Creating a brand identity for a new business can be a daunting task and expensive as well. So it would be wise to arm yourself with all the knowledge possible to help navigate your decisions and investment in the right direction to ensure that you achieve the exact end result that your brand, and you, deserve.
Here is a complete guide to creating a brand identity from scratch following the four stages of creating brand identity: DEFINE your brand, DESIGN your brand, DEPLOY your brand, and create your DIGITAL brand.
But before we get into the four steps to your brand new identity, let’s explore what a brand identity is, why it is important, and what makes a brand identity.
What is a Brand Identity?
“Branding is what people say about you when you are not in the room.” – Jeff Bezos
Your brand identity is made up of various elements that all work together to create a unique, cohesive look and feel that is the representation of your brand’s vision and core values.
Brand = Perception
As Jeff Bezos eludes to in his famous quote, your brand is your reputation and the perception that people have of you when you are not around. What your customers are saying about your brand behind the scenes is an extremely powerful force that impacts your brand in a positive or negative way, depending on your reputation.
Brand = Emotions
Your brand identity is not only made up of visual and physical elements but also has the ability to elicit powerful emotions in your customers which, once again, is a powerful force that impacts your brand and reputation for the better or the worse.
We’ve all seen the crazy scenes outside of Apple stores in China on the days they launch new products. Customers spending the entire night outside the store, with some camping out on the sidewalks, all waiting in anticipation for the opening of the store just to get their hands on these new products. This is a very good example of the powerful emotions and excitement that the Apple brand generates among its customers with its products and services.
Brand = Impression
Because your brand identity creates a lasting impression on your customers and clients, you should always be in control of it and steer it to be in line with your overall brand vision and strategy. Because the truth is that whether you invest in your company’s brand identity or not, your customers will perceive your brand in a certain way, experience certain emotions when interacting with your brand, and have an impression of your brand and what it represents.
So it is very important to be in control of that narrative when it comes to your brand as much as possible and to create the identity of your brand that you want your customers to experience.
Why is your Brand Identity Important?
Although the steps in the process of creating a brand identity seem simple and easy, it could take quite some time (a couple of months) to get to the finish line where you’ll be ready to launch your brand into the market.
But why spend all that time on creating a brand identity? Is it really going to make a difference if you have a good brand identity or not? Why is your brand identity important?
Here are a few reasons why:
Creates Brand Recognition
This is something that should be quite obvious, but your branding creates brand recognition. Your logo and other visual elements are what your customers interact with, and is essentially the “face” of your company.
Think of Apple or Coca Cola and how instantly recognizable their visual identities are.
Creates Brand Trust
Branding can create trust in a brand when customers are considering engaging with a brand for the first time. A professional, coherent, and well-designed brand identity will reflect your brand to potential customers in the same way, as professional, coherent, and well organized. Customers will have more trust in engaging with your brand, even if it is their first time.
The flipside of that is also true. If you don’t do your branding well, or you haven’t done it at all, it will reflect your brand badly onto your potential customers.
All of these customer experiences will create a brand reputation over time, and your visual identity will then become the symbol of that reputation. Think of Apple as an example. Over the years, the Apple brand has become synonyms with innovation and outstanding quality and their logo has become the symbol of that. Apple can decide to manufacture and sell washing machines tomorrow and people will buy it in the millions because they trust the brand and the quality of it.
Creates Brand Loyalty
Branding creates is brand loyalty. Just think of Apple and Samsung. Entire families have been disrupted because of arguments over which company produces the best smartphone. People loyal to Apple will never buy a Samsung phone and vice versa.
Having people loyal to your brand is a very powerful thing and it all starts, in part, by having a brand identity that really connects with your customers in a powerful way.
Supports Brand Communication
Another important thing that almost every brand needs, in one way or another, is advertising. This is where your brand communication comes in. How do you want to communicate with your potential customers to persuade them to engage with your brand? This is where branding comes in.
Your branding represents who you are as a brand and will determine how you communicate with your customers. Having great, cohesive branding will help you to create effective designs and messages to communicate with.
By getting your branding right, you can leverage that to create a strong and effective internal culture within your organization. Your employees are a great opportunity to become your greatest marketers through their passionate advocacy of the brand. I have seen the power of this time and time again, but have also seen the opposite, which can end up hurting brands.
Inspire your employees and they will inspire each other, and your customers alike. But that all starts by giving them something powerful to believe in.
What Makes a Brand Identity?
The various elements that make up a brand’s identity include:
- Brand Positioning
- Mission Statement
- Tagline (slogan)
- Brand Architecture
Your brand’s visual identity is one of the most important components of the overall brand identity because it is the visual representation of your brand and the one thing that’ll be seen by everyone in the marketplace. A brand’s visual identity includes:
- Logo (symbol)
- Design Element (Secondary Brand Mark)
- Imagery Style
When it comes to branding, the key lies in the word “cohesive”, and it is therefore critical to make sure your brand’s visual identity matches all of the other elements in your overall brand identity.
DEFINE Your Brand
The first step in creating a brand identity is to DEFINE your brand.
Think of it as the laying of the foundation when building a house. Your entire brand identity and all your future marketing efforts will be based on how you defined your brand in this step. You should, therefore, spend the time and effort to get this part right to put your brand on the right track.
This step involves defining many core attributes and aspects of your brand like your brand personality, emotions, values, differentiators, audience, voice, mission statement, tagline, and positioning.
If your brand was a person, what kind of personality would that person have?
A brand personality is the set of human attributes associated with your brand that your customers can relate to. Customers with similar personality traits to that of your brand, are much more likely to buy from you and want to be associated with your brand because of that connection.
Below are the 5 types of brand personalities along with their associated attributes.
- Excitement: carefree, spirited, and youthful
- Sincerity: kindness, thoughtfulness, and an orientation toward family values
- Ruggedness: rough, tough, outdoorsy, and athletic
- Competence: successful, accomplished and influential, highlighted by leadership
- Sophistication: elegant, prestigious, and sometimes even pretentious
Your brand personality is not something that changes depending on your marketing strategies, but rather something that is at the core of your identity and should remain consistent when communicating to your customers to not confuse them.
Knowing what kinds of emotions your brand elicits in your customer are valuable data points for you to be aware of and capitalize on.
It is important to keep this in mind when creating your brand identity to try and create the framework that might elicit the kinds of emotions in your audience that you want your brand to be associated with.
Here are a few examples of emotional responses that your brand might create in your customers:
What are your brand’s core values?
Your brand’s core values are the things that you, as a brand and company as a whole, believe in, represent, and stand for. These values are what drive your brand and guides your actions, behaviors, and decisions as a company.
Similar to personalities, customers will associate themselves with brands that have similar values to themselves. The same goes for employees, who would prefer to work for an organization with values similar to that of their own.
Identify, define, and know your target audience.
It is imperative to have a deep understanding of the specific type of customer you want to sell your products or services to and know exactly how to communicate with them. You have to conduct market research to understand their needs, wants, desires, preferences, motivations, challenges, etc.
Your brand identity has to be created with your audience in mind to relate to them most effectively.
What are the key differentiators that make your brand stand out from the competition in the marketplace?
Identify and define a few (between 2-5) differentiating factors that all meet the following criteria:
- It has to be true
- It has to be relevant to your target audience
- It has to be provable
When identifying these differentiating factors, try to stay away from the more generic ones like “we have the best deals”, “we offer the best client service”, “we are the cheapest in the market”, etc.
While these might all be true, it’ll be hard to stand out from your competitors because they might all have the same claims. Identify the unique things about your brand that will make you stand out from your competitors, even if it seems trivial, it could become the thing that really makes your brand stand out. Maybe you have the friendliest staff or serve the best doughnuts and coffee while your customers wait to be helped for example.
Avis was looking for a new ad campaign and slogan in 1962. They had always been no. 2 in the market trailing behind Hertz, who was the market leader in the rental car industry at the time.
Avis decided to embrace their second place in the market as their key differentiating factor because that meant they were the company that tried harder in order to become no 1. Therefore you would expect better service from them compared to Hertz, who might have become complacent as the market leader.
This positioning turned out to be a huge success for Avis and they went from losing over $3 million a year to making a $1 million a year and being profitable for the first time in over a decade.
Avis carried their “We Try Harder” tagline for 50 years.
What is your brand’s mission? Why do you do what you do? What inspires your customers and employees about your brand? What are you passionate about as a brand?
Your brand’s mission statement basically defines the purpose for your brand’s existence. Everything in your brand identity should reflect your mission and values.
Some examples of mission statements of some of the world’s biggest companies:
- Tesla: To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
- TED: Spread ideas.
- Prezi: To reinvent how people share knowledge, tell stories, and inspire their audiences to act.
- Twitter: To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.
- Uber: We ignite opportunity by setting the world in motion.
- Google: To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
- Kickstarter: To help bring creative projects to life.
- Life is Good: To spread the power of optimism.
- Wawa: Fulfilling Lives, Every Day.
- Squarespace: Squarespace empowers people with creative ideas to succeed.
A tagline is a short, memorable phrase that encapsulates the core of what your brand represents.
This is a very powerful tool that can take your brand to the next level, like Nike’s “Just Do It” for example.
The general rule is to try and keep your tagline limited to 7 words or less.
Here are some tips for creating a great tagline:
- Make it memorable
- Include a key benefit
- Show how it differentiates your brand
- Create positive feelings about the brand
Here are some examples of great taglines from some of the biggest companies in the world:
- Nike: “Just Do It.”
- Apple: “Think Different.”
- L’Oréal Paris: “Because You’re Worth It.”
- Tesco: “Every Little Helps”
- M&M: “Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hands”
- MasterCard: “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.”
- Verizon: “Can You Hear Me Now? Good.”
- McDonald’s: “I’m Lovin’ It”
- General Electric: “Imagination at Work.”
- Maybelline: “Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline.”
Brand Positioning Statement
Once you have defined your brand, you have to position yourself in the marketplace in a way that would differentiate you from your competitors. This is done by writing a brand positioning statement. A brand positioning statement is a unique, 1-2 sentence statement that in the simplest, yet most comprehensive way describes the service or product that your brand delivers to your specific target audience in a way that is unique in the marketplace and thereby differentiating you from your competitors.
* This is a very strategic step and you need to have a clear understanding of the market, your competitors, your audience, the needs that are not being met currently, and where the potentials in the market are.
How to write a brand positioning statement
- Who – describes your target audience
- What – describes your market category
- What (unique) – describes the unique value you add to your audience
- What (benefit) – describes what benefit they can get from you
- Why (because) – describes why they should believe in you
For WHO, YOU are the WHAT that provides WHAT (unique) so they can WHAT (benefit) because WHY
“For creative professionals (WHO) with an eye for capturing and sharing beauty, Nikon is the digital point and shoot (WHAT) that delivers a window to their world (WHAT – unique), so they can experience deeper connections through a shared perspective (WHAT – benefit), because of Nikon’s 100-year history of developing new technologies that allow you to capture and share your experiences in their purest form, it’s as if you were there” (WHY) – Nikon
Your brand voice is the way in which you communicate with your audience and the tone of that communication. Your voice depends a lot on your brand’s personality, mission, target audience, etc.
Here are some examples of what your brand voice could be like:
Your brand voice and the way you deliver your messages are really important factors that influence how well your messages resonate, and ultimately connect with your customers.
DESIGN Your Brand
Once you have your brand defined and all of the foundational steps covered, it’s time to translate everything into your visual identity.
As mentioned earlier, your brand’s visual identity is one of the most important components of the overall brand identity, because it is the visual representation of your brand and the one thing that will be seen by everyone in the marketplace. It is therefore critical to get it right and be the embodiment of who are as a brand.
Your visual identity includes things like Colors, Typography, Shape, Icon (symbol), Logo, Design Element (Secondary Brand Mark), and Imagery Style.
Colors have whole psychology behind them and you should keep this in mind when creating your visual identity. People perceive and experience colors with certain emotional and psychological connections, and your brand identity is no different.
This includes the color of your logo and your primary brand color along with all your secondary colors that complement it. The below chart illustrates the different colors and how they can be used to convey your brand’s personality and values.
There’s no real limit to the number of colors you could technically use for your brand’s identity, but, just like in many other areas of branding and marketing, color is a “less is more” situation.
Brands usually have one primary brand color along with a few secondary colors to complement the primary color. Secondary colors usually range from about 2 – 5 colors.
Here is an example of possible primary brand colors along with some complementary secondary colors.
Color pallets are very often derived from colors of various objects or elements that are found in your brand’s natural environment or the environment that you want your brand to be representative of and the mood you want to convey.
Below are a few examples of this.
Typography refers to the font or fonts that you will use to represent your brand. You have to choose your fonts wisely because they speak volumes about who you are as a brand and what you represent. There are generally six major groups of typography that I would consider, which are:
- Serif fonts – These are classic looking fonts with “anchor” looking edges on the letters. These fonts are great for an old school, classic feel, and can help your brand to appear classic, elegant, and trustworthy. Examples of Serif fonts are Times New Roman, Garamond, etc.
- Sans Serif fonts – These are more modern looking fonts with smooth edges. These will give your brand a more modern look and feel. Examples of Sans Serif fonts are Helvetica, Franklin Gothic, etc.
- Slab Serif fonts – These are fonts that gibe the brand a strong, bold, and confident feel. Roboto Slab is a great example of this type of font.
- Script fonts – Just like the name suggests, these are fonts that look like cursive handwriting. They can add a luxurious or feminine touch to your identity. These are also great for personal brands. You can find some examples of script fonts here.
- Handwritten fonts – These are fonts that emulate more casual handwriting. They work well for personal brands that are informal or artistic, and Patrick Hand is a great example of this.
- Decorative fonts – These are, as the name suggests, decorative by nature. Be careful when choosing this type of font style, because it can be hard to read sometimes. If executed well, it can give your brand a very distinctive and dramatic look and feel. Fredericka is a good example of this font style.
Forms and shapes also play a role in a brand’s identity in how it reinforces specific characteristics of your brand that you want to convey to your customers in a subtle way.
Here are some examples of shapes and what effect they could have on shaping your brand identity and your marketing communication materials.
- Round shapes: circles, ovals, and ellipses. Think of warmth, openness, friendliness, etc. In a brand’s identity, rounded shapes can also communicate feelings of love, community, and unity. Rounded edges are also more feminine.
- Straight edged shapes: triangles, rectangles, and squares. Think of strength and efficiency. In a brand’s identity, they usually can convey feelings of stability and trust.
- Straight lines: vertical lines represent masculinity, power, and strength while horizontal lines suggest more tranquil and calm feelings.
The majority of visual identities include a symbol, icon, crest, emblem, etc of some kind. Think of Nike’s “yes” tick or Apple’s “bitten apple” icon in their identity.
Although most identities have some sort of symbol, there are many brands who’s logos do not have a symbol, for example, Netflix, Gillette, FedEx, Google, etc.
Once again, if you choose an icon or symbol for your brand, it has to represent and be the embodiment of your core values and who you are as a brand.
Logo (Putting it all together)
Remember that your logo is the core visual element to represent your brand to the world, so it’s important that you get it right. Keep the following key things in mind when designing a logo for your brand:
- Clearly communicate your brand personality and values
- Appeal to your audience. Keeping it simple and clean, and avoiding over cluttering always yields the best results in my opinion
- Stay relevant for a long period of time. Don’t design something based on what’s popular at any point in time, just for the sake of being fashionable. Trends will pass, yet you will be stuck with that design for a long time after the trend has passed.
- Try to stick within what the industry standards are, cause they are there for a reason. If your goal is to go against the grain, then do so with intention and go all out with it, but be aware of the associated risks.
- Lastly, aim to create a logo that is memorable. You want your audience to remember your logo after they see it. You also want that impression to be positive, and to last, so keep that in mind.
Important extra note: Your logo will appear in many different places, formats, and on different surfaces. Keep this in mind when designing your visual identity. You don’t want to limit yourself in the future with where and how you can use your awesome new identity.
Design Element (Secondary Brand Mark)
Not all brands have a secondary brand mark, but the overwhelming majority do. So I would definitely recommend creating something that suits your brand and not to skip this step. The secondary brand mark is a distinctive design element that is used on all your collaterals etc. It is usually something taken from, inspired by, or an interpretation of your logo icon.
Your brand imagery style is the style of imagery, photography, illustrations, iconography, and graphics that represents your brand identity and who you are as a brand.
Imagery is a very powerful way of connecting with your audience and conveying the messages about your brand that you want your audience to connect with.
The options are virtually unlimited when it comes to imagery style, but you have to stay consistent once you have identified the style that is representative of your brand.
DEPLOY Your Brand
Once you have DEFINED and DESIGNED your brand, it’s time to DEPLOY your brand identity onto all of the tangible marketing materials that you will use to promote and create awareness about your brand.
Design Eco System (Brand Style Guide)
Your Brand Style Guide is a living, breathing document that encapsulates your entire brand identity and aims at capturing the essence of who you are and what you represent as a brand.
The guide then goes into the specific details on the rules and regulations surrounding your brand identity and how all of the different elements should be used in all marketing/promotion-related activities.
Your style guide includes in-depth explanations and directions on how, where, and when to use the following elements that make up your brand’s complete identity:
- Imagery Style
- Stationery Templates
- Website Guidelines
- Social Media Guidelines / Policy
- Brand Voice & Style Guides
- Marketing, Advertising & Communications Guides
- Mission Statement & Values
- Brand Positioning Statement
- Target Audience
This is the part where your brand comes to life and all the elements of your identity are displayed onto all of your marketing collaterals.
These include things like your business cards, letterheads, receipts, your storefront signage, your employee uniforms, flyers, brochures, and so much more.
Below are some quick examples (courtesy of Envato Elements and Shutterstock.com) to illustrate how a brand identity comes together once designed and deployed onto various collaterals.
As previously noted, your visual identity will appear in many different places, formats, and on many different surfaces. Keep this in mind when designing your visual identity. You don’t want to limit yourself in the future with where and how you can use your awesome new identity.
Your DIGITAL Brand
We are living in a digital age and it is crucial for brands to have a good digital presence and to utilize this medium to its fullest.
Many online brands would be exclusively digital and would not need the deployment step.
This DIGITAL step includes the designing and development of your brand’s website, social media accounts, social media marketing campaigns, search engine optimization strategies, etc.
It’s hard to imagine creating a brand today without creating a website for that brand. It’s probably safe to say that the vast majority of companies that exist in the world today have a website where you can find information about them.
It’s also the go-to source for most people when they want to find out more about your brand. Once they’ve googled and found your website, that’s your chance to let these potential customers know what your brand and your products or services are all about.
It’s also important to keep your website up to date with the correct information and to update your design every few years to keep up with changes in the web design industry, as things tend to change quite often and you don’t get left behind or seem outdated.
Social media is also a very powerful way of reaching, communicating, and convincing your customers to buy into your brand and your products or services.
Create accounts on the most relevant platforms that relate to your business and invest time and money into building up your audience on those platforms.
The majority of social media platforms have some form of advertising system that you can tap into and reach a large number of potential customers with your ads at fairly low costs compared to traditional advertising channels like billboards, TV, radio, etc. If utilized effectively, the return on investment from advertising on these platforms can amazing and add a lot to the growth of your brand and your bottom line.
As I said at the beginning of this article, creating a brand identity for a new business can be a daunting task and expensive as well. So it would be wise to arm yourself with all the knowledge possible to help navigate your decisions and investment in the right direction to ensure that you achieve exactly the end result that your brand, and you, deserve.
And I hope that I’ve done just that.