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How to design a great brand when you don’t have a physical product

Person designing brand on computer

No physical product? No problem! Before we all shifted our lives online, branding was more focused on tangible things like product packaging, store design and logos. However, branding has evolved since then to keep pace with the realities of the digital age.

Today, some of the world’s top brands—Google, Uber and Twitter come to mind—have nothing to do with a product that you can put in a box and bring home. But that hasn’t stopped them from becoming mega branding success stories.

As you set out to build a brand without a physical product, consider these suggestions to improve your chances for success.

Let Your Personality Shine Through

Cups of coffee

A popular approach to branding is to think of the brand as a person. What kind of person do you want your brand to be? A reliable helper? A trustworthy guardian? The life of the party? As you consider this, make sure that you choose a personality that fits the nature of your product. For example, if you’re developing a tech solution for online security, would you want your brand to evoke the image of a strong and competent protector?

While you can invent any personality that you like for your brand, it’ll be more believable and easier to sustain over the long term if it’s authentic. This entails aligning your brand with things like your company’s vision, mission, culture and values. Your brand should not focus narrowly on what you do—it should represent who you are.

Bring Your Brand to Life with Imagery and Voice

Craft supplies

Brand names, logos, colors, slogans and messages are among the countless pieces that all form part of the branding puzzle. Think back to the person you envisioned as representing your brand. Consider what they look like and how they sound. Give them a voice and a physical form in your mind.

How will your brand speak to customers? In a casual manner? In an authoritative way? Now try to translate this into the copy for your website. Take the same approach with imagery—is the spirit of your brand best reflected by images of nature and shades of green, or is a sleek, urban feel a better fit? Determining all of these elements of your brand is not a quick and easy task. It’ll likely take plenty of brainstorming, in-depth market research and multiple iterations before you get it right.

Say Hello to the World

Hand on smartphone

Once you have developed a well-formed brand, the next step is to communicate it to the world, including prospective and existing customers, employees, trade partners and other stakeholders. This communication can take many forms. It’ll inform the messaging on your website or app. In a more subtle way, it’ll influence the way you present yourself during direct interactions with customers.

Social media is a powerful means of building and conveying your brand. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow you to actively engage with your target audience in real-time and on an ongoing basis. Everything from videos and blog posts to Pinterest and SoundCloud accounts can be used to show people what your brand is all about, and shape how they perceive it.

Keep it Consistent

Color chips hanging on a rod

Consistency is a key tenet of branding. Inconsistency—for example, introducing frequent logo changes or using a company Twitter account to share silly comments when your brand image is meant to be serious—is one of the quickest ways to send branding efforts off the rails.

A well-executed brand should always reinforce a consistent image, personality and set of values. Your brand can evolve over time, but this should happen as part of a conscious shift of your company’s marketing strategy rather than in an unplanned, haphazard manner.

While there are differences in how a brand can be applied to a physical versus a non-physical product, at a fundamental level, great branding is blind to such distinctions. Designing a great brand of your own starts with a thoughtful and introspective look at the personality, imagery and voice that encapsulate your product or business. These elements will give form to an identity that sets you apart in customers’ minds and builds success for your business.

Photos: Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock.com, Death to Stock

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