Everything You Wanted to Know About Branding But Were Afraid to Ask

Do you want to establish a brand for the first time? Or are you itching to refresh your old one? Perhaps your branding is no longer relevant because of company changes. Or the original brand was done on the cheap. Or maybe the initial product offering has simply changed. Whatever the reason, it’s natural for your brand and company to evolve. And there’ll come a time when you’ll want the external appearance of the company to reflect internal changes.

Before you begin, decide who’ll do the work. You can do it yourself in-house, outsource to an independent designer, or hire a branding agency. Whatever your choice, the information below will help you prepare.

Start with a sound strategy, ideally with a full messaging platform. Your brand should take into account value propositions, your company’s values and personality, and the company vision, mission, and positioning statements. Here are some questions to get you started:

  1. Why are you in business?
  2. What are your values?
  3. What kind of company do you have? Fun and light? Or “get down to business” and serious?
  4. Who is your audience? What inspires them? What will appeal to them?
  5. What is the need that you provide for your audience?

These philosophical building blocks make your company what it is, and they should be integral in the formation of your brand identity.

Be comprehensive. Customers interact with your brand in so many ways that it must be developed with thorough guidelines. No matter who’s doing the work, make sure you end up with a full logo suite, with digital files for every type of circumstance in which your brandmark may need to appear. The standards document should include clearspace, dos and don’ts for your logo, the color palette, typographic and photographic style, any rules around supporting graphics, and examples of the brand in a variety of applications. Do you need a pitch deck? A sales brochure? Uniforms, buttons, and badges? Business cards and journals? Make sure the applications are relevant to your business.

Consider your brand voice. Truly distinctive brands have personalities. This takes shape in the visual tone of collateral materials and websites, and also in the copy. The tone of the copy—sometimes referred to as the voice—becomes even more important in social media, blogging, and even key executives’ speaking engagements. Don’t forget the brand guidelines, which are as much for your employees as for the constituents who’ll use them to produce communications. They should also be written in the brand voice, and should include your manifesto: A page of emotionally moving copy filled with big, aspirational statements that serves as a rallying cry for your business and enrolls those who read it in your mission and vision.

Remember to be social. With very few exceptions, any brand must maintain a presence on at least a few social media channels. Where does your audience spend most of its time? Make those channels your highest priority. Your posts, particularly image-based ones, should be branded and written in your brand voice. And include a link to a webpage on your site, whether it be a longer article, a newsletter signup, or a special offer. A newsletter and/or a blog can also deepen your connection with your audience. Include articles and posts that provide value to your audience, and communicate your personality and key differences to help develop your following. Whatever way you reach your audience is an opportunity to reinforce your brand image.

Be the brand and wear it well. For companies with a large sales force, customer service, or retail operations, everything—from the communication tone to the manner of being—is part of a brand. AT&T includes a “brand tone” in their guidelines regarding how customers should be greeted, and many restaurants include guidelines for employee attitude. Employee uniforms are also one of the key components of a retail branding effort. AT&T’s floor staff wears certain polo shirts on certain days. And Starbucks baristas sport the company’s signature-green aprons, consistently reminding you that you’re in their world.

Is your brand immersive? For brands like Starbucks or Apple, the physical space where customers interact with the company is incredibly important—interior design is a major player. The guidelines for how your physical space is developed should resonate with your brand positioning. One emerging area in this realm is that of sonic branding, or sound design. Urban Outfitters match the music they play perfectly with the décor of their stores and products, and they take an extra step by publishing their playlists on their website, and releasing mix tapes of songs.

Let it grow. Once the logo or brandmark has been completed and the first draft of the standards is done—make some things. Create some ads. Get started on brochures and collateral pieces. It’s only through the execution of multiple touchpoints that you’ll discover how the brand works. Try to build in time and budget to create some of these pieces in advance. Or simply get started with the essential items. After six months of work on a variety of collateral, revisit the guidelines and see what additional details are needed, revising as necessary.

When you’ve taken this all into account, you’re ready to begin. Know that this process can take time—from one to six months, depending on the level of depth and complexity you are hoping to achieve. Use this guide to help you determine how deep you need to go, and when you’re ready to get started, consider the Content Bureau.

By Benjamin Lovejoy