What does a “winning” brand mean?
To you (a business owner), a winning brand means you’ve created a brand that is profitable.
To me (a designer/builder of brands), a winning brand is a brand that is successful at creating a delightful, consistent experience for its customers.
And those two answers can - and do - co-exist. When you create an experience for your customers - from the time they first meet you (that can be online, in a your shop, or even through word of mouth) to the time they complete their purchase and beyond, that is when you have created a winning brand.
Alright. We get it. Create an experience. But HOW?
1. Define your customer. Then research them.
Especially starting out, you won’t appeal to everyone. Define the customer that will most likely use your brand and then market to them. Build your brand around those people’s lifestyle, interests, and aspirational goals.
Are you a company building custom mountain bikes? Go to other bike shops. Hang out on trails. Figure out who the main market is and tailor your experience to them.
2. Design a brand style guide
Although not the only part of a brand, the visual elements that make up your brand will shape how your customers perceive your brand. And perception is everything. I am talking logo, typography, colors, textures, photos, overall aesthetic.
The logo is the visual element that will serve as a representation of your brand. It is only one part of the brand, but it is very important. Why? The logo is the cue that people will use to immediately recognize (and often judge) your brand without much cognitive effort. Therefore, your logo needs to be strong, represent the most important elements of your brand, and be easily recognized. I could write a book on this one, but one piece of advice: your logo should communicate on more than just the surface level. Successful logos typically have multiple meanings. Invest in a good logo design.
Correct usage of fonts can not only create a “feeling” for your brand, but it has also been shown that fonts can determine the trust level established with customers. Do a little research on fonts before you settle on one. Determine whether you’re a sans-serif or serif type of brand and then make sure your fonts are legible. Quick tip: in general, try and stay away from scripted fonts…they can be hard to read and are difficult to use in a professional manner.
Look through and download lots of great fonts here: https://www.google.com/fonts
Although you may not realize it, you have a specific “voice” you use when you talk to your customers. It may be witty (Menguin) it may be bold (Apple) or it may be professional (Goldman Sachs). Your brand voice should be considered in every piece of communication you make: social media posts, emails, website copy, everything. Determine what voice you want to use and write down a list of the words that should be used in this voice. Write down a paragraph in your brand voice for reference.
Here’s a good article on how to build a brand voice:
Colors are another vital factor when branding your business. As visual creatures, humans tie colors to certain thoughts and emotions. Colors have been studied by psychologists and scientists as to their cognitive associations. Blue tends to evoke trust, purple: luxury, white: cleanliness. Just keep this in mind when choosing colors, and ask people in your key demographic how they feel about your color combinations before you settle on one.
Where do you get started on all this design stuff? Make a Pinterest board. Or a literal cork board and start pinning photos, color, logos, other brands that you like. Just be sure to stick with visual elements that make sense for your company.
3. Build an online destination for customers.
Your website may be your only or a secondary storefront - treat it as such. Invest time and money into it. And make sure your brand style guide is followed.
Make it simple, easy to use, and aesthetically pleasing. (Follow your style guides you established above!)
“First impressions are 94% design related and judgments on web site credibility are 75% based on a website’s overall aesthetics, so if your site isn’t visually pleasing for your users, they’re gonna be put off.”
4. Consider your off-line experience.
All online? Your packaging is as much a part of your brand as the product page on your site. How will a customer receive a your product? Are you putting effort into that? Or is it just a box?
Have a shop? Think about how you make a customer feel when he/she walks in. What does it look like? Overwhelming? How does it smell? What about lighting?
One of my favorite brand experiences is Onyx Coffee shop in Fayetteville, AR. The walls are made up of different types of layered wood. It (obviously) smells like coffee. The counter is lined with vintage looking tiles and the mood is set with dim Edison lights. I am a millennial willing to spend $6 on a latte because 1. The coffee is amazing, but also 2. Because I feel good when I am in there. I feel young, cool and like a designer.
5. Ask for open and honest feedback. Make changes.
Have some friends or better yet, have some random people you hardly know go through your brand experience - from intro to post-purchase - and have them give you feedback after they are finished. Here are some great follow-up questions to ask (and consider getting a neutral third party to ask these questions so you can get honest answers):
Give me three words that come to mind when you think of my brand.
Do these align with the values you want to get across with your experience? Are these words positive for your key customers?
If you could change one thing about my (website, shop, etc.) what would it be?
If you get a consistent answer here, you should probably change it
How did my brand make you feel?
Is the answer you are getting here aligning with your vision?
Would you use my company again? Why or why not? (Be honest)
This you may still get dishonest answers to as people try and be nice, but some people will be straight with you. Some people may say no just because it’s not exciting enough of an experience and they prefer their current option.
6. Execute consistently.
The most important part of establishing your brand is executing it consistently. You can build out the most perfect logo, choose the best colors and establish an intriguing brand voice. But if you don’t execute your brand consistently to create a dependable experience - then the trust you are trying to establish will be lost.
The best way to do this is to make a brand guide. Make a document where you keep all the colors, logos, brand voice examples, etc. That way you can reference this guide any time you are creating something new for your company.
Here’s the brand guide I created for Menguin: http://static1.squarespace.com/static/56673bc2d8af10709f73f972/t/5715863b3c44d80f42129f0d/1461028436302/Menguin-Brand-Bible-Digital.pdf
1. Write down your brand promise. What makes you different from everyone else?
Ex: Walmart: “Save money. Live better. Nike: “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”
2. Write down 3 attributes/values of your brand.
Ex: Jeep = american, rugged, adventure. Apple = innovative, clean, simple
Now that you have these written down, they should be the jumping off point for your brand journey. Make sure you keep this promise and values in mind as you make any brand decision.