A brand is not a logo, it's not a product, it's not your reputation, it's not your name, so what is it?
A brand is the gut-feeling someone has toward your business. You make them feel a certain way through your company's behavior, it's appearance, and the experiences you provide.
All of this to say that making someone feel a certain way requires you, the business owner, to stop thinking about yourself and think about how you will impact someone else.
It doesn't matter what you like, what matters is what the person you are making this company for likes.
It doesn't matter if you don't like the name of your company, what matters is how it impacts your user.
It doesn't matter that you don't like your logo, what matters is how easy it is for your ideal customer to recognize it.
You get the picture.
The beauty of this, is that the pressure is taken off of you and your subjective standards, and instead focused on how much you can affect someone else.
It's not about you.
A brand identity is the elements that make up a brand's manifestation in the tangible world; things we can see, touch, smell, taste, and hear. It's commonly limited to a logo, and while a logo is an essential piece, it's the tip of the iceberg. What lies beneath the surface is what gives it the ability to rise above the surface.
Defining the brand
The entire purpose of brand identity is to have tangible manifestations of the gut feeling you intend people to have about your business. So, you must first define it. This is done through a brand discovery. If done right, these collaborative sessions between a branding expert and client unearth the business' values, story, voice and tone, purpose, and how they are different from their competitors.
Auditing the brand
Upon defining the brand, the branding expert and client will go through the current branding efforts of the business and check for alignment. This involves everything from marketing collateral, stationery, social media posts, email newsletters, the name of the company, even the services and pricing are on the table. The key is that regardless of the touchpoint, all elements must point to the defined brand. Anything misaligned is put up for redesign.
Brand Identity Design
This is where the foundation of the brand's look is laid. It involves the creation of a name (if needed), a logo, color palette, typography, photo styling, illustration and pattern examples, and iconography.
With the core elements of the brand identity laid out, marketing collateral, a website, and other touchpoints can be created without looking scattered.
Here's where this goes wrong: when you try to build the top of the iceberg without giving it the support it needs.
I go on a run in the morning every Monday-Friday. I frequently pass by a woman who always seems to be loading her kids in her car for school as I run by her house. As she got in the car, she rolled down her window and said, "you should do crossfit!"
My response, "I like to keep it minimal."
What she doesn't know is that I've been to crossfit gyms before. They are expensive and truth be told, the workouts are outrageously intense. Could I do them? Maybe. But that's beside the point. The point is that it is a step I'm not ready to take and taking it would do me more harm than good. Crossfit is designed for people who are looking to go to the extremes of human fitness. While it certainly won't take me there (yet), I've got a good routine that is affordable, keeps me in shape, and that is patiently scalable.
The same principle applies to startups and developing a brand. While your brand is always there, since it's the gut feeling someone has toward your startup, you do not need a fully-fleshed out brand from the get-go. You don't need to hire a full-time designer, you don't need a flawless identity system, and you don't even need a formalized brand strategy to get started. There are many reasons for this but here would be the top three:
If you are getting your startup off the ground, you cannot expect that it will be perfect or that you will be successful overnight. It takes time. So when you hear people selling you services like design, SEO, digital marketing, business planning, and the like, ask yourself: "do I really need this to get started?" Chances are the answer is no. Those things are important and, if you can afford to do them, it would be worth it. But you do not need them to get started.
Caveat: this is not an excuse to release something you are morbidly embarrassed by. You should always do the best you can and be honest with yourself about the quality of what you put into the world. But do not bite off more than you can chew and have the fortitude to be patient.