The Complete Guide to Brand Identity and Brand Design

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Your brand’s identity is the sum total of controllable and uncontrollable elements, and frankly, there’s only so much you can really control when it comes to branding — you can spend a lot of time on your brand, design the elements you can control, try to form an identity for your brand, but ultimately, your customers (and your actions) decide what your brand is and what it means.

Brand design and brand identity start at the drawing board, like the pen and paper and ink pictured here, but they end in the minds of your customers.

That being said, you can either directly choose/design most of the elements of your brand, and you can influence the ones that you don’t have direct control over (like your customer’s perception of your brand).

Let’s explore all the elements of brand identity (note that there is some overlap here with designing your personal brand, but that a personal brand is ultimately a different animal and should be handled differently).

The Elements of Your Brand’s Identity

Here are the parts of your brand’s identity that you can design and control. Some of the items listed here are concrete, some are a bit more abstract, but ultimately, they all play a role.

Audience Elements of Your Brand Identity (Your Target Market)

  • Who you sell to (or want to sell to)
  • Why you want to sell to them
  • How you reach them (and how they’d like to be reached)
  • What words/designs/images/thoughts resonate with them or inspire them
  • How what you do (or want to do) aligns with them and their interests

(Check out the audience persona template for more help with this.)

Design Elements of Your Brand Identity

  • Your logo
  • The color palette, fonts, and shapes you use on any branded materials
  • The images you use on branded materials and their designs (for example, animations vs. realistic photography)

Communication Elements of Your Brand Identity

  • Your business’ name
  • Your slogan/tagline (a simple, catchy phrase/sentence that captures the essence of your business’ spirit)
  • Your mission statement (why your business was formed/exists and what you hope to accomplish)
  • Your vision statement (where you want your business to go and why)
  • Your communication style, including the specific language choices you make that differentiate you from the competition, which includes:
    • Use or avoidance of slang
    • Use or avoidance of contractions
    • Use or avoidance of industry terminology/buzzwords
    • The pronouns you use when you address the audience directly (you/yours) or indirectly (they/them/one)
    • Your tone (professional, personal, authoritative, conversational, confidential, etc.)

(Many businesses find that they need a brand style guide to keep track of all the design and communication elements of their branding.)

Interactive Elements of Your Brand Identity

  • Your emphasis on customer service (or a lack thereof)
  • How you/employees interact with customers
    • Online
    • On the phone
    • In person
  • The advertising you subject your customers/potential customers to (essentially, how much you are selfish and annoy them vs. how much you try to help them)
    • How often you advertise to them
    • How much value your advertisements include
    • How often you simply send them useful, valuable information and avoid advertising products/services
  • How far you’re willing to go to keep customers happy and ensure they get what they expect

Qualitative Elements of Your Brand

  • The level of quality of your products/services and how well that aligns with your pricing (is the cost reasonable compared to the value?)
  • The absolute quality of your products/services (how your products/services compare, in terms of quality, to all your competitor’s products/services)
  • The absolute value of your products/services (are you the best buy?)
  • The relative overall value of your brand (while quality of products/services might be lower, if the information you convey through email marketing/branding/social media is much higher quality or there is a perceived higher quality because of association with, for example, a celebrity, the relative value of the brand is increased)

Perceptive Elements of Your Brand’s Identity

  • Your customers’ perception of your business
  • The public’s perception of your business (how do non-customers perceive your brand?)
  • Your customers’ experience of your business (what they actually get when they interact with you, as opposed to what they think or believe based on a review or their previous experience — are there “soft” elements of the brand that push people toward you, like a feeling that your brand is “cooler” or “more legitimate” than other brands with similar products/services)
  • The public’s experience of your business

Internal Elements of Your Brand’s Identity

  • Your emphasis (or lack thereof) on employee engagement
  • The benefits and pay you offer
  • Your investment in your employees (education, tools they need to do their jobs, amenities that make life at work/outside of work better)
  • The atmosphere you create

This is not a complete list, but when you’re creating a new brand (or examining an existing brand for flaws), you need to consider all of these elements and decide what you can influence and what you can’t.

Get the Free Brand Persona Template

Create the Identity of Your Brand Strategically

When designing a brand identity for your business, strategy is key — you need to think, from a very high level, about what your ultimate goal is for the business and how your branding should align with (and support) these goals.

A strategic process that includes research, audience evaluation, self reflection, and the ability to organize those things into a central visual and contextual theme ultimately results in a brand that resonates powerfully with the target audience and drives leads/sales.

Successful brands are successful because they spend the time necessary to create a strategy around their branding…

And they start with their target market, the audience for their products and services that ultimately decides whether they succeed or fail.

The Design of Your Brand Identity Should Start With An Evaluation of Your Audience

Before you make a logo, before you choose a color scheme, way before you even think about making a website, or writing your first bit of copy, you need to consider your audience.

At first, this might not make a whole lot of sense. Shouldn’t your brand be all about you and what you do?

To some extent yes—your brand needs to be authentically you. The best brand identity design springs from the ideals, beliefs, and character of their founders. They’re real, not a trumped up image of what they want you to think they are.

That being said, your business isn’t all about you (and you know that). You wouldn’t be at the point you’re at if you didn’t care about your customers and giving them the best product/service possible, so thinking about your audience, determining who your ideal customers are, who you want to attract, will help you shape your brand.

Great brands, classic brands, aren’t just well known: they resonate in the minds of their audience over months, years, and decades.

That connection between a brand and their customer is difficult to forge, but it ultimately flows from those elements discussed in the beginning and usually falls into one of the following categories:

  1. A customer resonates with the aesthetics of your brand (especially important to design-heavy products/services, like the car industry and the fashion industry)
  2. A customer resonates with the value you provide (basically, they love a good deal when they see it, and you provide that
  3. A customer resonates with the ultimate quality of your product/service (they only want the best)
  4. A customer resonates with the beliefs/mission/vision of the company (common with nonprofits — people only support those whose principles/values align with their own)
  5. A customer resonates with the level of customer service they receive (you treat them the way they want to be treated, and concerns of value/quality/aesthetics drop)

When you achieve resonance with a customer, you’ve likely gotten a life-long customer (as long as you keep doing the same things that the customer resonated with in the first place).

Get the Free Brand Persona Template

Your Brand Identity Design Should Reflect Who You Are As A Business

Once you’ve fleshed out your audience persona and you know who you’re targeting, you can turn your sights to your business and what it represents. Remember, the more authentic you are, the better.

Be authentic. Be true. Be you, whoever you are, and you’ll resonate with your audience.

You want to reflect that in the design of your brand, in the identity you build.

This doesn’t just cover the logo—this covers every piece of marketing or business material your company has, so every bit of printed material, from your stationery and business cards to posters or brochures.

From every online opportunity for interaction to each individual webpage to a social media post, everything you put out there about your brand should consistently reflect the strategy you put together and should work toward the goal of developing that brand through the myriad channels listed above.

Consistency Is Key to Brand Success

If you’re consistent across the entire marketing and business materials spectrum, you’ll reinforce your brand’s image in the minds of your audience.

This idea of consistency applies to all your digital marketing as well — for example, making sure your social media accounts all have the same backgrounds and pictures, making sure your website has the same header and footer on each page, making sure your emails all have your logo.

However, consistency shouldn’t just show up in the aesthetics of your marketing materials — you need to offer a consistent level of quality for products/services, a consistent customer service experience, consistent messaging, consistent value.

Customers will fall in love with your brand for a reason, and there are many reasons available to them, each as unique as the customers themselves, but when you start changing who you are and what you do, it confuses people and runs them away from your brand.

You see this in music all the time. Many bands change their sound over time and alienate their original audience. Video game, TV, book, and movie series often struggle to maintain consistent aesthetics and message from one entry in a series to the next, and they lose fans along the way. The same line of thinking applies to your brand.

Start Creating Your Brand Identity With the Free Brand Persona Template

We’ve streamlined the process of designing your brand identity with a free brand persona template — click to learn more and download it free.

Check Out the Free Brand Persona Template

Adam Fout

Adam might be a little crazy, but we love him anyway.   Weaving beautiful paragraph-baskets into blog posts ain’t easy, but we couldn’t think of a better job for a recovering tech writer.   Follow him on Twitter @adamfout2, LinkedIn, Facebook, or our blog if you like valuable information accompanied by snarky simplifications of complex subjects. If you're feeling adventurous, check out Adam's fiction and poetry on his author website at adamfout.com

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