The most successful brands undeniably have one trait in common: a profound understanding of who they are.

Brands are very much like people. The most successful individuals are not necessarily the smartest, but they know their strengths and how to play them up. They are also intimately familiar with their core network and know how to relate brilliantly. Your business is a giant extension of its people, their exceptional talents and the unique work they do.

Each year, over $500 billion is spent on advertising. The sad fact is that many companies continually waste full budgets on marketing a business they do not completely understand (and therefore have not branded effectively).

The average American is exposed to 5,000+ ads per day, making it impossible for half-baked brands to stand out in the sea of competition.

That being said, it's quite difficult to brand on a large scale without support. Sometimes when we're in our own (business) skin, we can't see that who we actually are is much different than what the public perceives. This is why the "Discovery" phase is so crucial: if you don't fully understand who you are and why you are of value, no one else will.

Discovering your company usually boils down to these five things:

Mission

Think about what you'd like your company to be the most famous for. What is the major problem you are solving for your customers? What is your special process for solving it? How is this different from every other business of your type?

Core Abilities

Again, sometimes what we want to be is not what we actually are. Make sure your company mission aligns with the core abilities of your team. Do they have what it takes to pull of your mission? If not, how do you get there as a team? Or alternatively how can you re-focus your offerings?

Your Culture

Attracting top-level talent, inspiring employees to do their best work, and creating a harmonious environment should be synonymous with your brand--no matter what your business model. Remember, your employees know your company better than anyone else and have a vested interest in its success. The way they feel at work significantly impacts the quality of work they do--which is the biggest reflection on you.

Your Style

Your company culture will certainly dictate your style. Think about what feeling you want your brand to evoke and use every tool at your disposal to create marketing materials that are unmistakably that feeling.

The proverbial "they" say you never get a second chance to make a first impression and yes, they're right. So before you go spending thousands of dollars in advertising, discover and define who you are as a company. It may take time, but waiting may just pay dividends.

Published on: Dec 15, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.