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Do you really have a brand? Review this checklist. , , , ,

We work with lots of newer businesses which have a product line, a company logo, and a mission statement, but which do not have a complete brand. That’s completely fine; after all, branding is what we do.

As we covered in What is branding?, a brand is not a logo. A logo (technically speaking, a logo or a logotype) is part of your brand visual identity (more on this below), but it also includes:

  • Your company’s unique place in the market
  • Your target customers’ perception of your brand attributes like benefits, quality, and value
  • Your target customers’ demographics
  • Your target customers’ perception of your brand’s customers (this is not the same thing as your actual target customers)

Anybody who’s worked in product marketing or gotten an MBA is familiar with a couple of exercises:

  • Develop your company’s mission statement
  • Describe why each of your products is unique. This is known as the unique selling proposition, or USP.

Those are fundamental steps of launching a new brand, and if you haven’t completed the above, you’re probably not reading this. If you can’t explain why your brand exists, or what unique value and place in the market each of your products will have, you have more work to do before you buy a shiny new domain name.

Let’s talk about what you’ll need to have after you’ve launched your brand.

Your Brand’s Visual Identity

Visual identity is the sum total of how the brand is represented in ink and pixels, words and illustrations, and more; everything from your corporate site, to your packaging, to your merchandising and advertising.

This is usually represented with a brand book or brand kit. The former is a document covering everything that a designer or marketer needs to know before developing content or assets, and a brand kit is that document, plus company and product logos and font files.

A properly put-together brand kit allows you to hand an assignment to a designer and guarantee that what you’ll get back is consistent with work done by other designers, and easily recognizable by customers as the work of your brand. This helps ensure consistent branding, and avoiding what we call brand drift: those subtle changes you might see in the visual identity between products. Some brands choose to evolve their brand in small steps (for instance, slightly adjusting the brand palette for 2020), but if this isn’t done carefully, customers will notice the inconsistency, particularly if your products have a lifecycle that’s longer than the rate at which you’re making subtle changes to your brand.

Let’s get into specifics. Here’s what’s generally expected in a brand kit:

  • Company logos in multiple formats, including vector and PNG
  • Alternate versions of the logo, including versions that can be used on light backgrounds and dark backgrounds. Many brand have both “horizontal” and “vertical” versions of their logos to suit a variety of applications.
  • Approved typography for headlines and body copy. This should be specific with regard to font weights, line spacing, and other details.
  • The brand palette, including colors for the logos and typography, as well as a set of colors which can be used for backgrounds, illustrations, and so on.

A comprehensive set also contains instructions on the brand voice, or brand tone of voice (Mailchimp defines voice and tone separately in their style guide). This can include general guidance on the copy style (formal, informal, conversational) and mechanics (for instance, how to write brand and product names, which contractions should be avoided, don’t use slang).


The brand name and possessive form: the style guideline you may have never noticed

You’ll never see an Apple page or advertisement that uses a phrase like “Apple’s full line of computers” or “The MacBook’s screen…”. That’s deliberate, because the Apple style guide prohibits it. Many other major brands follow this same rule.

Having a defined brand voice and set of copy style guidelines is essential, particularly if you’re outsourcing your copywriting. How you speak to your customers is just as important as your brand’s logo and the typeface you use, or your pricing strategy.

What does a brand kit look like?

Traditionally, a brand kit has been just a web page or PDF, along with a link to a repository of logos or other assets. That’s really all you need to get started.

Most brand kits are shared on a need-to-know basis. Companies which work have creative staff all over the world, or which work with multiple outside contractors, often publish them for anybody to view, and (since they were built by designers) they can be pretty impressive. The Netflix brand site is an example of a more basic kit, while the Adobe Marketing Hub goes more in-depth. And then there’s the Cisco Interactive Brand Book, which is really quite something.

You’ll need a brand kit. We’re a branding agency, and that’s part of what we do. Let’s talk.

Defining Your Customer

Customer definition exercises are a staple of marketing courses. We’re not teaching a class here, so we’ll summarize: you need to have a clear idea of who your target customer is.

A common exercise is to build a customer persona. It’s the story of your target customer and can contain both demographic information (their gender, age range, household situation, location, and so on) and psychographic information (their interests and hobbies). You might have multiple personas for one product line (if, for example, you’re running demographic-targeted campaigns), and if you have multiple product lines, you’ll have multiple customer personas.

Your target customer, your mission statement, and USPs go hand in hand. At a basic level, if your mission statement is to provide low-cost organic dog food, then your customer is somebody who’s looking for low-cost organic dog food. This is often referred to as the customer’s “need state.” That’s the what. The why is often defined by the psychographics (your customers are sensitive about their dog’s health, and they may think that premium dog food brands are overpriced and not worth the money), and the how — that is, how you’ll market the product — is influenced by demographics. Your target audience may be younger, or live in areas with medium-to-high income.

The Checklist

Do you have a brand?

If these statements apply to you, then congratulations… you have a brand.

  • I can quickly give a designer or copywriter what they need to easily produce on-brand content.
  • I can explain why my brand exists, and why each of my products is unique in the market.
  • I know who my customer is, I know why they’d choose my brand over the competition, and I know how to reach them.

That’s it. That’s the list. Getting to the point where you can say yes to these is the hard part (or, if you ask us, the fun part). Want to talk about your brand? Get in touch with us.