A powerful Brand identity strategy for small businesses and startups

One word is all it takes to be one step closer to the recognizability of brands like Nike

Photo by Thomas Serer on Unsplash
TL;DR
  • Your brand is every interaction your business has with customers not just a logo
  • Using a brand word will help guide your decision making and keep you consistent
  • Find your business brand word and identity using our guide

Why you should care about brand identity

I believe Brand identity should be treated as one of the most important aspects of your small business or startup.

Why?

Branding is sometimes an afterthought for small businesses. Some people see it as your logo and business name, others think it’s something lumped under marketing. Yet, your brand is much more than that. You can think of it as the combined experience of interacting with every aspect of your business.

When you think about it this way, it’s a big reason why someone would choose to work with your business or not. It's also the reason why you might buy Nike over Adidas or Coke over Pepsi.

If you’re still not convinced on how important branding is yet, here are some numbers:

  • 64% of women and 68% of men have felt an emotional connection with a brand (Customer Thermometer)
  • 59% of shoppers prefer to buy new products from the brands they trust (Invesp)
  • 44% of US Consumers give gifts purchased from brands they are loyal to in the holiday season (Kettle Fire)
  • 77% of people refer to certain items by brand names (Crowdspring)

And it’s not just for consumers, here’s how it impacts your employment:

  • 90% of people would consider leaving their job if offered a position in a company with an outstanding reputation (Everyone Social)
  • Having a great brand can bring down the expenses related to hiring and training by as much as 50% (Lyfemarketing)
  • Brands with poor company branding pay 10% higher salaries on average (Smart Dreamers)

So what makes a good brand identity?

A good brand identity maintains a consistent image of your business. It should be exciting for your customers and easy for them to explain it to others. It should also be meaningful to the business and differentiate you from competitors.

This probably isn't new to you so far but it’s a good reminder. It's good to know what the goal should be that you're working towards with your brand. So this branding stuff sounds quite important. Is there an easy way to do it?

Luckily, when I was working on my first start-up, my friend Mark introduced me to a powerful brand strategy. He was also working on his business ESCU sports at the time. His mentor had mastered the strategy with his international beverage company. As soon as he shared it with me it made branding profoundly simple.

Yet, I’m surprised how hard it is to find on the internet. So I thought I’d share it here and include my practical experience of using it.

Example

The example we’ll be using to learn the concept is my first start-up project called Piggyback. It’s a website that makes personal training more accessible. The service matchmakes people into small groups of two to four to share a personal trainer and split the cost.

What's the powerful brand strategy?

The technical term for the strategy is "brand distillery. It’s the principle of boiling down everything that goes into making a brand into a single word. That single word is the essence of the brand at its purest form. When you hear the word, everything the brand stands for or does should relate back to this word at it’s core.

It’s an effective concept because all you need to do once you’ve found your brand word, is use it as a simple “go, no-go” gauge. It can be applied to every decision you make in your business. It makes decision making consistent to ultimately build up your brand. Does the social media post represent your word? If it doesn’t tweak it until it does. Does the imagery you are using on your website represent your brand word? If it doesn’t find something that you feel does.

Example

The brand word chosen for Piggyback was “Embolden”. It guided the tone we used to communicate and helped us choose a cohesive set of images and copy for our MVP. We used it to shape our product by making our onboarding process a motivating experience. During COVID-19 lockdowns we created workout tutorial videos to inspire people to stay fit and healthy. See how all those actions relate back to the brand word?

See how powerful it can be with making your decision making easy?

Start your branding strategy

To find your brand word you need to go through the brand distillery strategy. Here's the template.

Brand distillery template

The idea is to write down the first words that come to mind when thinking of your business in each of the categories. Businesses are complex so you might expect to have a variety of words in each category.

It’s best to try think of single words rather than phrases if because it’s easier to process later on.

You’ll also notice that the template is an upside down pyramid. This is because you will naturally have more words for the top categories than you will for the bottom ones. Although, don’t feel limited by the size of the category box if you want to add more words.

Next we’ll walk through how to brainstorm each of the categories.

Product Features

A product feature is something your product has or is. This is typically functionality that enables a user to do something. Features help to describe your product or service.

Example

For Piggyback a few examples we had to describe our features in one word were “connect”, “matchmaking”, “affordable”, “accessible” and “guided”.

Tip: Aim for five to ten words.

Functional Benefits

A functional benefit is what a consumer hopes to get, feel or achieve when they use your product. It’s how the product helps your customer.

Example

This one can be difficult to get a single word but we still tried to keep our phrases short for Piggyback. Some of our examples were “motivation”, “Try different PT’s”, “low barrier to entry” and “support”.

Tip: Aim for five to ten words.

Emotional Rewards

An emotional reward is how your product makes your customer feel when they use your product. This one has a subtle difference to functional benefits that can be easily conflated. So to make it clear, a benefit includes emotions in its definition because that emotion could be helpful to the customer or business whereas this section is purely about how your customer feels regardless of usefulness.

Example

Examples of emotional rewards for Piggyback are “support”, “belonging”, “confidence” and “adventure”.

Tip: Aim for five to ten words.

Consumer Values

A consumer value is a Fundamental aspect your customer believes is important or looks for when searching for a product like yours.

Example

For Piggyback some of our consumer values were “Personalisation”, “Inclusive” and “Safety”.

Tip: Aim for five to ten words.

Brand personality

A brand personality is a set of human characteristics that are attributed to a product or business.

Example

For Piggyback we had examples of “Trustworthy”, “social” and “welcoming”.

Tip: Aim for five to ten words.

Find your brand word

Now you’ve got your brainstormed words for each category how do you process them?

This is a subjective method but the way I like to do it is to look for common themes among your brainstormed words. Then re-organise your words under the themes instead of their original categories. I like to do this step with post-it notes. Often I’ll end up with anywhere between three to six themes.

Here are the themes we came up with for Piggyback.

Piggyback sorted themes

Once you've grouped your words into themes you need to decide which one represents your business the best. All themes you have brainstormed will be a good fit but it’s about finding the strongest option of them all. A helpful tip is to try think of scenarios that would play out in your business. What decisions would you make based on your theme word? What actions would you take that would get customers talking about your business?

Allow some time to go through this selection process and sleep on it.

Once you think you’ve chosen your theme you’re ready to dive deeper into choosing your brand word. Your brand word should get you excited for your business mission and be clear to use for decision making.

Example

The chosen theme for Piggyback was Motivation. We chose it because it’s an active word that relates well to the physical nature of personal training. It was also the most exciting aspect of the business to us.

To go from your theme to your brand word I recommend using a thesaurus. Start by looking at synonyms to the words within your chosen theme. If words stand out to you, look up their definitions and synonyms. Be precise with what you’re trying to achieve with your brand. The more you understand your chosen word, the better it will serve you as a guide for your business.

Example

We spent over six hours researching brand words for Piggyback to arrive at "Embolden". The definition for embolden is to give someone the courage or confidence to do something. We found this to be a clear guide with a defined scope on what we were setting out to achieve. with our product and interactions with stakeholders. It’s important to take your time to choose your brand word because it works best when you stick with it long term.

I’ve got my brand word, now what?

Start using it! From now on every decision you make should fall back to that brand word. Treat it as your guiding light for your business and before no time you’ll be building up a memorable brand for your small business or startup.

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