When it comes to building a brand, entrepreneurs need to focus on developing a solid foundation of trust with customers — not just following the latest social media trends.
Yet, as the creative director of design studio Weekday Studio I get emails from clients all the time stating, “I want to be the next big brand on Instagram.” And while the most recent stats show that there are more than 800 million monthly active users on the platform, Instagram should be used as a tool for marketing, not a foundation for your brand.
Why? Just like other social-media frenzies, Instagram won’t last forever. (Perfect example: the latest Facebook changes immensely hurt social-first brands.) Having a super Grammable package or Instawall is great, but I urge you to not design your whole brand to fit in the square. Placing too much emphasis on Instagram — or any social media platform — runs the risk of limiting your brand’s potential.
For founders looking to create a strong brand, here are steps you can take to build one that stands the test of time — and outlives the latest fad in social media.
Develop a strategy and position
A strategy is the long-term plan you will use to develop a successful brand and ensure you’re reaching your objectives. When developing your brand strategy, consider these three elements:
1. Know yourself: Your brand is the foundation that informs all aspects of your business. Having a clear vision, mission and values will help inform why you do what you do and help you when questionable decisions arise.
Your vision statement is about long term. Where do you want to go? What impact do you want to make on the world?
Your mission, simply put, is what and why your brand exists. It should define who your customer is and what service or product you offer. Once you’ve determined your vision and mission, finalize your values.
Many entrepreneurs see a market need and breeze past creating values. Don’t make that mistake. Values align everyone to the same page — from hiring to customer acquisitions, creating efficiencies in culture and building trust between employees and customers.
Keep all of these things in mind — vision, mission and values — when building your brand as they will be utilized as the foundation blocks to creating a clear, cohesive brand that will build trust and ultimately profits.
2. Know your customer: Your customers are just as much why you exist as your product or service. By truly getting to know and care about your customer, you can create a relationship that invites them into the journey and empowers them to share your brand story with the same conviction as you.
If you look at brands like Outdoor Voices, Warby Parker, and Fenty Beauty, all have a highly engaged audience. Their customers are their word-of-mouth champions, R&D and defenders against copycat products from new comers and incumbents. This is how great brands are created: for customers and with customers.
You can get to know your customer through traditional methods like focus groups and interviews. Tools like SurveyMonkey and Google Analytics are the digital versions that can provide quick feedback from target demographics. You can also take advantage of social media platforms like Instagram, as they are a direct way to hear your customers’ desires and have conversations that will illuminate what’s possible.
3. Know your competition: There are three types of competitors: direct competitors, indirect competitors and external factors. Direct competitors are businesses that have the same product or service. Indirect competitors are those who don’t offer the same service, but meet the same need in another way. And external factors include circumstance beyond your control. For instance, if your product is a high-end beach towel, you may be competing against grocery bills, movie tickets or a night out.
Create a competitive analysis to help you identify competitors, evaluate their strategies and assess their strengths and weaknesses. (Here is a SWOT analysis, if you need help getting started.) This is critical in creating a highly differentiated strategy, visual identity and marketing plan. These discoveries will help you define your position, how your brand is different from your competitors, how it connects to your customers and will allow you to stand out from the crowd.
Design a brand identity
Once you have a firm understanding of who you are — your vision, mission and values — along with assessing your customer and competition, you can begin to create a brand identity that stands out in the market and connects with your customer.
A brand identity is the visual aspects of your brand. It is applied to every customer touchpoint — from packaging, website, brick and mortar and social media. The basic elements of a brand identity include logo, colors, fonts and photography.(Additional items include illustrations, photography, textures, etc.) I cannot stress this enough: your identity is not just your logo; it’s so much more than that. Your identity is all of these pieces working together to reflect the strategy and position.
Logo: That said, logos are important. While logos come in many forms (wordmarks, emblems, icons, etc.) their purpose is the same: to stand as a symbolic representation of what your brand is. Logos alone don’t make a brand, but when done correctly, they build brand recognition by being both easily identifiable and aesthetically pleasing.
Color: While there are all sorts of stereotypes and opinions about the psychology of color, there are a few things to consider:
- Don’t choose colors solely based on your own personal preferences.
- Make sure your brand colors are distinguishable from your competitors.
- Don’t choose your brand colors based on trends.
- Focus on colors that both reflect your brand’s personality and appeal to your target audience.
- Consider the cultural context of what certain colors communicate (e.g. the color green is often associated with eco-friendly)
Typography: Type tells the story of your brand quite literally, but also speaks in a way that’s not so obvious. For example, a minimal san-serif typeface might come across as modern or progressive, while a classic serif feels more timeless or old-fashioned.
When you add in other characteristics like size, color, letter casing, pairing (finding a secondary font to complement your primary) and kerning (the space between letters), it’s easy to see how typography can subconsciously affect the emotive quality of your brand.
Tell the world about your brand
Today alone I’ve called, texted, DM-ed, chatted, and talked to my team. We communicate with each other in a myriad of ways. Your brand and marketing should be no different. Social media is an incredible tool for connecting with your customers and having them talk about you with their friends. But that’s just what it is, one of the many tools to utilize. Your brand and your marketing strategy help each other but will always be two separate things: your brand informs and guides your marketing, while your marketing then communicates everything out to the world. They should work hand in hand.
For instance, one way brands can utilize social media is giving customers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into your brand. This in an incredible tool to connect and humanize your brand that has never been easier. Introduce your team; show the design and process of your products or services or take polls to learn what your customers want more of. But please remember, when your customers are interacting with you on social make sure to take the time to be active and respond in a tone that is authentic to your brand. This will build trust and a deeper connection.
Stand the test of time
Trends come and go, so take time to build a brand foundation. Poorly executed design rarely stands the test of time. What’s more vital than pretty, cool or bespoke? A considered manifestation of your brand consistently applied over time across the breadth of your brand. It will drive how you show up, behave and are judged across every brand touch point — from the top of your funnel to the bottom and what happens after a purchase is made.
Take the time to know yourself, mission and values. Use your positioning and story to develop a compelling and thoughtful brand identity and apply that not only to today’s business needs and cultural trends but consistently as these change each passing day. It’s only possible to adapt to new mediums when your brand transcends the platform.
Writer: Nina Hans