How to build a brand that lasts

When you’re running a business, it’s easy to focus on your numbers and forget about your brand – a valuable piece of the puzzle that’s often misunderstood. Get it right and you’ll help fuel growth and long-term success.

15 April 2019

Brand equity isn’t on the financial statement of your company, but it is a way to add real value to your small business. Creating a brand with longevity means getting the basics right at the start. Every branding agency has its own approach, but there are common foundations that anyone can practice. We'll share the main ones here, and use examples from the world’s best brands to show you how they do it.

First, let’s settle our definition of ‘brand’. It’s a catch-all term for every part of your business that touches people’s lives. Some call this the Visual, Verbal and Interactive: a brand is how you are seen, heard and felt. A powerful brand uses each of these as an opportunity to prove to customers that they’re making the right choice by picking their product or service.

The Superbrands list tells the tale. This annual chart measures the most effective company images out there, and it’s topped by those who never let opportunity slip past. This year’s top ten featured Lego, Gillette, Apple, Andrex and Coca-Cola, among others. So what makes them different to you – apart from budgets? Strong branding. And luckily, you don’t need a fortune to build a brand that lasts.

Brand mission

Long-lived brands establish a mission for themselves. It’s a way to set yourself apart and establish a higher purpose beyond profit (though that can be a mission in itself). It’s the 'why' behind your brand. Why do you really want to work? Why does your work really matter? Why should the world change just because you’re in it? Theses are the missions of some of those serious big-hitters.

  • Lego: Inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow.
  • Coca-Cola: To refresh the world in mind, body and spirit. To inspire moments of optimism and happiness through our brands and actions. To create value and make a difference.
  • Starbucks: To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time

Brand proposition

A proposition is usually a short, punchy phrase that you can rally around. It’s the hub that everything revolves around. Simple to understand, easy to remember, and it can be applied as a filter to every decision. Sometimes it’s also an advert tagline, too – a general overview of how your brand thinks about the world. Variations on this are often called the brand purpose or promise – subtly different ideas, but close enough to group together. Think about what you do as a business. Then think about what you do for people. It’s not the same thing. Starbucks are not a coffee brand. They’re a destination that rethinks public space. Lego aren’t toy makers. They shape the way children will manipulate the world in future.

  • Apple: Think Different
  • Lego: Only the best is good enough
  • Gillette: The Best A Man Can Get
  • Coca-Cola: To inspire moments of optimism and uplift
  • Nike: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world

Adam Jang

Brand values

Brand values help you flesh out your brand, beyond idealistic statements. Values are important. They keep your brand consistent, letting you change direction without losing a sense of identity. They tell your customers who you really are and guide your activities to support the identity in an authentic way. They also help you attract and retain the right colleagues, investors and clients: those who share your values and want to work to uphold them.

  • Lego: Imagination, creativity, fun, learning, caring, quality
  • Coca-Cola: Leadership, collaboration, integrity, accountability, passion, diversity, quality
  • Starbucks: Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome; Acting with courage, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to grow our company and each other; Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect; Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results.

Visual identity

Your brand values and proposition are the starting blocks for how you speak and interact with people. The final piece of the puzzle is visual identity. When companies create brands, they think hard about how consumers will see them.

The most common elements here are your logo, typefaces, design templates, colour palettes, and how you use assets like photography, illustrations and videos. These visual elements embody your brand. For instance, you’ll need to choose a suite of typefaces that are true to the idea behind the brand, whether that’s modern, heritage, functional or futuristic, and so on. Every design choice, every visual element, helps define your brand's meaning in the eye of your potential customers.

Taking a clear position on these visuals, with guidance on how your brand looks for any situation, also helps anyone working in the company represent the brand accurately, so it becomes stronger and more valuable over time. To see how big brands do it well, visit design inspiration sites like CreativeBloq and It's Nice That.

Bringing it all together

Brands that last a long time have strong, clearly expressed foundations. These foundations include the brand mission, that explains their higher purpose, and the proposition, that reveals the true activity that lies behind the surface. Every powerful brand also has a short list of positive, easy-to-understand values that help guide their interactions with colleagues, clients, partners and consumers. Finally, all of these elements inform and are underlined by the visual identity and tone of voice of a brand.

Consistency is key. So when working to define all of these elements, think hard about your brand, what is means to you and what you want it to mean to the world. Defining a brand can be hard work, but redefining one can be even harder.

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Article updated on: 15 September 2021

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