Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation and someone says, ‘just do it,’ and the first thing that jumps to your mind is a picture of a basketball player making an impressive dunk? Or is just reading the words ‘Coca-Cola’ all it takes for you to conjure up the brand’s famous red-and-white label? Even if you’ve never bought a pair of Nike sneakers, or don’t regularly drink Coke, we bet you probably still had some sort of immediate emotional response to reading about the signature symbols of each of these products. Maybe it was equating strength with the Nike swoosh, or the feeling of refreshing coolness with a cold Coca-Cola bottle in the summer. That right there is the power of association – otherwise known as product branding at its finest.
Successful product branding is about using your product’s physical design and promotion to tell a cohesive story about what your product is, and how it’s different from similar models on the market. An eye-catching logo, an eCommerce website that dazzles, entertaining packaging, a memorable tagline – these are all essential marketing tools, yet it’s the way you use all of these physical design elements together to create a consistent brand identity and feel for your product that will set it apart from competitors. The good news? Your marketing budget doesn’t need to contain as many zeroes as the brands above in order to be effective. (You hear that sound? That was your wallet sighing in relief.) Read on for our guide on how to brand a product so that it wins the hearts and minds of potential customers:
Know your brand identity
Before you can start spinning your product’s narrative into an advertising campaign, you have to have its story down cold. So set aside a date night to spend some quality time with your product. Light some candles, cook a fancy dinner… and start asking some questions to really get to know it. You know, standard date questions, like:
1. What is your product’s purpose? What need does it fill in the market? Play around with crafting a mission statement specifically for your product. Do the classic elevator pitch test: If you had thirty seconds between floors to explain your product to a stranger, how would you break it down in the most concise, yet enthusiastic, language possible? Once you have this down, you can strut out into the lobby feeling like a champ.
2. Who is your product’s target audience? Why them and not anyone else? Do you need corporate branding or personal branding? Imagine you’ve stumbled across the social media account of a sample member from this group. Start assembling a character profile based on the kinds of information you would generally expect to find on their page: age, educational and professional background, place of residence, causes and groups that they support, relationship status, and what they do for fun. Make sure you’re able to connect the dots about why each part of their biography positions them to be a prime customer for your product.
3. What core beliefs does this demographic hold? How would you characterize their lifestyle? All successful types of branding happen when you align the values you communicate through your product with the stated values of your potential buyers. If your target base is big on environmental causes, for example, emphasize the post-consumer recycled content of the cardboard you use for your delivery boxes. Are you catering to music lovers who were at college in the 90s? Drop references to hit songs in your social media promotions.
4. Do similar products already exist on the market? What do people love (and hate) about them? And what makes yours different? Competitor research is essential for staying up to date with how other players in the field are speaking about their products. ‘Follow’ your competitors’ social media channels, subscribe to their newsletters, read their product reviews online – and take notes. This information will help you carve out a niche for your own product to shine, also known as your ‘edge.’ This is the excuse you give to a browsing shopper to select your product over the other guy’s, whether due to some advanced feature you offer, or the message you’re selling along with the physical item. Whatever it is that differentiates you from the rest of the pack, act like you’re Simba on Pride Rock and tell it to the world.
All very romantic stuff, we know. Your answers to these questions will then guide any design and marketing decision you’ll have to make down the road. Tearing your hair out over whether to go with the mint green packaging or the bold red color? That’s when you pull out your notes and consult them like they’re a magic ball that holds your future. Refreshing your memory with your answers should help you return to the basics of what your product stands for and who your audience is – and your packaging color should flow naturally from there. Keeping your product’s purpose and an image of your target demographic front-and-center in your mind will ensure all of your resulting branding remains consistent and speaks exactly to the people you’re hoping will become your reliable consumers.
Tell your story to the world
Now that you have the fundamentals down of what your product is, the value it adds to the market, and who you intend to use it, you can start getting into storyteller mode. Your product story will probably sound quite different from the fairy tales of your childhood, but the goal of evoking a specific emotional response should remain the same. The following steps will walk you through how to translate your product’s identity into every component of its physical branding in order to produce a cohesive narrative. Once upon a time…
1. Select a color scheme. Before you can start designing any marketing materials, from a logo to a promotional flyer, you’re going to want to put on your artist’s smock and pick out the right brand colors. These colors will become a visual signal for all things connected to your product, so make sure to do your research and use color psychology to evoke the exact emotional feel you’re going for.
2. Choose your fonts. It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. That goes for writing, too. Your typography choice plays two powerful roles in communicating your story. First, it literally makes your marketing materials possible to read. For instance, when you’re designing your website, sans serif fonts are the easiest on the eyes when displayed on a screen. And while we understand how browsing through all the delicious fonts in the Wix Editor is a bit like walking into an ice cream shop, we’re going to have to cut you off at a firm three flavors tops. Any more and it will interfere with viewers ability to visually digest all of your hard work. Finally, your fonts are yet another method you can use to stay in line with your product’s tone.
3. Create a logo. No offense to your initial monogrammed backpack from elementary school, but that won’t cut it as a logo in the product branding world. A good logo is a synthesis of stunning aesthetics and relevant messaging. For example, you know that golden arrow running underneath the word ‘Amazon?’ Besides keeping things clean and simple design-wise, the arrow connects the letters ‘A’ and ‘Z,’ reinforcing the message that the web retailer sells literally everything under the sun. We get it, though. You just came here to develop an app or sell a natural cleaning product, not to suddenly find yourself shadowing as a graphic designer by night. No sweat, that’s why we launched a logo maker that will simplify your life. If you know the name of your brand (we certainly hope so), your industry (ditto), and some adjectives that describe your brand’s feel (who did their homework from #1?), then you’re all set to go and take advantage of all this tool has to offer. Based on your answers, this wizard-like feature will present you with a range of personalized options to choose from. After you pick your favorite, you can then customize it with your business’ unique color palette and typography and then start sticking it everywhere in sight. Business cards, your social media profile pictures, on the product itself, a screen printed t-shirt, a banner flown across town by a blimp… Why not? It’s your very own logo – we’ll let you decide where the limit is.
4. Design a website. A bit more feasible than a cross-town blimp, creating a website is another great place to show off your gorgeous logo and products. You’re building a home for your product, which means using its selected color palette for all of the interior decoration, and continuing to keep your target audience and brand personality in mind with every feature you add or line that you write. In addition to opening an online store to ring up those actual sales, there are so many features – like a captivating “About Me” section, a free blog, or an FAQ page – that you can use to introduce site visitors to the story of your product. Make sure to avoid brand identity confusion by purchasing your domain name, so you don’t accidentally send potential customers’ business the way of that other stationary company whose owner has the same initials… Did someone say awkward?
Maintaining a consistent product identity
You’ve probably already gotten a sense of this step at this point (how many times can we tell you to use the same colors for everything related to your product?), but we’ll say it one last time: consistency is the absolute key to outstanding product branding. Once you’ve determined your product identity, and then translated it into design elements like a color palette and a logo, you’ll want to stick to this plan so that the second customers see this imagery, they instantaneously think of your product. In addition to these more visual indicators, there are more ways you can signal to your target audience that your product is in the house:
1. Make a product style guide. Trust us, this manual will become the holy grail of your product. You won’t have to put in as much sweat as Indiana Jones did in order to get it in your hands – although it is definitely worth investing some time in. Essentially, your style guide is the compilation of all of the signature design details you have to chosen to accompany your product. Any time you’re typing up a press release or designing a cover photo for your product’s Facebook page, this should be your first reference to consult. Behind every consistently branded product is a thoroughly thought-out style guide. This resource should include, at minimum:
Size and placement guidelines to ensure your logo will be used consistently across all of your marketing materials.
Signature fonts and typography, with instructions on which styles are reserved for website blog posts versus printed materials, for example.
The details of your color palette, especially if you’re pulling a Picasso and looking to use variations of your palette depending on the occasion.
Standards for any images used in association with your product, including size, resolution, and any other specification you feel is necessary for guaranteeing your product’s feel is captured.
Definition of your product’s ‘voice,’ drawing upon your answers to the questions in section one, and even what adjectives you chose while building your logo. What are the keywords you want customers to associate with your product that should appear regularly in your promotions? What is the overall vibe you want to radiate every time a customer clicks on your website or reads an email from you, and what words will convey that feeling?
2. Bringing your product voice into customer engagement. The thing about consistency is that it never gets a break – even (especially!) when it comes to customer support interactions. If you are selling a water bottle that prides itself on its sleek, minimalist design, yet your customer support is a multi-step process, it can detract from the powerful image you worked so hard to build for your brand. And, of course, no matter your product’s personality, your willingness to go the extra mile for customers will leave a lasting impression, and could mean the difference between a browsing shopper and a returning customer (who also posts raving reviews of the boutique soaps they bought from you on Instagram).
When Ferris Bueller said, ‘Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while,’ who knew he could also have been talking about product branding? With the market constantly evolving, it’s worth revisiting your questions from section one once in a while. Check in to make sure you have a pulse on the latest trends amongst your target market and that your product is still in alignment with their wants and needs. You might find that it’s time for a logo design update after a few years, but at the end of the day, sticking to your story (barring any major directional shifts in your company or product) will show customers that you’re still ‘you’ even behind those design makeovers. Reflect that identity in all aspects of your marketing, and you can consider your product successfully branded.