Build a Business Identity¹
Customer perceptions are customer realities; that's why building a great brand for your business is critical. So is creating a consistent business identity. Your business identity is made up of all the visual elements that establish and reinforce your brand: Logo, stationery, web design, marketing materials, signs, etc.
Keep in mind your business identity is different from your business image. Think of business identity in terms of tangible, physical items. Your business image is how customers perceive you; in effect your image is like your brand. For example, most people immediately recognize the Apple logo, a simple sketch of an apple with a bite missing. The logo is part of Apple's business identity. But when you think about Apple as a company, you think cutting-edge computers and innovative consumer electronics like the iPod or iPhone. That's Apple's business image. The two should work together: When you see the Apple logo, you both think of Apple as a company and Apple as a leader in innovative consumer products. The result is a brand.
So in order to create an effective brand, developing and maintaining a solid business identity is critical.
Start with Positioning
In marketing terms, "positioning" refers to how you wish your products and services to be perceived. (For example, even though both sell clothing, companies like Wal-Mart and Macy's position themselves differently.) How do you want customers to perceive your company? Are you a low-cost provider? Do you charge a premium for premium service? Do you provide commodities or luxury items? Are your customers high-end or bargain-conscious?
The key is to determine how you wish to be perceived, and think about how you will communicate that desired position to your customers. For example, if you provide sophisticated financial services, your business identity should convey professionalism, security, and quality. If you sell "green" products, your business identity should convey your environmentally-conscious stance. Think about what you provide, think about what customers want and need, and determine how best to send the right message. Make sure your positioning matches what you provide and what your customers expect.
Create an Overall Identity
A key to building an effective brand through your business identity starts with visuals. For most companies, the process starts with creating a logo.
- Check out your competition. Do they use traditional styles and colors, or do they tend to be flashier or funkier? But don't copy; think about how your logo can set you apart from the competition.
Then think about your positioning. What perception did you decide to create? Who is your target audience? How can your logo help them understand your company's image? If you hope to convey professionalism, then your logo should reinforce that perception; a cartoon character is likely not the best choice.
- Consider your business name. Some logos incorporate the business name; others do not. If your company is relatively new, having the company name in the logo is probably best.
- Think about use. A great logo works well on a business card as well as on the side of a package or even a truck. Think about the different applications for your logo, and make sure the colors and images will look great no matter how your logo is used.
- Think about the future. Trendy designs may look great today, but could quickly become outdated. Creating a logo is a little like creating a fashion design; make sure what you create stands out today but also will look great ten years from now.
Once you have designed a logo, leverage it to create stationery, web design, packaging, marketing materials, signs, etc. Use the same color schemes and overall design. If you use certain graphic elements, apply those elements to all the pieces of your identity.
When you have developed all the items needed for your business identity, take the time to create templates for each type of collateral; that way you won't have to re-invent the business identity wheel, so to speak. For example, have your designer create a variety of logo sizes and file types; that way different employees can easily apply the logo to new materials they may create. Your
goal is to create a library of business identity items; employees can simply draw from the library and modify those items as necessary.
Your business identity extends to written documents and presentations, too. If you frequently create proposals, develop a standard proposal format as a template; then sales reps will only need to modify that document for specific customer uses. The same applies to sales presentations. Create a PowerPoint template, for example, that includes your business identity; sales reps can modify the text, but the basic format of the presentation will stay consistent, enhance your business identity, and as a result continue to build your brand.
Think about every instance where the customer "touches" your company, and make sure your business identity speaks with a consistent voice.