The Complete Guide To Building a Brand Online

#Nail your branding strategy

If you really understand branding - you probably have all your photos and captions planned, you know exactly what to talk to your audience about, and you’re flattered by all the likes on your photos.

If you don’t really understand branding you’re not sure what your next post should be (another flat lay?), if your caption should be witty or thought-provoking, what exactly your followers come to you for and the whole online branding feels a bit forced and awkward.

If you don’t really understanding branding, you’re not sure what your next post should be (another flat lay?).

S’ok - most people fall in the latter category.

Whether you want your personal brand to be stronger, or you just can’t seem to figure out your business brand’s strategy - I learned so much about the importance of branding from a recent Soul Sugar Cotton Candy Rebrand by the team at Pivot and Pilot, which sparked me to write this blog post from all the helpful branding information they shared.

Pivot and Pilot is a team of visual communicators who build unique and engaging brands beyond just the visual components of the brand.

Pivot and Pilot understands that a brand is more than just how a brand visually looks. It is business’ personality - a way for a company to communicate who they are - and the background which they came from and what they believe in.

Statistical Fact from Pivot and Pilot: It takes people 1/10th of a second to form an opinion about your business.

Non statistical fact: It takes people 1/5th of a second to decide if they want to follow you on Instagram or not.

How to brand yourself and your company in one sentence: have a clear direction of who you are, what you believe in and what value you’re adding to your followers and buyers.

Let’s break down how that looks for building a brand with examples from the SoulSugar Cotton Candy popup rebrand and how it applies to personal branding online:


Think of a brand account that you recently unfollowed on Instagram or a product that you didn’t want to purchase. Why did you unfollow that account or not purchase the product?

Ten bucks* says it’s because they weren’t adding value to you. You weren’t getting inspiration from the posts online, the brand personality wasn’t clear through the packaging, the images and messages seemed scattered, etc.

Now think of a brand account that you couldn’t dream of unfollowing and who you look forward to their posts.

Ten bucks* says it’s because they communicate value that you resonate with. When the picture shows up in your feed, you don’t even need to see the username to know who posted the photo.

For me this is Sephora. Dang. Now that is a brand I can resonate with. The posts are consistently beautiful. I learn about new products through the posts that I would totally buy. The captions and promotions resonate with me - the Sephora social media team understands their target audience 100% and they craft photos for their audience.  The The only reason I would dream of unfollowing Sephora is I spend too much of my paycheque there.

*Hypothetical ten bucks. I’m not enough of a baller to bet ten bucks on this. But you get my point.

Who are 3 accounts that you LOVE following and when you see their updates, pictures and profile you think ‘I wish I could do that. Why can't I do that?’? These are the accounts and Instagram profiles that you search for and couldn't ever dream of unfollowing. For example:

@lapetitenoob - I love the aesthetic of Joelle’s pink feed filled with flowers and classic, feminine fashion for petite ladies. Every time she posts I feel inspired. I resonate with her quirky and authentic personality and I think, “Okay if I lived in Toronto I would totally be friends with this girl.”

@ danielle.a.connor - Danielle the definition of boss babe. I could create a Pinterest moodboard from all of her photography. She also adds value by showing the behind-the-scenes life of her design business and I resonate with who she is as a person and her creativity. - This is the strongest example on how brand yourself online and sell a service. Not only is preview app one of the best apps for creating a consistent theme with your Instagram handle, every single post adds value - I learn how to create spaces in my captions on one post, the next post is an explanation how to space images to create an Instagram theme, the next post is a step-by-step example how to apply the same filter to images. I could go on about this app forever - but it’s not just the app that I love - it’s the personality and value behind the brand that sticks out.

All of these accounts have communicated their value proposition to their followers incredibly well.

What sets you and your brand apart? What can you provide to an audience and following that other accounts can't?

If you have no idea…

What could you talk to someone all day about? If you were stuck beside someone on a plane and you talked for 5 hours, what would you talk about?

Where does your mind go when you have nothing else to think about? What do you love to google search in your spare time? What could you spend hours reading about or looking at?

What do people compliment you on the most? What do your friends ask you about when they need advice?

This is the part of your brand that you are passionate about. People follow people - not random blogs and not generic brands. They need to identify with something and your passion is a way to achieve that.

Create a persona of your ideal follower. What age/income/geographic area/hobbies/lifestyle/gender is he/she? If your Instagram page was a party, what kind of people would be at the party?

Hint: by #nailing your branding strategy you will create a tribe of the exact people you dreamed of connecting with.

What is the primary message you want to convey to your followers?

Is it an inspirational fashion blog targeted at affordable petite fashion? Or is it quirky and eclectic taco shop in Vancouver with funky decor? Know who your brand is and create the branding elements to match that. The more specific, the better.

Take that one step further and create a branding persona about that person. Every post you publish should be tailored for that individual.

Company: A beauty parlour downtown Vancouver with affordable prices and a gorgeous interior aesthetic. (@PrepBeautyParlour)

Persona: Ashley is a female in her mid-to-late twenties living downtown Vancouver in the West End. She finished her degree a few years ago so her student loan is paid off, but now she is saving for the next life steps like a wedding and house. She loves to treat herself but doesn’t want to spend a ton of money on services, but she feels happiest when she is around pretty and girly aesthetic. (Ashley is basically me)

Now everything this beauty parlour creates should be targeted at something Ashley would like. The captions should be written for Ashley, the posts should inspire Ashley to try a new service or product.

This strategy helps immensely - I basically have imaginary friends that I’ve targeted many campaigns around at work.

Have specific guidelines about do’s and don’ts about the colors and other elements of the brand identity or website.

For me, this is light pink and white elements with a touch of blue. My goal is to connect with like-minded female entrepreneurs and add value and inspiration to their feed, so you’ll never see a picture of a diesel truck in the mud on my theme - no matter how bad I want to post that picture.

Close your eyes and picture what your Instagram account looks like. What are the elements and what do you see? What Instagram accounts do you like the look of?

What are 3 companies whose brand identities you admire or inspire you? What do you like about them? (These don’t have to be in your particular field).

What tone will your brand convey? Upbeat, silly, playful, OR serious and informed?


This becomes the guiding force of why you have your online presence in the first place and what you want to do with it. It’s a simple one sentence line that defines the reason you have yourself online in the first place.

@songofstyle (a beautiful fashion blog)’s mission statement: “to inspire and connect with people all around the world through photography, beauty and passions, whether that’s food, lifestyle, fashion, etc.”

Every time you’re about to post, ask yourself if it fit’s your mission statement.

Take that one step further and create a branding persona about that person. Every post you publish should be tailored for that individual.

What is their age? What is their gender? What do they do on the weekend? What is their financial situation like? Be so specific that you feel like you know this person.

What are some trends in your industry and how can you stand out from the crowd?

Pretend you are that funky taco shop in downtown Vancouver. All your competitors seem to just post flat lays and product shots of their tacos - and you are looking for a way to stand out. You know that community and culture is hugely important to you and your staff feels like family - so why don’t you spotlight the staff on your Instagram stories? Show the behind the scenes of the process to prepare the food and how much fun your team has doing it.

Branding isn’t a magic formula that only a few people understand. The people who understand branding realize It’s about being authentic to who your brand is and knowing you won’t please everyone - and that’s okay.

Branding isn’t a magic formula that only a few people understand. The people who understand branding realize It’s about being authentic to who your brand is and knowing you won’t please everyone - and that’s okay.