Last week I met a designer whose services include brand development.  He’s very creative and has produced some striking logos and corporate identities.  But my understanding of brand development is entirely different from his.  Branding goes a lot deeper than a logo and a catchy strapline.

So how do you begin to build a brand?

  1. Define it

What does your brand stand for?  People become loyal to brands because they know what to expect from them and they know from experience that they’ll get it.  

Start with a clearly articulated vision – what do you aspire to become or achieve?  Consider the impact you want your business to have on your customers, your employees or the wider community.  Perhaps you dream about being the biggest or the best, about changing the world or helping individuals.  Your vision statement can be short and to the point, or a longer explanation of your aspirations, but what it must do is provide inspiration and direction for your future. 

Once you’ve agreed your vision, consider your values.  I have found in my career that, without defined brand values, companies fall into a way of doing things that eventually becomes the default approach.  For an established business, a useful exercise is to ask your employees and your customers to describe your business or its approach in three words.  You may be pleased with the answers – or not – but this will give you an insight into the current perception of your brand, internally and externally.  Then you can decide to build on it or work on changing it.

The important thing to remember when setting your brand values is that they must be authentic. Choose values that reflect your company philosophy, support your vision and fit your business’ personality.  Otherwise they will be impossible to live up to.

Combining the vision and values will give you your brand proposition.

Then you can look at commissioning a lovely logo with a meaningful strapline to help you communicate your brand.  The strapline is useful to remind customers and employees of your proposition.  I think it can be dropped when it is no longer needed.  Eventually, of course, your logo could be so well recognised that you can use it on its own. Think Nike or MacDonalds. 

 2. Live it

You can have the best brand proposition in the world but if you don’t live up to the promises it makes, you’ve had it.  Make sure everyone in your business understands what your brand stands for. More importantly, make sure they know what that means for them.  I think it’s a great idea to set out clearly what your vision and values look like in terms of behaviour.  Then your people know what is expected of them and how they can deliver it.   

Talk about the brand values at every opportunity, showing how they work in practice and reward those who demonstrate them.  Act as a role model and make sure your high performers do too.  There’s nothing so damaging to a values-based culture than allowing the high-fliers to get away with bad behaviour.  Include them in your appraisals, discuss them at team meetings, make a screen saver of them – whatever it takes to make the values part of the fabric of your business.  Everything you do and say to your employees should reflect your values.

Use your marketing to reinforce your values to your customers.  They should be implicit in every communication channel, whether it’s your advertising, direct mail or social media.  Then their experience of your brand will be consistent.

3. Become known for it

This step is the easiest because it happens as a by-product of doing the first two.  If your customers, suppliers, employees and communities always experience the same standard of behaviour, hear the same messages, see the same values in every interaction with your company, then your brand reputation will grow.  Loyalty comes from knowing what to expect and getting it every time.  And loyal customers turn into ambassadors for your brand. Which makes it all worthwhile!