Top 10 Things to Consider When Developing Your Brand Identity
A brand contains a form of sophisticated magic. Great care must be taken in conjuring it out of the shapes, colors, words and images available to us. With the proper brand, you forge a gateway of trust with your potential customers. The brand is how they know of you, and your products and services. But there’s a deeper meaning behind the idea of a brand.
The history of branding goes back thousands of years. Most of that time, the only customers of branded works were the royalty who ruled the duchies, kingdoms and empires of the world. The best craftsmen of the empire left their mark on their fine works, sometimes implicitly in the style or quality — sometimes explicitly embossing or weaving their logo into the work itself. Their signature meant quality that royalty could trust.
The great brand is grown organically out of the dreams and skills of the artisans who created the company it represents. You don’t merely slap a clever logo on a product and call it a brand, any more than slapping a hefty price tag on a product makes it a “luxury” item.
With a brand, you’re selling a dream — not merely a product or service. This is especially true for luxury brands, but this wisdom should be applied to all corporate identities. In describing brands, Miguel Hebrero wrote in his book, The Fashion Strategy, “The value of the brand is an intangible that must be jealously guarded from dilution…. Brand delivers more than the physical product. It is part of the package — the mystique — the dream of perfection.”
Not every brand can be a symbol of luxury, but the brand must be protected in the same way that a nation guards its crown jewels. The use of the brand logo, the wording of your marketing, the pictures you use — all of these must complement and reinforce the brand image, and protect its integrity.
Whether you have an existing logo and corporate identity, or you’re merely starting with an idea for a company, the proper brand remains a vital part of your enterprise. Without a well-grown brand identity, success becomes more of a challenge.
The brand identity reaches far beyond the logo you have designed. It includes how the logo is to be used in print, online and in media. It also includes the way you talk about your product or service and the types of images used. The well-defined brand image coordinates every aspect of your communication.
1. What kind of customer do you have?
The attitudes, character and aspirations of your customers help to understand what attracts their interest. A well-defined brand image is like finding the right frequency for broadcasting your message. The more carefully you fine-tune your brand, the more easily your customers and prospects will receive your message.
2. What kind of product or service do you have?
The nature of your product or service sits at the heart of the brand. Describing why the product or service is important to your customers helps to establish the meaning of what you have to offer. The brand image needs not only to be compatible with that meaning, but needs to energize it. The importance to your customers is based not on features you provide, but on the benefits the customers receive. In this way, the focus needs to be not on the corporate self, but outward, toward the customer, and their hopes and dreams.
3. What is the history of the product or service?
Every product or service — indeed, every company — has a backstory. Some aspect of that history may be the seed of your brand identity. All of the best brand images have a mythos that powers the imaginations of its customers. This is the dream that is implied by the brand image. And therein lies a great deal of sophistication.
In writing, a novelist is told to “show, don’t tell.” This is a basic level of sophistication that allows a reader to experience the story more viscerally. Telling is direct and obvious; it’s flat and cheap. Showing takes more work. But a writer has a higher level of sophistication at their disposal, one rarely mentioned — that of implication. A well-realized brand uses this higher level of refinement that taps into the product, service or company backstory.
4. Great design
The late, great Saul Bass was a consummate designer, taking on the brand identity programs for some of the largest corporations in the world. His approach revolved around simplicity. But within that simplicity, a great deal of care and artistic prowess was applied. Each one of his corporate logos contained a balance and flow that resonated with power and utility. From the 1960s into the 90s, Bass created the corporate identity branding for AT&T, United Airlines, Continental Airlines, Rockwell International, Warner Communications and many others. He won two Academy Awards for his design work, and was also widely known for his iconic movie posters.
As a young designer and illustrator, I visited Mr. Bass’s office in Los Angeles. That proved to be a rewarding experience all unto itself. Half of his office floor was covered by a collection of handsomely designed objects from everyday life — a toy, a phone, and dozens of other artifacts, arranged in a grid-like pattern. Each of these evoked their own unique images and feelings. Each one had been sculpted with a designer’s care for line, color and form. Each one contained an inherent simplicity that embodied the heart and soul of all similar objects.
The themes incorporated in the design of the brand logo should also be used in the product design or even in the uniforms of the people who deliver the service.
5. Perfect colors
Most people would never know the difference between ox blood red, brick red and vermilion. Each color, though, communicates subtle shades of meaning that people instinctively feel. Choosing the right color or set of colors can harness the right feelings or entirely the wrong set of feelings. An expert designer can help you find the right palette for your brand — one that complements the design perfectly.
6. Consistent with company’s personality
You can’t merely have an artist create a powerful or elegant design. Such great design has to match the personality of the company it represents. The logo art, the selected typefaces, the photographs and colors — all have to work in harmony to strengthen the brand image.
7. Embody the myth behind the company
If you don’t think your company has such a myth, you merely haven’t discovered it, yet. Apple was born in a garage and, from those simple beginnings, a high-tech empire was born. The myth of your company could be something as simple as the inspirational moment that gave the founder their idea. It could be the words of wisdom the founder’s grandfather imparted that drove the creation of the company.
Once you’ve discovered your founding or inspirational myth, you then need to find the most organic way to incorporate this myth into your company communications. Remember to imply, instead of only show or merely tell.
8. Associated icon
Certain images evoke feelings. If an image from our collective history evokes an emotion compatible with the brand, then you might want to co-opt that image as part of your brand mystique. For instance, the pyramids communicate timeless strength. The sphinx provides a sense of mystery. Palm trees on a tropical beach tell us of relaxation. Something from nature or history might provide an extra dimension to your brand image. But don’t dilute the effect by using lots of such symbolism. Find the best one and stick with that one. Using more only confuses the brand image in the minds of your potential customers.
9. What you dislike about other brand images
When you consult with a designer to discover your brand identity, or to reinvent your existing brand, it can prove helpful to review brands you don’t like. Ask yourself: What is it about a certain brand that you don’t like? Dig deep within yourself to discover the real reasons why you despise a logo or other elements of a corporate identity. Finding the real reasons can help you find your own brand identity.
10. What you admire about other brand images
Similarly, finding brand identities that make you a little jealous can be a good thing. Within your admiration lie the seeds of your own brand dream — the catalyzing force behind your company’s creation. Describing the specific reasons why you like another company’s brand identity will help your designer discover the brand identity that is perfect for your enterprise.
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