  In the end you should have a brand DNA made up of a percentage of a few different categories, such as 40% HOW, 30% WHY and 30% WHAT.

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» Write a short paragraph describing what each attribute means or conveys about your vision and your brand.

These attributes represent your brand DNA and you should consistently refer back to them. For example, refer to these words when picking out a fabric. If  the fabric does not reflect them, don’t buy it.  When commissioning a logo or designing a pop-up shop, these attributes must be reflected in their conception and message. The same goes for any blog post or press release you publish. These attributes will be your brand nucleus helping you maintain a clear vision and cohesive brand.

4. Write a Positioning Statement (or a press release)

You now have the building blocks to write your positioning statement (brand description for your internal team), your brand tagline or seasonal slogan, and your “about” story for the website, social media, and PR. Each of these messages will require different lengths and tones, but they all must relate back to your core attributes in order to convey the brand essence clearly and consistently.

 

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» Making a brand… it starts at the very beginning

» Critical Tips To Identify Your Perfect Customer