What’s Your Brand DNA?

7 Steps to Define Your Brand

Branding is more than skin deep. Branding isn’t just a superficial collection of colors, images or sounds; it’s an integral part of your offering. Regardless of whether you’re a product producer, a retailer, a media entity, a not-for-profit or a solopreneur, you’ve got a brand. If you don’t take deliberate steps to create your brand, it’s whatever random signals your audience and the public happen to pick up!

At its core, branding requires work that can’t be outsourced. It requires looking inward at your product and organization. That said, an outside marketing agency or consultant can help guide the process and provide a neutral perspective as you go through the process.

To get your branding on track, here are seven questions to answer. Ideally, gather answers from across your organization to provide broader insights.

  1. What type of product, service or content do you offer? Specifically what benefits do you deliver to your customers? Go beyond your physical product or service. Does your product offer status or security or other elements. For example, every woman wants to receive a little blue box that she knows is from Tiffany’s, even though she could get a larger piece of jewelry for the same price on 47th Street (NYC’s Diamond district).
  2. What are your organization and products about? How do customers distinguish yours from the other options and trade-offs facing them? While most marketers don’t consider free or low-price options like the library or consignment shops, shoppers do. To answer this question, consider your product or company’s story. A hunter, L.L. Bean’s founder returned home with cold, wet feet and got the idea for a combined rubber boot with a leather upper. 
  3. What are your core principles, goals and values? What’s important to your organization? For example, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream talks the talk. In their words, “We have a progressive, nonpartisan social mission that seeks to meet human needs and eliminate injustices in our local, national and international communities by integrating these concerns into our day-to-day business activities.” They donate part of their earnings to charity. Also, Ben & Jerry’s is a fun brand that leverages pop culture with flavors like Cherry Garcia.
  4. What’s your company and/or product’s personality? To answer this question, you have to think like a product psychologist. You have to answer “Who are you?” for your company. In terms of airline brands, Virgin America is cool; they provide an experience unlike many airlines with added benefits. By contrast, Southwest is unpretentious and folksy. They incorporate the peanut into their brand.
  5. What’s your voice? Go beyond the sounds of your product or company spokesperson. What type of language do you use to communicate? How do you use language? This means more than English. Do you speak like Snooki or a Harvard professor? The images projected are very different. From a brand experience, who doesn’t recognize a PC booting up with Microsoft by its tones?
  6. Who’s your target audience? When it comes to branding, think beyond the purchasers and users of your product and/or services.  Include past customers, influencers, employees (present and former), investors, the media, the government, suppliers, distributors and the public.  If you’re a not-for-profit or educational institution, consider donors and board of trustees. This can have major impact on your brand. To this end, it’s important to create targeted marketing personas.
  7. Who are your competitors? Just as your customers define your brand, so do your competitors. Consider how you differentiate your products and organization from others in your marketplace. What sets you apart and why? What do these differences mean for your brand? The classic example of a brand defined by its competitor is Avis with the slogan “We’re number 2, we try harder.”

Regardless of how you do it, branding is critical. Answering these seven questions can get your organization on track to have a consistent brand message across every aspect of your brand and company.

Are there any other branding related questions that you’d add to this list? If so, what are they?

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies.
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Photo credit: 
DNA: http://www.flickr.com/photos/victor_sween/2260564229
LL Bean Boot: Heidi Cohen
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