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Grow Your Business Sales & Marketing

The Making of a Brand: A Guide to Defining and Building a Powerful Brand

The Making of a Brand: A Guide to Defining and Building a Powerful Brand
Credit: igor.stevanovic/Shutterstock

Every day, brands fight for share in the marketplace, the attention of their prospects, and sales. The market is saturated with so many businesses that sell the same exact products or same types of products as their competitors – and only the strongest survive and thrive.

Among the strongest are the brands that just "get it." They know who they are, who their prospects are, and how to reach their prospects in a way that speaks to them and encourages loyalty.

But they don't stop there. Powerful brands always grow. They understand that to stay ahead, they must evolve as technology changes along with the way consumers think and buy. As Richelieu Dennis, CEO and executive chairman of Sundial Brands, said "Making an impact isn't just how – but also why – we do business."

So what does it take to build a powerful brand? In his book "Building Better Brands: A Comprehensive Guide to Brand Strategy and Identity Development," (HOW Books, 2013) Scott Lerman identified the following practices and characteristics of successful brands: discovery, character, arena, positioning, experience and identity. Based on Lerman's guide, here's what it takes to start building a strong, resonant brand.

The discovery phase of building a brand can also be referred to as the initial research phase. Research what your audience sees when they learn about your brand, consider your brand, and choose your brand. If you are creating a new business, consider your competitors' perspectives. Bury yourself in what your competitors have done for better or for worse in the past. Lerman suggests accomplishing two goals at this phase:

  1. Mine the data to understand what it reveals.
  2. See the research and its conclusions through the eyes of the organization as a whole.

A brand's "character" defines the main impression and nuanced characteristics of your brand. Think of it as your brand's personality: Without character, brands are stale.

Look at your brand as if it were a person. How would you describe yourself or your best friend? Which adjectives do you use to describe your character? In addition, consider how your customers describe your brand's character.

Lerman advises narrowing down a brand character's traits to three traits "that together capture the evolving nature of the organization." It's advised that new businesses use future traits. Examples of character words include: dependable, integrity, reliable and honest.

The arena "is a statement of where the brand chooses to compete." It's the place in which you'll lay out your competitors in a category. For some brands, such as SOUND Sparkling Tea, arena may overlap with multiple categories (in this case, tea and sparking beverages), but not completely align with either. 

The company's co-founder Tommy Kelly explains the brand's arena as "unsweetened sparkling beverages." Kelly also notes, in determining their arena, they wanted to ensure they used adjectives that were specific enough to speak to the brand's key points of differentiation while attracting a wide set of consumers.

"Your arena should be one easy to understand category or market that you want people to associate with your brand," said Kelly. "Using it helps to direct marketing efforts in building out your brand platform, but also helpful in setting bands to operate within as your brand grows."

When evaluating your arena, Kelly advised looking at what you think the brand will look like three to five years down the road – not just what it is today. 

"Your arena should be broad enough to grow into but descriptive enough that it speaks to specifics of the brand," he added. "For example, if you're a sneaker company today with plans to launch athletic wear, your arena should be more in the direction of 'performance apparel' rather than 'clothing.'" 

Look at how outsiders perceive your brand. If it's not the best light, move on to Brand Watch's advice: define the sort of company you aspire to be and give marketing a consistent voice through a brand positioning statement. Here are a few examples:

  • Apple: reliable computer and tech products, trendy.
  • Home Depot: big store, home products.
  • Disneyland: the happiest place on earth.

Experience refers to what your brand promises to deliver, and how customers experience the brand. The experience should be true to the brand, working hand in hand with brand positioning. Lerman advises considering what happens over a period of time: what the short, medium and long-term impression created by the organization is. Brands need to maintain a "powerful and coherent voice," Lerman writes. Test a brand experience model and re-adjust it as needed.

Color, sound, font, tagline – these are all areas that make up a brand's identity. Company names are at the forefront of brand identity and logos are their shining stars. In the fourth edition of her book, "Designing Brand Identity" (John Wiley and Sons, 2012), Alina Wheeler notes that the best brand identities "embody and advance the company's brand by supporting desired perceptions."

"Identity expresses itself in every touchpoint of the brand and becomes intrinsic to a company's culture — a constant symbol of its core value and its heritage," she writes.

Spencer Chambers, owner of The Chambers Organization in Newport Beach, California, sums up these lessons with his best advice for building a brand: staying true to your unique brand identity.

"I would always cast a vision of what my brand is, what it does, what the message is, and who the brand is for," Chambers said. "If you always ask those questions first, then you will know how to make sure those questions are answered and intertwined into the DNA. Once you grow large enough, the brand will start to tell you itself what it means if you will listen."

Marisa Sanfilippo

Marisa Sanfilippo is an award-winning marketing professional who has more than six years experience developing and executing marketing campaigns for small and medium sized businesses with a focus on digital marketing. After graduating Stockton University with a B.A. in Communications and minor in writing, Marisa worked as a freelance journalist for numerous publications, ultimately earning a position as an e-marketing specialist for a credit union. While in that position, she earned HubSpot's Inbound Marketing Certification and helped build the organization’s digital marketing strategy from the ground up. Her efforts helped lead the credit union to success on and offline including: a 200%+ organic increase in Facebook followers, a sales generating blog, and much more. Later on, she worked on a social media campaign that gained recognition by The Huffington Post.