Your brand is essentially your business's personality and the psychological responses that personality stirs within your customers. It's the personality you craft and the reputation you earn.
When a customer hears your business name, sees your logo, experiences your products, and hears your company's voice in its communications, these things will conjure a perception in your customer's mind of what your business is all about.
For instance, what comes to mind when you think of some of the world's biggest brands, such as Apple, Coca Cola or Nike? Their logo? A slogan or tagline? A memorable advertisement? The product itself? Whatever it is, it will also evoke an emotional response in you which forms your feelings on that brand.
Although you cannot directly control the feelings customers will associate with your brand, you can adopt strategies for building positive brand awareness which will resonate with your target market.
"Products are made in the factory but brands are created in the mind" - Walter Landor, designer and branding pioneer
Know your audience
Essentially the first, and arguably the most important, step in branding is identifying your target audience.
A corporation such as Nike is so globally recognisable that they are able to target almost every person on the planet with their tagline "if you have a body, you are an athlete", however as a small business trying to build a brand from the ground up you need to focus on a specific niche market.
The benefit of narrowing your targeting scope is being able to concentrate your efforts on reaching just that particular audience. You may be targeting stay-at-home mums, time-poor young professionals, or well-off retirees. Whoever they are, once you know who you are trying to sell to, you can work out how to reach them.
Know your competition
Identify your main industry competitors and examine their brand identity. The reason behind this is not to imitate, but rather to differentiate. Once you dissect and understand their branding strategy you can use this information - the things they do well and not so well - to create your own unique position. If you choose to target a different niche market from them they effectively cease to be a direct competitor; if you do target the same audience then your goal is to figure out what you offer that they don't - your point of difference. Strive to make your brand stand out so customers purchase from you instead of the opposition.
"A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person.
You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well" - Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon
Define your personality
Armed with the knowledge of who your ideal customers are you can start developing a business personality that will appeal to them. Much like the personality of a person, a brand's attributes include a name, a defining look or style, a voice in which it communicates, as well as core values and principles.
At the heart of building a brand your customers can trust is defining what your business is most passionate about, and the driving force for doing what it does.
Understanding your business's ethics and philosophies will then help guide and direct everything from your name, logo and tagline, to your voice, message, and marketing strategy.
For instance, if you value eco-friendliness then your product packaging should be recyclable. If you are passionate about nurturing close client relationships you might adopt personalisation, a conversational marketing voice, and engagement via social media.
Your brand's attributes should all reflect and support your philosophy in a clear and consistent way.
Speaking of consistency, be sure you are happy with your brand elements – logo design, colour palette, typography and font, photography and imagery styles, etc – because branding is founded on these being carried across all aspects of your business identity.
Your business cards, office signage, website design, marketing and advertising material, email signatures, product packaging, and so on - they should all mirror a unique and distinguishable style.
Even under the best circumstances it could take half a dozen impressions before something becomes recognisable to a person. If you keep changing your style this may either: take longer; not happen at all; or worse, you may be remembered negatively because you don't appear committed to your own branding.
"A brand is a promise. A good brand is a promise kept" - Muhtar Kent, chairman and former CEO of The Coca-Cola Company
Find your voice
Where does your niche audience hang out? How do they communicate? What are their interests? Answering these questions will help you determine which platforms to use to reach them, the brand voice to use when speaking to them (conversational, professional, friendly, technical, etc), and the best ways to connect with them. Use this information to construct a marketing strategy for communicating and engaging with your audience.
Earn brand equity
Brand equity is the loyalty value your business builds up over time by providing consistent, superior customer experiences.
Ultimately branding is something you achieve after the sale, not before. It can be likened to getting a sense of someone's personality only after you've interacted with them.
Once a customer has dealt with your business they can begin to develop a sense of trust and loyalty in your brand; earn enough brand equity and you will have customers crossing the road from the competitor to come to you!