A Brand’s Identity Is The Visual Expression Of A Brand That Is Communicated To The Outside World
A brand’s identity includes its name, logo, communications, and visual appearance. A brand identity creates an emotional connection and reflects the brand positioning and desired image conveyed to stakeholders and the world at large.
At Solohacks Academy, we like the definition that Paul Rand has for brand identity: “Design is the silent ambassador of your brand.”
If you want your brand to succeed and thrive in the future, you need to build a brand identity that accurately conveys your essence. Your brand identity should be steady but also flexible enough to evolve with you.
All this doesn’t happen overnight. It requires imaginative thought and preparation, and a collaboration with a specialist brand identity designer with strong communication and design skills, and a deep understanding of your brand. But it can be done well, with excellent results – as long as your brief is good and the designer understands your spoken instructions and unspoken feelings.
1. Understanding What Brand Identity Is, Why It’s Crucial And Where We Need A Rethink
Excitement about your brand identity design is okay, folks, but don’t let your heady feelings prevent you from wearing your business hat for a while as you consider everything that goes into brand identity design. Some bit of serious thinking has to precede that creative spree. Read up to see what is important to know …
a. What Is Brand Identity? Is It The Same As Brand Image?
Brand identity is distinct from brand image. In fact, brand identity is sub-section of the total brand image.
Brand identity is about the visible elements of a brand. It is about things such as color, design, and logo, that identify and distinguish the brand in consumers’ minds. Brand image is the complete character of the brand. It is the set of views that customers have in mind about a particular brand. It signifies what the brand currently stands for, and how it is perceived by customers.
If you were to liken the brand to a person, the brand identity would be equal to how the person looks and dresses, and presents himself or herself to the world. In includes the colors the person wears, the style sense the person has, and so on. This creates a visual impression of the person.
The brand image would be equal to how the person as a whole projects his or her personality. You may see the person as intelligent, quick-witted, smart, witty, likable, or personable. Whether the person’s overall personality and instant visual impression match is what ultimately gives the person credibility.
Similarly, brand identity and brand image are two different things. Brand identity only creates a visual impression. This impression should have no dissonance with the overall brand image that the brand projects before the world. All the elements that make up brand image have to be aligned to what the brand identity gives a foretaste of.
A good example would be the Nike brand identity and brand image. Nike is a sports brand. The logo looks like a “tick mark” – a swoosh. Along with the tagline – “Just Do It” – it gives us the cues of energetic-readiness. But if it’s brand image overall was staid and businesslike there would be a dissonance between the way it looks and the way it behaves. On the other hand, the brand image of Nike as seen via its various campaigns and products also supports “doing, acting, pushing your limits of energy”.
Nowhere between the brand identity and brand image is there even the slightest discord. That’s a great example of synergy between brand identity and brand image, don’t you think?
b. Why Is Brand Identity Important And What Objectives Must It Serve
Purely Branded say that a brand “lives and evolves in the minds and hearts” of consumers. Looked at from this perspective, a brand identity is actually more than just its logo design. The logo is merely a token, a shorthand, of everything the brand stands for.
Here are three reasons why your brand identity is an extremely important aspect of your business and why its design shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Your brand identity is the face your business presents to the world. As with the faces of all human beings, your business face (your logo) should be cool, interesting and intelligent-looking. It must attract that second look. And it must reflect your company’s name to the world.
Your brand identity should reflect credibility and trustworthiness. You may wonder how a new brand logo can reflect things like “trustworthiness”, but don’t we all make snap judgments about new people we meet every day? Aren’t there some strangers we instinctively shrivel from, while there are others whose familiarity we welcome. We make instant judgments about new people, and then leave it to them to live up to those ideals we think they have. It’s the same with brand logos. Some are so “over-smart” we don’t trust them on sight and we almost lie in wait for them to fall flat on their faces. Some other brand logos look like “nice guys” and we encourage them to live up to some good ideals. It’s a combination of our human nature and the logo’s ability to “appeal as authentic”.
Your brand identity should be that of a friend you want to keep. A brand identity is intended to attract new people who like what your brand has to offer. But after these people become your customers, your brand identity should also them a sense of pride in being friends with such a brand of such good renown. People like being in the company of others with great reputations and good recognition. It’s the same with brand logos. The reason why people buy so much branded merchandise is that they like being seen as users of top brands with distinctive logos. The brand’s qualities, they hope, will rub off on them. So when you design your logo, think of brand merchandise too.
c. Brand Identity Consistency Pundits Have Lost To The Responsive Brand Identity Brigade
Brand identity designers were always taught that “consistency is the hallmark of enduring brand design”. They were told that the brand unit may size up and down or have some color or no color, but the logo unit must look and feel consistent nevertheless. But that was the dictum in a world where devices and formats didn’t include laptops, tablets and all manner of mobile screen sizes.
Today, the conversation is about “responsive brand identity design”. Designers no longer stress consistency as much as they did before. They talk more about “coherence” across devices, and “responsive brand identity design”. You still can’t lose the look of consistency, but your logo can’t be so rigid that it looks awful on screen sizes that it was not designed to accommodate.
So how does a designer these days go about looking for consistency of design that is also highly responsive to different electronic formats?
See the example below of The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. They describe their logo as the “responsive W”. They have, first of all, added below their name a W shape line that doesn’t lose anything if it either becomes narrow or wide. That line may appear with or without the name of the museum. They have then made that their distinctive logo, and thus made it capable of responsiveness to a whole host of likely size variations. See the images of their identity planning below.
Image courtesy: Web Designer Depot
2. Deciding What Kind Of Logo You Want For Your Brand
Your brand logo, its colors and typography act as a unit. They both attract new customers to a brand and also making existing customers feel at home. Whichever form your logo unit is seen in, it represents and reinforces the emotions associated with a brand. The elements detailed below are the ones that you (or your brand identity designer) need to be careful about when undertaking the designing.
a. Your Brand Identity Design Should Be Pleasing, Likable And Memorable
Your brand identity design should be pleasing and likable. You may have seen experts asking you to envision your brand as a person. For example, ask yourself: “If my brand were a person, what kind of likable person would he or she be?” You could go even further, and try this exercise. Ask yourself: “If my brand were a celebrity, which celebrity would he/she be?”
This imagination of a person could be a good starting point for nailing down different visual cues of your brand’s personality in the brand identity design. Either way, see if this celebrity or personality behind the brand is not too quirky and is generally likable to a lot of people.
Your brand has to appeal to large groups of target audiences, so an evenly likable personality is a good angle to go with.
Make the brand logo memorable. Think of all the brands you remember because of their logo design. Your logo design is central to your brand identity design. It’s the part of your brand identity that people will be exposed the most, so it needs to align and look at home with all the other elements of your brand identity, as well as the broader emotional attraction of your brand.
For example, take a look at all these well-remembered logos. Notice how the most powerful logos are also the simplest designs.
Image courtesy: Hubspot Blog
When you look at some of these logos of very established brands, it makes you wonder if the logos are making the brand memorable, or the brand is making the logo memorable. Either way, that’s the kind of nice dilemma to have.
Your logo has to become so intertwined with the brand, that it would be hard to dissociate the logo from the brand eventually. That’s the kind of design to aim for – one you can live with for eternity (almost!)
b. Your Brand Identity Design Should Be Based On Color Psychology
The psychology of color matters more online than offline. Color is a meaningful element of design for all sighted people and it would do online marketers a world of good to remember that color is a powerful psychological tool.
Why is psychology of color more important online than offline? Experts believe that in the offline world our perception of color gets muted because we always tend to see the colors of the things closest to us against the backdrop of myriad other colors that form the context of the places we are in. Online, however, when we are glued to the screens of our laptops, mobile phone or tablets, the focus of our attention is much narrower on what we are looking at – and so the impact of the colors we are so exposed to hit us harder and more exclusively.
Make sure the color palette you choose for your logo is based on good color psychology. Did you know that different colors have a different psychological effect on people of different genders, ages or even geographies. Red, for example, represents anger in some cultures, good omens in some other cultures, and is taboo for some people around the world.
So there’s no one color that does the trick. But you have to think why the color blue seems to such a favorite with social media channels. For example, Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter favor blue for their logos, don’t they? If you want to know more about color psychology, charts like the one below may help.
But ultimately it’s a sense of your own intuition of whether the colors you choose sit well with the qualities of the brand emotions you want to reflect.
Image courtesy: Visme
c. Your Brand Identity Design Should Treat Typography As Design
Typography should be treated as visuals rather than as text. Your fonts are seen as much as read. Many designers seem to get stressed out about finding just the right fonts, and you may wonder why all this fuss. But fonts are powerful.
The most famous fonts are recognizable even when taken out of context. Fonts are visual elements, just as much as they are textual elements. Try to go for a single primary typeface to lead your brand design, and make sure it looks good with your logo and your color palette.
You should have a secondary typeface lined up that supplements the primary typeface, so that the logo font is not diluted by using it over and over for less important elements of your brand identity.
There’s just one rule for choosing the right typeface: keep it simple and unfussy. No curls and twirls, just simple clean lines. Think how it will look when it’s very big or very small. Something that can size up or down well, and look good in color or black-and-white is the perfect choice.
To check which typeface you like best, make sure you give them all a level playing field. Type the same text over and over and see it in different typefaces, all set to the same point-size … as in the example shown below. Only when you see them in the same sizes and with the same text can you really tell one from the other in its visual impact … or your choice may get skewed by the context in which the typeface is seen.
3. Three Critical Supports For Your Brand Identity Design
Three critical decisions you take will also support the quality of brand identity you produce. Make sure you think hard about these three issues: Should you design your own logo, or hire a designer? Will you have a brand logo design manual or identity kit in place? Will you give your tagline as much importance as your logo?
a. Finding That Elusive Brand Designer With Flair
Should you design your own logo or hire a professional logo designer? There are no questions about it. Because your logo is tremendously important, and something you have to live with for life, it’s worth every dollar you have to get it professionally designed. These free templates or quick DIY logo design offers online won’t pass muster. Worse still, don’t be tempted to take someone else’s logo and tinker with it a bit here and there to create your own version of it. That’s disaster.
If you’re not prepared to spend money on a professional logo designer, you’ll get the same cookie-cutter ideas as most average online brands and websites have … and you’ll know the real distinction between average and really good when you see a competitor pip you to the post with a slick professional logo! And then you’ll have the rest of your life to rue the decision you made to try cutting costs by designing it yourself.
There are very many professional designers you can approach, but there are some good practices to follow to find the right designer. First of all, know that there is a very specific class of designers who specialize in logos. So choose one of them instead of a general graphic designer.
Make sure you ask these eight questions before you hire a designer. These have been suggested by Liz Moorehead in her article “Hiring a custom logo designer? Here are 8 questions you need to ask”:
- “Can You Provide Work Samples?”
- “Do You Have Any Testimonials?”
- “What Do You Need to Know About Me?”
- “How Much?”
- “What’s Included?”
- “What’s the Timeline?”
- “What’s the Process?”
- “Who Is the Project Manager and Point of Contact?”
The moral of the story is that the more you know and like the designer, the more you’ll like the design. Design is a very subjective thing. It’s a connection between two minds. You have to hit it off with the person who’s designing for you. That’s the most important step to getting on the right track with the design for your brand.
b. Building Your Sacrosanct Brand Identity Guidelines Manual
All good brands have a great style guide. Sometimes it’s as simple as creating a little informal booklet that catalogues the specific colors, type, logos, imagery, patterns, taglines, etc. of your brand, to make sure your brand is always represented consistently. Sometimes, brand guides are elaborate documents that are sacrosanct down to the last comma and full stop.
Either way, the objective of having a brand identity guidelines manual is to ensure that your brand has a set of “usage guidelines” to be followed by everyone who produces marketing materials for your business.
As a first step toward controlling the presentation of your logo, create high-quality artwork files and lay down stipulations that your logo must be reproduced only from these approved files. Besides requiring use of approved artwork, also control how your logo can appear by establishing usage guidelines in each of these areas:
– State how your logo must appear as a single unit. Too often, you or your hired staff may get the creative urge to take liberties with your logo (like wanting to increase the size of one element and decreasing the size of another, or by moving elements into different positions to alter the shape of the logo in order to fit it into a tight space). Ban this license to fiddle with the logo, and make sure you have ready-to-use logo artworks in several allowable shape variations.
– State the guidelines for placements of your logo. For example, define how your logo can appear in different communications and content pieces. Clarify exactly how much open space must exist between your logo and surrounding elements. Define how and where your logo should and should not be positioned. Define the smallest and largest size in which your logo can be allowed to appear.
– State the color specifications for your logo using recognised color formats. In your guidelines, spell out the technical colors in which your logo can be reproduced. Web colors are colors used in displaying web pages, and the methods for describing and specifying those colors can be as an RGB triplet or in hexadecimal format (a hex triplet) These are all technical color shades represented in certain technical terms, so that the shades of color are consistent and highly accurate. A color tool or other graphics software is often used to generate such technical color values.
– Follow good examples of recognized brands’ identity design manuals. Just to get an idea of how well articulated some brand guidelines manuals can be take this example of Urban Outfitters. The whole manual can be seen if you click here.
Image courtesy: Urban Outfitters
c. Knowing When, How And Why To Create A Tagline
A tagline, in the old days, was also called a slogan or motto – so don’t get confused. They are all the same thing. A tagline is a phrase that accompanies your brand name to smartly and succinctly translate your positioning and brand statements into a few memorable words.
These words must provide an indication of your brand offerings, promise, and market position. Great taglines have a number of common attributes. When creating your tagline, see that it meets these criteria that best-of-breed taglines have:
- Your tagline must be memorable. When you hear it, you should be able to remember it and repeat it with ease.
- Your tagline must be short. Great taglines have as few as eight or ten syllables, so that they’re quick to recite, easy to tuck below logos, and include in the briefest of communications.
- Your tagline must differentiate your brand. In fact, experts believe a great tagline must be so unique that it doesn’t sound okay when linked to a competitors brand name.
- Your tagline must reflect your brand’s identity, character, promise, and personality. It must also be believable and original.
- Your tagline must add to the meaning of the brand name, without requiring to repeat any of the same words or concepts.
Here are some of the world’s best examples of taglines …
Image courtesy: Kopywritingkourse
The question is often asked whether you need a tagline at all. The answer is that a tagline works for you when the brand logo isn’t always visible. For example, in audio communication like a podcast, the tagline can be verbalized as the representation of your brand (since the logo isn’t seen).
Even otherwise, taglines that are pithy are well-remembered. They represent the brand’s “attitude”. There’s nothing to be gained by dropping the idea of a tagline. So if it can enhance your branding, why not have one?
As with brand logo design, it’s best to get a professional copywriter, if you can afford one, to give you a polished tagline. There’s also an online service from Taglineguru.com, if you want to give them a shot!
In Summary …
- A brand’s identity is the visual expression of a brand that is communicated to the outside world.
- Your brand identity must accurately convey your essence – and be firm yet flexible enough to evolve with you.
- Before brand identity design, understand what brand identity is, why it’s important, and why responsive-design is vital.
- When actually creating your brand identity, pay attention to the logo design, color psychology and your typography.
- Three other issues to plan for: hiring your logo designer, building a brand identity manual, and coining your tagline.
- Always remember Paul Rand’s quote on brand identity: “Design is the silent ambassador of your brand.”
So What Are Your Thoughts? Do Share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of Knowledge Commerce solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
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