Branding is about establishing an identity, and it doesn't do you any good if that identity is not cohesive, and singular in purpose. Now, what goes into developing a brand, establishing a firm identity in your field may differ from industry to industry and from company to company. It's important for a corporation's business card design to reflect the work they do. Someone who is running a hot dog stand has other branding issues to worry about, but the rules and steps that they follow in creating every component of brand-building will be the same.
A great post at Entrepreneur.com, points to the importance of carving out a unique position in your field. You have to be a market leader, but not everyone who's running a retail store can be WalMart. Not every coffee shop can be Starbucks. So what can you do that the big brands can't? What void can you fill that is currently open in your field? Whether you want to open the only vegan barbecue place in town or start a homebuilding service that doesn't cut corners, the two most important questions are: does the market need this, and is anybody else already doing it?
This unique position, whether it's built around a certain ethos, a certain business philosophy, or even a unique aesthetic, will guide you through every aspect of developing your brand, but it all starts with this: who are you?
Clarifying Your Purpose
The best websites always present a clear purpose, but this is true even beyond web design. Every step you take to build your brand has to clarify your purpose. That doesn't mean just printing your mission statement on your business cards and menus and displaying it in your newspaper ads. Rather, this means that every aspect of your branding efforts will need to reflect your purpose. Consider the vegetarian restaurant with leather seats, or the hybrid car that costs thousands of dollars in fossil fuels to fly over from Japan. Whatever your purpose, it needs to be clear in every single aspect of your brand.
You should take a moment here to consider that your brand is not just the design that you hand in to the business card printing people at PrintingForLess.com, it's not just the t-shirts your employees wear and how you present yourself on social media. Your brand is also the way your delivery drivers follow the rules of the road. Your brand is determined by how eco-friendly your products are. Your brand is how you treat your employees, whether or not you offer health care. Everything you do affects your brand, and this is why consistency is of the utmost importance.
Pay the Artist
It's not a bad idea to go ahead and hire a professional designer to help you to come up with a great logo. The web is full of examples of bad ones, and if spending a little bit of cash can keep you from winding up on a hilarious list of worst logos on a comedy site somewhere, then it's worth the investment. Beyond this, you should also consider just how deeply aesthetics play into everything on the web. From the font you use on your website to the way you dress in your Facebook profile picture, it all adds up.
And really, that's the main takeaway here: it all adds up. Put some real thought and effort into everything that you do, stay focused, and your brand will thrive.