When you set out to build a startup, you can't know which turns you'll take. You'll have to pivot your strategy many times. That's part of the thrill -- and the challenge.

But 90 percent of consumers expect consistency across channels and devices when interacting with a brand. You don't want to fall short of this expectation. So how do you establish and maintain a brand identity if you don't know where your business is going?

Let's look at Apple. From the first Apple I computer to self-driving cars, the company's launched a long list of products and initiatives. But over the course of a couple decades, Apple went from a two-man show in a garage to one of the world's most iconic brands.

Here's how to brand your startup like Apple.

Position your brand with the big picture in mind

Newsflash: Customers don't care about you because of your "cool" product. They only care if you change their lives for the better. Your brand promise needs to convey this impact.

For Apple, that's enhancing life through innovation and technology. Just think: Colorful Macs when computers were boxy and gray. Rockin' iPod ads with people dancing their hearts out. Intuitive UIs. Virus-proof computers. And you know the self-driving cars will look cool and be easy to maintain.

It all fits: Sleek tech to improve life.

Define your brand's personality

That goes beyond just style and tone. Your brand should be like a person -- with a unique personality, mannerisms, and ways of thinking. Consider these questions:

  1. How should people feel when they use your products?
  2. If your brand were a person, how would you describe him or her?
  3. Who would be your ideal spokesperson and why?

You can picture Apple as a person, right? He or she would be intelligent, stylish, and cool.

Develop your visual look and feel

Now that you have your brand personality, pick your color palette and develop a visual look and feel. Will you use thick, trendy font, or a refined script? Are your layouts open and airy, or bold and angular? These features really do alter brand personality and perception, explains research in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science.

For Apple, this has developed a lot over time. Your brand's look and feel can -- and should -- evolve too. The goal is to represent your brand in a way that's relevant to your audience. What looked sleek in the '70s certainly wouldn't look cool now.

Pick your platforms

Now you have your brand purpose, personality, and visual guidelines. Where will you push your brand? Your platforms include your products, website, partner relationships, or social media. You'll need to adapt your delivery while conveying your brand consistently across these channels.

Think about the difference between a 140-character Tweet and a multi-page product manual. Both need to look and sound like your brand.

With the same identity across all its platforms, Apple nails this. But you have to be intentional about it. And if you wonder how Apple does that, take a look at these extensive identity guidelines for resellers, which brings me to the final step...

Create a brand charter

Now, I can only imagine the expansiveness of Apple's marketing department. Obviously, as an entrepreneur, you won't have this luxury, but here's what you can do.

Document all of these elements and create a brand charter. It doesn't need to be fancy, but you should cover these 4 areas mentioned above. That way you can use it to evaluate new brand communications, and you can distribute it to employees, contractors, and partners.

All in all, when you're starting out, don't cut corners. Build your business with brand in mind.