You know the importance of branding, but what is a brand identity? Think of it this way: everyone has a personality. If someone asked you about your best friend, you would most likely start listing off a set of character traits. Her name and face are her “brand,” but her identity is composed of her likes, dislikes, beliefs, values, habits, style, background, and more.

So now imagine your favorite restaurant, maybe one that is well-known. You know the sign out front as well as the back of your hand, but what do you see when you walk inside? How is the layout designed? Is it constant across multiple establishments? Is there a color scheme? What does the logo look like, and is it printed on all the cups and t-shirts for sale? What contributes to the restaurant’s atmosphere?

All of these things together produce the restaurant’s brand identity. Brand strategist Dustin Myers notes that people are exposed to 3,000 brands every day, so he defines “brand identity” as “the combination of the visual elements including the name, logo, tagline, voice, color palette, image style, typography, textures and patterns, iconography, packaging, and collateral” that make a business distinct.

A brand identity bestows a company with a sense of uniqueness. No two people are the same, so businesses should not be, either. Whenever you think of your favorite restaurant, you don’t only think of its name and food, you think of its logo, font, colors, etc. Those who hope to construct a recognizable and consistent brand identity need to consider all of the aspects that distinguish their companies from others.

Benefits of a strong brand identity

Trustworthiness: Having a solid identity establishes trust. Are you likely to buy something from a shady person on the street you don’t know anything about? Probably not, but you might if you knew the person’s name, the reason for selling you something, and if he or she is dressed presentably. Take laptop computers, for instance. If there are two devices that work equally well but one is sleek and modern-looking, people will most likely choose that one. This is why people become loyal Apple customers rather than buying computers from a new source each time: if an Apple product fits your needs, why look elsewhere for something that aesthetically pleasing?

Mission: A company’s brand identity also projects to the public who you are and what you are trying to do. Are you a comfortable business people can grab a coffee from in the morning, or a high-end establishment that doesn’t offer anything to-go? Starbucks’ numerous stores communicate that the brand is attempting to be a consistent outlet for beverages, available nearby wherever you happen to be.

The right combination of visual elements will also denote a company’s values. If you are aiming for affordability, approachability, exclusivity, reliability, or something else, customers should be able to discern to some degree how you will treat them.

Pervasiveness: Even if you are not trying to become a global franchise, odds are you want to offer more than one product or service. Look at Up & Up, one of Target’s brands: it provides sunscreen, napkins, toilet paper, paper towels, containers, laundry detergent, school supplies, cleaning chemicals, trash bags, and more. If there is a small-scale necessity you need, Up & Up probably makes it.

What’s clever about the company’s vast array of products is not just an increased chance for profit. When consumers purchase Up & Up’s paper towels and find them satisfactory, they are more inclined to say to themselves, “Well, I liked their paper towels, so I will probably like their toilet paper, too.” Up & Up has established itself as reliable, so you want people to apply the same logic to whatever your business is providing, too.

How to establish a brand identity

Composing a brand identity does not have to be expensive, but it does necessitate a significant amount of thought. You need to select the appropriate visual elements that convey your message. Up & Up uses its recognizable arrow to represent stability (something all homes need), while Apple’s signature apple (along with its smooth, shiny, and minimalistic products) represents modernity. If you do not want to work with a graphic design firm, experiment with inexpensive resources until you find something that you really think fits your company’s values.

Assess your competition and your target audience. What corners of the market have other companies secured? What industry shortcomings can you let customers know you are compensating or accounting for? When it comes to consumers, it’s essential to know what will resonate with them. Look at their ages, professions, and backgrounds to create a brand identity they will trust and return to frequently.

Building a brand identity is akin to starting a friendship: it’s all about your relationship with the public. If you want people to consider your company a steadfast friend, then you need to get creative.