Laying the Groundwork for a One-of-a-Kind Brand

What is it that makes the Starbucks brand so distinct?

It isn’t their logo, although the siren mark is definitely different from any other coffee chain out there. 

It isn’t their fonts, because Helvetica is hands-down the most popular brand font among large brands.

And it definitely isn’t their products; you can find a caramel mocha and even a pumpkin spice latte just about anywhere these days.

The thing that makes a great brand like Starbucks so distinct is that they’ve considered the entire experience a customer has with them and they’ve branded every single interaction. 

The key to creating a one-of-a-kind brand is covering all of your bases, from the names you give your products and services to the colors you choose to use on your website. 

You can’t just create a logo, choose three brand colors, and call it a day. If you want your brand to be professional, memorable, and effective, you have to use intention and fill in all the gaps.

But this is a tall order, isn’t it? 

Where do you even start? How do create an entire experience that attracts potential clients and customers?

Laying the Groundwork for a One-of-a-Kind Brand | Elle & Company

Well, you’ve come to the right place. 

Because over the next month, I’ll be guiding you through the exact steps you need to take to create a one-of-a-kind brand from start to finish through Elle & Company’s February Brand Challenge.

Each Monday for the month of February (with the exception of today’s post), I’ll share a new blog post with five practical action steps for building your brand. 

They’re small enough that you can tackle one each weekday, or you can save time on the weekend and knock them out all in one sitting. 

I’ll provide all the details and resources you need to complete these weekly action steps, along with a free workbook. 

You can share your progress and join in the new Elle & Company Community Facebook Group throughout the challenge and use the hashtag #ellecobrandchallenge on social media (because a little accountability and support can go a long way). 

By the end of the month, you’ll be fully equipped to create a one-of-a-kind experience for potential clients and customers through your brand. Are you up for the challenge?

Elle & Company Brand Challenge, Week 1

I’m one of millions of Americans who loves watching the show Fixer Upper. 

It’s incredible to see how Chip and Joanna can take a house in terrible condition and transform it into a beautiful home with personal touches that suit the new owners perfectly. 

And while the reveal at the end of the show is always my favorite, the final transformation of the fixer upper wouldn’t be quite as amazing if I hadn’t taken the time to watch the story unfold from start to finish. The before and after pictures wouldn’t quite do it justice.

Because Chip and Joanna don’t just find any old home, pretty it up, and call it a day. 

Instead, they get to know their clients, understand the needs of the family and the features they need in a home, and transform a house into a perfect fit. 

It always ends in a meaningful reveal that brings their clients to tears because of all the thoughtful, personal touches.

That should be how you approach your “fixer upper” of a brand. 

Instead of jumping right into colors and fonts and graphics, you have to lay the groundwork and set objectives for what you’re trying to achieve.

I have five action steps for you this week that will set the foundation for the remainder of the challenge. 

I’ll show you exactly how to use the information from this section throughout the next few weeks, so be sure to work through each and every step. Trust me, I’m not a fan of busy work - it all has a purpose.

I’ve also created a workbook to go along with all the steps below. Enter your name and email below and I’ll send it straight to your inbox so you can print it out and follow along:

Download the free Brand Challenge workbook!


Subscribe with your name and email address to access to the in-depth workbook for Week 1 of this month's Brand Challenge.

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1  |  Conduct a current brand evaluation

You wouldn’t renovate a house without inspecting it first and evaluating the work that needs to be done. The same goes for your brand.

For those of you who have an existing business, it’s important to take some time and evaluate your brand to pinpoint what you’ve been doing right and what needs to be improved upon.

You may not need a huge overhaul, and you may not uncover some underlying problems with your brand until we dive further into this challenge over the next few weeks.

But take some time to answer these questions to the best of your ability:

  • What kind of clients/customers have you been attracting? Are they your ideal clients/customers? If not, what type of clients/customers do you want to attract?
  • What are your brand’s core values and beliefs? On a scale of 1-10, how well do you think these beliefs are being communicated to your audience?
  • What problem does your business solve? On a scale of 1-10, how well do you think you’re communicating this to your audience?
  • What promises do you make to your clients/customers? On a scale of 1-10, how well do you think you’re communicating these promises to your audience?
  • Why do your current clients/customers choose your business over other businesses in your industry? 
  • Why do certain prospects choose other businesses in your industry over yours?
  • What do your clients/customers say when they recommend your brand to others? What do you want them to say when your business is recommended to potential clients/customers?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how loyal are your current and past clients/customers?
  • How is your business different from your competitors? On a scale of 1-10, how well do you think you’re highlighting these differences in your brand?

You can find all of these questions in your workbook on pages 3 and 4.

Laying the Groundwork for a One-of-a-Kind Brand | Elle & Company

It’s important to take the time to identify the message you’re trying to communicate to your audience and evaluate the effectiveness of your current brand. 

But it can be hard to take an objective look at how your business is performing (I know from experience). So once you’ve answered the questions above, ask three people who are familiar with your business and your industry to answer the following questions:

  • What are this brand’s core values and beliefs?
  • What problem does this business solve?
  • Based on their brand, website, and marketing efforts, what promises does this business seem to be making to potential clients/customers? 
  • Why would clients/customers choose this business over other businesses in its industry? 
  • What words would you use to describe this business to others?
  • How is this brand different from others in the industry? 

You can find all of these questions in your workbook on page 4, and I left space for you to fill in the responses from all three interviews.

Laying the Groundwork for a One-of-a-Kind Brand | Elle & Company

Remember, the goal of this evaluation is to reveal areas that need to be improved. Don’t take any of the feedback personally; instead, look at it as a learning opportunity and let any weak spots drive you to make improvements throughout these next few weeks.

2  |  Brainstorm your future goals

It’s all too easy to become short-sighted when you’re creating your brand and focus on the present: what the trends are, what type of clients you want to work with next month, etc.

But I always tell my design clients that the goal isn’t to brand their business for the here and now; we’re branding their business to get them where they want to be 5 years from now.

This means a couple things:

1  |  Don’t switch your brand up every year or two. It’s important to maintain consistency with your brand so people begin to recognize it, remember it, and form a connection with it. 

2  |  You need to know what your goals are in order to create a brand that helps you reach them.

So go ahead and write down your 1-year business goals and 5-year business goals on page 7 of your workbook. 

Laying the Groundwork for a One-of-a-Kind Brand | Elle & Company

Consider these questions to help you make your goals more specific:

  • What type of clients do you hope to work with?
  • How many employees do you hope to have?
  • How much money do you hope to make?
  • Are there any new products or services that you hope to launch?

Yes, your business might change directions or new opportunities might present themselves a year from now. But it’s important to have these goals in mind as you approach your brand because they might affect the decisions you make in the weeks to come.

3  |  Write your mission statement

The purpose of branding is to communicate the right message through your business’s visuals and other intangible brand components (like tone and terminology). 

If you communicate that message well, you’ll increase the likelihood of attracting the right kind of clients and customers.

That message is often summed up best by a mission statement. 

A mission statement is a one-sentence summary of your business that tells others what you do, who you help, and how you help them.

A common framework for a mission statement is:

“[Name of your business] does [specific action] to help [ideal client/customer] do [desired result].”

For example: “Elle & Company provides resources to help creatives turn their passion into a successful, profitable business.”

Do you have to stay inside this framework? Of course not! You’re a creative entrepreneur, so take the liberty to get creative with it and make it your own. But remember that making it as specific and actionable as possible will help you as you strive to communicate this message through your brand.

Take some time to brainstorm and write your mission statement on page 8 of your workbook.

Laying the Groundwork for a One-of-a-Kind Brand | Elle & Company

If you’re having a hard time narrowing it down and finding the right words, don’t get frustrated! Sometimes you need a few days to sit on it. These types of things always fall into place for me at random times (on the interstate, in a meeting, at the post office), and I’d like to think that’s normal. 

Once you’ve arrived at a clear and concise mission statement, share it with the Elle & Company community by using the hashtag #ellecobrandchallenge. (I have a feeling I’m not the only one who would love to read it!)

4  |  Create your ideal client/customer profile

Years ago I had a design client who was starting a wedding planning business geared toward southern brides. 

A navy and blush color palette and delicate feminine details swirled around in my head as she explained her target audience. But the conversation took a drastic turn when my client told me that she wanted to use her favorite colors - purple and teal - for her brand.

Unfortunately, this is a common mistake that I see a lot of business owners make as they approach their brand. 

Instead of making brand decisions based on the taste of the clients and customers they want to attract, they make decisions based on their own personal taste.

I carefully explained to my client that while there were definitely ways to infuse her personality into her brand, the primary goal of branding is to attract potential clients and customers. 

The same is true for your brand. Instead of focusing on your own tastes, you need to understand your potential customers and make brand decisions based on what would appeal to them. 

A helpful way to do this is to create an ideal client/customer profile.

I’ve included a profile outline on pages 9 and 10 of this week’s workbook. 

Laying the Groundwork for a One-of-a-Kind Brand | Elle & Company

You’ll refer back to this outline as you make decisions about font, colors, and iconography in the weeks to come.

P.S. In the end, my client and I went with navy and blush, along with some soft pastels for accent colors for her brand. The end result was beautiful, romantic, and very, very southern. 

5  |  Make a list of 10 brand keywords

This is my favorite part of the “groundwork” process. 

Now that you’ve written your mission statement and outlined your ideal client/customer profile, choose 10 adjectives that best describe your brand.

They should fit in well with your mission statement and appeal to your ideal audience (which is why I had you tackle those action steps first). 

I often find it helpful to brainstorm a bunch of relevant words on one page and then go back through and circle the big contenders. A thesaurus can be very helpful for this step, too. 

I left plenty of space for you to brainstorm adjectives on page 10 and list your top 10 on page 11 of this week’s workbook. 

Laying the Groundwork for a One-of-a-Kind Brand | Elle & Company

These 10 words will come in handy as you build your inspiration board and make other brand decisions in the weeks to come. 

And because we’re often so visual when it comes to branding, I want you to take this exercise one step further by considering the following questions:

  • How does your brand feel?
  • What does your brand sound like?
  • How does your brand taste?
  • What does your brand smell like?

I heard an Annapolis wedding photographer share her results from the exercise at a conference once, and I loved her answers:

  • Her brand felt like the warm sun kissing her skin
  • Her brand sounded like the ocean waves softly crashing on the shore
  • Her brand tasted like sea salt caramel
  • And her brand smelled like the salty ocean air

Do you see how those descriptions made her brand feel much more like an experience?

I know that this exercise seems a little crazy, but I want you to get out of your comfort zone and give it a try. Your brand will be much more well-rounded as a result.

I left space for you to brainstorm and fill in your answers on page 11 of your workbook, too.

Laying the Groundwork for a One-of-a-Kind Brand | Elle & Company

Download the free Brand Challenge workbook!


Subscribe with your name and email address to access to the in-depth workbook for Week 1 of this month's Brand Challenge.

Powered by ConvertKit

I can’t stress the importance of these groundwork steps enough. 

The hard work you do this week will pay dividends as you continue to build and refine your brand throughout the remainder of this month.

And remember to keep me posted on your progress! Share your progress on social media with the hashtag #ellecobrandchallenge (you can also tag me, @laurenelizhook, to ensure that I see it!)

Which of these 5 steps are you most excited to work on? After you work through them, share your mission statement and 10 adjectives with me below!