Branding & market research

How to create a brand for your business

The term brand in large 3D letters, surrounded by people creating the overall brand

To create a brand, a truly great brand is one of the most powerful ways a business can differentiate it business,  products or services from its competitors. Not only will a strong brand make customers sit up and take notice but it will allow your business to charge a premium over its competitor, build customer loyalty, drive sales and accelerate product differentiation in the market.

Your brand isn’t just an add-on to be considered as and when. It should be right at the centre of your business, affecting everything you do and simultaneously reflecting the sum of everything you do. It is, in essence, both the cause and effect of all your actions.

A brand is not just a logo, it’s the collective emotional response to the logo and other elements. Your branding is all geared towards generating that response.

What is branding?

First of all, let’s be clear what we mean by a brand. A brand is a promise of a particular experience that has been created through the sum of various elements including the logo and tagline, the brand personality, promise, messaging and the visual elements.

The process of branding is building that brand, all the way from designing the logo, doing research into the name, working through the attributes, doing the focus group work – branding is part of the business you are building.  Much like a Method actor lives and breathes his or her character, so too should a business live and breathe its brand if it wants to convince customers. Creating a brand, like an individual personality, is based on a set of behaviours and characteristics – with the strength and consistency of these impacting on its effectiveness.

Advantages of branding

Branding is one of the most effective ways to separate your business from the rest of the market and build a loyal customer base but it also has many other benefits at the very least helping you to establish and grow your business among many other benefits.

Your business direction

Without the sense of purpose a brand gives you, how do you know if the direction you’re heading in is the right one for your business, or if the decisions you’re making are in keeping with the ideals of your business and customers? The decisions you make and the directions you choose can reinforce or completely undermine what your company stands for.

Nike’s co-founder, Philip Knight, once put it like this: “We wanted Nike to be the world’s best sports and fitness company. Once you say that, you have a focus. You don’t end up making wing tips or sponsoring the next Rolling Stones world tour.”

Your business growth

Every business needs to innovate its approach, products and services to grow. But a brand provides the DNA for that growth, rather than inhibiting it. Your brand is the seed that grows the plant of your growing business. The plant may have different aspects to it – like products and services that change with the times. But they’re still underpinned by the DNA in that seed that is your brand. Your core values will always be visible, as will the consistent customer experience you provide. Growth without a brand in mind can see your customers desert you in their droves.

Your customer base

Your brand is the focus that keeps you building a solid, loyal customer base. Because when you consider your brand in everything you do, you’re essentially asking yourself the question: “How will this product [or service] impact on our customers’ lives? How will it make them feel differently than competitor products on the market?” These considerations are fundamental to the success of your business, which is why branding must be considered from the word go. 

Your business reputation

Your brand gives you the ability to stand out from the crowd, particularly in competitive markets. How well you deliver on your brand promises and strengthen your brand through every area of your business can help make or break your business reputation. And there are few things more valuable to both maintaining existing customers and attracting new ones than a good, solid reputation.

Your customer communications

Every possible contact your business has with a new or existing customer should enforce your brand values. That doesn’t mean you need to be shoving what you stand for down your customers’ throats every time you answer the phone. It just means the way you interact with customers should be thought through and in keeping with your vision and purpose.

Every time you communicate with a customer or prospect, your brand should be felt – whether this is through your advertising and promotional activities or customer-facing communications. Your brand is your DNA so make sure it works its way upwards through every layer of your organisation.

What to consider when creating a brand

Coming up with a name and a logo at a minimum requires a huge amount of effort and research, the whole process of creating a brand is even more complex and time-consuming. So in order to help here’s a list of the things you should be aware of and consider when creating and building your brand.

A brand should reflect your core values

Everything you do, or what anyone working with you does, will reflect the brand. If you solve problems fast, save people money, do what you say you will listen to your customers, etc., all of this will be translated in their minds as what your business represents. When I work with any start-up, the last thing on my mind is building the brand. First, I want to know what they do differently and make sure that every form of communication and interaction with the outside world is consistent – tone, messages, look and feel of the website, fact sheets, logo, etc. This is a pain and can be tricky but does not cost a fortune to do and is, in essence, how you build your brand.

Ultimately if you wish your business to mean/represent one thing and the feedback you get from the outside world is different, you have what is termed ‘brand dissonance’. In plain terms, listen up and change what needs to be changed! The devil is in the detail here, but it’s a question of making sure everything you are working on is consistent and comes across in the way you want. The next issue is to get those around you to do likewise; another challenge for another day.

In essence, your brand represents both who you are as an individual and what your business is as an enterprise. To start with, there is no difference between the two, but as your business grows this will come to mean different things, which in turn presents other issues. But irrespective of what you think about branding, it is ultimately a measure of your success; do things well, and its valuation will grow and with it.

The desired feeling you wish to communicate

What feeling is your product or service going to give the consumer? What is the desire or need it will fulfil? It might be the desire for freedom, safety, confidence or success, or something completely different. Understanding your audience is key – their age, sex, ethnicity, income, education level and locale. What motivates them to buy? How do they think?

Once you’ve identified the purpose, define it as succinctly as you can as it will form the basis of your branding efforts. Consider this commonly used core purpose or mission: “We strive to meet or exceed expectations through exceptional service and a dedication to quality”. The problem with this is that it’s too ambiguous, it could belong to any number of businesses and so doesn’t differentiate the company from its competitors. It doesn’t tap into the hearts and minds of customers. So strive to identify exactly what does – and make sure it’s something inspiring, specific and believable.

From this, you will be able to define your values which set out how you get your customers to that ‘place’ you’re taking them in their minds. This is not about your own personal values, this is your company’s values which underpin the purpose you’ve defined. They should reflect the vision, culture, and goals of the company and clarify what you stand for and why you do business the way you do. Core values focus on the “why”, more than the “how”. Why are these qualities the key to success? Leave room for these values to develop into new and exciting interpretations of possibilities later down the line, allowing your company to adjust and adapt in a changing world.

Tthe more work you do in this area, the less you will need to spend on your branding and graphic design in the long run, as you’ll be able to approach your chosen branding or graphic design professionals with a clear outline of your core purpose and values. It costs you more in the long run if you don’t know what your brand is and can’t share it.

Create a brand message that is clear, compelling and consistent

Imagine you don’t know a thing about your company. Now tell yourself the key message you want customers to hear. Do you get a clear picture in your mind of the benefit to you as the customer? If not, why not? Have another look at your proposition and whittle it down to what distinguishes you. Is it price? Quality? Innovation? Or something else.

Use the ‘so what?’ Test to decide whether or not your USP is compelling. Read your USP to yourself. Does it warrant the response ‘so what?’ If so decide what you’re trying to say about the benefit you deliver and repeat the ‘so what?’ test until you have a truly compelling USP.

Once you’ve nailed it, be consistent, both in communication and in practice. You don’t have to be the best, just the most consistent. Few would argue that a Mr. Whippy is the best ice-cream in the world for example. But we know what it is, how it will look and taste and we can see at a glance which ice-cream vans stock it – and it’s been the same as long as we can remember. And these are the factors that sometimes make us want one, even though it’s not necessarily our most favourite ice-cream in the world! Consistency helps build trust and loyalty which are invaluable to your brand.

Understanding your customers

To create a brand that is successful requires you to understand the values of your target audience and focus your offering on these customers. Trying to be all things to all people will only dilute and confuse the strength and message of your brand.

Effective brand positioning and brand promise

The brand positioning is how the brand is perceived in the context of competitive alternatives. Brand positioning needs to remain consistent throughout all your marketing efforts, or customers will become confused. The brand promise addresses customers’ expectations about a product or service. Examples of brand promises include Coke’s, “To inspire moments of optimism and uplift” and Google’s, “To provide access to the world’s information in one click”.

Keeping your brand real

If you want people to buy into your brand, make it believable. Instead of claiming perfection, claim something more unique, justifiable and in keeping with your brand. Again, think of your company as a person. What kind of person goes around claiming perfection? More than likely someone you wouldn’t necessarily want to associate with or believe.

Creating brand elements (Logo, name…)

Creating a brand is about more than just a catchy name – it is about creating a whole identity for your business and the products or services it sells. Once you’ve answered some or all of questions above and have some clarity of what you want your brand to me its time to start creating some branding elements, not least a name, logo and visual identity.

Brand name

The name comes first –it can either be descriptive (classically brilliant brand names include Mothercare, Toys R Us and Burger King), or you can choose a name which means nothing initially but which can be embellished with meaning as your business develops (great examples of this include Starbucks, McDonald’s and Domino’s). Lots of value can be embedded in a good brand name, and this shouldn’t be underestimated.

When choosing your name, it’s a good idea to bear in mind what a useful tool it is in getting across to customers the benefit of using your business instead of your competitors’. After all, it’s the first thing your customers are going to see, and they’ll base split second judgements on it. Which is why it’s so important that it’s memorable and gives the right first impression. The perfect recipe for success is a good name combined with good branding.

One method which can be useful for inspiring trustworthiness is to link your business’ name to the area in which you operate – customers associate such firms with strong local roots and a friendly approach. Humour or a play on words can help your business stand out, but the overriding aim is to make sure that whatever you choose is snappy, original and instantly informs the customer what the business does.

You’ll also need to bear in mind that your business name will dictate which Web domain you can register and your trademark if applicable.

Brand logo

Next, you need an eye-catching logo to be used alongside the brand – indeed in some cases instead of the brand. Successful logos include the Nike ‘swoosh’, the London Underground symbol and Mcdonald’s golden arches. You know when brand identity is working when consumers can recognise your brand from the logo only- they just know it.

Most successful businesses will tell you that logos matter a lot. In the early days of your new business especially, perception is everything. So investing a little money to encourage the perception that you’re professionals is pretty high up the agenda for the vast majority of new businesses.

You’ll want to work toward something smart, not just something pretty. What I mean by that is you need to begin with a thought: What is the emotional response (worked out in step one) that you want your product to elicit? What else can you think of that will help people understand not just what you do but how you’re different from your competitors?

Brand indentity & visual identity

Finally, you need to create a strong identity for your business which runs through everything you do. To do this, you need to firmly establish what your company stands for. Do you want to be seen as a funky cutting-edge high fashion business, for example, or would you rather be seen as solid, dependable and reliable? What is the core idea of the company and the message you want to project? You can come up with the most fantastic name and logo, but if you have no vision or proposition for the company, then it’s just not going to work.

Creating brand assets and marketing materials

If your website, stationery, etc. exude and reinforce your values, your brand will be strengthened. But if they don’t, your brand – and your business – could be seriously damaged. For example, your product could genuinely be of a high quality. You may have sourced the very best components available. But if you’ve got a naff, clip-art logo and poor quality stationery, that undermine your promises of quality, you’re fighting a losing battle with customers. You can tell them your product is superior until you’re blue in the face. If they do not see that message reflected consistently in every area of your business, they’ll head to a supplier they’re more sure of instead.

Protecting your brand

Branding isn’t a one-off event- your brand needs to be continually protected. Take out trademarks to safeguard your brand name, logo and tagline. You can also use trademarks to protect phrases and groups of words that you use as part of your brand. You can apply for trademarks online via the Intellectual Property Office website. Protect designs associated with your business by registering them under UK Design Protection, again through the Intellectual Property Office. Make sure you continually monitor your brand identity to ensure that it remains relevant. Remember that brands can be tweaked and refreshed along the way.

How much will professional business branding cost?

This really depends on the size and nature of your business – there are different budget levels for business branding, and they give rise to different approaches:

If you’re a large, multinational corporation, you will pay more for your branding than a small startup, for the obvious reasons that you have a multi-million-pound company to protect, profits to drive and a substantial marketing budget with which to do so. You will, therefore, most probably employ a top branding agency to undertake the work for you, and you may pay tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds, just for your logo. BBC Three paid a whopping £400,000 for theirs and Edinburgh’s inspiring capital logo set them back over £1m!

Branding on this scale usually involves financing three phases:

The first, brand analysis, typically involves customer analysis, to identify the audience, influencers, trends, needs and existing perceptions. It also involves analysis of competitors, their market position, brand position, strengths and weaknesses, as well as an audit of the current brand (for rebranding exercises).

Brand strategy involves the creation of the brand promise, personality and position, as well as the market position and value proposition which includes the features and the functional and emotional benefits.

Last but not least – the brand systems: the verbal systems which include the company name, tone of voice and headline styles, and the visual systems encompassing the logo, typeface and graphical style. Brand systems may include digital templates for elements such as blogs and eNewsletters, printed stationery including business cards and letterheads and office templates for presentation slides, invoices, etc.

A set of brand guidelines will also be created which will probably include event, signage and advertising guidelines. The grand total for all this work will most likely cost upwards of £70,000 with many of the biggest players spending in the hundred thousands and even the millions.

SMEs are likely to spend substantially less than this. They are likely to use smaller branding or design agencies and may conduct some of the brand analysis and brand strategy processes internally, making do with a less comprehensive spectrum of brand systems. Depending on their precise requirements, most SMEs will spend somewhere between £10,000 and £50,000.

How much does branding cost for small businesses?

The most important thing to be aware of the branding process and its importance – and not try to circumvent it completely due to cost.

Instead, consider the areas of work you can feasibly undertake yourself. Nobody knows your company better than you do, so do as much brand analysis work as you can. Research factors such as the market size, needs and trends, the scope of your competitors, the growth rate and current growth cycle of the industry, the number and size of your customers, and the kinds of distribution channels used to access existing and potential customers. This will enable you to size up the business situation and inform your second phase of work – your brand strategy.

While truly comprehensive brand strategy can be complex and beyond the scope of most small businesses, every brand should have a core purpose and values at their core. Nail down your brand promise, personality and position, as well as your market position and value proposition and start defining how these will translate through expression to the audience in a manner that’s contextually relevant.

Your third phase of work will be creating your brand systems. At this juncture, many a start-up business has seen all its good analysis and strategy work transformed into naff stock logos and clip art. Tread extremely carefully. Very cheap design services will make your company look exactly that, very cheap, completely undermining all your branding efforts. You can try your luck searching through freelancer and crowdsourcing websites, but consider first whether trial and error is a process you can afford – finding a designer who can provide the quality of brand- focused design you need within budget, is unlikely to be easy.

How to represent your brand when marketing your business

Once you’ve created and placed your brand at the heart of your business, it informs customers of your values and what your services promise. It’s right at the centre of your marketing materials and tone of voice. If it’s not, it should be!

Brand confusion is the number one threat to your brand. Whoever is responsible for your businesses marketing, therefore, needs to get their head around your brand before they start thinking of content ideas and marketing initiatives, because the resulting posts need to ring true to your company, its thoughts and values, and how these are expressed.

That isn’t to say that nothing new or creative can be expressed; simply that these expressions must be ones that feel authentic to the brand, rather than some bolt-on flow of posts that awkwardly co-exists with it. Here are five tips to bear in mind when marketing and growing your band.

Establish brand guideline

These guidelines should set out how your company’s image can be played out through marketing materials, including what types of content you’ll post about, how imagery will be used and what tone of voice you’ll adopt. The guidelines should be given to everybody involved in the marketing process.

Think ‘brand’ before you press go

Have the guidelines been followed? Does the post feel like something your company would say? Does any of its content grate against your brand values? If your company was a person would it speak in this way? Does the post strengthen what you stand for or does it confuse your business purpose? And most importantly, will it appeal to your audience?

Align to your brand strategy

Your brand strategy has set out the way your particular brand will go about achieving its goals, so ensure your social media content falls in line. If, for example, your brand takes a slowly but surely approach to winning new business, then putting out aggressive sales-driven posts could confuse your customers and ultimately even drive them away.

Focus on your business aims

Create marketing that supports and contributes to your business message. For instance social media offers the perfect platform to execute new ways of conveying your message instead of just repeating the same old information. Put yourself in the mind of your customer. Having seen your message on your website, marketing materials, etc. what kind of things would they like to see and hear to reinforce and validate it? Imagine your message is a pencil sketch. Your aim, through social media, is to add definition, colour, light and shade to the original sketch through your posts – not to keep adding new sketches.

Remember what a great brand is…

A great brand fulfils a desire or need within its market. This is its purpose. Its purpose and supporting values never change, just as a person’s fundamental personality and characteristics never change. Products and services and the way they are targeted may vary, but the overarching core purpose must never be eroded, or so too will the customers’ faith in the company and ultimately their loyalty towards it.

Think of your business as a person when you make a decision concerning your strategy or tactics. Would this person (your business) and what they stand for, behave in this way? Does this particular move strengthen what your business stands for or does it confuse its purpose? Once you know your brand inside out, you’ll even be able to evaluate considerations such as whether your customer communications reflect your brand appropriately.

Always communicate your brand

This is where you take your brand to the next level and get out there and communicate what your brand is about as much as you can, not just when you absolutely have to. So get fully immersed in social media, blogs and content marketing to ensure your products and services reach the hearts and minds of your audience. Great customer experiences attract more of the same. Buyers can easily find you, tell their friends, and remain loyal when you are at the forefront of their minds. For further reading have a look at our guide to creating a brand.

Stay relevant

By managing to constantly stay relevant to a targeted set of customers, leading brands ensure they maintain ownership of clear points of difference compared with the competition. They stay credible by increasing customers’ trust and loyalty to them. Staying relevant involves getting inside the minds of your audience, understanding how they think and what’s useful to them.

Related topics