What is your brand made of? Most people will associate a brand with its visual look and feel — or its logo. A marketer will tell you your brand is in the stories your business tells through marketing. And they’re not wrong. But your brand is much much more than that. In fact, the visual branding is just a representation of your brand personality. And the stories reflect what your brand stands for. But where does it all come from? The answer: your Brand DNA.
Brand DNA is a fancy term I like to use to describe all the things you need to define in order to have a successful brand — and business. For some, these are easy and quick to put together, but most people want a bit of help.
As a business owner or founder you already have all the information to define your Brand DNA, if they want to. You’re set to start working on your Brand DNA because your business was born from your heart and is a reflection of your values.
Let me walk you through the pieces that make your Brand DNA.
Every entrepreneur has a “why” — a reason they’re doing what they’re doing. Sometimes the reason is grand and inspirational. But it can as easily be down to earth and relatable. Only you will know what your “why” is.
This is a core element in building a purposeful brand. Yes, you can build a brand without defining your “why.” But in order to have a truly authentic brand voice and reach the customers that will turn into your advocates, you need to find and surface what your passion.
Your “why” is effective in creating you an attractive brand, because deep inside we all have a “why.” Each and everyone in your target audience will have something they are passionate about and inspired by. And when you find a group of people whose “why” is aligned with your “why,” you’ve found a group of fiercely loyal customers.
The concept of “why” is coined by Simon Sinek. If you want to learn more, check out his book Find Your Why
. This is a workbook designed to help people find their “why”. I always like to recommend Find Your Why over Sinek’s earlier book Start With Why, because it has concrete steps to help you define your “why.” And has well summarized the key thoughts from Start With Why.
Your target audience is in a key role in many aspects when it comes to your business. Your Brand DNA is no exception. Think of it this way: in order to know how
you want to talk, you need to know who
you are talking to. I’ve written a quick overview about knowing your audience and reference few good books to read in this post: Knowing your audience is everything
When you’re defining your target audience, the key things to think about in addition to demographics are their behaviour, attitudes, and values. These will guide you to create brand assets and content that attracts and interests your audience. Remember: while your brand should reflect your “why,” it should be communicating to your audience, not to you.
Your brand’s personality is what gives it a unique flavor. It is often described as if your brand was an actual person. For example, “easily approachable” or “friendly.” It is easy to come up with two or three adjectives to describe your brand personality. But just like with your target audience: the better you know your brand, the easier it is to communicate. And any communication from your business is a reflection of your brand — even the stuff you didn’t mean as brand related.
To really get to know your brand personality, you should build a brand personality grid. This is a nine square grid where each square will have a photo in it. In the center, you’ll place an image of a person. That will be your brand if it were a human being
. It is not your target audience — or ideal customer avatar. It is your brand as a person
And in the eight squares that circle your brand as a person, you’ll start collecting imagery that describes the life of this person. For example, if this person lived in a house, what would the house be like (find that house and put in one of the squares).
Defining your brand personality will also help you define the tone of voice your brand uses in its communications. Think of the brand personality grid and the personification of your brand: how would this person talk? What kind of things would they talk about? Where would they publish their message?
Unique point of view
What makes your brand different? This might be immediately clear for you. Maybe your business fills a void and provides something that didn’t exist before. That would automatically give you a unique point of view.
Or maybe you are like most of the entrepreneurs out there: offering a product or service that competes with other similar products and services. In this super common situation, developing a unique point of view helps a lot.
Your unique point of view has to come from a place of authenticity. You shouldn’t try to be different just for the sake of being different. Don’t come up with artificial qualities to add to your brand for the sake of being unique. You will only end up looking disingenuous and fake.
“What if I have nothing unique” you might panic. Calm down my friend. Everyone has something that makes them unique. There is no other business owner exactly like you. You and your values — and your “why” — are what makes your brand unique. So, dig into that basket as often as you can when you’re building your brand.
I’d like to add here one of my favorite quotes. I think it describes this challenge well. I unfortunately can’t remember who said it (and have not been able to find this quote online either). So, if you identify this, shoot me an email, I’d like to know who it was and how it goes exactly:
Things designed to be different are rarely ever better. But things designed to better are almost always different.
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, said it best: “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
Your company’s brand is it’s reputation. And people definitely talk behind you back. You should treat your brand reputation as you treat your own: don’t do or say anything you wouldn’t want people to talk about in public. The word will always get out.
This is painfully true when it comes to your customer experience. How do you treat your customers? Do you answer their emails quickly? Do return their direct messages or phone calls? When you do, how do you talk to them? Are you helpful, respectful, and friendly? One off handed comment can turn away a customer.
You may remember the customer support scandals Comcast went through in 2014 when some of their customers recorded phone calls with Comcast support agent. Needless to say, these phone calls didn’t provide a good customer experience, and resulted in a viral storm for Comcast.
So, what can you do? Well for one, you should try and study your audience’s perception of your brand. How do your customers see your business? If there’s room for improvement, listen to your audience. What are they telling you to change?
You can’t fix serious issues in customer experience just by changing your brand. You need to fix the issues first. But you need to be aware that each and every customer interaction
with your business will affect your brand — either positively or negatively.
What is the value your brand offers? And how is it better than other brands in the marketplace? The value proposition can be both emotional and rational. Here we again list things that differentiate your brand from other brands. But unlike your unique point of view (which is the lens you reflect all your brand communication through) value proposition should list actual tangible benefits — either rational or emotional.
When you put together your value proposition, you should be genuine in what you promise. If you’ve defined your “why” and your unique point of view, know your audience, and studied the customer perception, putting together your value proposition should not be difficult.
As you’re drafting the brand benefits, make sure they are relevant to your audience, compelling, and believable. Don’t list more than a couple benefits as people typically have difficult time associating more than one or two benefits per brand.
How does your brand compare to the competition? What is your unique position in the marketplace? To define this you will need to know who your biggest competitors are and how they are positioned in the marketplace.
If you have a complex product or service with lots of features and benefits, I like to build a comparison table to identify the table stakes and opportunity gaps
. In the table, each column is an existing and desired benefit or feature and each row is your competitor. And of course, include your business to the matrix.
Add a checkmark etc. to identify the benefits/features your competitors (and yourself) have. The columns (benefit/feature) that are full of checkmarks are your table stakes. The columns that have only one or two checkmarks (or are empty) are your opportunity gaps to differentiate and position yourself in the marketplace.
Quicker and easier way to define your position in the marketplace is to build a simple four square competitor matrix. Draw x and y axes (like a big plus sign). Define qualities you’re measuring on the axes. For example, high touch vs low touch and ordinary vs luxury.
Position all your competitors in the matrix based on their brand and products/services. Empty (or emptier) squares become potential positioning opportunities for your brand as they are less saturated with your competitors’ offerings. If you choose to position yourself in a more saturated square in your matrix, you will need to have more unique differentiators to stand out.
In the competitor matrix exercise, it is critically important that you choose the right qualities for the comparison. Otherwise you might end up with unattractive or inefficient positioning.
Defining your Brand DNA makes the rest of your branding much easier, smoother, and way more successful. Having all the things above defined will give a firm ground for the other brand building activities. Especially when it comes to building your visual identity.
Have you ever hired a designer to work on your visual brand and been disappointed with the results because it looks nothing like you wanted? Or does not feel like your brand?
Brand designers work based on the things defined in your Brand DNA. If your brand personality is not defined, or if the value your brand offers isn’t clear, the visual identity won’t meet your expectations. And will lack a cohesive, well-thought-out brand look and feel.
Ready to start the design work?
If you’ve got all the above things in order, and you’re ready to start building your visual identity, check out my FREE super simple DIY logo guide
and share your work on Daily Creative Facebook page