Brand Image

Creating a Cohesive Brand Image

By Dina Downey
August 30, 2021

Psychology Behind Developing Brand Loyalty Infographic

University of Southern California

What is a Brand Image?

A brand’s voice, strategy, messaging and visuals combine to form the brand’s image.
Lexico by Oxford defines brand image as “the general impression of a product held by real or potential consumers.”

The human race has always been concerned with what others think of us. Why? For one, we crave acceptance and validation. As children, we appeal to adults through a primal need to receive the necessary care to grow and thrive. In fact, Darwin observed that cuter babies tend to receive better care than those considered less endearing.

As we grow older and enter society - even as early as kindergarten - we begin to observe what others do to gain acceptance and validation and it naturally becomes a competition to earn more favor than our peers. As we enter adulthood and business, that concept is magnified, because now the validation comes from earning consumers’ attention and loyalty, and ultimately their dollar. As we know, companies that are more adept at getting consumers to spend their money with them are the companies that survive.

How to Define Your Brand’s Image

Defining your brand’s image involves a series of steps to identify the different parts of the overall image. It’s important to do the work to ensure that your image is consistent and effective.

1. Strategy

How do companies compete for customers? Psychology.

Think of the brands you use loyally. What initially drew you to those brands? You likely felt that the brand was relatable to you, it excited you, seemed sincere, sophisticated or reliable, or you made some other subconscious association based on the brand’s image. Much like the cuteness of a baby, the image of a brand determines the amount of favor they receive in order to survive.

Brands have taken survival several steps beyond by curating from whom they want to earn favor, i.e. they have identified their target audience. If a brand’s image appeals to you on or near a primal level, chances are that you are the brand’s target audience.

Now, take this concept and apply it to your own brand. While all people are unique and have their own experiences to draw from when choosing brands, there are certain major characteristics that you can use to create categories of potential consumers to appeal to.

Your criteria will depend on the product or service you’re offering as well as what your competition is doing – what works and what doesn’t? Let’s look at a few criteria to help you define your target market.

Your current customer base. Who are your current customers? What are the commonalities between them, and what are the differences? People who have similar buying habits to your current customers may also find value in what you have to offer.

Your competitors.Who are your competitors’ current customers? In order to gain a significant advantage, you’ll want to find a niche that your competitors don’t currently fill. That means that you won’t be trying to appeal to the exact same customer base as your competitors, but taking the information you glean and improving on your competitors’ methodologies.

Your offerings. For your products or services, identify what makes them unique and useful. Why are your offerings beneficial to your customers? Listing these benefits can help you identify who is likely to seek the benefits your brand provides.

Demographics. Your target market can be roughly identified through demographics: age, gender, occupation, income level, education, location, ethnicity, marital and parental status. While these traits are extremely broad, they can help you delineate a wider market that you can then research more deeply to unearth some of the specific traits and needs that your brand can fulfill.

Psychographics. Demographic groups can be broken down into more specific categories based on values, interests, lifestyles, personality traits and more. Psychographics has more to do with lifestyle choices than demographics, which in many cases is not a choice but a set of circumstances.

These characteristics can get you to a point at which you know who you want to market to, but you still need to know how to market to them. Understanding what appeals to your target market will guide the creation of your brand’s image. Will your target market see a need for your product or service? If so, can they afford it? How do they make purchasing decisions, and how do you reach them with your brand’s messaging?

2. Positioning

Identifying your target market and how you want to appeal to those consumers will help you when you create your brand’s positioning statement.

What a Brand Positioning Statement is

Often (incorrectly) used interchangeably with other branding terms, what a brand positioning statement really is can be summed up as a statement that encompasses the following:

  • The evolution of the value proposition. The value proposition is often used as a jumping-off point in creating a brand positioning statement; the positioning statement explains more deeply how your brand can serve customers better than competitors.
  • A behind-the-scenes message that serves to inform the tagline;that is, the positioning statement is foundational to the formation of any and every iteration of the brand’s tagline. The positioning statement will never change, unlike the tagline, which can change over time while keeping the brand’s foundational values in place.
  • The essence of your brand.The positioning statement should be a deep, collective statement of why your brand exists. It’s the external perception that you want customers to have when they think of your brand. Your customers should be able to name the benefits of working with your brand.
  • The future of your brand.The positioning statement should be able to express your company’s vision in a way that allows the customer to identify why they should remember your brand over others.

What a Brand Positioning Statement is Not

Often (incorrectly) used interchangeably with other branding terms, what a brand positioning statement really is can be summed up as a statement that encompasses the following:

  • ...Value Proposition: A value proposition appeals to the customer by focusing on the benefits the customer will enjoy by working with your brand.
  • ...Tagline: A tagline is a declaration aimed at your audience and customers to create an indelible impression of the brand name
  • ...Elevator Pitch: An elevator pitch is just that - a “pitch” of what you do or your company does that can be explained within a 30-second elevator ride. It’s more of a brief overview of what you do without the deeper ‘why’ of the company’s main goals.
  • ...Mission Statement: A mission statement forms an internal perception of the brand by influencing employees from day one, shaping the overall culture of the company. This statement defines what your brand does today to meet ongoing and future goals.
  • ...Vision Statement: The vision statement declares your collective vision of where your company is headed in the future. This is another internal perception of the brand and serves to build a motivational and cohesive plan of action involving the team working together to move the brand forward and achieve common goals.

3. How To Create Your Brand Positioning Statement

Knowing what a brand positioning statement is as well as what it isn’t will help you craft your own. It’s important to keep in mind that your brand positioning statement is typically a single-sentence statement that references the other elements of brand messaging you’ve amassed. The following questions will help you identify what’s most important to say in a brand positioning statement.

Why does your brand exist?
For whom does your brand exist?
What does your brand offer that sets you apart from other brands?
What lasting impression do you want your brand to leave with customers?

Reference your existing brand messaging materials when answering these questions. For example, when answering the question about why your brand exists, refer to your mission statement and describe how your team is going about meeting company goals. You might find yourself reading through external reference material, as well, such as customer reviews. Testimonials, success stories and similar feedback can help you to identify for whom your brand exists.

What does your brand offer that sets you apart from other brands? This question will require some research before answering. Gather information regarding your competitors and what they offer and then refer to your value proposition to make a promise of how you will exceed what your competitors offer. Be sure to include how you’ll keep that promise.

It sounds like a lot, and it is. But you can deliver your brand’s positioning statement in a single sentence using a template such as this one:

“(My brand) is a _A_ company that provides _B_ with _C_ by _D_” in which you fill in the blanks as follows:

So, if you’re a roofing company, your positioning statement might read something like this:

“ABC is a roofing company that provides homeowners and business owners with beautiful, dependable new roofs, roof repairs and reroofs by offering industry-leading warranties, using the highest quality roofing materials and focusing on the ongoing training and development of our expert roofers.”

Once you’ve crafted your brand’s positioning statement, you can use it going forward to guide your content marketing and brand consistency.

Creating a brand image seems like a scientific process, doesn’t it? Well, the fact of the matter is that while these criteria are hugely important to a brand’s marketing strategy, a brand’s image can transcend all of it by appealing to emotion.

Psychological Aspects of Brand Imaging

Appealing to your target audience requires knowing a few things about what people react to. Take the following categories:

Color and Emotion

Certain colors can evoke certain emotions from people. What those emotions are will ultimately depend on a person’s individual background and personal experiences, but there are important points to know about the psychological effect of using color in branding.

For example, the color green tends to promote health, peace and growth, while red can elicit feelings of bold excitement. Overall, bright colors typically project a happier image while darker colors can be associated with ruggedness and masculinity.

Typography

According to The Crazy Egg, the font style you choose for your logo and other brand assets can influence the way people see your brand. For example, serif fonts tend to exude a serious or traditional tone and can garner feelings of confidence and respect for the brand. In contrast, a sans serif font is typically used to seem more modern, clean and even chic. Script fonts can make your brand seem elegant and sophisticated, while display fonts are fun and whimsical.

Consistency

The human brain is an amazing organ. Our brains seek patterns in absolutely everything we see, and most of the time we’re not even aware of it. Patterns help us recognize things, and when you follow a consistent pattern in your branding, your brand becomes recognizable and projects an image of trustworthiness.

The bottom line? Consistency is key. Consistency in the color, the font and messaging of your brand make people comfortable, and thus, loyal.

The Importance of Branding Consistency

Customers don’t make buying decisions based solely on brand recognition. Predictability is essential in business, both for internal collaborators and external consumers. As stated above, predictability garners comfort and loyalty, because your customers, employees and partners know exactly what to expect from the brand.

It may take a dozen interactions or more for a customer to decide that your brand is the one they trust and prefer. That means that your brand must remain consistent – in your messaging, the quality of your product or service, your brand’s visual identity – and that gives context to your brand as a whole. This process may be a bit slow, but it is completely worth it when you look back at your loyal customer base.

Establishing Brand Standards

To remain consistent with your brand’s identity, it’s important that you establish a set of guidelines to which everyone involved with your brand adheres to. These guidelines should outline your brand’s imaging, voice, taglines, quality, customer service and all other aspects of successfully managing your brand.

Employee Buy-in

Successful companies use a variety of methods to gain the understanding and cooperation of their employees when it comes to keeping a consistent brand image. Some of these can include the following:

  • Onboarding/training materials - From the first day on the job, your employees should be well-educated on the standards they’re expected to adhere to. Nearly every company hands out literature during the onboarding process, whether it’s an employee handbook or another form of physical materials that, truthfully, most employees don’t ever read. To really drive your standards home with your employees, they need to understand the why as well as the what. Make ongoing training sessions fun by making them “lunch-and-learns” and incorporating games (such as trivia or two truths and a lie) centered on the company values, mission and identity. Remain available to answer questions as well as pull them into the fold so that they are truly a part of the company and are thus personally invested in representing the brand’s image.
  • Branded everyday items - Inspire your employees every day by reminding them of the company’s goals. This can be done through the provision of items they utilize daily that have your company’s brand front and center. Think embroidered shirts, logo-ed coffee mugs, specially-printed mouse pads, business cards and the like. Get creative; USB dongles with your logo, branded stress balls, phone chargers in your company’s colors...there is literally no end to the useful items that will be both useful and inspirational to your team.
  • Logos and branding materials - Make sure your employees have access to approved logos and fonts to use in professional communications. This includes letterheads, branded document templates and the approved brand colors.
  • Style guide - A style guide should answer any questions your employees might have about the appropriate usage of company logos and branding, the company’s voice and the color codes of the company logo.

Your Brand’s Voice

Your brand’s voice is, for all intents and purposes, your brand’s personality. It’s the framework outlining how your brand relates to your audience, customers and partners. Your brand’s voice stands for the strength and position of your company and carries your brand to where you want it to be. It conveys the reason for your brand’s existence as well as the brand’s goals.

The voice of your brand should embody what your brand stands for. Whether that’s friendly and conversational or formal and informational, it should reflect your brand’s desired image without being pushy or “sales-y;” coming on too strong will put you at risk of losing the trust of your audience before you’ve had the chance to really earn it.

Content

Your brand’s content, whether online or physical, should strive to create personalized experiences for consumers while maintaining the brand’s established voice. The following tips can help you form and adhere to your brand’s voice.

  • For social media, focus on platforms that align with your industry and are the ones your customers use.
  • For social media posts as well as any written content on your website, choose topics consistent with your brand’s overarching messaging.
  • Curate your written content and social media posts around relevant industry topics.
  • Offer a unique or valuable insight on a topic related to your industry. If someone else has already written it, you should only write it if you can add new value to the topic.
  • Bring IRL events to the internet. For example, if your company values humanitarian work and participates in it, post images and videos to social media to bolster your brand’s dedication to helping others.
  • Work with outside sales personnel to determine what’s working in the field. If they’re getting recommended to customers through social media, then you know that your strategy is working.

Overall, successful branding happens when all of the moving pieces come together in a cohesive, cooperative execution. If you were to ask 50 people to describe your brand, you would want the descriptions to remain fairly consistent across the board. When you’ve achieved that, you’ve successfully created a brand image.

Sources:
https://www.inc.com/guides/2010/06/defining-your-target-market.html
https://grasshopper.com/blog/why-brands-are-lovable-a-crash-course-in-the-psychology-of-branding/
https://www.crazyegg.com/blog/psychology-of-fonts-infographic/
https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0001664
https://appliedpsychologydegree.usc.edu/blog/psychology-behind-developing-brand-loyalty/
https://www.clearvoice.com/blog/brand-consistency-why-its-so-important-how-to-achieve-it/


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