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What is a Brand Identity and How Do You Use It?

5by5 Strategist Kelley Cochran

5by5 Strategist Kelley Cochran

Whether you’re a marketer or CEO, you’ve probably dealt with this dynamic on your team: people hesitant to invest in branding because the ROI is unclear vs. people spending excessive amounts of money on design and clever advertisements — missing the point of branding altogether. 


Yet we keep hearing about the power of a brand. The power of a brand to influence behavior, change perceptions and even shape entire cultures. It directly impacts the effectiveness of your marketing and advertising efforts. It’s what makes people buy your product over the competition.


So the problem isn’t in the value of a brand. The problem is that the definition of a brand is often misunderstood. 


What It Is


So what is a brand? A quick Google search for ‘brand identity’ pulls up article after article outlining strategies behind logo design, color selection, typography and photography. And while that’s part of it, it’s only a piece of the story. 


At 5by5 we like to use the analogy that brands are like people. Those visual elements just mentioned are important. They’re often people’s first impression, and as we know — people do judge books by their covers. 


But what if someone asked you to describe yourself? Your identity. Sure, you may describe the style of clothes you wear and your music preferences — but it’s your beliefs, passions and personality that create the rich, colorful image of who you are. The same is true for brands.


Heather Land Branding

Brand personality is easiest to see when it’s an entertainer — but the principles apply to businesses too.


Why It’s Important


When you describe a friend as dependable, funny or passionate you’re identifying an expectation you have based on their identity. When someone sends mixed signals — something just feels off, but you can’t quite put your finger on it — you become apprehensive, question their intent or even lose trust.


When a brand lacks a consistent identity, it often (unintentionally) sends mixed signals to its audience. People can’t connect to a vague idea and certainly can’t trust something without having established any expectations. This can lead to products or services that fall flat with your audience, ads that don’t convert, low engagement on social media and even higher turnover within the company.


What’s unique about a brand’s identity though, is that it’s carried about by (sometimes very large) teams across multiple channels, not by a single brain.  Insert complication. It’s easy for slightly different interpretations to water down a brand’s identity completely. And the lack of a documented identity at all? Reeeeally hard to get people on the same page there. Let alone get a brand deeply embedded into the culture.


The Live Your Days brand represented across websites, podcast, and merchandise

It’s essential the audience’s experience is consistent across every touchpoint — and that’s done through branding.


How to Use It


The powerful brand identity we strive to create needs to be the foundation of an organization — expressing itself in everything it says and does. It puts words into an organization’s DNA. Yes, it’s the visual identity too, but it should be so much more than that.


When clearly defined, it establishes trust with its audience. It informs business and marketing strategy. It signals mission drift. It guides decision-making on product creation. It determines messaging and content creation. It informs hiring decisions. In a competitive environment, it creates the authority needed to stand out.


Basically what I’m saying is don’t just document it and put it on the shelf. People need to see it AND experience it within the company. After all, they’re the ones that will bring it to life.


What’s Next


It might be time to make thoughtful decisions about your brand identity if:

  • You’re an organization just starting out 
  • You’re having a hard time connecting with your audience
  • You’re in a competitive environment and need to differentiate
  • You recognize inconsistencies in your company
  • Your audience (or team) seems confused about your direction
  • You have a hard time identifying what’s on (or off) brand


If any of that resonated, get your key decision-makers in the room to start these conversations. Remember, your brand identity should address Brand Foundations (the reason you exist), Brand Focus (the decisions you stand by), Brand Value (the change you create), and Brand Personality (the way you connect with others). 


You’d be surprised at what unity and momentum can be created by giving your team a clear vision to rally behind.

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