How to Build a Brand Identity Online in a Saturated Market
Contrary to popular belief, your business’s logo and color palette are not really your brand.
Those are brand identity elements, and while they are important, they are not the most important part when you are building your brand identity.
Figuring out not only how to build a brand identity, but also how to build a strong brand identity is something that everyone starting a business should do, but not everyone does.
There are some major differences in companies with strong brands and companies with weak ones. The key is to make sure that you don’t fall into that weak category.
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What is a Brand Identity?
Your brand identity is everything that your business is built upon. It is the foundation of your business.
Many people believe that it is just the visual components, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Your brand identity is how you talk to your audience, how you present information, why it is that you do what you do.
If you don’t know those things, then there will always be chaos and confusion when people think about you and your business.
Think about companies like Nike and Apple. Those brands are so well known that they can get by with only using a symbol on their packaging rather than the full business name.
When you buy something from Apple, it’s a full experience. They market each and every product to do one simple task. That’s it.
Even though that phone may be able to do a large number of things, is isn’t presented that way because Apple knows what their target audience is looking for. They understand who their market is and they’ve found a way to capitalize on that.
Think about other brands like Kleenex. When you need to blow your nose, do you ask for a facial tissue? No, you ask for a Kleenex.
It’s become such an ingrained part of our everyday lives that you may not think about it, but that is still a brand. It has become so iconic that people forget that tissues from other brands are just tissues. I don’t know about you, but to me, it’s still always a Kleenex.
Why Having a Brand Identity is Important
Having a strong brand identity is important for a variety of reasons. The biggest being that it is the face of your business.
It is the types of images that you use, the colors that you work with, the language that you speak in, and the way that you present information to your readers.
Understanding those things and being able to put them together in a cohesive manner elevates your business because it provides credibility.
How would you feel if you went to a store for a new shirt, and then a couple of months later when you went back for another shirt, all they had were glassware?
It’s the same thing for your business.
Many people think that working online gives you some flexibility for some of those things. While yes, you do have the ability to easily change from one thing to the next, it poses some extra problems.
With the rise of social media, online business owners are having to fight even harder to remain consistent in their messaging.
For instance, if you followed a social media account about politics and then later on all you started seeing were religion posts, would you keep following them?
Having a consistent messaging can really help to attract the right customers to your business too since you are speaking in a way and a style that your ideal clients will resonate with.
If your target market is the 40 – 50 professionals age group and all of your social media posts used a bunch of slang and emojis, do you think that your ideal client will want to work with you?
Not so much.
How to Create a Brand Strategy
So now that we’ve talked about why it is important to have a brand identity, let’s talk about how you build one. It all comes down to your brand strategy.
Know Your Why
Your brand strategy is the whole idea behind your business and your branding. It’s your message that you want to share with the world.
It’s your Why.
Some people have a lot of trouble coming up with their Why, it doesn’t have to be that complicated though. It just has to be something that you believe in with every fiber of your being.
What do you believe and how does that relate to your readers?
For instance, for this site:
We believe that every woman deserves to have a successful online business.
We believe that with everything that we are. So much so that that is what pushes our entire business forward. Though we will work with a wide variety of people, our target clients and our target audience are female business owners.
We want to help them move their businesses forward because we know what it’s like to always feel like you’re either sacrificing time with your family or time on your business. That is why our goal is to always make the process as easy as possible for our clients. It’s our Why.
So, your first step for building a successful brand strategy is to know your why.
What Are Your Values
Some people don’t put much stock into the values idea for a brand, but it can be very important, especially so if you are in a niche that could be somewhat controversial.
If, for instance, you’re in the parenting niche and you want to write an article about the dangers of co-sleeping, but the people around you are all co-sleepers, are you going to change your stance just to please others?
No, the answer is no.
Figure out what is important to you and stick to it.
People will always know when you’re lying to them. And if for some reason they don’t and they find out later, your credibility is shot.
Don’t be afraid to speak your mind about an issue that is important to you just because you’re worried about the blow back.
Chances are, you’ll end up getting rid of the people that didn’t really fit with your Why and your message and find others that do.
Stay true to yourself and your values and your brand will be stronger because of it.
Why are You Different?
I hate to break it to you, but what ever you’re trying to do has already been done before. That’s completely fine though.
Are we the first stay-at-home moms that decided to start a website design business? Absolutely not, but that doesn’t mean that Iwe can’t still be successful?
You can be successful too. You just have to figure out what makes you different. What makes you unique.
For instance, we’ve come up with a system to streamline the process for our clients. We have a simplified system that eliminates the typical back and forth while still providing exceptional and custom service. Many designers don’t work like this and it shows when they struggle with their workload.
We don’t like the idea of making our clients’ job harder, so with our services we include additional tutorials and guidance to help our clients through the design process, as well as how to handle their new site. It comes standard in all of our design packages.
That makes us different.
Are we the only website designers offering this type of service? Probably not. But it is different enough that we can still stand out from the crowd.
Find out what makes you different.
What services can you offer, what knowledge can you provide, what experience can you bring that will set you apart from the rest of the crowd?
And before you try telling me that there’s nothing different or unique about you, you can just hush. Of course, there is. You just have to dig deep and kick that nay-sayer out of the way to find it.
Find Your Audience
Understanding your ideal audience can be a tricky one. We typically go into things thinking we know what to expect, only to realize that we were off the mark. Some times by a lot.
That happened to each of us when we first got going.
Neither one of us knew then what we know now and we had trouble figuring out who we wanted to talk to so we didn’t end up talking to anyone. Or rather, we tried talking to everyone.
Either way, it doesn’t work.
We ended up taking on projects that we didn’t want to do, or working with clients that we didn’t want to work with. We thought that that’s what we had to do to make money in this business.
What we found though was that we spent more time and energy trying to do those jobs and deal with those clients than we would have if we had just found the clients and the projects that we wanted.
We had to take a step back and really think about what we wanted to do and who we wanted to do it with.
It came down to really honing in on our Why and figuring out who to help and how that made all the difference.
We also took the time to think about the different types of businesses that our ideal client could have. There are so many different ways to work online these days that we really needed to think that through.
For instance, we only want to work on WordPress websites. Though we have worked on other platforms before, we prefer WordPress for the longevity and the SEO capabilities for businesses. So no we don’t take on clients looking for other platforms. That makes sense for us and our business.
We also prefer to work with bloggers and/or service-based entrepreneurs. While we can do e-commerce businesses, it doesn’t interest us nearly as much as working on blogs and membership sites.
It took us a while to figure that out, but once we did, things all settled into place. We became more comfortable with not only who we were pitching, but how we were pitching.
We understood more of what our ideal client was looking for and how to go about solving those problems.
It is ALWAYS beneficial to know exactly who you want to talk to for your business.
Research Your Audience
So now that you know who your target audience is, now you need to know what they want to hear. So you need to go do a little spying.
Where does your ideal client hang out? Are they on Facebook? Are they on Instagram? Are they avoiding social media like the plague and only using Google for their information?
Figure out where your audience is on the internet and try to join in.
Join Facebook groups, follow influencer accounts, do your research to figure out what kind of information they’re looking for.
When I first started blogging, I joined a few blogging beginner Facebook groups. There are several questions that get asked over and over and over again in those groups.
If my target audience is bloggers, especially new bloggers, wouldn’t it make sense for me to use those questions to my advantage? Heck yeah it would!
Find out where your target audience is hanging out and just pay attention.
Join in on the conversations if you can, and just get in there. You can find out so much about who you’re trying to help if you just pay attention.
Understand the Pain Points
When you start honing in on who you want to work with, you’ll need to figure out how you can help them.
People these days are not just mindlessly scrolling through the internet. Well, some of them probably are, but we aren’t talking about those people.
We are talking about the people that are actively searching for something. They have a problem and they need a solution.
Some people don’t even realize they have the problem until someone else comes along and presents them with a solution.
Typically, the person providing the solution will be the one that gains a new tribe member. So why can’t you be that person?
Find out who your audience is and figure out what problems they’re having.
For instance, our audience probably struggles with not just starting her business, but growing it. She wants to make more money, but she doesn’t want to take on more hours or learn a new skill. She knows what she needs and she’s ready to either build a new site, or build a better one, but she’s overwhelmed with the idea of having to do ANOTHER thing.
She’s doing ALL. THE. THINGS and she’s ready for some help. She’s looking for clarity and help streamlining her business so that she doesn’t have to work 60 hours a week to feel like she got something done. She wants to work closer to 20.
Does that sound like you? If so then our branding worked. It brought you here to read this post. It did what it was supposed to do.
Know what your client’s pain point is and find out how to provide the solution and you’ll become the go-to resource.
Sounds good, right?
Targeted Content Creation
Whether you decide to start blogging or not, whatever content you create should be geared towards helping your ideal client.
It doesn’t matter if you’re creating a blog post about decorating your home, a Facebook post with decoration tips and tricks, an Instagram story with before and after photos, or and entire course that outlines how to decorate your own home.
It doesn’t matter where the content is. All that matters is that it is staying true to your Why and your target audience.
If what you’re writing about isn’t what your audience will find valuable, then what’s the point?
Don’t make more work for yourself by thinking you have to write about everything under the sun. Figure out your client’s problems and then write content around that.
Your client will appreciate it and you will become more of an authority on the subject. Having some authority is always a good thing.
What is Your Goal for Your Brand?
Where do you see yourself and your business a year from now? Five years from now? Ten years from now?
Are you still working with the same brand? Will your Why still be the same, or will you change it along the way?
It is perfectly fine if you want a brand that can grow and evolve with you. Most of them do anyway. Do you think our branding has always looked like this? Nope, not even close.
Even major companies like Coca-Cola have changed their branding a bit over the years. It’s okay to grow and evolve.
The trick is to be able to do it in a way that still makes sense for what you’re trying to accomplish as a business.
Brand Identity Elements
Okay, now that we’ve gone through how to build your brand strategy, let’s talk about the fun stuff, the visuals.
We probably do this a little differently than other designers, but we like to start with the color palette before actually designing anything.
To us that’s just the natural progression of the process, but that could just be us. If it is, then feel free to jump around to where you need to be.
Choosing your color palette sounds significantly harder than it actually is.
There are some people that really dig into the science behind the color choices and what emotions different colors bring out in people.
We don’t really go into all of that, and I’ll explain why.
A study was done years ago that showed that restaurants with red walls had customers that were more likely to stay longer and spend more money. (Source)
Sounds cool right?
The problem is that if you try to bring out that same emotion in other areas, it may not work.
For instance, if you have a website for your day spa all about relaxation, using the color red is likely to give your clients a bit of anxiety.
It can be very jarring and make them think that your spa won’t actually be the relaxing atmosphere that they’re looking for.
So, go back to your ideal client. Think about the types of colors and images that would most appeal to them.
Do your clients like bright, bold colors? Or are they more drawn to the softer pastels.
Figuring out that part will go a long way in your brand identity development.
While it may not seem like it, fonts are incredibly important. Your font choice can say a lot about your business without you even meaning to.
A serif font, such as the very common Times New Roman, can give your brand a timeless, more sophisticated vibe.
Where as a san serif font, such as Arial or Calibri, can project a more modern feel.
Then, if you start getting into the more stylish fonts, things can get even trickier.
A script font can add an elegant more feminine appeal to your brand. These can be especially useful if your target audience is female.
Decorative fonts are typically fonts that have an added visual element to them.
Think the American Horror Story logo or Metallica’s lightning font. Those are both examples of a decorative font.
If you want your brand to be easily recognizable by just your logo or font choice, then a decorative font could be a great solution.
The thing to remember with fonts is that there is such a thing as too many.
You should limit your fonts to 2-3 options total. That can be one decorative font for your logo and graphics, one font for your website headlines, and another for your main body text.
That is plenty and will give your brand a more dynamic look.
Always consider the legibility of your font when making your decision. Just because you know what something is supposed to say, doesn’t mean that your readers will.
Pay attention to the little details to ensure that you won’t start regretting your font choices later.
The other thing to consider is how you want to be perceived. Just because you may like the way Comic Sans looks doesn’t mean that your ideal client will take you seriously with it.
If it’s a font that you would have been willing to use on your middle school English paper, then it probably isn’t the right font for your business.
Now that you have the color palette and the font down, let’s talk about designing your logo.
There are many different types of logos out there. Some are just text, some are just symbols, some have icons in the middle of them, and some are even weirder.
Think about what your business is about and what you think your ideal client will relate to the most and go from there.
You should ideally have two different logos for your brand.
The first will be your primary logo. It’ll be the main one on your website. It’ll most likely include your tagline along with your business name, and may even have your icon as well.
The secondary logo will be smaller. It can be just the name, just the icon, or even a completely different shape.
The secondary logo is typically used for watermarks for the different graphics that you will create (because everything should ALWAYS have a watermark).
It can also be used on social media and in your email newsletters. The possibilities are endless.
An icon is a small graphic element that can be associated with your brand.
Some people include icons in their logos, while others may keep it completely separate. It really all depends on you and how you’d like to use it.
You also don’t have to use an icon in your logo, but I would definitely suggest having something if you plan on having a website (which you should) so that you can use it for your favicon.
A favicon is the tiny little design that shows up in the tab of the webpage. If you don’t have your own favicon then it’ll just show up as the generic gray globe. No one likes that.
Creating an icon is a really simple solution.
It doesn’t matter who you are and what you do. At some point in time you will use graphics for your business. If you don’t then no one is going to pay any attention to you.
Have you ever been to a website that didn’t have any images and was just a big block of text? How long did it take you to bounce out of there and go find something else? I’m guessing not very long.
Don’t do that to yourself, use the graphics.
You can use different types of graphics for your business. The best way is to create your own visuals using a program like Stencil or Canva.
You can purchase templates online from places like Creative Market as well.
Creating your own graphics is always better than using templates though because you’re less likely to run into another version of your graphic with a different person’s logo.
It may take you a little longer in the beginning once you first start creating your own graphics, but you’ll get faster over time.
Creating some templates that you can work off of will also make a huge difference. Just make them for each size and place that you want to use them and just have them ready and waiting for when you need them.
If you choose to use photos, think about the types of photos that will best represent your brand.
Would you want more flat lay, staged photos, or more candid shots?
The other thing to consider is how you will be using them and where you will get them from.
If you have the ability to take your own photos without them looking like a hot mess, then absolutely do so. You can always use a photo editing tool like Photoshop to tweak them a bit, but having your own photos will always be more beneficial than stock photos.
If you’re photographically challenged, then using stock photos is a great alternative.
The problem with stock photos is that you have to pay attention to the licensing.
Never, and I mean NEVER, use a photo if you do not have the rights to do so. If you do not see it written out in print that you are able to use the photo in a particular manner then DON’T DO IT!
You can get into a whole mess of legal trouble by stealing images from others. Don’t get yourself into that situation. There are plenty of other options.
There are sites that offer free stock photos for commercial use. You can check out All the Free Stock for a full list of different sites with different types of images. It’s really awesome if you’re on a bit of a budget.
Just pay attention to what images you’re going to use. Free stock photos are notoriously overused because no one wants to spend the money that they don’t need to spend. You’ll end up seeing your same images in rotation by other businesses depending on your niche. It’s just part of it.
The other option is paying for stock images. It isn’t as cheap, but you’re less likely to run into a duplicate. You probably will still find a few depending on your niche, but it’ll certainly be less likely.
When you’re selecting images for your brand, think about the emotion that you want your audience to feel when they see that picture.
Will they resonate with the more staged images with a more professional look? Or will the relate more with the candid shots that may remind them of their own lives?
Both options have their time and place. The key is figuring out when that is.
Once you get some of those visual elements down, it’s time to really hone in on your messaging.
This all come back to your Why and your values. I know we’ve talked about it before, it bears repeating.
Always, always, always stay true to your Why and your values that you want to pass on to your readers. They will appreciate you all the more for it.
With your messaging comes the different words and phrases that you may use to represent your brand.
How will you speak? Will you use colloquialisms, will you swear, will you use slang?
Decide on the way you want to speak to your audience and stick with it.
For us, we choose to speak in a more casual way. Our goal is for it to feel like we’re sitting around chatting over coffee how to build and grow a successful online business. Just a couple of girlfriends taking over the world.
Some businesses though choose a more formal style.
This can be really useful if you are working with a team or are targeting 6 or 7 figure clients. Those types of clients would appreciate a more upscale approach. It really all depends on your audience.
Your website is your digital business card. It should be a place where your ideal client can easily find out who you are and what you do in the most streamlined way possible.
We’ve seen websites that are hard to navigate and severely lacking of any individuality.
We’ve also seen websites that are so hard to understand that we had to get through three or four pages to even find out what that person actually does.
Don’t make it harder than it needs to be for your audience to find the information that they need from you.
Stay true to your Why and your messaging and make sure that your website is a great representation of that.
You will be judged by your website. People will choose to work with you or follow you based on what your website looks like. It’s just the nature of the beast these days.
Make sure that your brand stays consistent throughout your entire site.
I cannot tell you how much I absolutely hate to see people acting one way on their website only to see the complete opposite on their social media.
Social media can be an amazing thing for connecting and engaging with your audience. It can also be a complete and utter nightmare if your audience finds out you’re faking it.
Always remember that you are being watched. Your brand should stay consistent throughout all of the different avenues.
If you have a recipe blog and are talking about politics on your social media feeds, people aren’t going to follow you. You will be attracting two different types of people and your business will suffer because of it.
Just remember your Why and you’ll be fine.
Developing a Visual Brand Identity
There are a few different tools that you can use for your branding process.
For creating a logo, the number one choice used by professionals is Adobe Illustrator. The reason is because Illustrator gives you the ability to create your graphics in vector form.
That means that if you go to resize your logo to make it bigger, you won’t lose your quality.
Adobe isn’t cheap though and if the only thing you’re ever going to use it for is creating your own logo, then I would highly suggest outsourcing.
There really is an added benefit in hiring a graphic designer that specializes in branding.
Tools such as Canva and Stencil are great options for creating infographics, social media images, and even ebooks, but they are not the best option for something as important as your logo.
Do yourself a favor and hire a professional.
Building a Strong Brand Identity
Being able to define your brand identity and being able to build a strong brand are two different things.
You can understand exactly who your audience is, but if you aren’t consistent in your message and you are sending mixed signals, you’re going to have issues.
Dive deep into your target audience. Understand who they are at the very center of their beings. Figure out their pain points and help them find their solutions.
Don’t be just like the 8,000 other people in your niche. Figure out what makes your business different and unique and build upon it.
Whether it’s a service you’re offering or the way that you present the information, be yourself and be true to your values.
Remember that your brand isn’t just about the visuals. Your visuals can always change and grow and adapt as your business grows. Your Why and your message are what’s really important.
If your Why drastically changes then you’re likely to run into some obstacles. If that’s the case then it’s time for a rebrand.
Make sure that your brand is able to grow with your business.
If you start a blog talking about tips for college students to get more done and study for classes, are you going to want to continue writing about that after you graduate?
If you do then go for it, but if you don’t then keep that in mind for your branding process.
You need a brand and a message that can build with you. That can evolve and adapt to the changing market and your ever-changing strategy.
Also, we can’t stress this enough, know your demographic!
Use the language and the verbiage that your target audience will most relate to. That doesn’t necessarily mean that your audience will always be a 40-year-old woman. A 20-year-old man can be coming to you for the same thing depending on what your business is.
Just make sure that what ever language that you do use makes sense for your people.
If your people talk in slang and emojis, then use them. If your audience will be turned off by that, then don’t. It’s as simple as that.
Protecting Your Brand Identity
Once you have your brand, you’re comfortable where it is, and you know that it works for you and your business, you need to protect it.
Your brand is your lifeblood. If your fans turn on you, your brand may never recover.
Think about Toys ‘R’ Us. They filed bankruptcy and closed all their stores. They were a huge brand and they failed.
Now they’re trying to reopen stores. That’s great for them, but the idea that will always be in people’s minds is the fact that they had to file bankruptcy.
That leads to a lack of trust and confidence in their ability. It makes people question if they will start to cut corners on certain things to help save on funds.
Not a great way to present yourself.
And I say this knowing full well that I love Toys ‘R’ Us. I purchased most of my baby registry from them and have many of their products in my home for my son.
I probably won’t be going to them for my first choice for children’s supplies anymore though.
Stay true to your brand and your message. Keep your ideal client at the forefront of everything that you do.
If you aren’t doing something for your ideal client, then why are you even wasting your time?
Remember your Why!