What are the Steps in the Branding Process?
We explain what you need to know before jumping into the branding journey, some alternative approaches we’ve seen over the years, and the basic steps we recommend every entrepreneur take to create a brand that helps their business thrive.
The open secrets of branding
There is no branding “formula.”
There is no specific, conventional branding formula. It isn’t really something that’s taught in schools. Branding is really more of an art than a science. This is why there are so many different approaches to branding.
Branding is unique to you.
Branding is so much informed by your worldview, how you see people, and how you understand business. The process is also drastically affected by the size of your business. Big businesses and small businesses won’t brand the same. They have different goals, missions, and budgets.
You are merely co-creating your brand with the world.
Sure, you put all the work into creating your unique brand identity, but the process is not fully finished yet because you have to share it to make it real. In some ways, brands only exist only in the minds of the customer. What other people have to say about you—your reputation—influences your brand just as much as all the work you put in.
You can’t guarantee that someone (even your target customer) will love your brand. But you can make it much more likely by creating a high-quality product, providing great customer service, and presenting a clear message. By being thoughtful about the customer experience, you’re directly influencing the way your brand is talked about out in the real world.
Common branding approaches
The Intuitive Entrepreneur Approach
The intuitive entrepreneur is brave and confident enough to take on all their branding on their own. They usually have a good sense of what their business and brand stands for, so it makes sense to try out the process on their own. But the problem with this approach is that it’s limited by the mind of the entrepreneur, missing an outside perspective. No matter how clear your vision is, it can be very helpful to have a consultation with a branding professional. Hearing what they have to say can give you insight into things you’ve never thought about before and avoid expensive mistakes down the line.
The Traditional Marketing Approach
Some marketing professionals and certain business owners attempt to approach branding as if they were executing a marketing strategy. They think a lot about numbers and how to reach sales goals with their branding. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just not what branding’s all about. This approach doesn’t focus on the bigger picture, because it’s not truly nurturing a customer base emotionally and in the long term.
The Designer Approach
When Mara was new to branding, she had a designer’s bias. She believed it was all about the visual results. Because she wasn’t thinking about the actual brand strategy, she would often have to go back and fix the brand guidelines she had created when new information about the business would come to light (such as the preferences of the target customer or problems with the brand name). Many designers share this bias.
The Copywriter/Strategist Approach
When Bianca was new to branding, she had a writer’s bias. Her goal was to create a very deep, meaningful idea, without considering the implications on style and design. Trying to get people’s attention quickly and keep it is difficult if you forget that people’s visual experience with a brand is just as important to their experience as words and ideas. Visuals create an immediate emotional impression, giving key information about what kind of person the message is for and where to look first. Language takes advantage of the attention the visual has grabbed, driving the message home.
Steps on the branding journey
1. Look inside.
Elements of your business strategy will become the core of your brand identity, particularly your business’ mission. As an entrepreneur, it’s useful to begin by reflecting your own purpose and passions. Clarity about what drives you will anchor you throughout your business and branding journey, clarifying what you want before thinking about what customers are asking for or what competitors are doing. A strong mission guides your business decisions and gives authenticity to your brand identity.
2. Look outside.
Once you’re clear about why your business exists, it’s important to understand your environment. Who do you want to serve? What do they want? Who are your competitors? What do they offer? By researching the answers to these questions, you’ll start understand how you can bring value to a specific group of people in a way that no one else can. That’s the foundation of your brand identity.
Our Brand Canvas are helps you link your business strategy to your brand strategy. Download the free Brand Canvas Toolkit here→
3. Name your brand.
Ideally, you’ll name your brand after identifying your basic business strategy, including mission and target customer. It’s difficult to know if you’ve chosen the right name without these key pieces! In reality, most entrepreneurs decide on a business name before having these key pieces of their business and branding strategy. In these cases, we suggest only changing the preexisting brand name if it clearly conflicts with your brand strategy. What matters most is that your brand name evokes the kind of feelings you want in your target customer.
4. Establish your brand guidelines.
These are the backbone of your brand identity and commonly include instructions about design called style guidelines, as well as instructions about brand voice and messaging. Guidelines are helpful for keeping your brand strategic and essential for keeping your brand consistent and recognizable. Consistency enables your target customers to trust you.
When it comes to brand guidelines, it can be hard to know where to start. We make it easy with a package of fill-in-the-blank templates for all the guidelines a small business needs, from a Style Guide to a Customer Journey Map. Check out our Brand Identity Toolkit here→
5. Kick your brand out of the nest.
Before you share your brand with the world, it only exists to you. But your brand isn’t for you; it’s for your customers. They are the ones who are going to fall in love with your business, spread the word, and keep coming back. It may sound obvious, but this simple fact can be hard to remember in the excitement of branding!
6. Grow. Refine. Repeat.
Your brand is changing every day as customers have new experiences with your business. That’s okay, because when you have brand guidelines, you know what’s important to keep consistent and exactly how to do it! But branding is not a one-time thing. It’s important to review your brand regularly so that you’re plugged in to your target customers and proactively guiding your brand’s development. Set a date every six to twelve months to review where you’ve been and where you want to go. Is your brand identity keeping up with the growth of your business?