BRAND IDENTITY DESIGN: YOUR GUIDE TO EVERYTHING WORTH KNOWING
What is a brand identity?
Your brand identity can also be referred to as your corporate identity and goes beyond simple logo design or branding. Instead, it includes any tangible element that lets you differentiate yourself from the competition and create an affinity with your business.
To start with a blindingly obvious example, McDonalds’ brand identity includes everything from their distinctive yellow and red colour scheme to Ronald himself and that little whistle at the end of every advert.
You don’t need to see the golden arches to know who those things belong to. You just know. That is the essence of what we’re describing. And it is why brand identity design is so much larger and more valuable than just a strong logo (and we’ll get to logos later).
A strong brand identity incorporates every element of your company’s existence, including your website, social media, typography, tone of voice, icons, colours and images. Not to mention your packaging, uniforms, videos, business cards, email footers and illustrations.
Even the words your customer service agents use when they pick up the phone.
It’s what makes your company unique. And it’s the most direct route to forging a connection with your customers in order to be recognised and remembered in the long term.
What makes brand identity design important?
Brand identity design involves corralling every interaction with your company into a seamless, enjoyable and memorable experience for your stakeholders.
The old cliché about being more than the sum of your parts holds particularly true here. A cohesive identity does more than strengthen your brand. It can impact your business at every level, from the strategic to the functional:
It smooths the sales journey
The received wisdom is that a B2B buyer will have between six and eight touchpoints with your company before they make a purchase decision.
That is six to eight opportunities to make sure every single aspect of your identity resonates with your ideal client. A strong brand identity also makes it barely noticeable when they move through different platforms, messages and calls to action.
These interactions could range from a social media post to a consultation. But a consistent journey is essential for getting your prospects over the line.
It builds loyalty
Customer lifetime value is one of the most important metrics when it comes to long-term growth. And buyers will only stay with you if they recognise the benefit in doing so.
There can only ever be one company which is cheapest and a race to the bottom doesn’t always result in loyalty. But a strong brand identity can both highlight and contribute to the value you offer by creating an emotional connection.
This consistent reinforcement of positive brand affinity helps you to develop a relationship that lasts longer than an individual sale.
It stands you apart
Let’s face it, there are probably three or four companies you can think of that offer a similar product or service to you.
That’s not to say that you’ve not got something a bit special. But your brand identity can magnify the competitive advantage you already enjoy. Or it can create an advantage where you don’t have one yet.
It’s a promise that you really are better than the competition. People remember when promises are kept.
It provides clarity of purpose
This applies both internally and externally. Your brand identity answers fundamental questions about who you are as a company. What you stand for. What you want to achieve. It’s a clarion call to your perfect customer. And it’s an aspirational guide for how every part of your organisation should interact with stakeholders.
In that clarity you can also find accountability. When everyone inside and outside the business understands what they should expect from your brand, it’s easier to commit to meeting those expectations. And a clear purpose results in a more loyal and committed workforce.
It drives long term growth
There is plenty of research to say that brand building excels at driving long term growth for your business. And while it’s important to make the differentiation between brand identity and brand marketing, you cannot have one without the other.
The more your prospects trust in consistent interactions with your brand, the more they recognise the experience. And the more certain they become that you will continue to meet their expectations.
That recognition and trust keeps them as a client, reduces their price sensitivity and increases your margins.
The five principles of brand identity design
Your brand identity design doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s not a coincidence that the most well known brands and logos in the world are often the most simple.
However, there are some principles which are universal:
1. Be unique
Draw inspiration from wherever you fancy, but there should be no one else’s fingerprints on the final outcome. That uniqueness is what demonstrates your confidence in your own product or service. Trust is difficult to earn. One of the fastest ways to lose it is if your audience thinks you’re not being 100% honest about who you are.
2. Be memorable
This follows from the first point. Of course visual appeal is essential, but anything derivative is rarely memorable (at least, not in a way that you’d like to be remembered). Your identity doesn’t have to be bold in the literal sense, but being consistently recognisable will require some creative thinking.
3. Be scalable
Every element of your identity should be translatable to the different mediums of visual interaction. What works on your website should work in your videos, brochures, blog posts and everywhere else.
4. Be consistent
This is so important. Your identity should encompass and complement each and every piece of content. You should also have clear guidelines for how your brand is applied across the mediums. So it stays consistent no matter which designer is doing the applying.
5. Be practical
Even if you’ve stuck to the first four principles, there’s no point in creating something magnificent if it’s prohibitively difficult to work with. Keep it simple and think about how you might need to apply it in the future as your business evolves.
How to create or update your brand identity
If you want to create a brand that stands the test of time, the process of developing your identity should be a thorough one. Without wanting to be dramatic, you are bringing something important to life. So naturally, it will start with some fairly existential questions.
Who are you, and why do you exist?
Well, we did warn you. But you can’t communicate who you are until you’ve nailed it down yourself. The discovery phase involves really getting under the hood of your business to define its values, objectives and aspirations. What is the purpose of your company beyond making money? Do you have guiding principles that will help you achieve it? What makes you different?
It takes a strong examination of these fundamental questions to create a foundation for the next steps of brand development.
Do your research
Do you have a clear idea of who your ideal customer is? Perhaps there are several profiles that are a good fit for your business. Or maybe you’re focussed on a particular niche. Audience research will help you answer basic demographic questions such as age range, profession and location. But more than that, it can also look at their motivations, fears, needs and barriers to action. The deeper you go, the better you will be able to serve them.
Equally important is looking at how your competitors are meeting those needs. What are their strengths and weaknesses? Is there an opportunity to fill a gap that they are not addressing? Are there areas that you need to address in your own business to compete more effectively?
Develop the brand proposition
Your brand proposition is the cornerstone to your brand strategy. You can also call it a value proposition, brand statement or brand promise.
It is the clarion call we talked about earlier. It defines what you stand for, what problems you solve and the benefits that make you unique. And it’s the first step towards forging the emotional connection that is essential for driving brand loyalty.
This is why the first two stages of brand identity development are so important. Here you integrate those lessons into a snappy, compelling and simple summary that marries your purpose with what your customers need.
And just like every part of your brand design, it needs to stick to the five principles. It should be unique, memorable, consistent, inspiring and applicable to every part of the business.
The reason you need to get your value proposition right is simple: it is the north star that guides everything that comes next.
Define your brand essence
If the value proposition is your brand identity’s north star, then the brand essence is its soul. If you could summarise your brand’s timeless value in a three-word sentence, then you have found its essence.
That is not the same as a tagline or slogan, which are marketing devices with one audience in mind. Your brand essence sums up your brand’s universal promise. It is as much a goal for your employees as a reason why people might buy from you or invest in you.
Breathe life into your brand personality
At a strategic level, your proposition and essence are both high level tools to help you orientate your brand. They deal with direction and are intentionally broad. But how can you start relating those ideals to the people you want to engage with most?
This is where you start to develop your brand personality. Relatability relies on emotion. And emotion is distinctly human, which is why attributing personality traits to your brand is tough. It can be easy to approach the task from your own aspirations, instead of the ones of your target audience.
But the exercise is worthwhile. The adjectives you come up with to describe your brand will help you bridge the gap between your identity and your customer. They shape your logo design, colour scheme, typography, tone of voice and key messages, amongst many other aspects.
Run a brand audit
At this point, it’s sensible to take a look back at your existing presence. How does your current identity line up with your new brand proposition? How well does it match with the five principles of brand design?
The answers to these questions can help you decide whether you simply need to refresh your brand or go for a complete redesign.
Design your new logo
There are an astounding number of experienced businesses that start the design process here. But without the framework we’ve discussed, all you’d end up with is colours and a small picture. That is not an identity. It’s what you’d stick on the fridge to keep your toddler happy.
However, a creative brief informed by rigorous research and reflection can give you the foundation to design an identity that is iconic. Enduring.
Again, the key is in those five brand design principles. Simplicity in logo design is also the key to its scalability and practicability. It makes your logo both easier to recognise and easier to apply across a broader range of mediums.
But that does not mean the design should be simple in how it represents your business. Out of the world’s most famous logos, how many reflect the function of the service or product the company offers? That is neither memorable nor unique. And it is also not their purpose. The logo reflects the brand identity, not the company’s day-to-day operations.
Develop your brand world
A logo without context is just an image. Your brand world adds richness and depth to your new identity. It is the branding, the imagery, the colours, the typography. Done properly, your audience will recognise your brand without seeing your logo at all. When you see three stripes down the side of a tracksuit, that’s all you need to know.
Your brand world adds a greater level of flexibility to your identity design. It lets you refresh your engagement with the audiences while ensuring that you remain distinguished and identifiable.
Create brand guidelines and toolkit
Imagine going to all this trouble for a designer to then ‘improve’ the logo on your new business card. Or for it to appear in a different shade in the brochure. Brand guidelines ensure that your designers have clear and simple instructions for any future work. At the same time, a brand toolkit gives you everything you need to set up your new identity across the vast majority of mediums.
That includes your marketing collateral, website design, content marketing, social media and advertising.
There is so much that we have not touched upon here. But the great thing about this subject is that it’s constantly evolving.This is the first of many articles we are publishing about brand strategy. So if you’d like to hear more from us or have any questions, we’d love to hear from you too.