AudienceBloom

Every Resource You Need to Build a Kick-Ass Brand Online

At the center of every successful business is a kick-ass brand, and these days, the best way to build a brand is through online resources; entrepreneurs have access to more tools, more people, and more options to connect with audiences than ever before, and the ones who take advantage of this access stand to benefit the most.

Branding is the concept of constructing an identity for a business. This identity serves not only to summarize and display the inherent qualities of a company (oftentimes extending beyond basic descriptors into the realm of what are akin to personality traits), but to increase recognition, familiarity, and appreciation in your customer base.

But building a brand isn’t as simple as picking out a logo and a catchy name; instead, you’ll need to extensively research your audience, your competition, and modern branding standards to create the best identity possible for your business.

This can be intimidating, especially to an entrepreneur who’s never done it before. But if you know where to look, you can find the search tools, connective resources, and platforms necessary to help you conceptualize, execute, and support a brand in the long-term. I’ve written this guide as a way to help entrepreneurs find and utilize those resources.

Whether you’re branding a startup for the first time, or you’re trying to reimagine your current brand through a rebranding campaign, this guide is intended to help you better understand your goals and gain access to the tools you need to succeed.

Table of Contents

+ The Basics of Branding
+ Research and Planning
+ Assets, Platforms, Tools, and Assistance
+ Ongoing Support
+ Parting Thoughts

The Basics of Branding

First, I want to explain some of the basics of branding. You’re already familiar with the concept, but if you’re going to be effective in building and nurturing your brand, you need to know your motivations for doing so in the first place and the general best practices that will help you succeed.

Why Branding Is Important

Why is it that branding is so important in the first place? After all, if a company does a good job and sells a good product at a reasonable price, especially if it’s better than the competition, that business should become naturally successful. Yet we know from various case studies that the power of a brand can overrule otherwise objectively superior consumer choices. So why is this the case?

(Image Source: United Gift Inc)

General Principles

As you’ll see, there are many variables and dimensions to consider in your brand development, and to an extent, the possibilities are limitless; this is your company’s identity, and you can make it whatever you want. However, there are a handful of general principles and best practices you’ll want to follow.

(Image Source: Huffington Post)

There are a number of areas where your brand is going to manifest.

Names and Taglines

First, you need a name for your company. This should represent what you do and who you are in one simple word or phrase. If you go too blunt with this, you run the risk of being unmemorable (with the exception of being starkly ironic, such as with Ron Swanson’s Very Good Building and Development Company).

A modern trend is to come up with new, made-up words, or combinations of words and syllables that don’t ordinarily go together; this accomplishes the subtlety angle, giving users a suggestion of what the company is about, but also ensures that the name will remain unique. Your name should also indicate something about your personality; for example, the name “Google” has a bumbling playfulness about it.

You’ll also want to consider coming up with a tagline, though this isn’t strictly necessary. A tagline is especially helpful if you’ve made up a word to describe your business, giving users a glimpse at what you actually do. For example, today, Uber is an immediately recognizable brand, but in its first few years of development, the name “Uber” wasn’t associated with driving services.

Uber made up for this with a concise, descriptive tagline: “everyone’s private driver” which has since evolved to “get there.” Put some thought into your tagline and use it to best represent your brand in the smallest possible space.

Mission and Vision

Your values as a company are going to be important not only to your customers, but to your employees as well. While you might have a list of formalized core values and a general concept for what you want to accomplish and how, the best modes to use in clarifying and promoting your values are your mission and vision statements.

While similar and often mistakenly interchanged with each other, your mission and vision statements are actually unique constructs. There are actually a few differentiators here, but the main one is their relation to time; a mission statement is about a reason for a company’s existence, while a vision statement is a prediction or projection of where the company will be in the coming years.

For example, a mission statement might be something like, “Our business exists to help more busy adults find health meals while on the go,” while a vision statement might be, “In 5 years, we hope to improve the diets and lives of more than one million adult U.S. citizens, with plans to expand internationally.” Mission and vision statements don’t get as much attention as things like logo design and tagline writing, but they’re just as important because they provide a framework for who your company is at its core.

Logos and Coloration

When most people think about branding, logos are the first thing that come to mind, and it’s no mystery why. A logo is the most minimalistic representation of a company you can have; most major company logos are recognizable even when reduced to a tiny thumbnail, and many can be easily drawn or sketched from memory due to their basic shapes.

Yet all of them are recognizable, unique, and convey a message about what the company does to someone who is unfamiliar with it. That’s a tall order to accomplish even if you’re a professional logo designer.

There are a few ways to go about designing a logo. For example, you might think up a symbol that best represents what your company does, choose a kind of mascot, illustrate your services in some abstract way, or just use your company name at the center of it. There’s no right or wrong way to go about the process, but at a glance, your logo should illustrate something unique about your company, and still stand out as memorable and recognizable.

By extension, you’ll also want to consider the colors that will be associated with your brand. These are heavily influenced by industry factors; some industries use certain colors more predominantly than others, and you might suggest the wrong idea if you use colors that are traditionally associated with something else.

Voice and Personality

Logos and colors get lots of attention in branding, but it’s just as important to consider the brand voice and personality you want to display. The reason for this lopsided emphasis is a matter of tangibility and definition; it’s easy to define a company color, then pick that exact color out when designing something new. It’s easy to replicate a symbol because you can copy and paste it.

But when it comes to personality traits for a brand, things become much harder to define or replicate. If your brand is “casual,” how can you apply that to new ads, exactly? If your brand is “approachable,” how can you bring that trait into your web copy?

The best exercise for development here is to imagine your brand as an actual person (or as a fictional character). You’ll start by pinpointing unique traits and characteristics that define that person, which should give you a solid starting point, and then you’ll start imagining how that person would engage with others.

Old Spice has successfully branded itself with a wildly successful video ad starring a character that oozes of manliness and confidence titled “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.”

Execution and Consistency

So far, I’ve stuck to explaining a brand on a conceptual level, helping you think through exactly what components of your brand you’ll need to consider, and how to define those components in a practical and formal context. But the most important element of branding isn’t coming up with the idea—it’s executing it.

I’ll be going into a little more detail about the channels and strategies you’ll use to promote your brand in my section on ongoing support near the end of this guide. For now, understand that your brand will need to be present in all your channels—from your website to your ads and everything in between—and it needs to be consistent.

Any deviation from your central brand standards could result in confusion, reduce familiarity and loyalty, or could even damage the image and reputation of your brand. The true power of branding comes from consistency, so keep your emphasis on maintaining that consistency no matter what.

The only exception here is if you’re undergoing a rebranding campaign. Over time, brand standards and design best practices evolve (as do customer relationships with your brand). After a few years, it may be in your best interest to reimagine your brand for the new era; this is a common move, even in larger companies, but when you do it, you’ll need to retain at least some elements of your past iterations to keep people familiar and loyal to your brand.

(Image Source: Melody Rose Milton)

Personal Branding Considerations

I also want to mention the concept of personal branding in this overview of branding in general. A personal brand is much like a corporate brand—you’ll go through the process of developing an identity and showcasing that identity in a number of different contexts—except this is applied to an individual, rather than corporation.

Typically, personal brands are used to support and enhance a business, almost as “assistant” brands that revolve around a central hub. They may make new connections, syndicate content, or otherwise draw more attention and find more opportunities for the core brand. There are several advantages to this approach:

Some personal brands even transcend their corporate brands (think Donald Trump, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates).

Research and Planning

At this point, I’ve managed to outline the general idea of your online brand, and what you’ll need to keep in mind when developing it. But how can you actually go about this process? What steps do you need to take, what tools can you use to gather more information, and what research and planning do you need to do to become successful?

Questions to Ask When Building Your Brand

Let’s start with a few questions you’ll want to ask when building your brand from scratch. These are important pieces of your brand framework, which will guide you in your research efforts in a number of different areas:

For each of these questions, you probably already have a gut-response answer, or some idea in your own head about how each question plays out. However, I encourage you to hold off on these assumptive conclusions. Instead, I want you to challenge these presumptions by researching them thoroughly; either, you’ll find objective information that confirms your suspicions or you’ll find evidence that points you in a more accurate, valuable direction.

Market Research

The first type of research you’ll need to pursue is market research. Put simply, this is your way of getting to know your target audience better. Remember, your brand is going to take shape at least partially in response to what your audience’s needs are, so the better you understand your target audience, the more completely your brand will be able to conform to their needs.

The first phase of this is making sure you’re targeting the right audience in the first place; there are a number of different niche demographics you could target, and the first one you choose may not necessarily be the best. The second phase is learning more about that target demographic, including their wants, their needs, their profiles, and of course, their buying habits.

These are some of the best online resources for the job.

(Image Source: Marketer’s Almanac)

(Image Source: Census Bureau)

(Image Source: Nielsen)

Collectively, these resources should provide you with all the answers you need about who your target audience is, what makes them tick, and how to target them appropriately.

Competitive Research

With your market research out of the way, your next most significant research investment will be in competitive research. Here, you’ll be looking at all the other competitors you’re facing in your industry, discovering what tactics they’re using and how effective they’ve been in reaching your shared (or related) target audiences.

There are a number of reasons for this. First, you’ll get a kind of testing ground for your own ideas; you’ll get to see which branding tactics work and which ones are falling flat. Second, you’ll have a chance to draw inspiration; if you aren’t sure what industry standards there are for branding, your competitive research can tell you. Finally, you’ll be able to find a framework for your industry’s normalcy, so you can find a way to differentiate yourself.

(Image Source: Google Alerts)

(Image Source: SocialMention)

(Image Source: SpyFu)

(Image Source: SEMRush)

When your competitive research is complete, you should have plenty of new ideas about how to differentiate yourself, how to appeal to your target audience, and an appropriate balance of fitting into your industry standards. Combined with your market research, this should form a strong foundation for the remainder of your brand development.

Design Research

All that’s left at this point is the actual design of your brand, and this is going to require some research as well. Depending on what resources you’re using to facilitate your final brand design (more on that in the next section), you may be doing this research yourself or deferring to another party. Either way, there are some very important reasons to research design before creating anything:

With those central goals in mind, there are a handful of different sources I recommend consulting in the process of your brand brainstorming and creation, whether it’s you or a designer taking charge of the matter:

Design research is more about finding inspiration and ideas than it is trying to pin down specific numbers or tactics (like with market or competitive research). Keep that in mind as you peruse these sources.

Assets, Platforms, Tools, and Assistance

With all that research out of the way, you’ll be thrust into the process of formally creating and finalizing your brand. Unless you have extensive design experience or knowledge, I highly recommend relying on outside support to help you through the process. Your brand is one of the most important elements of your business, and it’s not an investment or creation you should take lightly.

The Importance of a Strong Foundation

As I’ve mentioned before, the true power of branding comes from the repetition and consistency of displaying your brand prominently in a number of different contexts, including your marketing and advertising campaigns. But you can’t exactly adhere to that ongoing work unless you first have a strong foundation. Your first priority should be building a core brand, complete with guidelines and formalized assets you can use in other capacities. Once you have that, you’ll have a better toolbox that you can use for all the other areas of your business’s development.

But what exactly do you need to have a strong foundation? What checklist items do you need to cross off before your brand is considered “complete”? This question grows more complicated when you realize the fact that most brands do evolve slowly over time (in addition to potential rebranding efforts). But for now, let’s focus on some of the basics you’ll need to get to consider yourself more or less “in place”—and how you can go about getting them.

General Tools for Finding Help

I’m going to assume that you aren’t designing your brand by yourself. You might have a handful of ideas about where your brand can go—especially after doing all that research from the previous section—such as a key symbol you want incorporated or colors you’d like to see used. But the actual design work should be left to a professional. Where can you go to find these professionals?

(Image Source: Upwork)

(Image Source: 99Designs)

With your workforce in place, next you’ll need to document and formalize the main “pillars” of your brand to serve as your foundation.

Logo

Your logo is important because it’s going to symbolize your brand in a single image. You may have multiple variants of this; for example, you might have a symbol next to your company name, but a version with just the symbol, or a “stacked” version that organizes your words and symbol vertically. You may have a full-color version, a one-color version, or even a black and white version depending on your preferences. It’s all up to you, but when you work with a freelancer or agency, make sure you’re getting all the assets you need at the same time. There will be room to make corrections, adjustments, and new assets later, but you’ll want to iron out as much as you can in the early phases of your branding efforts.

There’s no rule that says your brand needs to have a logo, but it’s a common practice, and there are a lot of advantages. Once complete, you can use your logo anywhere—throughout your website, at the footer of your letterhead, on your social media platforms, and in your advertising—to show that whatever you’ve produced is distinctly yours. Make sure you have files available in every available format, including EPS, JPG, GIF, and PNG.

Brand Guidelines

You’ll also want to put together a formalized “brand guidelines” document. Much like a business plan, there’s no hard rule for what this must include, but there are some generally agreed upon priorities on what it should include. If you’re getting your branding done through a professional design agency, they’ll probably include a brand guidelines document by default.

If you’re dealing with freelancers, however, they may not think to create this for you. This is especially true if you’re working with amateurs, or if you’re working with a designer for only a logo or similar single asset. In any case, you should go out of your way to create this document if you haven’t already gotten one; this is going to serve as the shared, mutually accessible resource that keeps your team in alignment and keeps your brand consistent across multiple channels.

Your brand guidelines should specify even the simplest assumptions, such as who your target audience is, your mission and vision statements, and your directives in creating the brand. It should explain what your logo is, how to use it, how to use different versions of it, and appropriate use of colors in various materials.

It should also include key characteristics of your brand and differentiators that set you apart from the competition, and how to write in your signature “brand voice.” This is going to serve as the master template for using your brand, so make sure it’s flawless, and have it completed before showcasing your brand anywhere.

Website

Your brand should also be present throughout your website, as your site will serve as the anchor point for your online branding campaign. It’s where all your external channels will point back to, and where your visitors will be making their purchasing decisions. Every page of your site should give your users a taste of your unique brand experience, as illustrated in your color choices, layout choices, font choices, copy, and other design elements.

It’s common practice these days for new entrepreneurs to opt for template sites, like WordPress, which are inexpensive and easy for even an amateur to build, and I highly recommend going the WordPress route.

This is also a critical opportunity to hone your copy; even though each page of your site may only have a handful of headlines and paragraphs, the tone and wording of this material can have a huge impact on your visitors’ impressions (and eventually, whether or not they convert).

Content

Your brand (and any personal brands you’re using) should permeate your ongoing content marketing strategy in the months and years to come—but to start, you’ll need a decent bank of content to give your users a taste of what they can expect.

Choose a handful of impactful titles you feel best represent your brand’s mission (and best appeal to your target market), and fill your blog with them. Then, work on a few high-impact pieces you can use as anchor points for your brand and content strategy, such as whitepapers or eBooks. You can write these yourself or work with a content specialist (you can find content writers through similar means as designers).

Now, when people come to your site and experience your brand for the first time, they’ll have a deeper, more accurate vision of what your brand truly is meant to be.

Of course, if you need help planning and launching a content marketing strategy in general, that’s another subject entirely—check out my guide on that very topic for more info.

Social Media

Building an initial brand presence on social media requires careful attention to a few key areas:

(Image Source: Facebook/Coca-Cola)

With these strong anchor points in place, your once-conceptual brand can be considered to formally exist. Everything is in place for you to promote and develop your brand further in your marketing and advertising campaigns.

Ongoing Support

You’ve come a long way since the beginning of this article. With the help of the online (and some offline) resources I’ve suggested and the guidelines I’ve outlined for you, we’ve gone from having only a foggy conception of what your brand should be to a steady, expandable foundation. Now, it’s time to turn toward the process of ongoing support and development.

100 Percent Branding

If you want your brand to be successful, you’re going to have to commit to it 100 percent. This is a theme that has arisen a number of times throughout this article, but you’re most liable to drop the ball once things are actually in motion.

Your brand will be subjected to a number of different variables and circumstances, so if you aren’t ready, it could really compromise your efforts. Here are some of the most important principles to keep in mind:

Ongoing Content Marketing

Your ongoing content marketing strategy is one of your biggest key areas for brand development, as it’s going to serve as an inbound marketing opportunity, and a tool to build brand loyalty over time. There are a number of things to keep in mind here:

With those general principles and considerations in mind, there are a handful of online tools and resources that can help you produce the best content within your brand requirements:

(Image Source: Feedly)

(Image Source: BuzzSumo)

Advertising and Syndication

You can also support your brand with more outreach, either in the form of pushing your content to new audiences (such as syndicating it on social media) or creating advertising to communicate your message more clearly and immediately to a buying audience. Generally, I prefer and recommend allocating marketing budgets toward long-term organic strategies over paid advertising strategies, but it’s often a good idea to leverage both.

Parting Thoughts

It’s important to keep in mind that your brand shouldn’t remain stagnant as you continue to support it in all your marketing and advertising endeavors. You should be experimenting, gradually, to see what new angles and techniques can better reach your audience.

You should be learning from your mistakes and refining your approach, allowing experience to guide you to better performance. And you should be adapting to new technologies and new trends, keeping a pulse on the interest of your key demographics and trying to stay one step ahead of your competition.

Building a brand is a daunting accomplishment, and keeping a brand consistent is an even bigger challenge, but it’s a necessary one if you want your company to be distinguished among the competition and with your target customers. I hope these resources, tips, and recommendations have been helpful to you in finding your brand’s identity and forging ahead in accomplishing your long-term customer acquisition and retention goals.

What can we help you with?