Why is brand identity important for your food or drink business?

Food and beverage branding is big business, but it’s not just for the giants of the industry. Only one in five food and drink companies are still going strong after five years – to make sure you’re one of them you need a strong brand. And I don’t just mean a logo.

Brand, brand identity, logo, style guide, tone of voice – if you’re a new business, or even a more established one, these terms are bound to have popped up on your radar. You could be forgiven though, if you’re not sure whether they all mean the same thing. They’re often used interchangeably – and that’s where a lot of business owners go wrong.

Brand isn’t a logo, it’s a relationship

Perhaps the most common misperception is that ‘brand’ translates to ‘logo’. Many new food and drinks businesses think that if they have a logo, and maybe some brand colours, that they have a brand. And this is where it falls down, because brand is so much more than that.

I’ve heard lots of different definitions of what a brand is, and there isn’t necessarily one clear winner. But the best description I’ve come across is by Jeremiah Gardner, author of The Lean Brand, who says, “A brand is a relationship between an organisation and its audience.” Add to that that a brand is a promise of consistency, and you’re getting pretty close.

In other words, you earn your brand. It’s a relationship that is built over time with your audience through every single interaction you have with them. Everything from how you look, to (for example) how quickly you deliver your products to customers is part of your brand.

This is why brand is so important – it encompasses everything that your audience thinks and feels about you. So if it isn’t up to scratch, then your business is in trouble.

To be clear here, I’m not saying your logo isn’t important. It is. But it’s important because it’s a physical representation of your brand. Not because it is the brand.

So how can you build a successful food or drinks brand?

Like any relationship, building a successful brand takes time. But one of the best things you can do is put in the hard yards at the beginning to make sure your brand is truly representative of what your business is all about.

The best place to start is with ‘why’. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why is your business different? Why should people care about it? Answering these questions can give you a real insight into everything from creating a brand identity (yep, the logo is part of that), to how you want to interact with customers.

Let’s take an example: you’re in the business of selling coffee beans online. OK, so far, not-so unusual. But the reason you started the business is because when your first child was born you were so exhausted you came to see coffee in a whole new light – it was the only thing getting you through the day. Bog-standard instant wasn’t going to cut it, you needed the good stuff. Plus you didn’t want to run out – you wanted to know the coffee was always going to be there.

And bam – you’ve got a point of difference immediately. Of course, every business is different and your ‘why’ could be anything from a personal story, to the fact you spotted a gap in the market.

But once you have your ‘why’, you can translate it into all the elements that make up your brand.

If you haven’t seen it, check out Simon Sinek’s famous TED talk: Start with the why – which succinctly and convincingly underlines the importance of understanding your ‘why’.


Brand values

A good place to start is to think about your brand values. How do you want to be perceived by customers? What would you want them to say about you? If you can get these perfect, then you’re starting off your relationship with your audience on the right foot.

To carry on with the coffee brand example, the first value that jumps out from looking at the ‘why’ is ‘quality’. The second, ‘convenience’. There may be other elements that are important to the brand too, such as sustainability. The key thing here is to choose values that you feel best describe why you’ve created the business.

What exactly is the point of doing this? In short, it helps you to plan absolutely everything else.

Back to our coffee brand, let’s take a quick look at how having some values can help you consider other brand elements…


Brand identity – how do a logo and visual elements link to values?

Having input from a designer is incredibly important when you’re creating your identity. But just to give you a flavour, here’s an example of how brand values might be represented in an identity.

Take the value of ‘quality’ I mentioned for the coffee brand earlier. This could be represented in a logo by a stamp-like element or perhaps through the use of colours associated with luxury brands (gold or purple, for example – although do be careful when considering gold as a colour: it doesn’t always look great in digital). You can see these ideas in action simply by Googling ‘premium coffee logos’ and taking a look at the image results.

This is obviously a simplistic example. In reality a good graphic designer should take into account all your brand values, as well as any information you have about who your target market are, to help you create the perfect visual identity.


Brand values and tone of voice

A brand’s tone of voice sets out clearly how you speak to your audience – in writing, face-to-face, on the phone. Whenever there’s an interaction. A distinctive tone of voice can help you stand out from the crowd. Innocent is the obvious (and much copied) example here, and with good reason – everything from their adverts to the bottom of their cartons puts across their unique tone of voice.

Your tone of voice will generally consist of three or four values which may be the same as your brand values, but don’t necessarily have to be. These values are used in combination to give your brand a distinctive tone.

To come back to our coffee example, ‘convenience’ is a great brand value, but it doesn’t necessarily make sense in your tone of voice. How would you write in a convenient way, after all? To me, ‘convenience’ becomes ‘succinct’ for tone of voice purposes. Your audience wants things to be convenient, quick and easy, therefore don’t use 20 words when 10 will do.


Other representations of your brand – brand artefacts

Any cue (sight, sound, touch, taste or smell) used to build the relationship between you and your audience can be thought of as a brand artefact. For example, if I hear a drinks can being opened I immediately think of Coca Cola – and I don’t even drink coke that often!

On that basis, you can hopefully see how everything from the way your packaging feels to how easy your checkout process is can have a lasting impact on your brand. It’s no good saying you’re a quality brand if your packaging is cheap and nasty. It’s no good saying you’re the convenient choice if customers find your website difficult to use and navigate.

This is why I say that your business can live or die by its brand. If you haven’t thought your brand through in the first place, and made sure that what you stand for comes across at every touch point with the customer, then your relationship with your audience is always going to struggle because they won’t know what to think of you.

Creating a killer brand isn’t a day’s work, like any relationship it takes time. But if you can get off to the right start – with a clear purpose and values – then you’ll find everything else you do should follow from there.

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