To start off the New Year I wrote about what your new year resolution should be for your startup, Improve your branding! In the last article I talked about the important elements of a brand and what your first steps should be. If you haven’t read it yet, go back, have a read and find your focus.

One of the parts of your brand that I talked about is the Brand Identity. The identity of a brand is an elusive topic that is very often misunderstood. Some think it’s just the logo and stationery. Others talk only about the strategy. The reality is that the brand identity is the essence of your company. It’s all the elements that make you the awesome company that you are.

The Identity = Image Delusion

Let’s be clear about something once more so it sticks. Your identity is NOT your image. Your identity is who you say you are. Your image is who your customers say you are. Since we cannot brainwash our customers (some people can but we are nice people), the only thing left to do is communicate who we truly are. By building the right identity, we can influence the perception of our brand and in the long run create the image that we are after. The secret sauce that brings these two together is a good story, but this deserves another article.

Why, How, What?

The best place to start out brand building journey is at the core of your company. The question is simple but needs a lot of thought, “Why are you doing this?”. If you’ve read Simon Sinek’s Start with Why then you are familiar with this concept (this video is a good start). First you need to be clear about why you are doing what you are doing. Think of the larger impact of your work, the dent you will leave in the universe. Once you have why, move to how you are doing it and finally to what you are doing.

The why part is crucial and will influence everything that comes after it. The how will help you iron out some of the details of how the greater goal will be achieved. Finally the what goes down to the nitty-gritty of what you are doing.

You don’t have to be an oracle to have a vision

Do you have a vision? Can you articulate it? Do you own it? Or are you going on day by day trying to get more users to prove that you are doing something?

Having a vision can be the guiding force that will plot your future. It will help you in the rough days because you are fighting for something larger than just customer acquisition. A strong vision usually comes with a creation of a new market, or category, or taking something ordinary and making it extra-ordinary.

Most of you will have come across vision and mission statements that are just blurbs by top executives that are hang on a wall for no-one to see. We’re not talking about this kind of vision here. We are talking about the vision that makes you get out of bed in the morning, after 4 hours of sleep filled with energy for the new day. Amazon.com’s vision is to be the place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online. What’s yours?

A vision needs a mission

Having a vision but not acting on it is pointless. Once you have a vision then you need a mission. To put it simply, a mission contains the steps that you need to achieve in order to reach your vision. Start putting down every possible idea that is related to getting to your vision. Any way is acceptable until you find the right way.

Are you true to your values?

The values of a brand… So often talked about, so rarely true. If you don’t know what your values are then you need to do some serious work. If you need help, get a brand consultant to guide you. The best way I’ve found a company’s values is by speaking to your core team. Get them together around a table and talk with them about what they value the most and what they believe the common values are. List them all on a whiteboard and start looking for common ground. Rinse and repeat. Remove the ones that are not strong for the team and combine weak ones to make great ones.

At the end you should be left with a list of 3 to 5 values. These should be close to everyone’s heart and should be communicated directly or indirectly to your audience. These are the things that your audience will see and say “These guys get me”. Once you’ve made that connection you can start building on their trust.

Empty values are worth zero

Here’s a word of caution. Because a value sounds good and looks good on the whiteboard, it doesn’t mean it’s the right one. The values need to be genuine for your startup and your team. If customer service excellence is on the list but you hang up on customer calls, then customer service excellence is not your brand’s value. Communicating your values is the easy part, keeping true to them is the difficult one.

That’s why it’s important for your team to be a part of this. If the brand’s values are aligned with their values then it’s easier for them to be genuine. At the end of the day, no one wants to live in a lie…

What do you stand for?

Having found your values, there is one thing left to do. Your core value. What is it that you stand for? What is your purpose?

If you know why you are doing this, then you should know what you value more than anything else. This question cannot be answered by anyone else than you. Branding experts can help you find the answer but they cannot answer the question for you.

A great example comes from Steve Jobs in a talk that he did back in 1997 on the Apple Campus (video here). According to him Apple’s core value is the following:

“We believe people with passion can change the world for the better….and that those people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who actually do.”

Building an identity for your brand is one of the most complex, time consuming and difficult tasks. At the same time it’s one of the most rewarding, beneficial and important ones. This is not a process that you should rush and get it over with. Once you put together the items from above you will be ready to move to the next phase of building your brand identity. Next week we will look at building the elements of your brand identity that make people get you. If you have any questions or requests, let us know in the comments.

Image Credit: Schatz