Defining a brand’s identity is one of the core phases within the process of branding. To understand what it is, one could picture a structure that holds all of the brand’s distinctive attributes and traits inside of it. Despite its relevance for business development, many people, business owners included, are alarmingly unfamiliar with, even unaware of this concept. Proof of that is that the most common related search queries are phrases like: “What is brand identity?” and “Brand identity definition”.

Even within the industry, there’s a lot of disparity in opinions and theories about brand identity’s actual meaning, relevance, and configuration. The information coming from reputable and not-so-reputable sources is varied, dissimilar, and sometimes contradictory; so are the expert’s approaches, project scopes, and results. The consequences of this branding chaos are overwhelmed prospects that, after doing some research, might feel even more disoriented and disempowered to make the right decisions for their business.

This also leads to a bigger problem: ineffective brands. If we’ve said that a significant percentage of business owners aren’t even aware of what brand identity is, we now have a second group that is aware but getting the wrong information and, possibly, hiring unqualified people to help them. Both of them will be in equal trouble because a brand built over a weak foundation can be as dangerous as one that hasn’t been developed at all.

Going through the identity creation process in the right way results in a brand that is not only beautiful and more professional but anchored to the core aspects and values of the business it represents. That’s why the first step always has to be an in-depth investigation of the company’s business plan, target market, industry, and competitors. Then, with all the right information in place, the essential strategic concepts are crafted, and some specific human traits, like voice and personality, are attributed. Through this process, the brand is anthropomorphized to resemble its target audience and become more appealing and relatable to them. Finally, the logotype, colors, and additional visual assets get designed – the visual identity.

In very broad terms, those would be the steps needed to create a powerful identity. Within that general framework, strategists will use a myriad of methods and techniques. When looking at the work that comes out of some agencies, something becomes quite evident: Many of the people in charge of these processes execute them mechanically, using superficial information and without giving too much thought to the underlying purpose of their work. They are unable to realize what brand identity development is really about.

What lies at the core

The brand value proposition (BVP) is the statement that outlines what the main differential behind a company is (i.e., what about their product or service offering is truly unique), and what sets it apart from competitors. It can be based on many different things: the product’s quality, a feature, the company’s history, reputation, service experience, etc; the possibilities are infinite.

Crafting a strong BVP is one of the most essential aspects of creating a brand identity, and it is one of the critical steps that many strategists get wrong. One of the main reasons for this is what was highlighted at the beginning of the article: Most of its definitions and methodologies are vague, superficial, and even contradictory. Many do seem to point in the right direction, consistently stating that the BVP is related to the company’s differential. But they will leave it at that, barely grazing the complexity of what this actually implies. Sometimes it’ll get reduced to a short how-to article or tutorial, that is meant to be completed by the business owner on his own.

Finding a differential might seem like a straightforward endeavor. Those who are already intimately familiar with their own enterprise, and those who have been thinking about launching a product/service and have a lot of information about it, might feel like they already know theirs. But if it was something obvious and easy to find, it’d probably mean that many other businesses in the category would share this trait, and might even be communicating it as their own uniqueness.

The real brand value proposition is buried deep, and can only be revealed through a multi-layered research process, like the one described above. With all the right information laid out on the table, that trait that makes the company stand out becomes visible. It’ll often be a combination of several relevant aspects that, when put together, form something unique. Once the BVP has been found, it should become the platform upon which the rest of the identity stands on. Most businesses, no matter how saturated the industry is or how many competitors they have, tend to always have something that gives them their flair and compelling essence.

Uniqueness alone is not enough

After going through this process repeatedly and exploring the ins and outs of different industries, business models, and structures, brand identity creation becomes a smooth undertaking. That’s when the experienced brand strategist, who has understood the nuances and caveats of the work, can come upon a second treasure: Realizing that, at their core, all brands should be about boldness.

It fits into the category of what some people call “open secrets”. Something that, once discovered, can seem obvious and simple, but that is rarely understood and applied in the first place. Boldness and confidence should permeate all aspects of a brand, no matter the category or industry. This idea spurs out of a very simple principle: Consumers are always looking to buy the best they can afford. So anyone offering products or services in the market has to effectively demonstrate they are the best (or one of the best) at what they do; they have to demonstrate expertise.

In order to reflect and communicate expertise, a brand needs to be confident and bold. It might be easy for some to find faults in this statement. Not all brands seem to stand on these attributes. What about those that convey empathy? The ones that are about style? What about the ones that are about trust? Those are specific attributes that change from industry to industry, and company to company. They are also an essential part of the identity, but they work at a more superficial layer. The need for boldness treads much deeper. It’s a response to a fundamental desire that all consumers share: to have their needs met efficiently. It doesn’t matter if the product is canned peaches, a car, life coaching, or dry cleaning. It doesn’t matter if the message revolves around fun, flavor, efficiency, or nurturing. In essence, all businesses are really trying to say the same thing: We are the best at delivering what you expect from us.

The two pillars

Expertise and uniqueness are the essential pillars behind any valuable and meaningful business. It could be argued that, in some cases, the two pillars can merge into one, whenever the differentiating aspect is expertise itself. But in today’s overly saturated market, it’s very challenging to stand out by using that sole promise. As we’ve already come to see, consumers always expect to purchase expertise, which means that it isn’t going to be perceived as a special trait.

Over time, it has become a core attribute that needs to permeate the whole business model and brand. That’s why knowing how to find the true differential that’s buried deep down is also essential, and why these two pillars are complementary. Whenever they are delivered with authenticity and expressed through a clear and powerful identity, they give a company its true edge and can make it become incredibly successful.

Cover image source: Josh Redd