As the New Year approaches, it’s a good time to take a step back and ask a fundamental question, “Who am I?” I don’t mean this from a personal perspective, though that is always helpful, too. It’s important to understand this from a business perspective. Some of my clients come to me without ever having done this, but it is fundamental to have before starting any marketing program.

The business climate is in perpetual motion. Customers’ needs change. Organizations change. Budgets change. Technologies change. Competitors change.

When was the last time you refreshed your own branding profile? Let’s take a look at the basic building blocks that need to be in place.

Vision – People often get vision and mission confused. Your corporate vision is about who you want to be, while your mission is how you’re going to get there. A vision statement should give all your stakeholders (employees, investors, customers) a good mental image of your desired future state. The statement can be as little as one sentence but not longer than four.

For example, Amazon’s vision statement is: “Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” McDonald’s is: “McDonald’s vision is to be the world’s best quick service restaurant experience. Being the best means providing outstanding quality, service, cleanliness, and value, so that we make every customer in every restaurant smile.”

Mission – A mission is all about meeting your customers’ needs. You must first understand what they value in order to craft a good mission statement, and then use that to help define what you offer your customers and subsequently, help set your goals for achieving your mission.

For example, Google’s mission statement is:  “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” The first few words, “organize the world’s information” speaks to what Google will do to meet customer needs, and “universally accessible” and useful are the goals that can ultimately be measured.  Google takes it a step further and offers a full page on their corporate philosophy.

USP – A universal selling proposition (USP) is a short statement that is easy to remember and describes the benefits your customers will receive as a result of doing business with you – hence the word “proposition”. This short statement should demonstrate your competitive difference and the emotional needs you meet (fears, frustrations, desires).  Your USP can also be used as your tagline.

For example, FedEx: “When it absolutely has to be there overnight.”  And, of course, the comprehensive USP by Nyquil: “The nighttime, coughing, achy, sniffling, stuffy head, fever, so you can rest medicine.”

Ideal Customer – Certainly, you have an idea of who your ideal customer is, but have you actually taken the time to describe them? And, there might be more than one! These descriptions are also known as personas. It’s extremely helpful to have a persona description for every type of buyer AND influencer.

Start by jotting down your primary ideal customer’s title. Now describe the role they play in their workplace. List the struggles they face every day. What do they need in order to be successful? How do they like to do business? What motivates them in their business or career? Describe their line of business. If you sell to a variety of industries and different business sizes, create a persona for each one. Lastly, create a pithy name for each persona.

Competitors – You should be assessing the competitive landscape on a regular basis. These days, that might need to be more frequent than it has in the past. The unstable economy has led some companies to close their doors and others to be acquired. How does this change competition in your industry? What about the new players in the market?

One structured way to do this assessment is to perform a SWOT analysis. This lets you define a competitors’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. You can read more about this in my post, “Time to SWOT Your Competitor.”

Personality Attributes – Finally, you need to be clear about how you are perceived in the market. Defining your personality attributes will give a greater dimension to your image and should help differentiate your brand. Go find a list of personality traits and look for words you’d like to be used to describe your company. Are you: Sophisticated and educated? Cool and hip? Strong and stable? Corporate and professional? Fun and innovative?

Once you’ve answered that question, check to see that your visual design matches your personality. There are many color wheels online that show the personality of colors. Red can be bold, aggressive, and professional, while blue can be stable, comfortable, and peaceful. Do your design and colors work?

I would love to find examples you think exemplify a good brand definition – and would love to see examples you think don’t work and why!