Chances are, if someone mentions GoPro, you think of a super-sturdy camera for the adventurous.

Why’s that? Because GoPro has done a good job defining its brand. Great brands like GoPro are easy to recognize. Their missions are clear, and they foster that customer loyalty all businesses crave.

A brand is one of the most valuable assets of a business, and it needs to be carefully crafted to ensure it properly and authentically represents the business.

Crafting a brand is a shared endeavor, though. Customers, employees, blog readers (sound familiar?), and anyone who interacts with a business has a role in shaping the brand, which is why we’ve created a very short survey to see what HubSpot means to you. Because what it means to you will help us deliver on your expectations. (We’ll get to that a little later in the post.)

Do you know how your brand is doing? Does your business have a brand identity?

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If it doesn’t, or your brand isn’t as strong as it could be, follow along with this post. Branding may seem like a fluffy concept, but we’re going to try to put some structure around it so any marketing team can get started defining their brand strategy.

For more tips about brand identity development, download our free branding guide here.

The Definition of Brand Identity

A brand is the “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s goods or service as distinct from those of other sellers,” according the American Marketing Association.

Your brand identity is the representation of your company’s reputation through the conveyance of attributes, values, purpose, strengths, and passions.

It includes what your brand says, what its values are, how you communicate its concepts, and which emotions you want your customers to feel when they interact with your business. As Jeff Bezos says, “Branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

The Brand Identity Prism

To help illustrate brand identity with a more holistic view of a brand, an internationally recognized corporate branding specialist named Jean-Noel Kapferer created a model he called the “Brand Identity Prism.” The Brand Identity Prism illustrates six aspects of brand identity: physique, personality, culture, relationship, reflection, and self-image.

Image Credit: Salman Abedin

According to the model, the synthesis of each of these elements is what drives a brand’s success. Here’s what each of them means:

1) Physique is the recognizable, physical aspect of the brand.

It includes the logo, color scheme, packaging, and the online spaces and communities. If we’re talking about Coca-Cola, it’s stuff like the logo, the cursive font, the shape of its flagship glass bottle, and so on.

2) Personality is the brand’s character.

It’s how the brand communicates with the outside world. This might be expressed in a certain writing style or voice, design style, color scheme, and even by way of celebrity endorsements. Coca-Cola’s personality is happy, playful, refreshing, and all about sharing and having a good time.

3) Culture is the value system and basic principles on which a brand bases its behavior.

There is an intimate connection between a brand’s culture and its organization. Coca-Cola’s culture is based around socializing and sharing.

4) Relationship refers to the relationship between people that a brand might symbolize.

One example would be a relationship between a mother and child, or among friends. Coca-Cola symbolizes an equal and friendly relationship among people in a community.

5) Reflection refers to the reflection of the consumer; in other words, the brand’s most stereotypical buyer.

While a company might have multiple buyer personas, this is the “top” type of buyer. For Coca-Cola, this might be 15-18-year-olds who value fun, friendships, and sports, although Coca-Cola’s target audience is much broader.

6) Self image is the consumer’s ideal self.

It’s kind of like a mirror the target persona holds up to him or herself. Marketers and advertisers can draw on their target audience’s self image to direct their strategy and approach. A Coca-Cola drinker, for example, might see him or herself as social, communicative, and the type of person who seeks adventure and pushes boundaries.

Now that you have a better idea of what brand identity is, let’s talk about how it applies to your branding strategy.

Determine Where Your Company Sits in the Market

Before you attempt to define your brand, you need to do some exploration. Take a long look at your company to get a clear picture of its purpose and place. The familiar SWOT analysis can help, actually. Here’s what each letter of the acronym stands for:

  • Strengths: Characteristics of the business or project that give it an advantage over others.
  • Weaknesses: Characteristics that place the team at a disadvantage relative to others.
  • Opportunities: Elements that the project could exploit to its advantage.
  • Threats: Elements in the environment that could cause trouble for the business or project.

When you do a SWOT analysis, you should involve everyone in your company, as well as some of your best (and worst — yes, your worst!) customers. This can be done with a simple survey that asks questions that get at the four points in the SWOT analysis. Or if you prefer, it can be achieved with an in-depth research survey and audit that looks at your brand awareness, usage, attributes, and even purchase intent. They are typically performed by an outside firm … but more on that later. You can also download our SWOT analysis template.

However you gather the information, once you get it, you should be able to sit down with your marketing team and clearly state your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Once you have a clear understand of your SWOT, it’s time to define your brand.

The Steps to Corporate Identity Design & Development

Developing or refining a corporate identity is a five-step process that aims to clearly define what your brand stands for: its goals, its personality, the emotions you want people to experience when they come into contact with your brand, and a clear conveyance of that identity through a positioning statement. Here’s what you’ll need to create to do that:

Step 1: Vision Statement

A vision statement describes what you want your company to become in the future. It should be aspirational and inspirational. Ideally, the statement should be one sentence in length and should not explain how the vision will be met. (Don’t worry, that’ll come later.)

When developing your vision, keep these questions in mind:

  • What are your most important products and services?
  • What products and services will you never offer?
  • What is unique about doing business with your brand?
  • How would your customers describe your brand?
  • Where do you want your company to be in five years?

To give you an idea of what you should end up with, take a look at JetBlue’s vision statement:

JetBlue Airways is dedicated to bringing humanity back to air travel.”

Step 2: Mission Statement

A mission statement defines the purpose of the company. It should be simple, straightforward, articulate, and consist of jargon-free language that’s easy to grasp. It should be motivational to both employees and customers. When crafting your mission statement, keep these tips in mind:

  • What are the specific market needs the company exists to address?
  • What does the company do to address these needs?
  • What are the guiding principles that define the company’s approach?
  • Why do customers buy from you and not your competition?

To give you an idea of what a good mission statement looks like, take a look at The Walt Disney Company’s:

The Walt Disney Company’s objective is to be one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information, using its portfolio of brands to differentiate its content, services and consumer products. The company’s primary financial goals are to maximize earnings and cash flow, and to allocate capital toward growth initiatives that will drive long-term shareholder value.”

Step 3: Essence

Say, what? That’s right, your essence. This sounds fluffy, but seriously, you need to develop an “essence.”

The essence of the company speaks to the intangible emotions you want your customers to feel when they experience the brand. A brand’s essence is the representation of the company’s heart, soul, and spirit, and is best described with one word. When defining the essence of your brand, consider these points:

Here are some great samples of brands’ essences:

  • Volvo is “safe.”
  • Disney is “magical.”
  • Lamborghini is “exotic.”

Step 4: Personality

Just as with humans, a brand’s personality describes the way a brand speaks, behaves, thinks, acts, and reacts. It is the personification of the brand: the application of human characteristics to a business. For example, Apple is young and hip, whereas IBM is mature and set in its ways.

What personality do you want to put forth when people experience your brand?

  • Are you lighthearted and fun?
  • Are you serious and all business?
  • Are you down-to-earth?
  • Are you playful or matter-of-fact?

Step 5: Position or Value Proposition

A brand positioning statement, or value proposition, is a one- or two-sentence statement that clearly articulates your product or service’s unique value, and how it benefits customers. It must define the audience, define the category in which the brand exists, cite a clear product or service benefit, set your brand apart from your competitors, and instill confidence the brand will deliver on its promise.

When crafting a positioning statement, consider:

  • To whom are you speaking? (Target market, demographic, and persona)
  • Which market segment does your product or service serve?
  • What is your brand promise? (Both rational and emotional)
  • Why is your product or service different from the competition, and why should your customers care?

For instance, Warby Parker has a great brand positioning statement:

Warby Parker was founded with a rebellious spirit and a lofty objective: to offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.”

(Read this blog post for more examples of inspiring company vision and mission statements.)

To help make this easier for you, we condensed these questions into a checklist that you can reference during this process:

branding checklist

How to Translate Your Brand Identity Into Actual Marketing

Once your brand is defined and you’re ready to take that brand to market with inbound marketing, a new website, content, paid media, and any other element of outward-facing marketing, a creative brief will help you define the purpose of each particular piece of marketing communication underneath your brand umbrella. When writing a creative brief, these are the questions that need to be answered:

1) Define the project deliverables.

What will be the result of the brief? Will it be a video? A website? An infographic? A whitepaper? An email campaign?

2) What is this effort expected to accomplish?

What is the goal of this particular creative project? What do we want to happen after the intended audience sees this piece of creative? What action do we want people to take?

3) Whom are we talking to?

A clear description of the intended audience, which should include demographics, psychographics, as well as how the audience currently thinks and feels about the brand or product in question.

4) What’s our message?

This is derived from your brand position and should include a statement that encapsulates the single most persuasive or compelling product benefit.

5) What do we want them to think or feel?

This is derived from the “Essence” step of the corporate identity process, and should describe the emotion you want your audience to feel after seeing this work.

6) What justification are we providing as support?

Explain why the audience should believe your claims. Here, you can detail the benefits of your product or service, why your offering is better than your competitors, and how these benefits substitute the claim you made in #4 (“What’s our message?”).

7) How is that different from other brands’ messaging?

Here you want to set yourself apart from the competition by clearly pointing out why your offering better serves the needs of your audience. Are you faster? Are you less expensive? Are you easier to implement?

8) How does this contribute to the brand’s positioning?

Every piece of communication you create must tie back to your brand identity. Here you can explain how this singular effort supports the greater brand promise.

9) Which practical considerations or restrictions are there?

The nuts and bolts of your campaign are explained here. If it’s a video, are there length preferences? Are there words or phrases that must be said? Are there things that you absolutely can’t say? Are there cost considerations or time constraints?

A creative brief becomes particularly handy when you’re working with an outside creative firm or ad agency. It concisely provides the direction needed to create the work, and it ensures everyone’s on the same page before resources are expended.

When to Ask for Help Developing Your Corporate Identity

If the above seems like a lot of work, it doesn’t have to be. The basic intent is to paint a clear picture of what your brand stands for and how you want it perceived by your customers. However, if the process seems daunting or you feel you could benefit from some professional help, then by all means reach out to a branding agency. Here are some considerations if that’s the route you’d like to take.

Have a clear understanding of what you are hiring the agency for and the services you need.

Do you have an in-house design staff, but just need help defining your brand? Have you tried to develop your brand identity on your own but are not confident it’s defined clearly enough? Does your research feel sub-standard?

An agency will want to know where exactly you are in the process so they can properly focus their efforts on the areas of need. Here is an RFP (request for proposal) template you can use to formulate your thoughts if you choose to reach out to agencies.

Can you afford a branding agency?

Just like any professional service, a branding agency costs money. On the flip side, just like any professional service, you’re hiring experts with a ton of experience who know their craft and can provide expertise you either lack or don’t have time to learn. Through the RFP process, you’ll begin to get an understanding of what different agencies cost. Be as specific as possible when you detail the scope of the work you’re looking for.

Match the size of your company to the size of the agency.

If you’re a small or mid-sized business, you should seek out a small or mid-sized agency. While you might find a deeper service offering at a larger agency, you might not have access to the agency’s top talent as they will likely allocate it to their larger clients. With a small or mid-sized agency, you’re more likely to have direct access to the agency president if needed, as well as the agency’s top talent.

Match the agency’s area of expertise to your industry.

While any agency worth its salt can certainly learn the ins and outs of your industry segment, many agencies, by design, choose to focus on specific segments and hire personnel with deep experience in that field. Identify which agencies focus their business within your industry, and start there.

Meet the agency principal and everyone who will work on your account.

This is known as the “chemistry test.” Anyone can be the best in their field, but if personalities clash, it’s a recipe for disaster no matter how capable the agency may seem. An informal lunch, meeting at an industry event, or an after-work meetup are the best ways to get past the professional veneer and experience the true personality of the people you may end up doing business with.

Tying the Branding Bow

Remember: Brand is an evolving asset. It’s one that requires continued attention. One that your customers will have a big role in shaping. One that you’ll need to foster. One that you’ll return to, make adjustments to as your business grows or changes.

But overall, defining your brand identity is much like packaging and presenting a gift. You want the recipient to be pleased with the offering — and that includes everything from the outer wrapping, to the style of packaging inside, to the gift delivery, to the usefulness and appropriateness of the actual gift itself. You want the recipient to understand that forethought and heart went into the selection of the gift, and that it was chosen out of compassion and understanding. And you want it to represent the love you have for that person — in this case, your customers.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2013 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

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