What is brand identity? & how to design & develop a good one.
But what exactly is brand identity? What does it have to do with design? And how can you shape a strong brand identity that takes your business to the next level?
What is brand identity?
The term “branding” refers to the marketing practice of actively building a distinctive brand. The brand is the perception of the company in the eyes of the world.
Let’s dig a little deeper.
Let’s say you are a high school student. As an awkward preteen, you want to be perceived as cool and invited to sit at the best table in the cafeteria. But you cannot force others to have that image of you. To develop this brand, you have to work a bit.
Lastly, you have to make sure you measure up. You save money to buy the new Adidas shoes that everyone wants. You cut your hair. You show up for the basketball team tryouts (and join them).
Those tangible elements – the sneakers, the haircut, belonging to the team – are the identity of the brand.
Your brand identity is what makes your customers instantly recognize you. Your audience will associate your brand identity with your product or service, and that identity is what forges the connection between you and your customers, creates customer loyalty, and determines how your customers will perceive your brand.
How to develop a strong brand identity
Know who you are
Before you know what tangible elements you want to make up your brand identity, you need to know who you are as a brand.
Who you are as a brand is made up of a few key elements:
- Your mission (what is your “why”?)
- Your values (what beliefs drive your company?)
- Your brand personality (if your brand were a person, what kind of personality would it have?)
- Your unique positioning (how does it differ from the competition?)
- Your brand voice (if your brand were a person, how would you communicate?)
These elements are what define your brand, and before you start building your brand identity, it is important that you have a clear understanding of each of them.
If you have trouble knowing exactly who you are, don’t worry. Sometimes all it takes is simple brainstorming to help you be clear about who you are as a brand.
- Why did we start this business?
- What are the beliefs and values that are important to us as a company?
- What do we do better than anyone else?
- What makes us special?
- If we could describe our brand in three words, what would they be?
- What are the three words that we would like our clients to use to describe us?
You can also check out this impressive branding workbook from the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. Although this notebook is geared towards personal branding, the strategies can be used for any type of business model.
Once you’ve established who you are as a brand, it’s time to build the identity that will bring your brand to life and show who you are to the people who matter most: your customers.
Design: the basis of your brand identity
Just as Adidas built the brand identity of its middle school star persona, your design is what will build your company’s brand identity.
Your corporate design assets are the tangible elements that will determine how your brand is perceived. Things like the logo, packaging, web design, social media graphics, business cards, and uniforms worn by employees.
In other words, coming up with the design = coming up with your brand identity = building a successful business that is an exact representation of who you are as a brand.
So how exactly do you come up with the design and build a brand identity that takes your business to the next level?
Develop your brand design
Before you start creating your design assets, you have to start from scratch and lay down the foundations of your design framework – the building blocks of your brand identity.
The basics you’ll want to determine before creating your design assets include
Typography refers to – you guessed it – the font (or type) you choose for your branding materials. It is especially important to choose your logo and brand fonts well. There are four main types of typography:
- Serif fonts (like Times New Roman or Garamond) have what looks like an anchor (or, to some people, little feet) at the end of each letter. This classic typeface is ideal if you want your brand to appear trustworthy, traditional, and a bit old school.
- If “serif” in the footer, “sans serif” is without the footer. Fonts without serifs (such as Helvetica or Franklin Gothic) are letters that have smooth edges and lack the anchor or “foot” of their serif counterparts. Sans serif fonts give brands a sleeker, more modern feel.
- Script typeface emulates handwriting (how good cursive classes in elementary school have done!). These fonts (like Allura or Pacifico) can be a good way to add a luxurious or feminine touch to your brand.
- Display fonts are a kind of league of their own. Each typeface has a specialized element, be it an unusual shape of the letters, outlines, shadows, or a more artistic / hand-drawn border (think Metallica’s lightening bolt font). Do you want to make a bold statement and create a brand identity that people won’t soon forget? A screen font is a good way to do it.
The typeface you choose will say a lot about your brand, so choose your fonts well.
Next is the color. People – including your potential customers – have psychological ties to different colors, and using brand and logo colors strategically can have a huge impact on how your brand is perceived by your audience.
Here are the rainbow colors (and a few more) that can contribute to your brand identity:
- Red: Red is the color of passion and emotion. It’s a perfect choice if your brand identity is loud, youthful, and exciting.
- Orange: Orange is another high-energy color and is ideal if you want to appear friendly and playful. It is used less than red, so it will also make you stand out.
- Yellow: Yellow, the color of the sun, is synonymous with happiness. Its lively atmosphere makes it a good option if you want to feel fun, accessible, and affordable.
- Green: An incredibly versatile color, green can be used for almost any brand. However, culturally, when people see green, they think of two things: money or nature. If your brand is tied to any of those things, green is an especially good choice.
- Blue: The most universally appealing color on the spectrum, blue can help your brand appear more stable and trustworthy, so if you’re looking to appeal to a broad demographic – and get them to trust you in the process – choose the blue.
- Purple: Purple is the color of royalty, so if you’re looking for a luxurious feel in your brand, this is a safe bet.
- Pink: Pink is culturally tied to femininity, so if your brand is targeting women, pink should be a clear candidate for your brand color. It is also a great color for brands with a soft or luxurious identity.
- Brown: Brown is perhaps the least used color across the brand, but that could work in your favor. Every time you do something different, it helps you stand out. Brown can also help people see your brand as robust or masculine.
- Black: If you want to be seen as modern or sophisticated, there is nothing as classic and effective as black.
When designing, you also have to think about the shape. This subtle but effective element can be used to reinforce the desired reaction of your customers: so, for example, a logo that is all circles and smooth edges will inspire a very different reaction than a sharp, square logo.
Here’s how different shapes can shape your brand identity (pun intended):
- Round shapes, like circles, ovals, and ellipses, are very warm. Brands that incorporate round shapes can create feelings of community, unity, and love. Rounded edges can also be considered feminine.
- Straight-edged shapes, such as squares, rectangles, and triangles, suggest strength and efficiency. The uncomplicated lines create a sense of stability and confidence, but you have to be careful: if the shapes are not balanced with something fun, like dynamic colors, they can appear impersonal and not connect with customers.
- Straight lines also have their own implications: vertical lines suggest masculinity and strength, while horizontal lines suggest calmness and gentle vibrations.
Design your brand identity
Once you’ve defined the basics of your design, it’s time to work with a designer to bring your brand identity to life and translate who you are as a brand into tangible design assets that you can use in your marketing. Your brand identity can be expressed in any number of elements. Depending on the nature of your business, one asset or another may be more or less important. For example, a restaurant must think a lot about its menu and its physical space. A digital marketing agency, however, needs to focus more on its website and its social media pages.
The common elements of brand identity are
Your logo design is the cornerstone of your brand identity. When working with your designer, you must ensure that your logo meets the following requirements:
- Clearly communicate who you are and what you value as a brand;
- Make it visually attractive: simplicity, cleanliness, and the absence of obstacles are essential;
- It’s classic, it’s not fashionable: the last thing you want is your logo to go out of style in 6 months;
- You conform to your industry standards, and if you deviate, you do so deliberately;
- Make a lasting impression on your audience.
You should also ensure that your design partner delivers the logo to you in various formats (such as a black and white version or multiple sizes) to ensure that you always have the logo you need and that each is in line with your identity brand.
Learn more about how to design the perfect logo.
Your website is one of the most representative aspects of your brand identity. Especially if you have an online business or digital product, your clients will definitely check out your website before deciding whether to do business with you. Your website is where your brand identity should appear in full force.
If your product is physical, the product packaging is key to attracting the right customers. Whether you’re thinking about a cold drink bottle or the mail you’ll send to customers who have bought clothes from your eCommerce business, don’t underestimate the value of good design in enhancing the experience, and driving both loyalty and repeat purchases. Packaging is an excellent opportunity for your design to shine.
If you’re building some kind of business (and who isn’t), you’ll want to stock up on business cards. A well-designed card offers the opportunity to reinforce a positive opinion of yourself in the eyes of potential customers. When it comes to business card design, keep it simple: your company logo on one side of the card and your most important personal details on the other side should be sufficient.
Email is a great way to engage your customers and boost business. But most people are saturated with inboxes, so if you want to grow your business through email, you need the right design strategy to differentiate yourself from clutter. Think about the purpose of the email. Are you trying to make a personal connection? So keep it short, sweet, and simple. Are you trying to educate? Then format it well so that it is easily readable and scannable and add some images to make it stand out. Do you want to inform your customers about a new clothing line that you have launched? Make a few impressive product images the center of attention.
Create a brand style guide
Once you have your design assets, you want to make sure they are used in the right way, so you definitely want to create a brand-style guide. This document – which outlines your design assets, when and how to use them, as well as any designs, dos, and don’ts for your brand – will ensure that any future designs are in line with your brand identity and generate the correct perception with your audience.
Consistency is critical to creating a strong brand identity. You don’t want your brand to look totally different on social media than it does on your website. That would confuse customers and make your brand appear less trustworthy and professional. Therefore, be sure to always follow a brand guide that covers all elements of your identity. That’s what will allow you to build long-term brand awareness and loyalty.
Brand identity in a nutshell …
Your brand identity is what sets you apart from the endless sea of competitors and shows your customers who you are and what they can expect from working with you. And if you want your brand to be perceived positively, it’s crucial that you nail your brand identity and create designs that accurately portray who you are to your customers. And now that you know how to find that identity, it’s time to start designing.
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