The Ultimate Branding Checklist: How To Create Your Branding Strategy
Does your business have a unique branding strategy?
Or did someone just create a logo on Fivvr?
If you fail to develop your brand, your offering can become an undifferentiated commodity or be driven out of a specific market category if customers prefer and purchase other brands.
By creating shorthand messages about your business, your audience immediately recognizes and remembers it over time. So your brand cuts through message clutter because it provides a familiar hook.
Brands consist of:
- Intangible elements such as promises related to your organization’s specific personality, positioning and emotion.
- Tangible elements like identifiable symbols in text, visual and/or audio.
In a message-stuffed environment, your brand sets your business apart from the competition across the entire customer experience by providing customers with the following:
- Build trust based on consistent performance;
- Create emotional connections rather than rational ones; and
- Promise your customer that your products and services contain an implicit assurance of quality in every encounter.
As a critical and consistent element of your marketing mix, brands matter to:
- Your audience, who must be able to recognize your brand regardless of where, when and how it appears In today’s contextually relevant world.
- Your CFO and investors since they increase the value of your business over time by adding value to your Balance Sheet.
Since some organizations have more than one brand. If your business does, then look at each brand separately.
Use this Ultimate Branding Checklist to ensure that your brand stands out in the marketplace and contributes to your business value.
► Why Are Brands Important?
Strong branding shapes how your customer, employees, investors, the broader community and even your competitors think about your company.
To build a long-term brand that yields bottom line value takes time and investment.
Through consistent use, a high value brand provides:
- Increased sales or another similar goal.
- Enhanced value beyond a generic product or service. More importantly, brands contribute value to organizations that translate to higher stock values.
- A shorthand to represent customers’ emotional attachment to your offering.
- An attachment to a company or organization’s history and people.
- Hooks so your audience remembers your organization.
Since creating a brand can be done without a major advertising agency budget, I’m surprised at how many businesses neglect this key element of building their business.
Actionable Brand Marketing Tips
- Use this ultimate branding checklist to create your brand.
- Create a mood board to brainstorm and visualize your brand. Include images and other visual elements like color palettes, typography, and other brand-related elements that reflect your brand.
Where do you start to build your brand strategy?
Before you contact your advertising agency or branding firm, take a deep breath and answer each of the elements in this Ultimate Branding Checklist. Your brand consists of more than a sexy logo. It represents your brand’s history and personality.
Once you’ve gone through this work to create your brand, regardless of business size or age, you can work with an agency or do this work internally.
The key to branding success is to have a well defined brand and guidelines that are:
- Aligned with your organization’s core values:
- Used consistently across all materials and locations; and
- Given to every employee, agency and contractor and placed on your intranet so they’re findable.
► Ultimate Branding Checklist: How Do You Develop Your Brand Strategy?
Define Brand Values
Give your organization purpose and direction based on a set of shared values. Associated with your key goals, they extend beyond your business. Customers like brands whose values resonate with their own.
Your brand values consist of the core set of guiding principles that shape every aspect of your business. Always be clear about and stay true to your business’s values so your organization works together towards a shared vision. While guiding your business’s activity and decision making, they determine your brand’s identity, message and personality.
Share these beliefs across your organization so your employees know and agree with them since it will be reflected in their work. This helps to build employee morale according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer.
Actionable Branding Checklist Questions To Answer
- What is your company’s vision? Also define: What do you do; What do you stand for; Who are you as an organization; Why are you here, and What do you care about?”
- What are your core values and beliefs as a business? This is your organization’s “why”. Why do you do what you do? What kind of workplace and culture do you want to operate in?
- What does your brand and business stand for? Define what your brand does and doesn’t do.
- Do these values reflect what you want to represent to your customers? Do they show where you’re going in the next 5, 10, 30 years?
Determine Brand Proposition
Develop a clear brand proposition so your brand stands out in a crowded information environment. It influences where your brand fits in its category and how customers and competitors view your brand.
It helps to define your market niche and what your brand offers your buyers and other audience members. Go narrow so your business stands out. This gives your organization a clear focus on what you do and what you don’t do aligned with your brand.
In their 1981 marketing classic, Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind, Al Ries and Jack Trout stated:
“Positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is, you position (place) the product in the mind of the potential buyer”.
April Dunford, author of Obviously Awesome states:
“Positioning defines how your product is a leader at delivering something that a well-defined set of customers cares a lot about.”
Actionable Branding Positioning Questions To Answer
Based on Dunford’s 5 Key Branding Positioning Questions, answer:
- What would customers do if your solution didn’t exist? This is your competitive set.
- What do you offer that the alternatives do not? This allows you to create a list of differentiated features or key unique attributes for your business.
- What is the value those capabilities provide for our buyers? For each of the capabilities you identified, ask “So what does this mean for your customers?”
- Who are the customers that care a lot about your value? While a wide range of buyers may care about the value you provide, certain customers care a lot more than others. What are the characteristics of the customers that makes them care a lot about your differentiated value? These are your best-fit customers.
- What is your best market category based on the context in which you position your product so that your value is obvious to your target customers? This is called the market we intend to win.
- Also include higher level social goals to support your broader community. Edelman’s Trust Barometer shows that this is important to your audience.
Tell Your Brand Stories
Brand stories develop over time. In the process, they get intertwined with the public’s perception of your brand and business. They also add emotion to your brand.
These stories can be historically correct or be made up as part of your brand’s lore. You can even add stories to enhance your brand’s mascot or icon.
Why are these stories important to your brand?
Because, as the Heath brothers point out in their book, Made To Stick, people remember stories better than they remember facts.
Actionable Branding Story Questions To Answer
- Does your brand or business have stories related to its history or founding?
- Is there anything special about how your product was started?
- Do any leaders or employees have special stories to enhance your brand?
- Is there anything unusual about where your business is located or was started?
- Does your brand have any customers who did something special with your product? For example, IWC was used by pilots in early flights due to their accuracy and Jackie Kenedy wore Halston’s pillbox hat the day her husband was shot.
Define Your Brand’s Personality
When you give your brand a persona, identify your brand’s unique characteristics that stand out from other products in the market.Together, these different elements create your brand’s personality so that it feels bigger than the sum of the separate elements.
Actionable Brand Personality Questions
- What unique characteristics does your brand have? If you have problems with this question, try using other product types to help you to brainstorm. For example, is your brand like a Tesla or a Toyota? Or, is your brand like a pair of old jeans or a party dress?
- Do they have emotional value? If not, how can you modify them to make them inspire positive feelings in your audience?
- How can you use these attributes in your messaging to build relationships with your audience?
- Who will represent your brand? Will you create a character like Tony The Tiger? Will you use a member of your senior team? Will you have a paid brand ambassador or representative like Flo for Progressive Insurance? Or will you use a set of influencers? As a minimum, create a set of guidelines.
Select Brand Name
Pick your brand name with care since it is at the heart of your business and this is how people will refer to your products and services.
Sparktoro’s Rand Fishkin offer great advice regarding choosing a business or brand name. He looks for these factors when selecting a name:
- “Once heard, is remembered”;
- Doesn’t get confused with something or someone it’s not;
- Has high processing fluency (meaning it’s cognitively easy for people to think and talk about); and
- Won’t negatively impact potential reach or use.
Actionable Brand Name Questions
Fishkin outlines these 7 points to consider when selecting a brand name list:
- Is the name easy to spell, say, hear and remember? Consider how others will spell names that are missing letters or use a different letter with the same pronunciation.
- Does it have any existing associations that could confuse your audience? Take time to do your homework on this.
- Does the name avoid trademark infringement? You can check with a lawyer or the US Trademark Database. You want to steer clear of legal problems.
- Does the name suggest what the company does? Also consider if the name has any existing or problematic name or work overlaps? If possible, get help checking other major languages.
- Can you own the .com site and major social accounts? You don’t want to have problems or to pay to buy the URL.
- Are there potential problems with the name? Can you trademark the name or is it too generic? Check the potential search terms.
- Does the name have very few or no search results? Check Google and other search alternatives.
Understand Your Customers and Broader Community
Do you know who your prospects and customers are?
This isn’t a trick question:
Have you and/or others in your organization taken the time to talk to your prospects and customers to hear what they say about your products?
Otherwise, how can you position your brand to meet their needs and expectations? To serve them better, you must determine what their biggest needs are. Also you want to know which platforms and devices they use most to get information.. If your business is new, then do you have a prototype that you can use?
To find out more about your customers, talk to your employees. Include your sales team, the people in your retail locations, customer success or on-boarding employees, your customer service department and people who handle product returns. Where possible, use CRM systems to capture customer information.
To understand your audience including your prospects, their influencers, customers, employees, and your broader community DO NOT make assumptions about them.
The creator of well loved advertising icons like the Jolly Green Giant and Tony The Tiger, Leo Burnett, said the following about customers in general:
“Anyone who thinks that people can be fooled or pushed around has an inaccurate and pretty low estimate of people.”
This is particularly important if people working on your brand are also consumers of your products. Since their point of view is limited and overlooks what strangers who know less about your company think.
Answer Customer Branding Questions
- Who is your audience? How do they define themselves? Where do they live? What do they do? What are their hobbies? What forms of media and devices do they use?
- Why do they care about your business? Don’t take their answers alone. Also check review sites and social media to verify what they say.
- What emotional feelings does your audience have about your brand? Ask them, “How do our products make you feel?”
- What do your customers want or expect from your organization? List the benefits that customers derive from your company.
- What do your customers say sets your brand apart from other products? Ask them what they substitute for your products and services.
Know Your Product and Service Offering
List all of your brand’s products and services. Together, they’re known as your offering and they represent your business and your brand to your audience.
Divide your list of products and services by category. Do any of your products and services go together? For example, is there an additional service your business adds to increase the price?
Answer Offering Branding Checklist Questions
- What needs and problems does each product or service solve for your customer?
- How do you price your products and services?
- How do you provide or deliver your products or services? Is there something special, unusual or significant about the way you do business?
- What benefits do your products and services offer? Also, in what ways do you augment your products for your customers compared to your competitors?
- Provide more value than prospects and customers expect. Since customers may use a broad array of brands and trade up and trade down to meet their personal needs and budget constraints.
Analyze Your Brand’s Competitors and Close Substitutes.
Examine your brand’s competitors and close substitutes. I’ve worked with businesses that myopically defined their competitors but overlooked close substitutes their customers used.
Where possible, ask your prospects and customers who they view as your competitors and close substitutes. Have your sales and retail employees ask, “What other products are you considering purchasing?”
Examine the results of online search, platforms, shopping sites and customer review sites (including Amazon) when you look for your products using generic terms. Also, check if anyone advertises when you search for your branded products and business.
Then using this list, analyze how competitors present their products online. Include product descriptions, related products, pricing and other related content. Where they offer newsletters, sign up with a personal email address.
Check how competitors distribute their products and services at retail. This includes their stores and other broader distributors. Dress like a customer to check their locations. Where possible, buy their products to test them.
Since close substitutes include other new products and free or used options, check eBay and other secondary markets to see how your products and your competitors’ products are presented and perform in the used market.
Answer Competitive and Close Substitute Branding Checklist Questions
- How do your customers and employees talk about your competitors?
- What do your customers view as close substitutes?
- How do your competitors talk about their products and offerings? What keywords do they focus on? Do a number of competitors use the same insider language that differs from yours? If so, you may not be serving your widest potential audience.
- Do your competitors evoke an emotional response? Is it greater or less than your brand?
- How do competitors present their products, retail and online presentations? What type of visual elements do they use? What colors do they choose? Is there a visual opportunity for your brand to stand out?
- What can you tell about your competition from their online and physical locations? What are your organization’s internal strengths and weaknesses relative to your competitors? Is there a way for your brand to set itself apart?
- How do your products stand out from competitive offerings that serve the same customer needs? How can you enhance your products so customers consider more than price?
Choose Brand Color Palette
A set of brand colors evokes emotions. Since people decide how they feel about a brand in 90 seconds or less and 90% of their decision is based on color. (Source: 99 Designs)
While most established brands have an established set of colors, it’s useful to review how brand colors work. Also, these colors can inform other brand imagery.
Choose colors that express your brand and make it look unique. Use one, two or three colors. Select colors consistent with your brand values and personality. Also these colors should stand out from the colors used by your competitors. For example, Tiffany uses light blue and UPS uses brown.
Specific colors bring out different emotions. For example:
- Red stands for power, courage and excitement;
- Orange represents optimism, warmth and playfulness;
- Yellow stands for friendliness, happiness and energy;
- Green represents nature, freshness and peacefulness;
- Blue stands for trustworthiness, confidence and loyalty;
- White represents cleanliness, simplicity and clarity; and
- Black represents elegance, sophistication and prestige.
Brand color arrays have different names:
- Monochromatic colors consist of one color or shades of the same color;
- Analogous colors are 2 colors next to each other on the color wheel;
- Complementary colors are 2 colors across from each other on the color wheel; and
- Triadic colors consist of 3 colors the same distance from each other on the color wheel.
Select brand fonts
Fonts and typefaces represent your brand in text format. It helps to show your brand’s personality. They’re defined as:
- Typeface is the design of lettering. It includes point sizes, weights, line lengths, line-spacing (leading), and letter-spacing (tracking). Each typeface consists of a range of fonts that share an overall design. Typefaces are either sans-serif or serif.
- Font is a particular size, weight and style of a typeface and is a matched set of type, with the shape of a letter.
Ideally, use one Sans Serif and one Serif typeface. This way you can make different messages stand out for your audience.
Also, you can use an existing typeface or one tailored specifically for your brand. If you use a tailored typeface, what typeface appears on devices where it can’t be rendered? Is this typeface aligned with your brand? Can you reassign it to another existing typeface?
Answer Typeface Branding Checklist Questions
- What typeface does your brand use? How do the typefaces make your audience feel? Is this aligned with your brand personality?
- How does your brand name and tagline look with your typefaces?
- If your brand uses more than one typeface, how do they look when placed in one document? Do they work together to support your brand? If not, which one should be changed?
- Can people who have vision problems read your typeface? If not, can you provide an easier-to-read option?
Create brand’s logo
Your brand logo is a visual shorthand that represents your brand. Choose an easy-to-recognize image.
Your logo should use your brand colors and typeface to reinforce the image. Before you use your logo, check that it isn’t similar to another brand’s logo. This will cause legal and recognition problems.
Your logo goal is to use it consistently so your audience remembers it and its brand associations.
Place your logo wherever it’s relevant. This includes marketing collateral, content, social media, owned media (online and offline), retail locations and advertising.
For example, Harley-Davidson Motorcycles’s logo uses text and adds some visual shapes.
Define your brand voice
Your brand’s voice consists of how your brand’s personality translates into words. It’s how your brand expresses and articulates itself in your messaging. For example, is it formal or does it use jargon and slang?
- What is your brand tone? How does your message make your audience feel based on the words you choose to use? Beware that brand tone can vary based on the context in which your message is presented.
- What is your brand vocabulary? The words communicate your brand with your audience clearly and resonate with them. Create a list of words that you want associated with your brand to help make your messages more recognizable.
- What language/voice/audio are associated with your brand and/or organization? Does it sound like a real person? For example, Starbucks has created their own lingo around their coffee products
- Add your brand words to your SEO. Make a list of brand-related keywords to rank for in search. Also, include products and your locations.
Answer Brand Voice Question
- Create a tagline to encapsulate your brand. This is a set of words that people associate with your brand. This set of words gives your logo additional information and context. For example, Nike uses “Just do it.”
Decide How Employees Present Your Brand
Determine how your employees should present themselves when they represent your business.
- Define what type of clothes employees should wear as well as what is unacceptable. Include clothing and footwear. If uniforms are required, do you provide them or reimburse employees for them?
- Explain how employees should interact with people in-person at your locations as well as via video conferencing and phones.
- Define how employees should use social media when representing your firm. Also list any issues you have with personal social media use.
Choose locations in real life and online that reflect your brand.
As the saying goes, location, location, location. Where your business is located physically makes a statement about your brand and your business.
- Decorate retail and other locations so they’re consistent with your brand. At a minimum, make them welcoming to visitors and employees.
- Be contextually relevant to your target audience. Deliver the information your audience seeks. Physical location matters less when prospects can access your content and that of your competitors on their terms. So your brand is available when, where and how your audience wants to reach you in real life, online or on social media.
- Create consistent 360 brand experience across locations, content formats, platforms, devices and contexts. Provide the same experience where, when and how your audience chooses to interact with you.
► How Do Brands Create Value For Your Business?
By positioning your offering in your customer’s mind, your brand creates value for your organization’s bottom line known as brand equity. A brand does this by communicating the perceived quality customers get from the product or service relative to the competition
Often, brands are the biggest assets a business has and adds massive value to the Balance Sheet.
According to Investopedia:
“Brand equity refers to the value of a brand name. If customers are willing to pay more for a product from a particular company than for a generic product, that company has brand equity.”
How Do You Define Brand Equity?
Three factors define a brand’s equity:
- Ability to charge higher prices. Brands can charge more when customers feel its offering has a level of quality or prestige.
- Cause customers to buy more units. When customers believe in a brand, they buy more of its products.
- Retain existing customers. When a brand keeps its customers loyal, they increase profit lifetime value due to lower churn rates.Because the firm spends less on marketing to keep these customers buying the same sales volume.
Brand value can also be assessed as the amount you would need to spend in current dollars to design, execute, promote and amplify a new brand to match the value of your existing one.
Developed by marketing experts Keller and Lehman in 2003, the brand value chain model offers a holistic approach to brand value. There are 4 brand value chain stages. They consist of
- Marketing investment,
- Customer mindset,
- Market performance, and
- Shareholder value.
Over the past 15 years from 2007 to 2021, the value of the world’s top 100 brands in aggregate increased from $1.5 trillion to $4.1 trillion. (Source: BrandFinance)
Ranked by brand value, the specific Top 10 Brands have changed over the last 15 years while the combined value of the Top 10 Brands continues to increase.
Here’s how each of the Top 10 Most Valuable Brands in 2021 grew over the past 15 years.
Actionable Branding Tip
- Use your brand consistently to increase the value of your business.
► Ultimate Branding Checklist Conclusion
For your marketing and business to succeed, use this ultimate branding checklist to define your brand. Not only does your brand make your products and services recognizable, it adds value to make them stand out from your competitors and contributes to the value of your business.
Many businesses, especially new and smaller organizations, overlook the need for branding. They think that it’s something expensive that you can add later.In their rush to get that one Fortune 500 client, they overlook that building their brand helps them to stand out and look bigger than they actually are.
Instead complete this branding checklist. Then distribute it to all of your employees, agencies and freelance resources. Also, post it on your intranet and in your employee handbook. This will ensure your brand is used consistently across your organization, content, promotions, locations and advertising.
To build brand equity:
Use your brand consistently over time across every piece of content, promotion and location.
Over time ensure your brand remains unique and stands out from your competition by regularly going through this branding checklist.
Everything you need to know to manage your digital brand identity.
Good branding is critical for standing out in today’s competitive business landscape. You can invest lots of time, energy, and money into creating content, but in order to communicate and build your brand effectively, you’ll need to have a brand management strategy in place.
This eBook, Offered Free by Canto, outlines everything you need to know to manage your digital brand identity – with tips to create a consistent brand experience across every touchpoint.