Crafting a powerful brand identity takes more than picking out a few colors and throwing together an arbitrary logo. You need to strategize your design in order to construct an identity that authentically depicts who you are, what your business stands for, and how it should be presented within your market – all of which involves profound thought processes, excellent communication between team members with strong designs skillsets, as well as having intimate knowledge regarding yourself or company.
Crafting a brand identity takes effort, but the result is worth it – successful brands understand that this kind of work matters. When you decide to create an impactful brand identity, don’t take shortcuts – do it right! But before getting started on your journey, questions can arise: What should be included? Where and how do you begin? Who needs to join in the process?
No need to be anxious! We’re here to help you on your journey. To simplify the process, we’ve created this straightforward step-by-step guide complete with our best strategies and helpful resources you can use along the way. With just a few steps, you’ll have an impressive brand identity that will help you stand out from other businesses, attract the right people for your cause and communicate your story through each element of content.
Without further ado, let’s dive in.
Table of Contents
- What Is a Brand Identity?
- Why Do You Need a Brand Identity?
- What Does a Brand Identity Include?
- What Makes a Strong Brand Identity?
- How to Build a Brand Identity
- Step 1: Know Your Foundation
- Step 2: Assess Your Current Identity
- Step 3: Audit Your Competition
- Step 4: Hone in on a Visual Direction
- Step 5: Write Your Branding Brief
- Step 6: Design Your Logo
- Step 7: Choose Your Color Palette
- Step 8: Choose Your Typography
- Step 9: Design Additional Elements
- Step 10: Build Your Brand Guidelines
- How to Use Your New Identity
What Is a Brand Identity?
Your brand identity is more than just your logo, color palette, and infographic style. It’s the representation of how people perceive your brand – from its trademark to the name, communications, and visual appearance.
Marty Neumeier describes a strong identity as ‘the outward expression of a brand’ so when we talk about our own identities, it includes everything from sight to sound, taste to feel, and even smell!
When people normally discuss brand identity, they are typically referring to the visual aspects of it.
For this post, that is what we will be concentrating on.
Why Do You Need a Brand Identity?
Creating a distinctive brand identity is not just about developing attractive packaging; it’s about conveying your company narrative in an effective way. Design is a powerful tool that can influence how people perceive and interact with your brand in three very important ways.
- Differentiation: Are you looking to make a lasting impression in an overcrowded industry? Establishing and maintaining your brand identity can be the key to getting noticed. Whether it’s showcasing your products on store shelves or having ads stand out from the crowd on Facebook, presenting yourself as unified and consistent is paramount for success.
- Connection: By communicating who you are efficiently and with clarity, it will be easier for people to connect with your work and eventually become part of the ever-growing family of fans that support you.
- Experience: If you want to cultivate a powerful, unified brand experience, your identity must be consistent across all facets of your business – from website design and social media posts to sales brochures. By maintaining a cohesive identity, you can ensure that everything associated with the company reflects its core values (Brand Soul) and mission statement.
Certain brands take brand identity to a whole new level, such as Apple, LEGO, or Levi’s. Others like Warby Parker and Casper leverage it as their ticket into the game. Unfortunately, many other businesses are struggling because they simply can’t figure out who they are or how to communicate this clearly (which is sadly very common).
Regardless of your situation, one thing is undeniable:
In order to be competitive and successful in the market, a compelling brand identity must be created.
What Does a Brand Identity Include?
Crafting a brand identity is essentially the same as constructing an armory of visual elements to help you deliver your message reliably. It all depends on what your particular business requires – it can be comprehensive or simple.
Every brand needs to establish a fundamental identity, which includes three essential elements.:
- Color palette
If you’d like to diversify your content, consider customizing additional elements that accurately reflect the essence of your brand. Here are a few examples:
- Data visualization
The great news is that you don’t have to construct everything in one go! If you’re short on resources or don’t know what your future needs may be, then start with the fundamentals: logo, color palette, and typography. You can easily add extra components as needed down the line.
What Makes a Strong Brand Identity?
Despite having all the branding elements on paper, it doesn’t always guarantee that you have a good or effective identity. What’s more, having a visually appealing brand may still not be enough to help you reach your long-term objectives.
In order for a powerful brand identity to be successful, it must serve both those within your team (such as brand ambassadors and content creators) and the customers who will interact with it.
To achieve true success, you must have a distinct brand identity that is…
- Distinct: It stands apart from its rivals and attracts the attention of any potential customer.
- Memorable: It leaves a lasting impression. (Take Apple’s logo, for instance—so iconic that even without their namesake on the product, you can easily identify it!)
- Scalable: It can expand and develop along with your brand.
- Flexible: Whether for the web, print, or any other application, it can be used in multiple ways.
- Cohesive: Every piece harmonizes with the other, creating a beautiful balance.
- Easy to apply: Designers can quickly and effortlessly understand how to use it.
Don’t let your hard-earned efforts go to waste! If you don’t design an identity that resonates with your target audience and accurately reflects your brand, it could all be for naught. Fortunately, we created this guide to make sure you don’t waste your work.
How to Build a Brand Identity
To make this process easier to understand, we have divided it into 10 simple steps that will take you from start to finish. These steps should be completed in the exact order listed as they build upon one another. No matter if you are creating a brand identity completely from scratch or reinventing your existing brand, following this step-by-step guide carefully is key to establishing a sturdy and effective brand presence that will ensure success!
Before you start
Download our free Brand Identity Toolkit, which includes tools, templates, and checklists to help you along the way.
Step 1: Know Your Foundation
Before you embark on the steps we provide, be aware that constructing your brand identity visually should not be your initial step; it should instead come at the very end. Building a brand is comparable to assembling a house – its foundations must first and firmly established before any construction can take place.
To craft an effective visual identity for your brand, you must begin by understanding yourself. Who are you? What matters to you? How do others describe what it is that you do? These key components of your personal story will form the basis upon which a powerful and persuasive visual identity can be created; without this foundation in place, any design efforts would lack substance and thus fail to successfully communicate your brand.
How to Do It
Before you proceed, make sure you know your:
- Brand Soul: If your brand hasn’t already established its core values, vision, mission and purpose – or what we refer to as the Brand Soul – then take a look at our helpful guide. It will allow you to get an understanding of who you are amidst the sometimes overwhelming sea of competition.
- Brand name: Before you begin designing your logo, make sure to select a suitable name first. Keep in mind that it’s virtually impossible to design an appropriate logo without the right name.
- Brand essence: Make sure that your voice, tone, and personality come through in all of your content. If you’d like to learn more about how to identify or refine these elements, be sure to check out our helpful guides!
- Messaging: It is essential to be familiar with your tagline, value proposition, and messaging pillars in order to guarantee that your visual identity accurately conveys the right narrative.
Additionally, make sure your team comprehends the reasoning behind this process. If you are starting anew, it is apparent why you need to proceed with rebranding; however, if you’re revisiting an existing identity, everyone needs to understand what problems and opportunities arise due to that brand imagery. Having all of these elements in place will enable successful progression.
Once your core brand elements are firmly established, and everyone is working together towards the same goal, you can confidently move forward.
Step 2: Assess Your Current Identity
To ensure that your visual representation accurately reflects and conveys your brand values, character, and overarching message, It is essential for you to have an intimate understanding of your branding. Good communication is the key aspect of successful branding.
Begin with a brand assessment to gain a better understanding of:
- The current state of your brand’s identity
- How that brand identity might be crafted or tweaked to align with your goals going forward
Analyzing your brand in detail gives you the insights necessary to construct an identity that accurately reflects it.
How to Do It
Take advantage of our Brand Audit Template in the toolkit to reassess your current branding strategy. With this template, you’ll have an initial foundation for understanding which direction is right for you and what conversations need to take place going forward. Follow along with the companion blog: How to Complete a Brand Audit
Step 3: Audit Your Competition
Establishing a unique brand identity involves standing out from the competition, and making yourself visible and remembered. Therefore, it is critical to not just comprehend who your opponents are but also how you differ in terms of your visual communication.
Conducting a competitor audit allows you to not only measure your brand against each of its competitors but also observe the larger landscape with revealing outcomes.
For instance, when we conducted competitive research for a specific brand, we discovered that all of the competition used the exact same four colors. This isn’t an uncommon occurrence; many industries often lean towards similar visual elements (Netflix and YouTube’s use of red is one example). However, this presented is an outstanding possibility to stand out.
Did you know that back in 2011, the video platform Twitch created a branding sensation with its all-purple design? While other contenders were utilizing loud greens and reds to set them apart from the rest, Twitch opted for this regal shade to distinguish themselves — a decision that was later rewarded as they skyrocketed into being worth billions of dollars.
Recognizing these potential openings is why a competitor analysis can be priceless.
How to Do It
Utilize the Competitor Brand Audit Template in our toolkit to thoroughly assess your top five competitors.
When utilizing this template, be sure to focus on aspects such as how they present themselves visually with common elements and trends, industry-specific visual themes, brand personalities, etc.
Step 4: Hone In on a Visual Direction
After thoroughly assessing your present identity and those of your competition, it is time to get everyone in agreement about the route you wish to take.
Design is highly subjective; colors that may evoke boldness and might to one individual could be interpreted in an entirely different way by someone else. Even the words you use to portray your brand can vary across people or teams.
Before you can start designing, it is essential to have meaningful discussions and do the necessary exercises which will help you reach a shared vision for your brand identity.
- What key traits do you want to emphasize through your visuals?
- What type of visuals communicate these traits?
- How would you like people to feel when they “see” your brand?
Note: Coming together in one room to discuss, decide on a course of action, and ensure that everyone is in the agreement is an essential step for any business. (The valuable information you gain from these moments will allow your creative team to curate the creative brief they need for producing visuals.)
How to Do It
To initiate constructive dialogue, it is helpful to use exercises as a guide for your conversation. By utilizing the Brand Attributes Spectrum Exercise from the supplied toolkit, your team can easily identify the core brand attributes that you wish your brand identity to convey.
Note: It is unlikely that you can acquire the necessary information from a solitary meeting. To come to an agreement, it will likely necessitate numerous meetings and discussions.
Step 5: Write Your Branding Brief
Don’t get carried away just yet! After you have accumulated the necessary details, begin with a creative brief that outlines all crucial information. This will ensure your team is on the same page and able to create an identity consistent with your brand objectives.
Caution! While it may be attractive to hire various designers and assign each one a different branding element, it is important that all elements are addressed one at a time. Your logo shape will influence your typography choice, the illustration style you select will affect your iconography design, and so on; thus, everything should work together harmoniously.
How to Do It
Take advantage of our Branding Brief Template to ensure that you’re providing the perfect amount of information – no more, no less. Your brief should always inform and it’s important not to overwhelm with too much detail.
Step 6: Design Your Logo
Crafting a successful brand identity starts with creating an impactful logo. This cornerstone of the design system will encapsulate the essence of your brand, ensuring you are instantly and indelibly recognized in the eyes of customers around the world.
How to Do It
You can go old-school here and bust out the pencils to free-sketch in black and white. You want to make sure that the core imagery is powerful enough to deliver the message on its own, without the enhancement of color. To start, work on loose shapes and complementary imagery to inspire your logo mark.
We follow the 5 key principles of great logo design:
Step 7: Choose Your Color Palette
After you have finalized your logo, it is time to explore your color palette. Color can be an effective tool for differentiating yourself and creating a memorable impression on customers, so choose wisely as certain hues possess the power to influence feeling and emotion.
How to Do It
Selecting a good color palette is crucial for designers, providing them the necessary freedom to be innovative while avoiding over-complication. A successful palette should include:
- 1 main color
- 2 primary colors
- 3-5 complementary colors
- 2 accent colors
For more tips, read our article on The Psychology of Color.
Step 8: Choose Your Typography
Every piece of your brand’s visual identity should work together to form a unified language. This is particularly true with typography, which must reflect and be informed by the shape of your logo.
How to Do It
Crafting captivating typography is a challenge regardless of the design stage, specifically when brands are easily influenced by trendy fonts that are quickly outdated or seem unoriginal (serif vs. non-serif).
To keep it simple, limit the number of typefaces to 2-3. This generally includes primary and secondary brand typefaces for specific purposes, such as body copy typeface, UI typeface, etc.
Step 9: Design Additional Elements
Every company is unique, so you may or may not need to construct an all-encompassing identity. Even if that’s the case, contemplate your brand’s future ventures or identity applications. If there are ideas of mixing up types of materials in the future, be sure to add those components into your branding now.
Showcasing your brand through photography is a crucial element, from product photographs to advertising campaigns. Establishing specific regulations regarding the images and designs that are correct and incorrect for use will assist in fortifying your identity.
After your fonts, logos, and other design elements are in place, professional brand photography is what brings it all together.
Examples: Here are some great examples of photography
When creating illustrations, aim to create complementary and consistent language. Don’t over-illustrate or use conflicting aesthetics; instead, contemplate how the illustration can be blended with other visuals.
To figure out how to illustrate your brand, follow Smashing Magazine’s tips for drawing a strong identity.
Designing effective icons requires more than creativity; it is also based on the purpose of the work and the product or service being represented. Iconography should vary depending on the industry, media (website versus physical brochures), and other factors unique to your business.
Crafting effective iconography requires both creative flair and technical knowledge. For insight into creating this well-crafted blend, check out Design Systems’ comprehensive guide to iconography for the latest tips.
Step 10: Build Your Brand Guidelines
Nothing is more upsetting than when a beautifully developed brand identity goes to waste, or worse–is used incorrectly. Fortunately, with the right style guide in place, you can avoid such tragedies and ensure that your branding draws maximum impact.
How to Do It
When developing your brand identity, ensure that you provide comprehensive yet straightforward instructions for every aspect. Provide examples and applications of the brand identity to other elements such as print, web, video, and interactive designs (if applicable). Additionally include practical details so your designers have all the information they need to recreate it accurately.
Once completed, make sure guidelines are distributed to the team, stored in an easy-to-access place, and regularly updated.
How to Use Your New Brand Identity
Establishing a powerful brand requires consistency, and that means teaching people how to use your new identity. Assign someone in charge of all questions about the implementation process and enforce strict quality standards at each customer interaction point.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or lack the resources to do it yourself, consider finding some professional assistance. To make sure you are selecting the correct creative agency for your project, use our helpful tips and reach out to us–we would love to assist you in getting your brand off on a fantastic start!