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If you're a photographer and someone mentions GoPro, you think of a super-sturdy camera for the adventurous.
Why is that?
Because GoPro has done a good job defining their brand.
The American Marketing Association defines a brand as the "name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's goods or service as distinct from those of other sellers." Your brand identity is the representation of your company's reputation through the conveyance of attributes, values, purpose, strengths, and passions. Great brands are easy to recognize, their mission is clear, and it fosters that coveted customer loyalty all businesses crave. A brand is one of the most valuable fixed assets of a business, and it must be carefully crafted to ensure it properly represents the business, and resonates with the intended customer base.
So ... how's your brand doing? Does your business have a brand identity? If it doesn't -- or your brand isn't as strong as it could be -- follow along as we guide you through the steps to take to define your brand. It may seem like a fluffy concept, this branding business, but we're going to try to put some structure around it so any marketing team could get started defining their company's brand.

Determine Where Your Company Sits in the Market

Before you attempt to define your brand, you need to do some exploration. Take a long look at your company to get a clear picture of its purpose and place. The familiar SWOT Analysis can help, actually. The SWOT Analysis provides insight into the strengths and weaknesses of your brand, the opportunities it has in the marketplace, and the threats it might face in that marketplace. In short:
  • Strengths: Characteristics of the business or project that give it an advantage over others
  • Weaknesses: Characteristics that place the team at a disadvantage relative to others
  • Opportunities: Elements that the project could exploit to its advantage
  • Threats: Elements in the environment that could cause trouble for the business or project
When you do a SWOT analysis, you should involve everyone in your company, as well as some of your best (and worst -- yes, your worst!) customers. This can be done with a simple survey that asks questions that get at the four points in the SWOT analysis. Or if you prefer, it can be achieved with in-depth research performed by an outside firm ... but more on that later.
However you gather the information, once you get it, you should be able to sit down with your marketing team and clearly state your company's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Once you have a clear understand of your SWOT, it's time to define your brand.

How to Determine Your Corporate Brand Identity

Developing a brand identity is a five-step process that aims to clearly define what your brand stands for -- its goals, its personality, the emotions you want people to experience when they come into contact with your brand, and a clear conveyance of that identity through a positioning statement. Here's what you'll need to create to do that:

1) Vision Statement

A vision statement describes what you want your company to become in the future - hence the name "vision" statement! It should be aspirational and inspirational. Ideally, the statement should be one sentence in length and should not explain how the vision will be met. Don't worry, that'll come later. When developing your vision, keep these questions in mind:
  • What are your most important products and services?
  • What products and services will you never offer?
  • What is unique about doing business with your brand?
  • How would your customers describe your brand?
  • Where do you want your company to be in five years?
To give you an idea of what you should end up with, take a look at JetBlue's vision statement:
JetBlue Airways is dedicated to bringing humanity back to air travel.

2) Mission Statement

A mission statement defines the purpose of the company. It should be simple, straightforward, articulate, and consist of jargon-free language that's easy to grasp. It should be motivational to both employees and customers. When crafting your mission statement, keep these tips in mind:
  • What are the specific market needs the company exists to address?
  • What does the company do to address these needs?
  • What are the guiding principles that define the company's approach?
  • Why do customers buy from you and not your competition?
To give you an idea of what a good mission statement looks like, take a look at Mickey Mouse's. I mean, The Walt Disney Company:
The mission of The Walt Disney Company is to be one of the world's leading producers and providers of entertainment and information. Using our portfolio of brands to differentiate our content, services and consumer products, we seek to develop the most creative, innovative and profitable entertainment experiences and related products in the world.

3) Essence

Say, what? That's right, your essence. Talk about fluffy. But seriously, you need to develop an "essence." The essence of the company speaks to the intangible emotions you want your customers to feel when they experience the brand. A brand's essence is the representation of the company's heart, soul, and spirit, and is best described with one word. When defining the essence of your brand, consider these points:
  • When your customers experience your product or service, what emotions does the encounter elicit?
  • If your brand was a person, how would you describe their personality?
  • Check out this SlideShare, The 9 Criteria for Brand Essence.
Here are some great samples of brands' essences:
  • Volvo is "safe"
  • Disney is "magical"
  • Lamborghini is "exotic"

4) Personality

Just as with humans, a brand's personality describes the way a brand speaks, behaves, thinks, acts, and reacts. It is the personification of the brand -- the application of human characteristics to a business. To generalize an example, Apple is young and hip. IBM is old and stodgy. See what I mean? So, what personality do you want to put forth when people experience your brand?
  • Are you lighthearted and fun?
  • Are you serious and all-business?
  • Are you down-to-earth?
  • Are you playful or matter-of-fact?

5) Position or Value Proposition

A brand positioning statement is a one- or two-sentence statement that clearly articulates your product or service's unique value, and how it benefits customers. The positioning statement must define the audience, define the category in which the brand exists, cite a clear product or service benefit, set your brand apart from your competitors, and instill confidence the brand will deliver on its promise. When crafting a positioning statement, consider:
  • To whom are you speaking? (Target market, demographic, and persona)
  • Which market segment does your product or service serve?
  • What is your brand promise? (Both rational and emotional)
  • Why is your product or service different from the competition, and why should your customers care?
For instance, Zipcar has a great brand positioning statement:
To urban-dwelling, educated techno-savvy consumers, when you use Zipcar car-sharing service instead of owning a car, you save money while reducing your carbon footprint.
It's also important to note that according to MarketingSherpa's 2012 Website Optimization Report, companies that tested their value proposition were 15% more likely to produce ROI for their programs. Sounding a little less fluffy now?
To help make this easier for you, we condensed these questions into a checklist that you can reference during this process:
branding checklist

How to Translate Your Brand Identity Into Actual Marketing

Once your brand is defined and you're ready to take that brand to market with advertising, inbound marketing, a new website, content, and any other element of outward-facing marketing, a creative brief will help you define the purpose of each particular piece of marketing communication. When writing a creative brief, these are the questions that need to be answered:
1) Define the project deliverables.
What will be the result of the brief? Will it be a video? A website? An infographic? A whitepaper? An email campaign?
2) What is this effort expected to accomplish?
What is the goal of this particular creative project? What do we want to happen after the intended audience sees this piece of creative? What action do we want people to take?
3) Who are we talking to?
A clear description of the intended audience which should include demographics, psychographics, as well as how the audience currently thinks and feels about the brand or product in question.
4) What is the message?
This is derived from your brand position and should include a statement that encapsulates the single most persuasive or compelling product benefit.
5) What do we want them to think or feel?
This is derived from the "Essence" step of the brand identity process, and should describe the emotion you want your audience to feel after seeing this work.
6) What justification are we providing as support?
Explain why the audience should believe your claims. Here you can detail the benefits of your product or service, why your offering is better than your competitors', and how these benefits substitute the claim you made in step four.
7) How is that different from other brands?
Here you want to set yourself apart from the competition by clearly pointing out why your offering better serves the needs of your audience. Are you faster? Are you less expensive? Are you easier to implement?
8) How does this contribute to the brand's positioning?
Every piece of communication you create must tie back to your brand identity. Here you can explain how this singular effort supports the greater brand promise.
9) What practical considerations or restrictions are there?
The nuts and bolts are explained here. If it's a video, are there length preferences? Are there words or phrases that must be said? Are there things that you absolutely cannot say? Are there cost considerations or time constraints?
A creative brief becomes particularly handy when you're working with an outside creative firm or ad agency. It concisely provides the direction needed to create the work, and it ensures everyone is on the same page before resources are expended.

When to Ask for Help Developing Your Brand Identity

If the above seems like a lot of work, it doesn't have to be. The basic intent is to paint a clear picture of what your brand stands for and how you want it perceived by your customers. However, if the process seems daunting or you feel you could benefit from some professional help (no, not that kind!) then by all means reach out to an advertising firm. Here are some considerations if that's the route you'd like to take.

1) Have a clear understanding of what you are hiring the agency for and the services you need.

Do you have an in-house design staff, but just need help defining your brand? Have you tried to develop your brand identity on your own but are not confident it's defined clearly enough? An agency will want to know where exactly you are in the process so they can properly focus their efforts on the areas of need. Here is an RFP (request for proposal) template you can use to formulate your thoughts if you choose to reach out to agencies.

2) Can you afford an advertising agency?

Just like any professional service, an advertising agency costs money. On the flip side, just like any professional service, you're hiring experts with a ton of experience who know their craft and can provide expertise you either lack, or don't have time to learn. Through the RFP process you will begin to get an understanding of what different agencies cost. Be as specific as possible when you detail the scope of the work you're looking for.

3) Match the size of your company to the size of the agency.

If you're a small or mid-sized business, you should seek out a small or mid-sized agency. While you might find a deeper service offering at a larger agency, you might not have access to the agency's top talent as they will likely allocate it to their larger clients. With a small or mid-sized agency, you're more likely to have direct access to the agency president if needed, as well as the agency's top talent.

4) Match the agency's area of expertise to your industry.

While any agency worth its salt can certainly learn the ins and outs of your industry segment, many agencies, by design, choose to focus on specific segments and hire personnel with deep experience in that field. Identify which agencies focus their business within your industry, and start there.

5) Meet the agency principal and everyone who will work on your account.

This is known as the "chemistry test." Anyone can be the best in their field, but if personalities clash, it's a recipe for disaster no matter how capable the agency may seem. An informal lunch, meeting at an industry event, or an after-work meetup are the best ways to get past the professional veneer and experience the true personality of the people you may end up doing business with.

Tying the Branding Bow

Defining your brand identity is much like packaging and presenting a gift. You want the recipient to be pleased with the offering -- and that includes everything from the outer wrapping, to the style of packaging inside, to the gift delivery, to the usefulness and appropriateness of the actual gift itself. You want the recipient to understand that forethought and heart went into the selection of the gift, and that it was chosen out of compassion and understanding. And you want it to represent the love you have for, in this case, your customers!