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It happens all the time. Maybe you’ve done it, too.
You know you need to “brand” your business, so you hire a designer to create some logo options for you. You then show them around and ask for everyone’s opinion. Maybe you even post the options on social media for people to vote on.
Starting with the logo is the biggest mistake you can make.
A brand is not a logo.
A brand is how others collectively perceive you/your business. When you build a brand you are influencing perception. While a company may own and “create” a brand, the brand actually lives out in the world, in the mind of your customers. You use your many touch-points and interactions with customers to influence minds, behaviors and perceptions.
DEVELOPING A VISUAL IDENTITY
Visual identity (of which a logo is one small part) bridges the world between your strategy and all of your executional elements. Visual identity includes logos, typography (fonts), colors, elements, general aesthetic, and photo/illustration examples—all the things you need to define your look and create consistency in execution.
But not just any visual identity will do. Your visual identity should communicate and influence customer perception in a very intentional way. It should be more than just a logo and it must be based on your brand positioning strategy.
SO, WHERE SHOULD YOU START?
I recommend taking two important steps:
- Start with strategy. Specifically, start with a clear targeting strategy and brand positioning strategy. This becomes the creative brief for branding.
- Instead of just a logo, develop a complete visual identity—a system of elements that create a consistent look in all your materials.
If you get the above two steps right, you won’t just have a logo. You’ll have a defined visual system that influences your customers in a specific way and gives you a competitive advantage.
In order to get your strategy right, there are a few critical questions to answer. The following are the five most important. Once you answer them, you are ready to hire a designer and give them direction for visual identity development.
1) WHOM DO YOU SERVE?
All great marketing starts with this question. Your target audience should guide everything you do. If you are targeting Baby Boomer foodies looking to explore foreign cuisine, your communications and visual identity will sound and look much different than if your target audience is rebellious teenagers.
Here’s a breakdown of how to define your marketing target audience.
2) WHAT PROBLEM DO YOU SOLVE?
Once you understand whom you serve, you need to specifically define the problem you solve for them. What challenges and tensions do they face? What stands in the way of their goals? What is the dragon that you slay for them?
3) WHAT’S THE BENEFIT YOU PROVIDE?
This should answer the problem you identified in the previous question. It can be functional or emotional. What does the customer get as a result? What do you do for them? How does it make the customer feel? What’s that one big thing?
4) WHAT MAKES YOU DIFFERENT FROM OTHER OPTIONS?
Offering a relevant benefit to your customers is not enough. If you are not different from their alternatives, you will likely lose in the market place. When customers perceive their options to be similar, they typically go with the least expensive option. This is not good, as the point of building a brand is to command a premium in the marketplace. So, how are you better than the competition?
5) WHAT INSPIRATIONAL VALUES DO YOU STAND FOR?
This last question might sound a bit more obscure, but it helps set up your designer for success. That’s because your brand values inspire different creative avenues. For example, Nike’s values of victory and empowerment will look and feel a lot different than Southwest Airlines’ values of love and fun.
What values would your brand go to war and fight for? Can you name three?
The answers to the above five questions may not always be obvious or easy, but they are extremely important to answer first. Then and only then should you create an entire visual identity that communicates your positioning in meaning and spirit.
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Kevin Namaky is CEO at the Gurulocity Brand Management Institute, a marketing education company that trains and consults for notable brand teams including Kimberly-Clark, Scotts Miracle-Gro, Bolthouse Farms and Gorilla Brands. Kevin is a featured instructor for the American Marketing Association, lectures at the IU Kelley School of business, and has been featured in Ad Age, Forbes, Fast Company and the CMO Council. Previously Kevin worked for 20 years in the corporate and agency world growing notable brands. Follow/connect with Kevin on LinkedIn, TikTok and Twitter.