Branding is vital for any type of business: large or small, B2B or B2C, and product or service firms. It helps achieve recognition, build relationships with the audience, and boost revenue. In fact, over 50% of consumers prefer purchasing products from familiar brands.

However, branding isn’t one-size-fits-all. Service brands, for example, will have different strategies to communicate with their audiences compared to manufacturing businesses. They have different offers and highlight particular unique selling points (USPs).

This article will focus on the fundamental concept of service branding. We’ll explain the definition of service branding and how it differs from product branding. You’ll also learn five branding elements and steps to build great branding for service enterprises.

What Is Service Branding?

Service branding refers to the brand-building process for the service industry, including banks, airlines, agencies, and management consulting firms.

Here is a brief explanation of other types of branding to help you differentiate service branding from others:

  • Personal branding. It refers to the process of creating an image for the public to market yourself. Examples are Simon Sinek as an author and inspirational speaker and Marie Forleo as a female entrepreneur.
  • Product branding. This branding shapes how the world perceives certain products. For instance, Apple positions its products as luxury-level technology.
  • Cultural and geographical branding. Branding for regions and their cultural aspects. For example, French berets and the Eiffel Tower represent Paris.

Service vs Product Branding

The service characteristics make the branding efforts different from product branding. A product brand revolves around visible factors, including its core functions and quality.

Meanwhile, a service brand is more complex because it provides values through intangible skills and expertise. It involves all kinds of brand contacts, including employee image and service environment, which can be more subjective than product quality assessment.

Regarding brand management, product brand managers generally focus on their product features, like how customers use it and what tangible advantages it offers.

However, service brand managers deal not only with the marketing efforts but also with staff management.

The front-line staff is essential to provide an excellent experience to customers and promote the corporate culture. These efforts eventually help service companies form a meaningful relationship with customers and encourage them to return.

5 Marketing Efforts to Brand Services

This section covers critical branding elements necessary to develop your service brand. They include brand personality, identity, vision and values, positioning, and voice.

1. Brand Personality

Brand personality refers to the human traits and characteristics associated with a brand. For instance, many people relate luxury brands with sophistication, glamor, and an upper-class lifestyle.

Brand personality is important because it helps build an emotional connection with like-minded consumers. This relationship can make interactions more meaningful and improve customer-powered marketing strategies, like user-generated content and word of mouth.

Types of brand personality include:

  • Sincere. Kindness and family-oriented values, e.g., Disney.
  • Excited. Youthful and carefree, e.g., Coca-Cola.
  • Competent. Intelligent and reliable, e.g., Google.
  • Sophisticated. Upper-class and prestigious, e.g., Rolex.
  • Rugged. Tough and outdoorsy, e.g., Jeep.

2. Brand Identity

Brand identity refers to the visible elements representing its personality and unique characteristics.

Common elements of brand identity include:

  • A brand name. It helps customers identify and differentiate one brand from another.
  • Color palette. Colors represent certain personality traits and brand values. For example, people often associate pink with feminine brands and green with sustainable companies.
  • Typography. Fonts and typefaces have the power to communicate a personality and create memorability. Coca-Cola’s lettering style is an excellent example as it’s iconic and noticeable, leaving a memorable impression.
  • Logo design. A logo consists of text, colors, and images identifying a business. It can be a wordmark like Coca-Cola or a pictorial mark like Twitter.
  • Imagery. The photos, stock images, graphics, or illustrations the brand uses. For example, a consulting firm may display employees’ professional photos, while a digital marketing agency may show a fun and creative working environment.

Most companies often go beyond the elements above. They also implement their identities on other media, such as packaging, websites, and business cards.

A flatlay of office stationery on a wooden desk

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Various marketing materials can increase brand awareness and memorability. The more places a brand is featured, the more contact it will make with the target market. That way, people are most likely to remember the brand.

3. Brand Vision and Values

The vision statement describes exactly what a brand aspires to be in the future. It’s a broad and inspirational statement aimed to provide a purpose and focus for the business.

Every vision statement should contain an envisioned future and a core ideology, reflecting the companies’ long-term goals. Many businesses also use this as a starting point to establish their brand values.

Brand values provide a guideline for the decision-making process and how business members should behave. They also help highlight the value proposition and frame the brand story.

For example, Netflix’s vision statement is ‘To entertain the world.’ Then, its brand values include innovation, inclusion, and communication. With these principles, Netflix aims to create a creative and fun organization that brings more laughter, empathy, and joy to the employees and audience.

4. Brand Positioning

Brand positioning refers to how a business owner wants potential customers to perceive its company. For example, many people recognize One&Only Resorts as a luxury hotel chain and A&O Hostels as affordable accommodation for backpackers.

a&o hostels homepage, affordable accommodation for backpackers

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Generally, companies claim their positions using taglines. For example, A&O Hostels’ tagline is ‘Everyone can travel,’ while One&Only refers to itself as an award-winning luxury hotel. The market position helps to control the reputation and brand image as well as differentiate a brand from its competitors.

There are three main brand positioning strategies:

  • Price-based positioning. Brands position themselves as the cheapest or most expensive ones in the market.
  • Segmentation strategy. Brands focus on specific markets, like hotels for backpackers.
  • Differentiation strategy. It relies on a brand’s innovative qualities. A good example is HSBC as the first US bank employing humanoid robots. This strategy can also refer to a brand providing exclusivity, like hotels with limited rooms for enjoying the northern lights.

5. Brand Voice

A brand voice helps develop a great branding strategy because it communicates its personality, creating a recognizable and memorable experience across all touchpoints. In fact, 33% of people agree that a distinct personality makes a brand stand out.

Essential aspects of brand voice are:

  • Phrases and stylistic choices
  • Tone
  • Point of view
  • Personality

Service brands deliver their voice through various platforms, including website copy, press releases, and social media.

However, a brand tone may vary depending on the platforms and scenarios. For instance, the excitement present when communicating a product release won’t be adequate for when you respond to a customer complaint.

Let’s take Sprout Social as an example. The brand tone is more confident and authoritative on the blog posts to show its position as an expert in the field. Meanwhile, its tone becomes more playful and casual on social media, using emojis and exclamation points.

Sprout Social "Writing" web page

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How to Build a Great Service Brand

Now that we discussed key branding elements, it’s time to focus on putting them into practice. Using the ten practical steps below, you’ll be able to create a solid service brand.

1. Understand Your Brand

The initial step in strategic brand management is the self-discovery process. Knowing the brand and what it should stand for will help you make better decisions and promote the business.

Use these questions to define your service brand:

  • What are the brand’s core vision and values?
  • What’s the brand’s background story? Why did you create this service company?
  • What are the features of your services, and how are they different from competitors?
  • What problems do your services solve?
  • How do you want customers to feel when they hear your brand name?

2. Research the Target Audience

After determining the brand profile, the next step is to research the target audience. This process will uncover the audience’s needs and motivations that influence their buying decisions.

Three fundamental areas when researching target audience are:

  • Demographics. The audience’s age, gender, marital status, and income.
  • Geographics. Their location, like a specific country or state.
  • Psychographics. The audience’s interests, personality traits, aspirations, and lifestyles.

A rule of thumb is to develop the campaign having your marketing persona in mind so the audience finds it relatable.

For example, if you have a travel agency, narrow down your audience to college students who want to study abroad in Europe instead of targeting college students in general. In this case, you may want to use an inspirational tone to motivate them to go to Europe or share appealing photos of European universities.

Use a tool like Clarita’s MyBestSegments to help research the audience profiles.

Claritas MyBestSegments tool to research audience profiles

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This tool provides various market segments and essential insights such as demographic traits, lifestyle, and media. If you target US residents, Clarita’s MyBestSegments also displays a map containing information about people living in every zip code in the US.

3. Pay Attention to Your Competitors

Knowing the competitors will help determine how your service brand is different from theirs. Use the information to emphasize your brand values and competitive advantages when communicating with the audience. For instance, if a competitor highlights its affordability, you may want to focus on why better quality is more important than the price.

Some points to compare are:

  • Messaging and visual identity
  • Service quality and pricing
  • Customer reviews and social mentions
  • Marketing strategies

Depending on your service industry, crowd-sourced review platforms like Angi, Yelp, and Foursquare are helpful to discover the local competition. These sites compile local customers’ reviews for various businesses, such as spas and event planning services.

Yelp homepage, a crowd-sourced review platform

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On SimilarWeb, simply enter your website address. The tool will display a list of similar companies and their data, including traffic insights, popular keywords, and audience interests.

Similarweb homepage, a tool to display a list of competitors

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4. Develop a Branding Strategy

After researching your service brand, audience, and competitors, analyze the data gathered and find a middle ground for your service branding strategy.

For example, your goal is to be a sustainable service brand, but many competitors have a similar claim. Therefore, you may want to change the strategy to highlight your company is a sustainable brand with ethical principles, like transparency, fairness, and concern for others.

Once you finish creating the general concept, think of the five marketing concepts discussed in the previous section: brand personality, identity, vision and values, positioning, and voice.

Consider using these tools to create a strong brand strategy:

  • Namelix. Generate brand name ideas by entering keywords related to your service sector.
  • Canva. Create visual branding elements, including logo design and business cards.
  • Grammarly. Check the spelling, grammar, and tone of your brand voice.
  • Google Trends. Understand popular terms and topics around your service brand to help come up with a tagline or brand messaging ideas.
  • Milanote. Organize your ideas, visual elements, and checklist using Milanotes’ visual boards.
Milanote homepage, a visual board to organize ideas

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The brand development process may seem daunting, but it’s possible to do it yourself. Take your time to study related materials, like color psychology and copywriting. Free online courses like the ones offered by HubSpot Academy and Google Digital Garage are also great resources.

If you have the budget to seek expert support, consider hiring a senior consultant from a branding agency. Brand consultants provide various branding services, like analyzing customer perceptions, studying the competition, and planning strategies for your service firm.

5. Design Brand Guidelines

Maintaining consistency is critical to building a strong service brand. Therefore, develop a brand guideline to direct you when creating marketing materials.

Generally, a brand guideline outlines:

  • Brand values, voice, and personality.
  • Target audience.
  • The brand’s color palette.
  • The typeface and typography hierarchy, e.g., for headers and paragraphs.
  • The dos and don’ts of the logo, like the proper size, color, and placement.
  • The general brand visual style.
  • Social media policy, guide, and tone of voice.
  • Moodboard for inspiration.

A tool like Canva is helpful to make a brand guideline. It has premade templates for many brand styles, like playful, classy, and professional. It also has a drag-and-drop interface to quickly add design elements such as images and shapes.

Canva template editor

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After that, you can print the guideline or make it available for the company members as an eBook or website. Whatever format you choose, ensure that the guideline is comprehensive, clear, and accessible to everyone in the team.

6. Train Your Employees

Employees are placed at the front-line of service brands, representing the entire company. Therefore, having solid human resource management (HRM) is essential once you’ve developed the brand strategy.

Generally, employee management falls into three categories:

  • Acquisition. Finding and recruiting suitable candidates.
  • Engagement and retention. Ensuring the employees’ well-being and understanding their needs and concerns.
  • Performance analysis. Conducting performance reviews to help them improve and rewarding exceptional performance.

Consider your company culture as the foundation of the business’s HRM processes.

Company culture helps evaluate if candidates are good fits. In fact, many managers agree that a candidate’s alignment with the company culture is as essential as their skills and experience.

Positive company culture can also boost employee engagement and productivity. To build a strong culture, emphasize the brand values and employee wellness. Also, encourage positivity and provide meaning to their jobs.

7. Offer Excellent Services

Two people at a table, processing a purchase

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Top-notch services themselves can be an effective way to build a great service brand.

Services that exceed customers’ expectations encourage positive word of mouth, accounting for 13% of all global sales. Moreover, 88% of people will have the highest level of trust in a brand recommended by friends or family members.

To have excellent service, understand the experiences that potential customers want to have. For instance, your company may provide friendly interactions, but prospects might have different needs and run to competitors that offer extended hours, lower prices, or greater service scope.

Also, consider providing additional services when many companies in your industry offer the basics. For example, an airline company could include a free lunch for the same ticket price as competitors who don’t.

8. Promote Your Brand

From creating a unique identity to providing better services, the internal branding process is now complete. Next, pick platforms to market the brand.

Two methods to effectively promote brands and their services are online and offline marketing.

Online Marketing

More business owners are getting interested in building their brands and promoting their services on online platforms. In fact, digital marketing spending in February 2021 grew by 14.3% compared to the previous year.

Here are three popular channels and some branding promotion ideas:

  • Social media platforms. Share stories about your brand, live stream events, and product launches, and work with social media influencers.
  • Website. Focus on web design, content, and search engine optimization (SEO) strategies.
  • Email marketing. Develop personalized marketing campaigns by sending emails to specific customers.

Lyft’s digital marketing strategy is an excellent example. It maintains a fun personality and sends consistent messaging across platforms.

For instance, Lyft explained its health and safety programs for the drivers and passengers on its social media, website, and emails at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lyft homepage, a ridesharing service

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Offline Marketing 

Even with the rapid growth of digital marketing, offline advertising strategies like billboard, television, and print ads are still important, especially for brick-and-mortar service companies.

Offline marketing helps build brand awareness as people still watch TV for around 3.1 hours daily. This strategy can also be a part of a multichannel marketing approach, which can increase the return on investment (ROI) by 24%.

9. Invest in the Community

Acquiring new consumers can cost five times more than retaining existing ones. Also, the success rate of selling to existing customers is around 50% higher than selling to new ones. Therefore, developing a loyal customer base is important for creating strong brands.

Follow these methods to build brand loyalty in your community:

  • Host events. Live events can engage and provide value to customers. For instance, Airbnb organized a Superhost appreciation party in 2019 to thank its hosts.
  • Do volunteer work. 90% of customers trust and are loyal to socially responsible businesses. Thus, integrate relevant social projects into your marketing campaigns. Marriott is an excellent example in the service industry. Its local hotels provide aid when a disaster strikes certain areas.
  • Share relevant content. Valuable content can make customers return because they gain benefits from it. For example, Chime shares personal finance tips on its Instagram and blog.
Chime blog on personal finance tips

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10. Analyze and Optimize Campaigns

The process of planning and executing branding campaigns is challenging yet rewarding. However, the journey doesn’t end there. When you finally share them with the public, it’s important to measure its performance to know whether to change or adjust any elements of the company branding.

Brand awareness is one of the most critical metrics to analyze campaign success. Here are some points and helpful tools to track it:

  • Mentions and coverage. They refer to the number of featured articles, TV or radio mentions, and mentions in other media. Some of the tools your company can use to track online mentions are Sprout Social and Radarr.
Sprout Social's social media monitoring tool web page

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  • Share of voice (SOV). It’s the percentage of conversations about a brand in relation to its competitors. Use Onclusive to measure SOV and navigate to the Power of Voice section to know your score on social media sentiment, publication authority, and content relevance.
Onclusive website's "Power of Voice" page

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  • Web traffic. High web traffic may indicate successful content marketing, public relations, and social media efforts. Google Analytics helps analyze the traffic source – organic, referral, or direct.
  • Follower growth rate. A percentage that measures whether your social media account is gaining or losing followers. To calculate this metric, write the number of new followers over a specific period, divide it by the total followers, and multiply it by 100%.

These are quantitative metrics of a campaign’s success. Alternatively, use customer surveys to understand customer satisfaction.

Ask customers to answer a questionnaire and use open-ended questions so they can provide context. Use a survey tool like Survey Monkey or Typeform to receive feedback.

Survey Monkey, a customer satisfaction survey tool

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Service branding refers to the branding process for service providers, such as car rentals, travel agents, and banks. Compared to product businesses, branding for service enterprises is more complex and subjective because it sells intangibles.

Brand service firms need to consider several marketing elements when creating their service branding, such as brand personality, identity, and market position.

As discussed above, here are ten steps to building a robust service branding approach:

  1. Understand your service brand profiles.
  2. Research your target audience.
  3. Study the competition.
  4. Build a branding strategy.
  5. Create a detailed brand guideline.
  6. Develop an employee management strategy.
  7. Provide top-class services.
  8. Promote your brand via offline and online platforms.
  9. Improve brand loyalty.
  10. Analyze the performance of your branding strategies.

That recaps our guide of service branding basics. If you’re just starting your brand development journey, feel free to check out some campaign examples from reputable brands for inspiration. Good luck!