Here is a list of all the steps you should take to create a brand. To discover the techniques, tools and examples that'll help you implement each step, read the full article below.
- Understand what a brand is: it is not what you think.
- Determine your target market.
- Define your selling point.
- Specify the values of your brand.
- Create a brand identity
- Establish key business goals
I quit my nine-to-five to start my own business 5 years ago. In those 5 years, I transitioned from a brand manager to running my creative studio. Today, I create brands as a profession.
Having worked with 100+ entrepreneurs and small business owners, I was able to observe the challenges they faced and the mistakes they made along the way. Now, there's all sorts of mistakes one can make when it comes to starting a business. In this comprehensive list, Forbes Coaches Council cites the 10 most common of them all. They claim (and I agree) that only 1 of them is essential to beat your competition. Yes. You guessed it right: creating a strong brand. And here's how you do it in 9 steps:
1. Understand what a brand is: It's not what you think.
Branding is one of the most misunderstood notions in marketing. In fact, the word brand is in such ubiquitous use that its intended meaning varies from person to person. Therefore, in order for you to understand all the steps of brand building, we must first unpack the term brand.
In 2011, renowned American entrepreneur and philanthropist Dan Palotta famously wrote in Harvard Business Review that a brand is not a logo. Nor is it the colors, icons, packaging or the tagline, he argued. According to Palotta, creating a brand is deeply rooted in establishing and adhering to a set of values, principles and goals and reflecting them with each and every action within the organization. Since then, this perspective has been embraced by creators and creative studios alike. Some call this all-around or head-to-toe branding. I like to call it holistic branding.
1. 1. Real life examples of holistic branding
Example 1: Shoe brand TOMS started with a strong purpose-driven business model. The company donated a pair of shoes for each TOMS shoe sold. Because this cultural element in TOMS' business model is an inherent part of its brand identity, the company adopted a similar purpose-driven business model even after being acquired in 2019. TOMS now donates 1 USD for each 3 USD it makes, solidifying its brand archetype as a caregiver. If you like to learn more on how TOMS handled its brand after this shift, click here. If you like to learn more about brand archetypes, click here.
Example 2: Virgin group is notorious for putting its products out there as an alternative for the "boring" standard. After receiving a complaint about its onboard food options, Virgin Airlines famously hired a dissatisfied passenger to recreate its onboard menu. Conventional perspective on branding would dismiss this approach as irrelevant to the brand, seeing it as the responsibility of customer relations. However, from the perspective of holistic branding, you should see it as part of your brand's identity. You can read more about company's handling of the situation here.
1.2. Introducing a use case example
To illustrate the holistic approach on branding better, let's assume that you're creating a clothing brand. You already have a market in mind: You'd like to target outdoorsy young professionals aged between 20-35. You haven't really thought this through and this is all you came up with for now. I'll give you a hand in creating your clothing brand by providing applied examples for each step as you read along this article, starting from step 2 introduced below.
2. Determine your target market
Now that you know what brands actually stand for, it's time for you to identify a market. Sure, you already have a product and market in mind. You might even have skimmed through the plethora of online articles on the topic. But I kindly ask you to forget about all. There is one catch that changes the game: Be specific. That's it. If you already have a product or market in mind, simply ask yourself who your ideal customer is and try to respond as specifically as possible. You might be wondering how you'd do that on your own. Below I share the tools and methods you can use to solidify your target market. I have used some of these tools for my business over the years and I can attest to their contribution. To establish your target market successfully, you must first decide on which method to use and then pick a tool for that particular method.
2.1. Focus groups
Definition: An in-depth discussion conducted with minimum 2 (potential) customers. Focus groups are utilized to learn about the opinions, perceptions and attitudes about your brand. They can be held online or in-person.
Best for: New brands struggling with competition, established brands targeting a new segment, brands repositioning its products
Tools: There are software solutions specifically designed to conduct online focus groups. But most are not affordable for those who's just starting out. The good news though, is that you can simply offer monetary value directly to your customers in the form of a discount, cash-back, giveaway etc., asking them to attend to one of your online focus group sessions in return. You can simply announce the information on the special offer on your website and collect the applications. For the collection and processing of customer data, you can use a free survey tool such as Google Forms. You can also refer to the exhaustive list I share in the next section for many other tools. A mainstream communication platform such as Zoom would be a smart pick for conducting an online focus group.
Definition: Market research surveys are online or print-based questionnaires featuring a number of questions directed at potential or existing customers. They're used to gain insight into the behavior, preferences and buying potential of a specific target group.
Best For: Entrepreneurs and small business owners who are starting from scratch with no previous / similar customer data available to them.
Tools: Below I provide a list of tools you can use. Before picking a tool, make sure you have a clear goal as to what you want to measure. This way, you ask the right questions in your survey and you don't waste your resources. You can read our guide here on how to ask the right questions for your survey.
Definition: Market research interviews are very similar to focus groups in content, style and purpose. Instead of multiple customers, they are performed one-on-one.
Best for: Brands that experience low conversion with a specific target market segment (e.g. Your clothing brand sells well with your main target market that is outdoorsy female professionals aged between 20-35. But it does not sell well with those outdoorsy female professionals in the same age group that are vegan).
Tools: Interviews work best when they are conducted in person. While you can use all the tools I provided in the list in the previous section to put together your questions, you would get the best results with an in-person interview conducted in a casual environment.
Definition: Market research by observation is literally observing your target market as they shop. Going by the example of the clothing brand, you go to a Columbia store and simply observe the customers that fall into your target market at the moment of purchase and or during their whole shopping experience.
Best for: Though not always the most practical, this is by far the best method of getting to know your target market whatever stage your brand is at. It works as well for a complete beginner as it does for a medium sized enterprise.
Tools: You do not need a special tool to use this method as long as you spare some of your time. Trust me, every second will be worth it.
Pro tip: If the product you want to sell overlaps with a product you regularly utilize as a consumer, be sure to always observe fellow customers next time you're making that purchase (e.g. you're creating an outdoorsy clothing brand, so be sure to check out the customer behavior at the Columbia store next time you're there).
2.5. User behavior tools
Definition: These tools are utilized to get a snapshot of user behavior either in bulk or in particular cases. For instance, you can use one of these tools to compare two different designs of the same landing page to see which yields a higher lead conversions. Or you can find out about the relevant google keywords your main competition's audience clicks on.
Best for: Businesses with a website that already attracts some traffic. Businesses with a clear main target market in mind.
Tools: There is a plethora of tools in this market but I choose to list 3 industry leaders that I personally use and trust.
- Google Analytics: Free, best for website traffic analytics but there is a learning curve.
- Ahrefs: Affordable 7-day trial available, best for content strategy, SEO and blogging, easier to use due to plenty of official online tutorials.
- Hotjar: 15-day free trial available, best as an overall platform for all target market related use and more, but there is a learning curve.
My personal favorite for a complete beginner here is ahrefs. Their monthly fee is a bit much but it does deliver on its promise. You can try it on a 7-day trial for a reasonable price and collect as much market data as possible before your trial expires.
2.7. Use case example applied
Let's revisit our example of creating a clothing brand. You had established outdoorsy 20-35 year-olds working at a well paying 9-5 as your main target market. Now you'd like dig deeper into that group to find out who your ideal customer is. Ideally, you should be using a mix of all the methods we discussed.
You can start by utilizing method number 2.4 that is ''Observation''. So you visit a Patagonia or Columbia store and simply observe their customers. What campaigns or discounts are they interested in? What products are they willing to pay a bit more for? What is the average ticket? What products sell the best overall and what the least? A couple of hours in the store and you'll leave with plenty of valuable insight.
You then convert all the information you've gathered in step 1 into keywords. For instance, say you've observed that female Columbia customers are spending plenty of time browsing gloves but end up buying none. To understand what exactly they are looking for, you can go on an user behavior tools such as ahrefs and search the google searches related to female winter gloves.
3. Define your selling point
3.1. What is a selling point?
Your selling point, also referred to as unique selling proposition (USP), is the unique contribution your brand makes to solve your customers' problem. In other words, it is what elevates your brand above viable alternatives as the best pick in its niche.
Pro Tip: Discounts, shipping benefits and special return policies such as free returns can't be your brand's selling point.
3.2. How do you define your selling point?
Simply ask yourself the questions below and see if you respond to any of them with NO. If you don't, you have a unique selling point. If you do, focus on the question you said NO and redesign your business model accordingly. If the questions seem too complex, read the use case application in the following section to see the questions at play.
- Is there a specific problem your product claims to solve? YES
- Are there a number of people willing to pay for a solution? YES
- Is there an aspect to your product's solution that only you provide in the market? YES
- Does the customer care about that particular aspect only your product offers? YES
- The Outcome: If you answered YES to all questions, your unique selling point is the aspect you mention on question 3.
3.3 Use case example applied
Let's pick right where we left off with our real life example of creating a clothing brand. You spent a couple of hours on ahrefs, digging deep on the google searches for female winter gloves. You notice that those who searched for similar terms tended to click on blog posts about lightweight clothing. Diving even deeper into the topic, you start looking for the monthly google search volume for elegant ski apparel and you realize that there is almost no content on it despite the existing monthly volume. "That's it", you think. That's your niche! You're gonna target customers who want to buy ski apparel that's lightweight yet elegant. Next on your agenda is to write down your selling point.
In your case, you check all the 4 questions I shared in the previous section. Your clothing brand will appeal to those willing to buy activewear that look fashionable. So you write down a rough tagline statement: "We build activewear that feels and looks good." This simple move will put your clothing brand up there with the likes of Columbia and Patagonia. Patagonia's selling point is its environmental vision while Columbia's is its emphasis on passion for winter sports. Yours will be an elegant make-over to the conventional rugged activewear. With all this information in mind, here's how selling points of all three companies look.
- Patagonia: ''We're in business to save our home planet."
- Columbia: ''We connect active people with their passions."
- Your Clothing Brand: '' We build activewear that feels and looks good."
4. Specify the values of your brand
4.1. Why does your brand need to have values?
Your product exists to solve a problem. Your brand exists to let people know about your product. At the end of the day, they both serve people. And how do people build connections? That's right, through their values. So if you'd like your brand to build genuine connections with its audience, you want your brand to have values.
4.2. What exactly are brand values?
A brand's values are the sum of all matters that it cares about and believes in the most. Patagonia's main brand value is sustainability. Wework's values include entrepreneurship, inspiration and collaboration. A successful brand always makes sure that its values are aligned with those of its target market.
4.3. How do you find out your brand's values?
Creating a brand is 90 % knowing your target market. I am aware that I am repeating myself when it comes to knowing your customers. But to discover your brand's values, you must revisit your ideal customer by following the 4 steps below. If you feel overwhelmed, you can also check out this list of 200+ brand values adopted by the biggest businesses in the world.
Follow these steps to find out your brand's values:
- Step 1: Find who your ideal customer is.
- Step 2: Find out what matters to them the most by using the tools listed in section 2.5.
- Step 3: Pick 3-4 that you think resonate with your brand the most.
- Step 4: Consistently support those causes across all your channels.
4.4. Use Case Example Applied
In the previous section, you have created a brand with a unique selling point on ''comfort and elegance''. Your target audience was outdoorsy young professionals aged between 20-35. You're now about to identify the values of your brand. Given that your ideal customer is interested not only in the functionality but also the looks of your products, two of your top values should include beauty and comfort. Due to your industry, dependability should also be up there with those 2.
5. Create a brand identity
5.1. What is a brand identity?
A brand identity is a set of elements that a business employs to communicate its unique personality to all of its stakeholders. A brand identity should be created based on everything else we covered up to this point in this post: so your brand's target market, values and unique selling point.
5.2. Components of a brand identity
A brand identity consists of the following items usually delivered in one comprehensive document called a brand book that provides instructions on how to use each element.
- A logo: Versions of 1 logo design to be used in print / on digital
- A tagline: A written statement that captures the values of the brand, aka motto or slogan
- A color palette: A set of 6 colors handpicked to work in harmony to represent the brand
- Typography: Typefaces that work with the concept of the brand for web and print
- Letterhead: Stationary designs from business cards to official letter templates.
- Tone of voice: A list of preferred keywords that represent the values of the brand as well as special tips and techniques to create a consistent voice for the brand across all media.
Below you can find a list of tools for each category. If you're in this for the long run, I suggest you work with a professional instead of using a freemium tool such as Canva. That way you achieve a consistent look, feel and design. Working with an agency might be too hard on your small business budget. But for a much more reasonable rate, you can pick a pre made bespoke design from a service such as WOO Branding where you browse through a catalogue of pre made brands, all hand created by professionals, buy one that suits your brand's character and have it customized to your needs in 2 business days.
- Freemium Logo-makers: Canva, Hatchful, Looka
- Freelancer Hire Services: Fiverr, Upwork, 99designs
- Affordable Bespoke Brands: WOO Branding
6. Establish key business goals
Now that you have your brand figured out, it's time to spread your wings and fly. But before you start getting ready for your TedX speech on how your brand changed the world for the better, you should set the goals that'll get you there.
6.1. What is a key business goal?
A key business goal is a measurable outcome that your business aims to accomplish. There are three types of goals you can set for your brand. Below is a list that gives a couple of examples for each.
- Short-term business goals: Increase revenue by 5% year on year, increase web lead conversion by 10 %, increase the average click through rate across all channels to 3 %.
- Mid-term business goals: Increase the number of sales channels, increase customer retention
- Long-term business goals: Increase the total revenue by 10 % over the next 5 years.
6.2. How do you determine your key business goals?
Only you can specify the business results you'd like to see in the near future of your brand. However, here is a ground rule you should always stick to while creating any business goal: Be sure to set SMART goals. That is;
- Specific: Use a clear language with well defined boundaries
- Measurable: Always use numbers and percentages
- Achievable: Be realistic, refer to competition for guidance
- Relevant: Set goals that help your brand get to a point you'd like.
- Time-bound: Always provide a clear time frame for your goals.
Well that's about all. If you made it this far, thank you! This article is the fruit of my experience as a brand manager and an entrepreneur for the past 9 years and I sincerely hope it helps you in your journey.
Again, if you've read this far, I'm pretty sure you got this. Sure, running your business is no rose garden 7/24, especially if you have a 9-5 past. But if you smell the roses once, especially way early in the game, it's very unlikely that you'll ever give up. Drop a comment if you have any other questions and I'll do my best to help.
Best of luck!