Branding. In today’s cutthroat online business environment, it’s one of the most powerful weapons at your disposal to distinguish you and your product from the competition.

While branding is omnipresent (we are bombarded with logos every day), few business owners understand what a brand truly is—and how to make it effective.

Far too many entrepreneurs think of a brand as a “cool logo.” They’ll hire a freelancer to draft one on the cheap or use one of the many free logo creation apps, like this one for Shopify. There’s nothing inherently wrong with outsourcing your identity design; the idea is that smart entrepreneurs look beyond the logo. Your visual identity needs to reflect the heart and soul of your brand. It needs to resonate with your target market in a way that makes them want to engage with you again and again. Over time, this builds loyalty, trust, and lays the foundation for you to turn your customers into ambassadors for your brand.

I’ve written this article, based on my own experience, to help entrepreneurs understand the importance of building a real identity for their brand, and some pointers on how to do it.

(Author: Philip Kotler, Illustration: MRR Media)

Philip Kotler, “the father of modern marketing,” broke down branding into the six key components illustrated above. Let’s take a closer look.

  • Brand Purpose involves asking yourself, “What promise is my brand making to my customers? What is my company’s purpose?”
  • Brand Positioning attempts to dictate how the brand is perceived by consumers. There are several different ways to position a brand. Two of the most common are:
  • Price – A sweater from Louis Vuitton may not keep you any warmer than one from Target, but it will certainly leave your wallet considerably lighter. Positioning a brand as either luxury or discount can largely be achieved through pricing.
  • Quality – Small companies, often use quality as a positioning strategy by offering a higher quality version of products typically produced on a mass scale. Jacques Torres, the boutique chocolatier provides a great example of “quality positioning” as a counter to cheaper chocolate brands.
  • Brand Differentiation involves comparing two or more similar products made by competing brands. Coke’s long-running battle for market dominance with Pepsi is a perfect example of brand differentiation among almost identical products.
  • Brand Identity is often confused as being the only vital component of a successful brand. Identity consists of a brand’s visual marketing elements – logo, typeface, tagline, etc.
  • Brand Trust is often measured by how likely a customer is to recommend a branded product (or products) and/or purchase it again. Gathering client testimonials is a common way brands try to build trust with customers.
  • Brand Beneficence relates to whether the brand is perceived as “doing good,” both to consumers and the world in general. Google’s famous “don’t be evil” (since changed to “do the right thing”) motto is a fantastic example from the tech world of a brand that tries to practice beneficence as well as trumpet it to customers.

Has your brand involved carefully thinking through each step above? Once you’ve considered how these six elements of branding influence your business as it currently stands, you can move forward with four actionable tactics to help you build a better brand:

Personality

What is your brand’s persona? What are its core values? What voice does it use to communicate with customers? Who is its target audience?

These defining characteristics need to be considered and developed before work starts on visual identity. If your identity designer insists you answer all of the above (and more) it’s likely you’ve made a good hire. If all they ask for is a brand name, your favorite color, and five dollars, you’re shortchanging the brand and yourself.

Consistency

Once you’ve developed your unique brand persona and “voice,” use it consistently across all channels. This includes social media, email, blogs, press releases, etc. Remember, you’re trying to build trust, loyalty, even love from customers, and you typically don’t have very long to do it once you’ve gotten their attention. Being consistent is the best way to use their attention in a productive way.

Identity

Finally, we arrive at logos and fonts. The goal of this article hasn’t been to minimize the importance of visual identity—it can and should be an integral part of your branding strategy. Just, not the only part.

  • Beware of cheap solutions. You’ve put a lot of time and money into building your business, and now it’s time to invest in communicating the value of your business through the power of subliminal cues. Consider hiring an experienced identity designer to help you create the visuals best suited to your brand. Pay close attention to their portfolio—examine how successful they’ve been at developing brand identities for other clients.
  • Optimize your logo. Your logo should look good in black and white (or a maximum of two colors), and should still stand out when small:

128 x 128

A Twitter profile image is a mere 128×128 pixels wide. Given that so much of your customers’ online life is conducted on mobile, size is more important than ever.

A favicon is a tiny 16x16px:

  • Find your font. Serif/san-serif, classic/modern or somewhere in between; choose a font that expresses the character of your brand. Create your own if you have the resources! Sometimes, the typeface is the logo. Here’s an example of a hand-drawn logo that you’ll undoubtedly be familiar with:

Content

Content marketing is defined as “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

Content creation allows you tell your brand story, your way. Here are a few tips on creating a successful content marketing strategy, and how it can help your brand and your bottom line:

  • Create content that will appeal to your ideal customer. You don’t need a “hard-sell” because you are trying to build your brand as well as customer loyalty and trust.
  • Keep your content “evergreen.” One of the goals of content marketing is to increase organic traffic through search engine optimization (SEO). The more “timeless” and relevant your content, the better – it will pay SEO dividends in the long-term.

Final Thoughts

Never underestimate the power of effective branding. Building customer loyalty for your brand can have innumerable benefits. It can protect your company from both competitors and fluctuations in the economy that are beyond your control. Time and again, in my role valuing and facilitating the sale of online businesses, I have seen how much more attractive a strong brand makes a business to buyers.

That’s why entrepreneurs launching a new venture should take branding seriously. It is a golden opportunity to share with consumers the things that make your product special. It is probable that your business holds a special place in your heart. Communicate that enthusiasm with your customers through effective messaging and identity design, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t vicariously feel your passion for your cause. 

You only get one chance to make a first impression. Use the power of branding to make yours a lasting one.

About the Author: 

Thomas Smale is a serial online business entrepreneur and expert. Early in his career, he began building and selling small online companies. This turned into one of his ventures when he founded FE International (FE) in 2010, growing the business with zero funds from ground up and consistenly doubling annual revenue, as well as the average deal size. FE has several subsidiaries, including MageMail, MRR Media, and GrooveJar. Thomas specializes in advising in the M&A of SaaS, e-commerce, affiliate, and content businesses. He has consulted thousands of internet entrepreneurs on exit strategy, growth, and business development.

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