6 Steps to Build Your Brand

picture-6 I was just mentioning to my life coach that Debbie Travis is one of my business idols. So I am giddy as a school girl to have my article “6 Steps to Build Your Brand” on the latest Mompreneur cover she graces. Brace yourself, it’s a long one so you may want to pick up the magazine at your local Chapters/Indigo and curl up with a nice hot drink. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. Who said good branding is easy?

Want your company to stand out? Get branded!

The Nike swoosh, McDonald’s golden arches and Apple Inc’s apple with a missing bite. These are some of the world’s most recognizable logos, playing a vital part in each company’s brand. But, a logo isn’t a brand in itself – a brand is a company’s full identity that needs to be established well before creating a logo so that both are meaningful to customers.


A brand is complex, comprised of images, ideas and information that give a company personality and establishes trust with customers. Brands include descriptive words and symbols such as the company name, logo, tagline, and design. The purpose is to create brand recognition where customers come to have company associations and expectations through first-hand experience, advertising, website design and media exposure.

Strong brands like Coca Cola may be used indefinitely, but if a brand no longer provides an appropriate representation of a company, can be unintentionally dated, or looks like it’s been copied from Clip Art, it’s time to for a change.

Step One: Brand Definition

Defining a brand means considering a company’s desired image, personality and benefits to customers, a process that takes time and should be written down.

Achieving the right image is one of the first considerations for a company – will customers respond to modern or traditional? Edgy or conservative? A business consulting service will have a better chance of winning customer trust if it has a professional, rather than fun, image.

Attributing personality characteristics to a company is also part of defining the brand. Is a company sophisticated or down-to-earth? Vivacious or subdued? A company should aim to have at least 10 personality traits associated with it.

The benefits a company provides are part of the brand as well. Words that describe these features will help customers zero in on why they should be a patron of that business.  Some of these words may be fast, responsive, accurate, friendly, organic, convenient, and so on.

Step Two: Visualization

Visualization is perhaps the most fun of the steps in developing a brand and will help provide direction to the designer when the other branding steps are complete. A “mood board” is a visual reflection of what a company wants their brand to feel like. Developed on a computer or a simple cork board, mood boards contain images found in magazines or websites that symbolize a desired tone and emotion. Collecting logo samples and different font styles also contribute to the branding mood board. Retail companies will want to include images of their ideal store interior. When this step is complete, writing down the reasons the images were chosen will also contribute to a designer’s creative brief.

Step Three: Competitive Positioning

A company has competitive positioning when customers know what the company is about. Taglines help achieve this. Famous taglines include Nike’s “Just do it”, American Express’ “Don’t leave home without it”, GE’s “We bring good things to life”, and Disneyland’s “The happiest place on earth”.

When a company has completed the previous branding steps, looking at the competitions’ logos, taglines and other branding tools can help determine how the competition are positioning themselves. Are they claiming to have the best selection, the lowest price, or the best quality? What are their color schemes and other identifying features? Analyzing these aspects allows a company to see where the competitive gaps are and fill them in to win customers, but positioning needs to be wisely chosen: unless a company is identical to Wal-Mart in a given industry, being positioned as offering the lowest prices is risky – doing so may not always be possible.

Step Four: The Unique Selling Proposition

In addition to a distinctive look and feel, successful branding requires a company to stand out in its products or services. A company needs an “elevator pitch” that serves as their unique selling proposition. Essentially, the elevator pitch sets a company apart from the competition and helps customers identify with what a company offers. A company will need to determine their selling points which may be having better or more unusual products than the competition, giving part of their profit to charity, and so on.

Step Five: Brand Essence

The brand essence is the ultimate benefit that a company offers to their customers and also plays a big role in developing a company’s tagline. A fill-in-the-blanks exercise can help distill brand essence, as seen in the following example of an organic gourmet baby food company with their specific information in italics:

My customers buy our organic baby food because they want natural and pure food for their babies without all the work.

As a result of buying natural and pure food for their babies without all the work they feel proud because they are being good moms.

There may be more than one emotional benefit that a company offers, so some time will need to be spent completing the exercise. A company struggling with this exercise can revisit this step after getting customer feedback.

Step Six: Customer and Staff Feedback

Getting customer and staff feedback on a company’s brand can be done through the branding process or as a final step. At the front end of the process, these two groups can fill out a short survey to suggest branding ideas. Questions may be straightforward, such as “what benefit do you get from buying our company’s product or service? “, or questions may be light-hearted, such as “if you were to describe this company as a celebrity, who would it be and why?” Response rates can be increased if a prize is offered for completing the survey.

For branding that is already underway, customers and staff can provide feedback on mood boards, logos and website design to let a company know if they’re on the right track or need to go back to the drawing board. Customers will sometimes point out major strengths that a company hadn’t realized, while staff help ensure that a company’s culture is reflected in their brand and involves them in supporting the brand.


Once the six steps of brand development are complete, a company can finally proceed with creating a logo, which is usually the first thing a company wants to do when branding itself!

Find the right designer

The “right” logo designer is a qualified professional that has previous logo experience and a style that compliments the company’s new brand. Effective logos can be difficult to create and not every designer does it well. Selecting a designer based on personal connections may not get a company what they need and is not a good reason for selecting a designer. For a company on a tight budget, there are many talented freelancers and students that may be able to meet design expectations.

A company will need to provide their designer with a creative brief that encompasses the information from the brand development steps in order to have an effective logo. A logo created only in black can help a company focus on the design and not get distracted by color selection. Once a couple of logo options are being considered, color can be added. A company’s logo colors should be different from the competition, be appropriate for the brand, and have at least a few years of longevity – ultra trendy colors don’t have staying power no matter how “in” they are.

Consider various applications

Selecting a logo that will reproduce well on different applications is important. A company’s logo can be on billboards to golf balls, so it needs to be simple and legible. A logo with too much detail works well in a glossy magazine but may not translate well on a website or uniform, much less be recognizable on a pen. A company should include the logo’s expected applications in its creative brief – a vertical, horizontal, or stacked version of the logo may be required.

Be a brand warrior

Once a logo is selected, a company can move forward with other brand elements, such as deciding on the font that all company materials will use. A consistent “feel” of materials can be achieved through detailing brand identity in a graphic standards manual. In addition to logo and font standards, the manual can include tagline treatment (is the tagline italicized, all in lower case, in quotations, etc.),  brand colors (print and digital), images (black and white or color photos,  select illustrations), website address (including “www” or using upper or lower case letters) and rules in using a trademark symbol or disclaimer. It’s also wise to have templates for letterhead, faxes, email signatures, website pages, e-blasts, point-of-sale materials, and so on, that keeps materials consistent to ensure brand integrity.

Consistency is the heart of a brand warrior – an individual that every company who has a brand they care about needs. A brand warrior makes sure that brand standards are always followed because the more consistent a brand is applied, the faster it will be established in the hearts and minds of customers. The mark of a brand warrior is seen in company advertisements and materials that are instantly recognizable, even without looking at the logo. All it takes is some forward thinking, hard work, and discipline.