When you are running, marketing and promoting a business, many of the decisions you make feel unrelated to each other. After all, training employees, posting on social media, and packing up orders for shipment don't seem to have much in common.
Each of these decisions, however, are key parts of your brand identity.
What exactly is a brand "identity" and why does it matter to your business? Business News Daily talked to Liz Dennery Sanders, the author of "Style & Substance: How to Create a Compelling Brand," (SheBrand, Inc., 2018) about the value of brand identity and how every business can create one that their customers love.
Brand identity vs. branding
Brand identity is often confused with the "branding" choices that make up your visual marketing. But it encompasses much more than that.
"Brand identity is what a brand stands for and how it is perceived in the world," said Dennery Sanders. "It's the words, thoughts and images that come to mind when the consumer engages with the brand in some way – and how it makes the consumer feel."
This includes and is influenced by visual branding choices like website design and color choice. But it also includes elements like your social values, marketing, press coverage, partnerships and customer interactions.
"Your brand identity isn't just your logo or color palette, it's everything you say and do, too," Dennery Sanders said. "It's how you shake a client's hand, it's the content you post on your blog and on your social media profiles."
Anything that affects how the public thinks and feels about your company works to create your brand identity.
Brand awareness and customer-based brand equity
Why does this matter? Brand identity impacts two key factors for your business' growth: brand awareness and customer-based brand equity.
"Your brand identity is how your customers perceive you, and ultimately, how they feel about you, so it's incredibly important for both brand awareness and growth," said Dennery Sanders.
Together, the elements of your brand identity should create a coherent picture of your mission and values, reflect the best of your business and leave customers with a positive impression of your company. This generates awareness of your brand among your target market. Without brand awareness, you cannot expand your market, generate new revenue or create opportunities for growth.
When both brand identity and brand awareness are at high levels, you build customer-based brand equity. Customer-based brand equity, which was first conceptualized by Kevin Lane Keller in the 1990s, is the value of your brand through the eyes of your customers. If you have high customer-based brand equity, consumers are more likely to trust and recommend your company.
A high level of customer-based brand equity creates a loyal customer base. This directly leads to growth opportunities for your company, increasing your exposure and profitability.
How to build your brand identity
Knowing the value of a strong brand identity is the first step in creating customer-based brand equity. The second step is identifying the ways that you can build that identity.
Dennery Sanders recommended that brands regularly assess their "touchpoints," or places where consumers come in contact with their brand.
"There are many, many ways in which you come in contact with your customers," she said. "Think about ways you can infuse all of these brand touchpoints with the ethos and meaning of your brand."
These touchpoints, which define your brand identity and create brand awareness, include:
- Social marketing
- Media coverage
- Promotional partnerships
- Visual branding
- Email marketing
- Website design and content
- Retail or office locations
- Customer service interactions
- Purchases and packing materials
- Industry events
Consider how you want customers to feel after every interaction they have with your business. "Ask … how can I make this feel more on-brand for my customer?" Dennery Sanders said. "How can I make this the best possible experience for my customer?"
Dennery Sanders also reminds businesses that employees are an integral part of brand identity.
"[Employees] need to be given the tools to understand and communicate the brand messaging so that they become effective ambassadors," she said. "When employees ... are given room to actively participate and contribute, the internal culture thrives and positive external engagement increases."
Dennery Sanders pointed to hairstyling company Drybar as an example of a business with a strong, successful brand identity.
"Drybar is all about making the world a happier place, one blowout at a time," she explained. "They have chosen a "happy" color – yellow – and use it everywhere. They fill their social feed with bright, happy images of satisfied customers, as well as puppies in shower caps and dogs getting blowouts, too."
Dennery Sanders added that Drybar is known for excellent customer service and smiling employees as well. All these touchpoints have built a public perception of Drybar as a happy, cheerful and people-centric business. This brand identity contributes to positive publicity, which in turn builds loyalty and equity among the company's customers.
Brand management in response to customer perception
Brand identity isn't static. Customer perception of your brand can change quickly in response to press coverage, a new product launch or an incident on social media. Businesses need to engage in active brand management and work to control the way their brand is perceived by customers.
A high self-monitoring brand will engage quickly with customer perceptions, working to change the way their brand is presented and perceived when customers aren't responding to their current brand identity. A low self-monitoring business, by contrast, won't engage in active brand management.
Responding to your customers' perception of your brand is vital, said Dennery Sanders: "To create a truly compelling brand identity, it's imperative to delight your customer base." This may mean adjusting your marketing or sales choices if customers aren't responding positively.
However, you don't want to abandon any of your core principles in response to a negative reaction. When it comes to the communities you want to serve, the ethical standards you set or the message you stand behind, low self-monitoring can allow your business to maintain its integrity in the face of changing public opinion.
In the long run, finding a balance between low and high self-monitoring is key.
"The more you focus on being clear about who you are and what you stand for, and connecting to your audience in an authentic, meaningful way, the more your brand awareness will grow," Dennery Sanders advised.