Brand, branding, and brand identity are not synonymous. Brand identity is the visual representation of your brand, including logo marks, color scheme, and other business design attributes. Branding is the consistent, ongoing process of executing and evolving your identity.
When you think of some of the most iconic brands, you probably do think of their logo. The swoosh, the apple, the golden arches. You may even think of design attributes beyond the logo—the silver bullet, the green drinking straw, the red shopping cart. These design attributes are recalled in your memory as a representation of that brand. It’s how businesses are identified and made unique in a crowded marketplace.
It’s easy to believe the logo is the first and only step when defining a brand, but there are many more steps that must happen first.
Defining a brand includes research, strategy, consumer definition, and identity development. Taking a deep dive into understanding your target audience and industry is critical for informing smart creative decisions. Iconic brands like Starbucks and Target have unfailing identities, but it didn’t happen on accident.
Research, Strategy, & Planning
Marketing borrows a lot of principles from life. The basic mottos of ‘always be prepared’ and ‘make good choices’ apply pretty nicely to a lot of things. Brand identity development is one of those things.
For a creative like me, this part of the brand definition process can sound too boring to look at. It’s in my nature to work off of intuition, experience, and that elusive creative spark. On the contrary, though, it’s illuminating for designers to see answers and ideas start to form from the data rubble.
It feels good and right to know precisely who you’re speaking to and who else is in the room before you form your identity. Why? Research and strategy increase the odds of standing out when the room is crowded or skipping the line and going through the side door. Winging it is simply not an option.
Defining Your Brand Identity
Hooray! The fun part. Defining your brand identity is a group effort. A team of designers, creative directors, and copywriters work together to create a cohesive brand look and feel. This brand identity usually comes together in the form of a brand book or design style guide.*
*Important note: a brand book is not a coffee table book. More on that below.
Remember, a brand identity is the visual representation of a brand, but it’s more than a logo. It should include things like:
- Logo or wordmark
- Several logo lockups (with usage instructions)
- Primary and secondary color palette
- Primary and secondary fonts
- Standard headline treatments
- Photography filters
- Other graphic elements
All of these attributes together create a brand identity. You might choose to take it a step further and include a narrative section, which would include things like:
- Word choice
- What to say/what not to say
While words aren’t as visual, they are just as important in contributing to a brand’s look and feel.
Being The Same Everywhere
A defined brand is a powerful marketing tool. The next step in the brand process is to execute it across multiple touchpoints and channels. Be. The same. Everywhere. As you’re branding, you’re training your target audience to instantly recognize you or recall certain design attributes whenever they think of you or your category.
As I said above, your newly minted brand book is not a coffee table book that collects dust and is just there on your desktop. You get a brand book! You get a brand book! Everyone gets a brand book! The catch? Everyone needs to use the brand book. Every marketing campaign you create should be informed by your brand identity.
When a customer walks into one of your stores, they should have the same feeling as when they visit your website. Through a combination of colors, fonts, and graphic elements, your customers should instantly know who you are. With such short attention spans, a well-defined and beautifully executed brand identity is one less hurdle when it comes to marketing your product or service.
It’s What’s On The Inside That Counts
While creating a consistent look and feel is an important part of branding, what you communicate is just as critical in cultivating a relationship with your customers. When your brand’s personality comes to life beyond what you look like, that’s where the real connections are formed with lifelong brand loyalists. That, my friends, is what we call content marketing.