“Branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

-Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

Let’s get right to it by busting a very common myth- brand identity doesn’t begin and end with your logo. Your brand identity is so much more than that. Here’s an interesting way to look at the width and depth associated with your brand identity: think of your brand as a person

How does this person look, how do they speak, what do they excel at, what are their values, what do they stand for, and what are the emotions they evoke when interacting with them? 

Now, do you want to know how this would translate to tangible brand identity facets? Then read on! 

Today in this blog, we go deeper into the steps to lay the foundation for a strong brand identity, how to flesh out a branding strategy, and hot tips on how to ensure your brand leaves a mark on the North American market.

3 Steps to Lay the Foundation for a Strong Brand Identity

1. Understand the Power of Brand Identity

While Apple’s logo may be iconic, its brand identity extends far beyond that. When a new Apple product is going to launch, its reputation precedes itself. As customers we already expect the product to encapsulate innovation, simplicity, and premium quality. Now that’s a fantastic brand identity. You can see how this iconic brand identity is being communicated through every aspect of the company—from the sleek, minimalist design, to packaging, to the user-friendly interface of its software, or even the clean, modern aesthetics of its retail stores.

So the first step in laying the foundation for a strong brand identity is to truly understand the POWER of one. Suppose this is the direction you want your branding efforts to move toward. In that case, brand identity has to be made criteria in every brand decision – from the product, to packaging, to processes, to people.

2. Conduct Thorough Market Research

Do you remember when Airbnb unveiled its new logo in 2014 and faced widespread backlash for its design, which many found to be awkwardly suggestive? Or when Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi ad depicting Jenner joining a protest and handing a police officer a can of Pepsi, seemingly resolving the tension, was criticized for trivializing social justice movements and using them for commercial gain. Brands have had to spend millions explaining themselves and even had to take hits on the bottom line with poorly researched branding efforts.

Market research helps you understand customer needs and preferences, which means you can tailor your brand identity, products, and marketing messages to resonate more effectively with your TG. And, since branding’s main aim is to make you stand out from others, in-depth market research is mandatory to help identify market gaps and opportunities to position your brand more uniquely. 

There are two main types of market research: Primary Research and Secondary Research. Both are equally important in shaping a strong brand identity. Primary Research involves collecting original data directly from sources. This is tailored specifically to your needs and provides insights directly relevant to your brand. For example: surveys, interviews, focus groups, and observations. Secondary Research involves analyzing existing data that has already been collected by others. This type of research is useful for gaining a broad understanding of market trends, industry benchmarks, and competitor activities. Sources can include industry reports, market analysis, academic papers, and publicly available data.

3. Define Your Vision, Mission, and Core Values

Branding as an activity requires a LOT of inward thinking and reflection, especially on the part of the founders. To build a strong and coherent brand identity, it’s essential to start with a deep understanding of your vision, mission, and core values. These elements then serve as the foundation for all branding efforts and help ensure that every aspect of the brand is aligned with its core purpose.

  • Vision

The vision is a great place to start, it’s an aspirational future state—the ultimate goal that you aim to achieve with your brand. It gives direction and inspiration. 

Let’s take a look at Tesla’s vision “to create the most compelling car company of the 21st century by driving the world’s transition to electric vehicles.” This vision guides all of Tesla’s strategic decisions and innovations – contributing directly to its brand identity. Every effort of theirs is aligned with the overarching goal of promoting sustainable energy.

  • Mission

A mission statement is where you define the company’s core purpose. It articulates what the company does, whom it serves, and how it serves them. A strong mission statement helps to clarify the company’s role in the market and provides a clear framework for decision-making.

Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” This mission drives Google’s product development, user experience strategies, and service offerings, ensuring that its brand identity stands for making information more accessible.

  • Core Values

Core values are the fundamental beliefs and principles that guide a company’s behaviour. They shape the company culture and influence how it interacts with customers, employees, and other stakeholders. 

Nike’s core values include performance, authenticity, innovation, and sustainability. These elements are consistently communicated through Nike’s branding, from their product designs to their advertising campaigns, which extend to feature inspiring stories of athletes overcoming challenges.

Overall, if you have a clearly defined vision, mission, and core values, it sets the stage for a consistent and coherent brand identity. This clarity ensures that any form of decision-making always has a framework to align with, and additionally, your customers know exactly what to expect from you, fostering loyalty and trust!

How to Flesh Out a Brand Strategy

Now that you’re done with your market research and laid the framework of your vision, mission and core values. You are ready to start fleshing out your brand identity. Earlier on we drew a parallel between a brand being like a person. In this section, we expand more on that and give you an actionable and tangible checklist that will help you build out a fiercely consistent and iconic brand identity.

Visual Identity

Visual identity is the collection of visual elements that represent and distinguish your brand. It encompasses the design elements that a company uses to convey its brand message and values to its audience visually.

Graph showing the various tones of red that the Coca Cola brand uses, and their associated meaning

Colour Psychology: Source

  • Logo: A unique and memorable logo helps to establish and reinforce brand recognition, making it easier for consumers to identify and recall your brand.
  • Colour Scheme: Pick a colour palette that reflects your brand’s personality and evokes the desired emotions in customers. For example, did you know for restaurants, blue is the most unappetizing colour? It is known to suppress appetite and reduce hunger.
  • Typography: Choose font styles that enhance readability and brand recognition, and keep them consistent across the brand.
  • Overall Design Aesthetics: Zero in on consistent design elements used in your marketing materials, website, storefront, and packaging should be visually appealing and cohesive.  For example: are you going for a minimalist aesthetic, a dopamine-inducing aesthetic, a futuristic aesthetic, etc.
Brand Voice

Brand voice is the distinct personality and style in which a brand communicates with its audience across all platforms and interactions. To develop your brand voice, look into:

Chart showing Mailchimp's various tones when communicating with clients

Source

  • Tone: The attitude and emotion conveyed in your communications. It could be friendly, professional, humorous, etc. For example, Mailchimp came out with a breakthrough brand identity by speaking to their customers in an informal, casual and often humorous manner- but they never crossed the line to snobbish or inappropriate.
  • Style: The manner in which you express your messages. It could be formal, casual, conversational, etc.
  • Language: The specific words and phrases you use. Does your brand use jargon, slang, and profanity, in their communications?
What Do You Excel At: Unique Selling Points

A Brand USP (Unique Selling Proposition) is a distinctive feature or benefit that sets your brand apart from your competitors. It represents what makes your brand unique and why customers should choose it over others. FedEx’s classic USP, “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight,” clearly communicates reliability and speed, which are core to its brand identity.

FedEx advertisement with a plane and a delivery truck

Source

You can use your USP to further bolster your brand identity:

  • Consistent Messaging: Consider a tagline, website copy, and social media copy that reiterates your USP and becomes synonymous with your brand identity.
  • Product Development: Align new product features and launches with your USP to meet customer expectations and reinforce your brand identity.
  • Employee Training: Train your team to understand, embody, and communicate your USP, ensuring that your brand’s unique selling points are reflected in every interaction.
  • Marketing Campaigns: Develop marketing campaigns that focus on your USP, and use it as a central theme to attract and retain customers.
What You Stand For: Brand Purpose

Brand purpose is the fundamental reason a brand exists beyond making a profit. It could be a social, environmental, or ethical commitment.

Toms Shoes logo

Source

  • Choose to make an impact: Evaluate if your brand can organically encompass or align with causes or issues. Depending on the type of industry you operate in, your purpose can quickly become a core part of your brand identity. For example: TOMS footwear, pioneered the One for One® model—giving away one pair of shoes for every pair sold, in 2006, reinforcing in their customer’s minds that “When you wear TOMS, you Wear Good”.
  • Develop Partnerships: If you’re unable to take on making an impact directly, try to form partnerships with organizations and initiatives or collaborate on projects and campaigns that amplify your commitment to a chosen cause.
Emotions Evoked: Emotional Connection

If done right, brands can elicit feelings. Real emotional responses to what you offer. It could be something as simple as hunger or happiness, or it can even be as nuanced as comfort, pride, nostalgia, belonging, or inspiration. Here’s the real kicker, emotional connection translates to revenue. The Global State of CX 2023 found that emotional connections will keep your customers coming back to you even during times of hyperinflation.

castle in Walt Disney World

In 2017, Disney was ranked “Most Intimate Brand” among millennials.

  • Brand Story: Craft a compelling brand story that resonates with your target audience. Use storytelling techniques to evoke emotions and create a narrative that customers can relate to.
  • Create emotional touchpoints: Identify key moments in the customer journey where you can create emotional touchpoints. Design memorable experiences at these touchpoints to evoke the desired emotions. For example: personalized messages, surprise gifts, or exceptional customer service.
  • Leverage Social Proof: Use testimonials, reviews, and endorsements to build trust and credibility. Highlight customer experiences that evoke emotions like happiness, trust, and satisfaction.

By approaching brand identity in this holistic manner, you can truly transform your brand into a well-rounded, clearly identifiable force to be reckoned with.

5 Hot Tips on Creating a Standout Brand in the North American Market

If you’re a business owner starting a new brand for the North American market, or an international founder expanding a brand to North American markets, this segment is specifically for you. To make a big impact on North American audiences, we’ve put together some useful tips (with special stats on the Canadian market!) that can help you go beyond traditional marketing tactics, and really connect with audiences to make them not only accept, but resonate with your brand!

 1. Leverage Local Data

Understanding regional preferences, behaviours, and needs can make all the difference for a brand to successfully tailor their identity to new audiences. According to a study by McKinsey, brands that use customer behavioural insights outperform peers by 85% in sales growth and more than 25% in gross margin. 

The good news is countries like Canada have a treasure trove of data available, and we have covered this in detail in previous blogs too – read Tips for Conducting North American Market Research and How to conduct customer research in a foreign market to validate your start-up idea

An example of leveraging local data includes how Canadians like things made in Canada. A survey conducted by Ipsos for BDC, revealed that 45% of respondents had recently made a deliberate effort to buy Canadian-made products, and 24% indicated that they specifically sought out goods produced within their own province. 

Another example is, that Canada is bilingual. 10.4 million Canadians can carry on a conversation in French. To create a brand in Canada, you have to ensure your brand voice also embraces French. 

Golden nuggets of data like this come out in your market research phase and can completely redefine your branding strategy in Canada. By effectively using localized market research, your brand identity can be extremely personalized and engaging for your new customers!

 2. Do Good

Aligning your brand with social, environmental, or ethical causes can significantly enhance your brand’s reputation and loyalty. According to a 2022 Edelman study, 62% of Canadians are more worried about the country’s future than their own. Another study revealed that 82% of Canadians said they’re more likely to purchase products or services from brands whose values align with their own.

We spoke about Brand Purpose earlier, and it looks like Canada is all about it. Evaluate whether you can inculcate an impact purpose to your business to become a more preferred brand in Canada.

3. Utilize Social Media Effectively

With 90% of Canadians having internet access and 54% of Canadians saying they spend over 5 hours online per day, social media plays a very important role in building your brand in North America, specifically Canada. Canadian Gen Z consumers are particularly active, with 45% researching products on social media, compared to 43% globally and 40% in the US. 35% of Canadian consumers are influenced by ads that link directly to offers and promotions, similar to global trends.

4. Get Grrreat at Customer Service

Who doesn’t love good customer service, but North American countries, are particularly big fans of it. 80% of customers say the experience a company provides is AS important as its products and services. If we look at Canadians specifically, a PwC study found that 86% of Canadian consumers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience, and if they have just ONE bad experience, 33% of Canadian consumers will stop doing business with the company!

So as a brand servicing customers in North America or Canada, ensure that top-notch customer service is at the top of your brand identity!

5. Maintain Consistency

Maintaining consistency in your brand’s visual identity, voice, and messaging across all platforms is essential for building a strong, recognizable brand. In the U.S., brands like Coca-Cola have mastered the art of consistency, with their signature red and white colour scheme and classic logo remaining unchanged for decades. According to Lucidpress, consistent brand presentation across all platforms can increase revenue by up to 23%. Additionally, a report by Brand Keys reveals that consistent brands are 20% more successful than those that aren’t.

Brand Identity is a Continuous Process of Innovation and Consistency

You’re not done just yet, because the branding journey does not end at this. Remember to engage with your audience through regular feedback, social media interactions, and market research to understand their evolving needs and preferences. This dialogue will provide insights that can guide your brand’s development and keep it relevant. 

At the same time, it’s crucial to maintain a clear focus on your brand’s core values and identity. Avoid making impulsive pivots that could confuse or alienate your loyal customers. Instead, aim for thoughtful, incremental adjustments that enhance your brand while staying true to its foundational principles.

So keep evolving, keep listening, but stay grounded in what makes your brand unique!

Want to Start a Business in Canada?

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