There’s a ton of detail that goes into building a brand—some of which you may not even be privy to before trying to start one of your own. That’s why, for many businesses, kickstarting a productive branding journey is easier said than done.
Fortunately, there are some straightforward techniques you can use to gain traction in this overwhelming process, so you can get to the heart of what your brand needs to evolve. Ask yourself these important branding questions to get started—and then check out our real world examples to get inspired!
Get Down To Business
Branding isn’t all fun and games—at least not immediately. It’s important to get the nitty gritty details about your business goals settled and out of the way before you jump into the look, feel, & sound of your brand identity…and it’s not only because you should save the most fun for last.
The way you want your brand to function and grow in the real world should inform your branding process. Ultimately, your brand’s identity will need the strength, versatility, and lasting-power to ladder up to your business goals.
So, let’s talk business.
Here are a couple of questions to help you build a solid foundation for your branding process. Then, we’ll take a look at a successful cosmetics start-up that succeeded in doing just that.
Where do you see your brand in 5 years? 10 years?
If you’ve done your due diligence in planning a branding shift or the startup of a shiny new brand, chances are you’ve already answered this question.
But it’s also critical to keep an eye towards the future, beyond simply having a comprehensive business plan.
Your vision for your brand’s success should hold a spot at the forefront of your branding journey. It’s the easiest way to ensure you craft an identity with room to grow—something you’ll definitely want to have if or when you choose to expand your business. Consequently, you’ll need to bring to life a brand you can envision in every place you want your business to be.
An IRL example where a brand appeared to echo the business model powering it: Glossier.
Glossier: Keep It Simple, Make It Smart
The cult-favorite cosmetics brand actually started out as a blog run by current Founder & CEO Emily Weiss. In 2010, she launched Into The Gloss, where she would share beauty insights gleaned from her experience working for fashion industry giants like Ralph Lauren & Teen Vogue.
From there, she was inspired to do more than trade beauty secrets with online fans; she wanted to give them a makeup line that provided exactly what they needed.
In 2014, Weiss launched Glossier with just four skincare products, selling directly to consumers on glossier.com.
She continues to do so today with an expanded product line, leveraging consumer insights from her blog to grow her business past skincare and into other realms of beauty (lip gloss, brow gel, etc.).
From Glossier’s very beginning, both it’s successful business model & branding appear to champion one characteristic in particular: simplicity.
When starting her company, Weiss wanted to start small and simple, prioritizing a dewy, fresh-faced look over heavy eyeliner, dramatic eyeshadow, and in-your-face color.
Wanting to occupy the minimalist makeup space, Weiss’s desire both informed her product design and has clearly bled into Glossier’s branding strategy. Take a look at her packaging: she selected a simple design that echoes her values and can be easily replicated across a variety of products.
When planning the future of your brand, do as Weiss did and focus on the now—but keep an eye towards your business’s bright future.
Who is your competition? What makes you different from them?
As vital as your business goals are, they don’t mean much if you’re unable to edge out your competition.
After defining your business aspirations, take inventory of the folks you’ll be going head-to-head with. Analyze their strengths, their weaknesses, and the potential reasons why customers would choose YOUR product at their expense.
This point of differentiation (whatever it is) deserves a place of priority in your brand image. If there’s something that will help you stand out in the market in a positive way, you’ll need to make sure your audience knows exactly what that something is.
Weiss decided early on what that something would be for Glossier. If you check out their website or their social media, you’ll find close-up images of pretty models with bright eyes, clear skin...and barely any makeup on?
It’s exactly what Weiss was aiming for. While other cult beauty favorites like Sugarpill and Colourpop showcase playfully vibrant cosmetics, Glossier prefers the “No-makeup makeup” look, a trend that has become increasingly popular over the past few years.
Though it’s not a characteristic that everyone looks for (critics will ask “why buy makeup that doesn’t even look like it’s there?!”), no one can deny that it made Glossier stand out among its more dramatic competitors—especially considering that Glossier leans into this clear-faced strategy heavily in their branding.
For better or worse, Glossier’s focus on natural beauty caught a lot of attention. I’d say for better given the business’s rapid growth in its first four years. Something to certainly keep in mind as your brand comes to life.
Consider Your (Future) Fans
The next piece of the branding puzzle is a big one: ensuring your brand connects with the very people who hold your success in their hands.
In some ways, you might feel that you’re creating a new brand for you and your business. But really, you’re creating your brand for an audience.
Making decisions for your brand based purely on what you want, and not what your target audience wants, is a recipe for disaster. Here are a few questions to consider during your branding journey to swing the focus towards the people that matter.
Who is your target audience?
You’d be surprised by the number of businesses that are full of great ideas, but with only a vague concept of the people they’ll actually be selling to.
But your target audience is just as important as your business goals. Without them, you won’t get anywhere close to where you want to be.
In this realm, Weiss’s strategy worked perfectly in Glossier’s favor. She started with a target audience—her blog followers—and THEN created a brand tailored specifically for them. She knew how old they were, their interests, what makeup looks they admired and which ones they hated.
Her blog was and continues to be a testing ground for the products that eventually appeared in Glossier’s catalog. It was with her blog that she confirmed the existence of a market for “no makeup makeup.” With the confidence fueled by this knowledge, she went full speed ahead towards getting the brand off its feet.
So answer this question up front, with as much specificity as you can, and create a brand that your target audience will actually be into.
How does your brand talk about itself?
Because not every brand can be Apple, Google, or Amazon, introducing yours to new customers and partners is something it’ll have to do on the daily. Your answer to this question, therefore, should have a direct implication on much of your branding materials.
In other words, your social media bios, about pages, and paid advertisements will need to put in some heavy lifting to win over customers that will start out by knowing little to nothing about you. For that reason, perfecting this aspect of your branding strategy is crucial. One clear example can actually be found in your local frozen aisle: Ben & Jerry’s.
Ben & Jerry’s: The Power of Transparency
If we’re talking about spreading the news of your own brand in your own words, few set the standard quite like the Vermont-based ice cream pros at Ben & Jerry’s. On their website, they go beyond the basic “About” page. In fact, their “About Us” tab is nine articles long! Available on their website is a full timeline of their company history, details about their company structure, insights into their ice-cream making process—even their unsuccessful creations are given a spotlight in the Flavor Graveyard.
Whereas some companies might decide to be more selective with the information they share, Ben & Jerry’s sees the power in being open. With those nine articles, they clue web visitors in on a core company value: transparency. Clearly, Ben & Jerry’s strives to be as transparent about their company & manufacturing processes as possible. By structuring their brand story in this way, they successfully communicate this to anyone that lands on their website.
The takeaway here is to take care with what you reveal about your company, in addition to how you say it. The content itself speaks volumes, just as loud as the voice that shares it.
Date Your Brand
Now that you’ve identified the core attributes of your brand and its purpose, you’re free to move around to what I’d like to call the dating portion of the process.
Creating a brand is kind of like dating after all—you have a general idea of what you’re looking for, unsure about what exactly the future holds, and just hoping to find a match made in heaven.
These questions are built to help you personify your brand, transforming your initial ideas into a fully-realized brand identity. In fact, we’re speaking from experience: these are a couple of the questions we asked when creating a brand for one of our clients.
You’re taking your brand out to lunch. What are they like?
Jumping right into choosing adjectives for your brand’s voice and personality can be like jumping right into the deep end.
Why not get a little anecdotal first to ease yourself into the process?
Try stepping into the shoes of someone sitting opposite of your brand, meeting it for the very first time. It might seem silly, but if you truly immerse yourself in the idea, you can glean some extremely useful insights about your expectations for the brand.
- How do they greet you? Warm and bubbly with a beaming smile? Or polite and serious, with a firm handshake and an even tone?
- What’s their energy like? Are they open and easy to talk to? Funny with a great sense of humor? Intense and enthusiastic about their interests?
- How do they make you feel? At ease? Inspired? Mystified? Intrigued?
Anecdote Fragrances: A Brand Worth Being Seen With
When we first teamed up with Anecdote Fragrances to help them build a brand identity to support their line of vegan, dye-free, memory-inspired eau de toilette sprays, questions like these were a huge help in narrowing down our conception of the brand. Here are examples of answers we settled on:
- How do they greet you? With a soft smile and a gentle demeanor. Warm and sweet, but more reserved than bubbly.
- What’s their energy like? Relaxed and non-judgemental. Comfortable in their own skin and seeming like they don’t have any angry bone in their body.
- How do they make you feel? Calm and optimistic.
It was through questions like these that we realized Anecdote should be a soothing presence in the lives of its target audience. We felt this aligned with the product line and its point of differentiation: Anecdote is a caring, gentle brand that would never include harsh chemicals or non-vegan ingredients in their scents. We want customers to feel totally at ease while using the products, knowing that they are cruelty-free & made without gluten, dyes, parabens, and phthalates.
Determining these attributes from the get-go, without a sort of role-playing process, might’ve been a bit trickier. But the act of thinking about Anecdote as a person, not just an abstract entity, was extremely helpful.
Who does your brand look up to?
People can have role models—why not brands? A question like this can help you better determine what you want your fully-realized brand to look like by finding inspiration from others.
It does not matter whether your brand looks up to another business or a person. Whatever or whoever they are, they don’t need to be in the same industry either!
We actually selected both a person and a company to use as inspiration for Anecdote. . .
We discovered that the captions PB typically uses on Instagram had a great balance of warmth and calmness. Their playful use of emojis and casual, friendly tone seemed like the right fit for Anecdote, too. We also loved that the brand doesn’t seem self-serious, but doesn’t stray into goofy or over-the-top territory. These facets of their social strategy played a role in crafting Anecdote’s social presence, as we attempted to emulate a similar combination of peaceful and kind.
We kept Ms. Watson’s public presence in mind when figuring out what additional characteristics to give the Anecdote brand. There was something about her elegance and soft-spokenness that we thought would give people that calm, at ease feeling we hoped Anecdote would elicit in customers. She also cares about the world around her and making it a better place, core values that Anecdote certainly shares.
What’s essential here is that you have an example of someone or something executing a similar branding strategy in the real world. You can analyze how they appear to implement their personality, values, and image across their physical and/or digital presence. This strategy can help you fill in the gaps between getting your brand off paper and into the wild.
Unleash Your Brand On The World
Building a brand can be an arduous journey, but it can be a fun and exciting one too! We hope these questions guide you quickly to the most enjoyable parts of your branding adventure.
- Megan O'Keefe
- Social Media & Content Specalist