January 31, 2024
Creating a strong brand identity is a journey, not a quick fix. It’s not just about throwing together a few colors and designing a logo. Building an identity that truly represents your brand and can support your growth requires thoughtful planning, a team with excellent communication and design skills, and a deep understanding of who you are, what you do, your competitors, and how you want to present your brand to a relevant audience.
Developing a brand identity can feel overwhelming and confusing. What should it include? Where do you even start? Who needs to be part of the process?
With the right guidance, you can navigate this journey effectively, and that’s where this toolkit comes in. We’ve simplified the process into an easy-to-follow guide, complete with a toolkit to support you every step of the way. By following this guide, you’ll emerge with a beautiful, functional brand identity that not only outshines your competition but also helps you connect with the right people and share your brand story through every piece of content.
What Is a Brand Identity?
Identity = Identify. Brand identity are the elements that help an audience identify with a particular brand.
A brand identity is the sum of how your brand looks, feels, and speaks to people. (Sometimes that even includes how it sounds, tastes, feels, and even smells... think of Chanel)
The components that make up a brand identity are:
- Brand Story (brand’s origin, values, vision, goals and mission narrative) Why you matter.
- Brand Personality (human characteristics that resonates with an audience)
- Brand Name (sets brand tone)
- Services and/or Products (brands unique selling point)
- Verbal Identity (personality and consistency through words)
- Visual Identity (logo, colors, typography, composition, graphics, icons, patterns, photography, illustration and marketing collateral templates
When most people talk about brand identity, they’re referring to a brand’s logo, which is just part of your visual identity.
The Power of a Strong Brand Identity
A strong brand identity is not about having a nice logo; it’s about communicating your brand story effectively. It’s like a lighthouse in the stormy sea of the marketplace, guiding customers towards it. Your identity is a powerful tool that can transform how people interact with your brand in these important ways:
Differentiation: How can you stand out in a crowded marketplace? Your brand identity can play a strong role. Whether you want your product to stand out on a shelf, or you want your ads to stand out on social media, creating a consistent, cohesive presentation is the secret to success.
Positioning: The more effectively you communicate who you are, the easier it will be for people to engage with you and, ultimately, join your community of fans. If you don’t position yourself, you will be positioned!
Image: A strong brand identity will help manage the image of your business.
Consistency: Everything you create reflects your brand. Thus, if you want to create a consistent, cohesive brand experience, you need to present a consistent, cohesive identity. From your website, to your social media, to your signage, to your sales brochures, a consistent brand identity is key to elevating your brand experience.
Some brands elevate brand identity to an art (think Apple or Patagonia). While others struggle because they don’t know who they are or don’t know how to communicate it effectively. (Too many brands fall into this category.)
Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, one thing is certain. If you want to be a competitive and successful company, crafting a strong brand identity is a must.
"People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic." —Seth Godin
What Does a Brand Identity Include?
When you create a brand identity, you’re basically building a toolbox of elements to help you communicate effectively with an audience. This can be basic or extensive; it all depends on your brand’s needs.
The components that make up a brand identity are:
- Brand Story - An audience focused narrative. It tells the story of a brand’s origin, mission, vision, values and goals. This will define an audience, and create an emotional connection that helps build a relationship. Authenticity is the key.
- Brand Personality - It’s the human characteristics and traits that consumers can relate to. It will enable consumers to identity with and creates a connection… they see themselves part of your brand.
- Brand Name - A great brand name sets the tone, is easy to pronounce, creates a positive image, last over time, and is protectable.
- Services and/or Products - A brand’s products or services are part of its identity. The key is figuring out your unique selling point.
- Competitor Analysis - Helps define an audience, helps position your brand by finding your competitive advantage and helps find out what not to do. Helps define what makes you different.
- Verbal Identity - Conveys your personality through words, helps set you apart from your competitors, and allows an audience to feel like they are always hearing one voice… consistency.
- Visual Identity - Logo, colors, typography, spacing, graphics, print elements, photography, illustration and digital elements.
- Regardless, every brand needs a basic visual identity, which includes three core elements:
Regardless, every brand needs a basic visual identity, which includes three core elements:
- Color palette
Additional elements to express your visual identity across touchpoints, include:
- Spacing, size and placement
- Print elements (stationary, packaging, brochures etc.)
- Digital elements (social media, website, etc.)
Your visual identity elements should be designed for your audience, personality, position and values.
You don’t need to design everything all at once. If you don’t have a ton of resources (or don’t know what your future needs will be), start with the basic logo, color, and typography. You can build out additional elements as needed.
What Makes A Strong Logo?
While a logo is not your brand identity it is an important part of your visual identity. Having a logo doesn’t mean your identity is good or effective. Even if you design every element needed, it may not help you achieve your long-term goals. Always remember, a “logo is not communication. A logo is identification.”
A strong logo needs to work for everyone, both your internal team (brand ambassadors, content creators etc.) and the people who will interact with it (customers).
So, what makes a great logo?
Appropriate: A logo should be appropriate in it’s feeling. It doesn’t need to say a whole lot.
Simple & Timeless: Despite changing design trends, good logos remain effective and relevant, demonstrating its timeless appeal.
Distinctive & Memorable: It needs to be unique, stands out among competitors and catches people’s attention. It has to be unusual enough to persist in our mind.
Flexible and Scalable: It can adapt well across all platforms and sizes, maintaining its impact and legibility.
If you design an identity that doesn’t resonate with your target audience, or doesn’t truly reflect your brand, you will have wasted a lot of work.
"A logo is not communication. It's identification. It's the period at the end of the sentence. Not the sentence itself." —Sagi Haviv
So, How do you Create a Strong Brand Identity?
Now that you understand what brand identity is, and what makes a strong brand identity let’s take a look at how to create your new brand identity. Follow these steps to get started with your new brand identity.
Define Your Foundation
Before jumping into the steps detailed here, know that the visual aspect of your brand identity is not the first thing you should tackle when you’re building a brand; it’s actually the last thing. A brand is like a house; it should be built on a solid foundation.
First, you need to know who you are: What’s your personality? What do you care about? What do you do? How do you talk about what you do? These are the core elements of your brand that your visual identity will communicate. If you don’t have this foundation to build upon, you can’t design a visual identity that properly tells your brand story.
Make sure you know your:
Brand Heart: This is an articulation of your brand’s core principals (vision, mission/purpose and goals). Use your Core Identity in the toolkit.
Brand Name: Choose the right name. You really cannot design a logo without a name.
Brand Personality: Find the right words, voice, images and ways to describe the brand as vibrant as if was a person.
Messaging: Find your tagline, value proposition, and messaging pillars to ensure your visual identity communicates the right story to your audience.
You need to know why you’re going through this process at all. If you’re starting from scratch, it’s obvious. If you’re rebranding, make sure everyone on your team understands the challenges you’re facing with your current identity and what you’re hoping to achieve with a new one. It’s very important to establish these core brand elements.
"Brand is not what you say it is. It's what they say it is." —Marty Neumeier
Assess Your Current Identity
Good branding is ultimately about good communication. To make sure your visual output aligns with your brand values, reflects your personality, and communicates your brand story, you need to have an intimate understanding of your brand.
Start with a brand assessment to understand:
- The current state of your brand’s identity
- How that brand identity might be crafted or tweaked to align with your goals going forward
By taking a critical look at your brand, you can get the insights you need to build an identity that accurately communicates it.
Use the Brand Audit Template in the toolkit, and follow the guide to assess your current brand identity. This is the first step to make sure you’re moving in the right direction. Download our Brand Identity Toolkit.
Building a brand identity is all about differentiation: making your brand visible, relevant, and unique. It’s crucial to understand not just who your competition is but how your brand compares in terms of your visual presentation.
Through a competitor analysis, you can compare your brand to each competitor, and compare your competitors as a whole, which can surface some surprising insights. Take note of competitor weaknesses to gain market opportunities.
Use the Competitor Analysis Template in the toolkit to assess your main 3 competitors.
As you move through the process, pay attention to how your competitors present themselves in terms of common visual elements, trends, industry-specific visual themes, brand personalities, and positioning.
"To be irreplaceable, one must always be different." —Coco Chanel
Establish a Visual Direction
Now that you’ve taken a critical look at both your current identity and your competitors’ identities, it’s time to get aligned on the direction you want to go.
Design can be incredibly subjective. Colors that convey power and strength to one person may be perceived totally differently by others. Even the vocabulary you use to describe your brand can be interpreted differently.
At this stage you aren’t ready to design yet; you first need to have important conversations and move through exercises that will help land on a shared vision for your identity.
- What are the key brand traits you want to express through your visuals?
- What type of visuals communicate these traits?
- What do you want people to feel when they “see” your brand?
To prompt these conversations, it helps to conduct exercises to guide your conversation. Use the Brand Attributes Exercise in the toolkit to help identify the main brand attributes you want to convey. Download our Brand Identity Toolkit.
Write Your Design Brief
Once you’ve completed the previous steps, you have the information you need to start designing. Start with a creative brief that details the pertinent information you need to keep everyone on the same page—and ensure you create an identity that aligns to your brand goals and audience.
Use the Design Brief Template in the toolkit. Don’t provide too much or too little info. Your brief should always inform, not overwhelm. Download our Brand Identity Toolkit.
Design Your Visual Identity
A visual identity is an intricate design system. Each element influences the other, but it starts with your logo. A strong logo captures the essence of your brand, helping you make your mark (literally) in the world. Remember, your logo mark is to identify, not to communicate.
Go old-school here and bust out the pencil 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. Refer back to your foundation, audience and competitor discoveries to guide your design.
"The way a company brands itself is everything—it will ultimately decide whether a business survives." —Richard Branson
Once you have a solid logo, start to explore your color palette. Color plays a significant roll in differentiating your brand from competitors, and is vital for brand recognition.
A good color palette is clean and flexible, supplying enough choices to be creative but not enough to overwhelm. This includes:
- Primary color palette
- Secondary color palette
- Black and white usage
- Color tints
- Color pairings/combinations
- Accent colors
Fonts influence your readers’ perception of your brand. This is why selecting brand typography that conveys your business’s personality and values is one of the key elements of visual branding. In fact, few things communicate the look and feel of a brand more clearly than the way letters, numbers, and symbols are put together. Typography should strike a balance between legibility and interest. Every visual element in your identity should contribute to a cohesive visual language, and thus each should complement the other. This is particularly true of typography, which should be informed by the shape of your logo.
Every stage of design has its own unique challenges, but typography can be tricky in a visual language, especially when brands follow trends that are hot for a second but quickly become dated or appear 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 headers, body copy, hierarchy, text weights, UI typeface, etc.
Design Additional Elements
Every brand’s needs are different, so you may or may not need to design a comprehensive identity. Consider your brand’s future needs. If you are planning to experiment with different types of content, make sure you include those elements in your identity.
Photography Guidelines - Photography is one of the most important elements in our identity system. It not only showcases our designs, but the spaces they inhabit, the people that use them, and the processes that create them. It captures the story of our brand. It’s important to identify clear guidelines about the types of images (and visual treatments) that are and aren’t appropriate. This will ensure a consistent look and feel.
Illustration Guidelines - When it comes to illustration, you need a cohesive and uniform language. It is an important tool when photography either can’t be used or when needing a stronger or clearer point of view.
Infographics - Information graphics are a crucial component for showcasing more detailed information. Whether product details, data, or timelines, various styles of infographics can be used to help make communication clear.
Composition - Each element in our visual system is designed to work together and dial up or down as needed to meet any communication need. Composition principles determine how each piece can sit alongside one another to meet these needs. Can include spacing, size and placement.
Applications - Depending on the required brand collateral you need, you can create several template files for both print and digital. From business cards, stationary, packaging and social media to website design these templates will help craft a consistent brand identity.
"When you brand yourself properly, the competition becomes irrelevant." —Dan Schawbel
Build Your Brand Style Guide
What is a brand style guide?
A brand style guide is the rulebook for everything you create, from what fonts to use to how logo treatments work with different color schemes. Whether you’re creating a business card, social media post, or developing an ad campaign, a style guide ensures your work is consistent with brand identity — both visually and in tone of voice.
The only thing more heartbreaking than a poorly designed brand identity is a beautifully designed identity that is never used or used incorrectly.
Why is a brand style guide important?
You want customers to recognize your brand no matter where they see it — on their phone, on TV, or on a billboard. The best brands use common visual elements and styles to increase brand recognition. A brand style guide is an essential tool to ensure your company produces consistent, cohesive work — especially if you work with freelancers or a marketing agency.
Include clear, easy-to-follow guidelines for every part of the brand identity. Download our Brand Identity Toolkit.
What to Include in your style guide:
- Articulate the Mission Statement - Core values, what sets your brand apart from competitors.
- Explain the Name and Tagline -The tagline should be the first thing you want people to know — a quick expression of value, in the brand’s voice.
- Identify the Voice and Tone - If your brand were a person how would it speak? It should reflect the intended audience and purpose of communication.
- Introduce the Intended Audience - Describe the buyer personas that make up your customers, prospects, and referrals.
- Describe the Visual Identity - Logo, color palette, typography, photography, infographics etc.
In the end, guidelines are just that—a guide. Always use your best judgment when creating materials and use this as a starting point.
Once completed, make sure guidelines are distributed to your team, stored in an easy-to-access place, and regularly updated.
Click links below to see samples of style guides:
"Design is the silent ambassador of your brand." —Paul Rand
How to Use Your New Brand Identity
Once you’ve created your brand identity, it’s time to implement it. This involves integrating your brand identity into all your brand touchpoints and communicating it to your audience.
Consistency is key when it comes to building a strong brand. You can’t toss your fresh brand identity into the world and expect people to know how to use it immediately. Designate a point person to answer any and all questions related to the brand application, and implement a system of quality control to preserve your brand integrity at every touchpoint.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or don’t have the resources to take on the project yourself, consider bringing in some expert help. Download our Brand Identity Toolkit as a guide to designing your new brand identity.