A good brand concept is the most important starting point for any brand. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Ikea? Maybe it’s blue and yellow. Or pre-assembled Swedish modernism. Or an unexplained urge to makeover your home. And don’t forget those delicious meatballs. That’s what a solid brand concept looks like in action.
What is a brand concept?
A brand concept consists of the core ideas behind a company’s branding that pull together its purpose and goals. A brand concept is all about how a brand makes you feel, which becomes the base to build an entire brand and marketing strategy. All of those things that immediately pop into your head about a company make up its brand concept.
No matter how great your product is or how clever your performance marketing, what really sets your brand apart from the rest is a well thought out brand concept that connects with your audience.
Start with authenticity
You know that famous Oscar Wilde quote that gets used for cheesy, inspirational instagram posts: “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” The same is true for your brand concept. People can tell when you aren’t true to yourself.
The key to building a stellar brand concept is to be authentic—always. People are much more likely to trust you and buy into your brand if you are being real. Understanding the basics of who you are and exactly what your brand offering is will build a bond between you and your audience.
Know your brand basics
Who are you?
The best place to start developing your brand concept is to look inward. You must know exactly what you offer and what makes you different. To truly know your brand, you have to be completely authentic and own your space.
More often than not, you’ll face competition in your market. Don’t pretend it’s not there, own it! Take Pepsi, for example—they are more than aware that they have the biggest competition in the world that requires some extremely clever brand marketing. They might have a similar product, but they’ll forever be known as Coca-Cola’s challenger. That’s why Pepsi’s 2019 Super Bowl commercial “More Than OK” was such a genius move. They acknowledge their position as a challenger, but then they completely own it by making fun of themselves.
Find the things—or the one big thing—that sets you apart from competitors so you’ll stand out in the marketplace. This could be the smallest and simplest of differences, but with a clever marketing spin, this could be the beginning of a brilliant brand concept.
Dr. Squatch is not unique by offering natural soap for men. But what is unique is their approachable and funny marketing. They’ve understood their offering, and they created a brand concept that’s both self-aware and entertaining. Their 2018 ad has reached over 75 million views on YouTube with comments like “The only ad I’ve ever willingly sat through.”
Who is your audience?
If you’ve already started to build your company, chances are you have a pretty good idea of who your target audience is. Now, put yourself in their shoes so you can begin thinking creatively of how to market your brand.
Thinx is a New York-based company who create sustainable feminine hygiene products. Their brand concept has an overarching feminist approach with the aim to break menstruation taboos. Because their main target audience is eco-conscious, alternative, millennial women, every touchpoint of their marketing campaigns is designed to communicate and relate to that specific target audience.
The show Broad City fits that eco-conscious, alternative, New York female demographic, which is why Thinx crafted a brilliantly beautiful and witty campaign with Broad City co-creator Ilana Glazer. This brand partnership builds trust with their audience.
Create your brand concept
Once you know your brand basics, you can start building out your brand concept. There are several elements to a brand concept, including your mission, brand name, voice, slogan and visual style.
Let’s use the vegan oat milk brand Oatly as a test case to illustrate each element of building a brand concept and brand identity.
Even before developing your brand name and logo, create a short, sweet and succinct mission statement or goal for your brand. This gives you something to consistently return to as you develop the other elements of your brand concept. Remember to keep things real, but be aspirational, too.
Take Oatly’s mission statement, for example:
“To make it easy for people to turn what they eat and drink into personal moments of healthy joy without recklessly taxing the planet’s resources in the process.”
This is simple and authentic: making drinking “milk” easier than ever. But it’s also aspirational: an opportunity for joy and making the world a better place.
It would be stating the obvious to tell you how important your brand name is. Picking a memorable brand name that is different enough to stand out but is not overly ambiguous is essential. Start by researching your competition and your industry to see what everyone is doing.
The brand name “Oatly” is both memorable and informative. It’s short and sweet, while also letting consumers know exactly what their milk alternative is made from (in this case, oats).
Your voice is how your brand’s personality comes to life with the words you use to communicate with your audience. For example, Oatly opts for a playful, witty and young voice because their product appeals primarily to eco-friendly millennials.
Create a voice guide based on both your mission and target audience to make sure every touch point of your brand stays consistent. When developing your voice, a good way to start is to imagine your brand as a person. Who are they? What are they interested in? How do they talk?
A voice guide typically consists of:
- Your mission statement
- Your core values
- Your personality characteristics (e.g. youthful, funny, playful)
- Your brand persona (a description of the brand as a person)
- Examples of written copy
- Specific vocabulary and grammar rules
Use your voice guide as the foundation for all of your internal and external brand communication.
A tagline or slogan encapsulates the essence of your brand in a short phrase. You can use this to accompany your logo or as part of a larger marketing campaign. Writing taglines and slogans is easier once you have a clear sense of your voice.
Oatly uses the tagline, “It’s like milk, but made for humans” with their casual and playful voice to make people stop and think about the day-to-day choices they make with their food.
Once all your words are in place, it’s time to get visual. Read through your mission statement, values and voice guide and start thinking about how you can evoke these ideas visually with color, style and typography.
Check out this advertisement for Oatly. Their logo has an organic, almost grain-like texture that’s very illustrative and endearingly childlike. The “wow no cow!” headline uses a unique, hand-rendered font. The color selection for the packaging is both earth-toned, yet bright and eye-catching. Together, these visual elements convey the same tone as their voice: young, playful and creative.
A great way to start developing the visuals of your brand concept is to create a Pinterest board of visual design you like and design you think your target audience will like, too. Also consider your competitors’ design, and make sure you stand out against the crowd.
Before you start branding, build your brand concept.
Together, your brand concept should contain all of the feelings, ideas and goals of your company or organization. Consider testing it with a segment of your target audience to see how they respond and revise it based on their feedback. Once you have a solid concept, you can use this vital foundation to actually start branding websites, packaging, advertisements and more!
Check out this article for more branding tips.