Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur ready to launch your dream to the world or a seasoned founder scaling an existing business, the strength of your brand plays a critical role in your success.
Your brand is how you are viewed in the eyes of your customers, your competition, and your community. Branding decisions you make now will shape customer perceptions, determine the trajectory of your business, and guide every decision going forward. That’s why it’s important to take your time with this step.
In this introductory guide, learn the basics of branding, understand the benefits of having a strong brand, get inspired by best-in-class branding examples, and find out how to update your branding as you grow and scale.
Table of contents
What is branding?
Branding is the process of creating a distinct identity for a business in the minds of your target audience and the general population. At its core, branding consists of a company’s name and logo, visual identity design, mission, values, and tone of voice. Your brand is also determined by the quality and uniqueness of your products, the customer service experience you provide, and even your pricing strategy.
How is branding achieved?
Actions like building a website, designing ads and marketing content, choosing a color palette associated with your business, creating a logo, interacting with customers in live chat, and posting comments on social media set the tone for your brand. Early interactions are already shaping people’s perceptions of your business.
✏️ Takeaway: Your brand can be decided by the market. That means that regardless of what you do, consumers will form an impression of your business based on their interactions. However, it’s best to control this brand image with intentional branding and a solid brand strategy.
What is the purpose of branding?
The purpose of brand building is to help your customers understand what you offer and what you stand for, through effective positioning. Great branding communicates a unique selling proposition (USP), your brand values and mission, and your brand’s story. These all help customers decide if you are a business that meets their needs or aligns with their values.
Ultimately the goal of branding is to attract loyal customers, grow your position in the market, and make sales.
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The elements of branding
Branding is more than just choosing a business name and designing a logo. It encompasses so much more. Successful branding shows up consistently everywhere from the first customer touchpoint to the last. But how do you ensure you’re covering all the bases? Let’s dig into the elements of branding to consider as you build your brand.
Brand mission and values
Your mission is the north star for your business and should have a prominent place in your business plan and brand guidelines to keep all other decisions on track. Your branding exercise should also narrow in on your brand values, which will be non-negotiables as you grow and scale. These ensure your brand remains strong, even as things like your logo or products evolve.
In this example, Loop highlights its social impact and links to its mission directly on its homepage, because it’s so critical to its overall brand:
Increasingly, younger consumers are demanding that brands take a stand. Being crystal clear about the mission of your company and the values that matter to you during the branding process helps Gen Z and the upcoming Gen Alpha customer decide whether to support you or not. These consumers are looking for brand transparency around ethics, sustainability, and manufacturing practices.
Brand voice and tone
Put simply, this is how your brand communicates. Within your branding guidelines, spend time narrowing down the tone of your voice across communications from social ads to customer service emails. Is it playful and funny? Serious and soothing? Educational and confident? Decide if there is certain slang you will or will not use. Understanding how your target audience communicates will be helpful in understanding how to hone your brand voice and tone.
See how Hardgraft conveys its brand effectively through the tone of the content on its homepage:
Story is an important device in your branding strategy. Consumers, especially those who engage in social commerce, are looking for authenticity from brands. Telling your story—whether it’s your brand’s origin story or your founder story—humanizes your brand, puts a face to the business, and increases trust and brand affinity. Tell your story across your website, social media, and anywhere you engage with customers.
Here, Oatly uses its product packaging as a vehicle for brand storytelling:
Brand identity refers to the visual aspects of your brand. Your visual branding exercise should start with a mood board or a word association exercise that helps you determine the vibe or mood of your brand (what do you want people to feel when they interact with you?). This will make it easier to pinpoint the colors, fonts, and other visual elements that represent your brand.
Every design decision on Flakes’ product page was intentional, from the colors to the font, to the product photography. These visual elements are consistent across the brand’s website, socials, and packaging:
Additionally, your brand will need a unique, memorable business name. You can choose something personal, like your own name (e.g., Macguire), something creative like a made-up word (e.g., Sanzo), or something obvious that tells customers what you sell (e.g., The Cheese Bar). Be sure you can find a compatible domain name and available social accounts to accompany your name choice.
⚒️ Resource: Free Business Name Generator by Shopify
Why you should take branding seriously
As soon as you take the steps to start a business, you have a brand. The very first time a potential customer sees your packaging or visits your website, a perception of your brand is being formed. That’s why it’s important to set the tone upfront before you make the wrong impression.
Ultimately, what your customers think and say about your brand is the reality (not what you’d like them to think). It’s a feeling they leave with based on their experiences they’ve had with you, good or bad.
No business intends to build an unreliable or “bad” brand, but if you don’t take branding seriously and have a strategic approach from the beginning, your brand can take on a life of its own—one that you may not have imagined for it.
Effective branding requires a strategic plan including clear brand guidelines that will guide every decision you make, affect every customer touchpoint, and be guided by a clear set of values and goals.
The benefits of building a strong brand
Branding is a foundational exercise that will guide every decision you make going forward, from new product collections to email marketing copy. Solid brand guidelines will scale with you, helping to keep your vision consistent, even as you hire or expand into new markets.
Other benefits of building a strong brand include:
- Potential for increased sales
- Reaching target customers and your desired audience
- Customer loyalty and recognition
- Helping create a clear and inspiring mission or purpose company wide
- Helping create a strong company culture where your employees love to work
- Attracting the best talent to grow your business
- Developing strong brand equity that helps you stand out from your competition
- More collaboration opportunities with brands and creators that want to align with you
- Attracting press and mentions from social media users
- Aligning employees, agencies, and contractors who speak on behalf of your business
📚 Read more: How To Build a Brand in 7 Steps
Brand strategy and guidelines
Having clear brand guidelines are critical for keeping your brand consistent, no matter where you show up or who is creating content or assets.
Your strategy and guidelines set during the branding process should consider all the ways and places your brand will show up in the world. As you develop your brand guidelines and hone your strategy, don’t forget to consider these areas.
Store environment and atmosphere
Do you want your store environment to be uplifting and modern? Or moody and mysterious? Consider how your brand will show up in training materials. Explicit guidelines on how your staff members should treat customers will help them deliver your brand through their interactions. Do you want to be known for incredible customer service and personalized shopping experiences? Consider how your brand will help achieve that.
Products and pricing
The products you sell and how you price them can signal to customers what your brand is about. Are your products known to be high-quality? Are they unique or niche? How does your branding communicate this? If your products are geared toward luxury customers, be sure you are creating branding that appeals to this audience. Conversely, how will you communicate to deal shoppers?
Product packaging can also go a long way to telling the story of your brand, even when customers stumble upon it in a retail store. Consider how you can represent your brand outside the context of your online presence.
Marketing, PR, and collaboration
Effective advertising is critical for improving your brand recognition. Your messaging to your target audience should speak directly to their pain points, challenges, and needs.
You should also consider public relations as part of your branding strategy. How you respond to challenges or crises can make or break your brand. Include worst-case scenarios in your plan, with details on how you will handle them in the public eye.
Collaboration and sponsorships can be a great way to surface your brand to new audiences. But not every opportunity will be a great fit for your brand. Decide what types of organizations or events you’ll sponsor and the businesses or creators that you’d ideally partner with.
💡 Tip: Keep your goals in mind as you do your branding exercise and check that the decisions you make are in the service of meeting them.
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3 examples of successful branding
Large corporate brands are some of the best examples of successful branding. Take brands like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, or Nike. Consumers recognize these brands all over the world just by hearing a few notes of a jingle or spotting a tiny swoosh logo. These long-standing brands spend a lot of money and thought to reach target customers.
Here are some best-in-class examples of great brand design and branding communication from beloved direct-to-consumer brands.
Glossier became a quick cult favorite after popular beauty publication Into the Gloss transformed into a full-fledged beauty brand. The early equity built by the content helped Glossier launch with a head start. But the company is unbeatable in terms of branding, quickly becoming a household name in an industry once dominated by a few legacy brands. It’s become so popular with social media creators that it’s often memed.
Everywhere you turn, Momofuku ads are popping up in your feed or getting praise from your favorite food influencers. Momofuku not only had to build a brand, it also had to build a market for an elevated take on a college dorm favorite: instant noodles. The brand’s fresh design and modern photography go a long way to achieving the brand’s goals of reaching new audiences for “contemporary Asian-American cuisine.”
Starface’s unique branding challenge was reshaping consumer attitudes around managing skin conditions like acne. While brands before it aimed to conceal, Starface’s brand is built on highlighting “imperfections” with its fashion acne patches. The brand’s colors, tone, and design of its online store and content all speak to its young, bold target audience.
4 branding tips for growing and evolving your brand
As your brand grows or time passes, it might become dated or lose touch with a growing audience. This means you might be ready for a rebrand. Before you start over, it’s important to keep your target audience in mind.
Avoid the temptation to start from scratch. Updated branding can improve the health of your business or help you realign with your values, but you want to avoid alienating loyal customers in the process.
When rethinking your business’s branding, follow these guidelines for a smooth transition.
1. Identify what’s working (and what’s not)
Identify what your customers and target audience love most about your business. What makes yours stand out? What are your strengths? Maintain these branding elements as much as possible and revise the rest.
2. Reset your brand values
Do the original brand values you set when you launched still ring true? Have changes in consumer behavior, developments in politics or social movements, or your own evolution as a founder shifted your values? If you don’t believe in your own brand values, it will be hard to maintain a consistent brand message. Revise and communicate your brand values to meet the current reality of you, your customers, your business, and the modern world.
3. Update your brand identity
Do you run a legacy brand or a longstanding family business with dated branding? You can still maintain the aesthetic and elements that customers come to recognize while making tweaks that work better with modern design preferences. Be sure not to depart too much from your core brand or follow fleeting design fads.
4. Roll out your new branding
Apply your new visuals and messaging across every marketing tool you use, from advertising to signage to customer emails. This helps both existing customers and new customers identify a consistent brand message and get accustomed to your new look.
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Branding is the foundation of your business
You don’t have to run a multinational corporation to reach your target market with branding that speaks to them. From an online store homepage to a TV commercial to a sandwich board in front of a local business, you can help customers connect with good brand storytelling everywhere.
You won’t always get it right, but the costs of not investing in your branding far outweigh the potential negative consequences. And, you can always tweak as you go. Build a brand that meets its promises, speaks the language of its ideal customer, and leaves a lasting positive impression.
What does branding mean in marketing?
Branding in marketing refers to the process of building a positive perception of your company, products, and services, using marketing communications such as email, social media, print, advertising, and more. Branding elements surfaced across ads and organic marketing content include a brand’s logo, colors, messaging, and brand voice and tone.
What does branding mean in business?
Branding in the context of business is the continued process of shaping public perception of your organization. Branding is a foundational exercise that makes decisions about the look and feel of a business, brand voice and tone, and a company’s mission and values.
What is a brand promise?
A brand promise is a guarantee you communicate to your customers that tells them what they should expect from you when they engage with your brand or buy your products. This is tied into your branding values and mission. Keeping your brand promise (as in delivering what you promise) is an important factor in building and maintaining brand loyalty.
How do you build brand equity?
Brand equity is the perceived value of your business in the public sphere and the minds of customers. You can build equity for your brand with effective branding guidelines and a brand strategy that surfaces your business, messages, and products in the right place at the right time. Consistent use of your branding elements and positive customer experiences go a long way to building equity (or value) for your brand.