How to build your brand identity

How to build your brand identity

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about one of those bell-shaped desk lamps? How about a white lamp that hops around a bunch of letters and stomps down on the letter “I” until it replaces it altogether? If you’re a fan of animation, you’re probably picturing Disney’s Pixar lamp.

The Pixar lamp is a familiar, fun, and quirky design choice that the audience instantly recognizes (even without the word Pixar). But this lamp is more than just a lamp. By using this type of illustration, Pixar wants you to feel curiosity, excitement, and the down-to-earth warmth that emanates from its work. It uses the lamp to communicate its values and build loyalty with its audience. Put simply they are communicating their brand’s identity.

No matter what industry you’re in, if you want to differentiate yourself from your competitors, attract your target audience, and turn them into customers, you're going to need a strong brand identity. A good brand should be memorable and communicate the brand's essence, history, and values all at once. It doesn’t matter if you work for a large-scale company or are slogging away on a part-time passion, the importance of having a consistent brand identity for all of your marketing efforts should not be underestimated.

Understand why brand identity is important

It’s hard to capture the attention of a modern customer. In a crowded digital market, our businesses and identities can disappear into the ether, swallowed by millions of pieces of content more eye-catching or relevant.

Whether it’s a global corporation that specializes in buying and selling tropical islands or a small business that makes specialty coffees, a lack of effective branding almost ensures that you’ll quickly fall into obscurity. If the information isn't delivered fast and with an engaging angle, it's likely that you’ll either struggle to build an audience or you’ll lose the majority of your existing audience along the way.

Branding helps to define you in detail to your audience. What do you do and how do you do it differently than others? What do you believe in or stand for? What do you represent? If effective branding is in place, all of these questions and more can be answered through visual communication.

Practically, your brand identity is all of the combined elements of your brand, including colors, logo, content messaging, and the overall “vibe,” or look and feel, that identifies you to your customers. Creating a brand identity builds awareness of your product or service, cementing you as unique against competitors in the same space. A strong brand identity has intangible value and an ability to help you stand out, creating a reputation of credibility and trust that extends beyond the problems you solve and the products you create.

This is the power of brand identity.

Your brand identity can be woven through all of your digital assets, from logos to website colors. Canva can help with thousands of templates for social media posts, website content, and on-brand images.

Follow the three pillars of a strong brand identity

To build your brand identity, you need to make sure everything — from your mission statement and core values to your brand guidelines and assets — all fall under the pillars of good branding practices: trustworthy, memorable, and flexible. Your logos, trademarks, taglines, and any other visual assets should also reflect these three pillars.

Good branding is trustworthy...

According to Accenture Strategy research, 66% of consumers said that a company’s level of transparency attracts them to buy from the brand. Whether the brand is open about their pricing and financial state or their employment levels and overall goals, good branding should communicate honest information. It should make people feel at ease and allow them to be confident that your brand is the right choice. Know your audience and understand what would make them feel most comfortable in trusting you, and provide consistency, so they know what to expect. If your next move is in a different direction from your last, how can your audience trust your direction?

Good branding is memorable...

Take the ultimate example in branding genius: Apple. The visual simplicity of Apple’s branding is aligned with the functional simplicity of its products and the uncompromisingly careful design that runs through video campaigns, right down to the port for its charging cables. To be memorable, think about the most core essence of your product or service and use this as a starting point.

Good branding is flexible...

A successful brand needs to evolve with the times in order to stay on top of the market, and branding design is no different. Whether changes are subtle or obvious, flexibility will help a brand stay relevant.

Develop a consistent brand image

A consistent brand image affects the customer’s perception of your brand. In a study on customer interactions with luxury brands, a consistent brand image was the top customer expectation. High end companies, like Gucci or Louis Vuitton, adhere to this consistency in brand image, and have maintained their esteemed reputation for all these years. Once you have determined what your brand image will look like, you can maintain consistency throughout your marketing by creating a brand style guide.

When you develop a brand image that aligns with your brand identity, you will feed the consumer’s desire to personify brands. The brand personality your customers associate with you will reflect the style or unique voice of your brand with respect to the product or service you are selling. For example, is it masculine or feminine? Eco-conscious or tech-driven? Trendy or traditional?

In order to land on the right tone for your branding, start by digging into the personality of your company by asking yourself a few questions.

  • What is the mission of your brand?
  • What makes it different from competitors?
  • How would you describe your brand?
  • How would a consumer summarize your brand?
  • How do you want people to experience your product or service?
  • What kind of emotions do you want your brand images to evoke?

You can formalize your strategy by taking a three-step approach. First, analyze your brand by performing a SWOT analysis to record your company's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Then, work on creating key business goals about what you want to achieve and where you want to take the brand—this should help you better understand what market you need to appeal to. Then, identify your key customer base and how you plan on appealing to them visually: are you creating something for customers who are after luxury or something more affordable?

Lemonade, an AI and behavioral economics-powered insurance company, went from a small startup making 2 million a year to 94 million three years later. Beyond their affordable pricing and great customer service, Lemonade also prides itself on doing social good as a certified B-Corporation. Anyone who visits its website or social media pages instantly gets a sense of its brand identity. Moreover, its visual design is unique. Its black and white cartoon illustrations give off a friendly and non-intimidating vibe. Plus, the only color it uses other than black and white is a distinct, vibrant pink.

Screenshot from Lemonade’s homepage.

1. Pick colors that reflect your brand identity

Signature colors give your brand the ability to communicate different moods and personality traits. They also have the power to express a brand’s attributes and values and increase brand recognition by up to 80%. (Think about McDonald’s tomato red and mustard yellow). When used effectively, your brand’s color palette should evoke an emotion that reflects your brand identity. With time, your colors will be so intertwined with your identity that consumers will instantly recognize it.

For example, this color quiz developed by Reboot exemplifies how powerful branding colors can be. The highest percentage of consumers who took the quiz could accurately identify the brand colors of Google, followed by Starbucks and Facebook.

A brand color quiz from Reboot

Each of these brands made intentional choices with its colors. Their colors have the power to influence consumer mood and perception.

Red: Red is eye-catching and vibrant, an enduring shade of energy, passion, and excitement. If you want to grab attention, this is the color for you.

Pink: A perfect example of how colors can alter over time, pink has transformed from a color of unsophisticated frivolity to a shade of luxury and whimsy. Although it’s typically tied to femininity, millennial pink has altered its symbolism into something modern and sleek.

Black: Classic, sophisticated, and somewhat serious, there’s something very powerful about the color black.

Orange: Orange, and its more modern adaptations of coral and neon, are energetic and friendly, with a kind of bounce.

Yellow: This sunny shade signals cheerfulness and fun and is approachable and friendly.

Green: The symbolism of green tends toward either money or nature, but there’s always soothing trustworthiness about green, especially in its deep forest shades that are currently on-trend.

Blue: Is it any wonder that blue is used across so many logos? It’s the most universally appealing color in the spectrum, pointing to trust, dependability, and consistency.

Brown: Brown has an organic feel, often tied to nature and the earth. It often signals masculinity and ruggedness.

Choose your colors in order of importance: from your primary palette (the one you will use the most, which you’ll use to express the primary voice of your brand) to your secondary palette (the ones you will use the least). Use colors that are going to be functional as well as visually effective, ensuring there are good contrasting tones for layering text on flat-colored backgrounds.

Apply your brand colors across graphic elements, such as text, icons, and backgrounds, and make an effort to use images that harmonize with your palette. For example, if your palette is pink, choose images with a similar tone. When developing assets for your website or social media feed, customize your designs by choosing core colors that relate to your primary palette.

Canva templates are designed to be easily customizable to suit any palette in keeping with your brand. Whether it’s a tile for an Instagram Story or graphics for your website, you can keep to your brand’s color palette.

2. Choose a typeface for your brand

In the same way that you’ll harness color, your brand typeface should also express your company values. Is your brand traditional or modern? Is it future-facing, or does it celebrate the past? These are some of the questions you can ask yourself when trying to find a typeface.

You should consider choosing two typefaces for your brand and using them consistently throughout all of your materials. The font for headings should be the largest and most expressive, as it is the persona of the brand. If you want to use a script, uppercase, or title font in your marketing materials, save those exclusively for headings as these typefaces aren’t easy to read in small or dense copy.

Subtitle fonts and body fonts should also be easy to read. A good tip for subtitles is to use the same font as your heading but at a smaller size or in a different style, such as bold or italic. Another tip is to increase the letter spacing. In general, you’ll want to aim for “typographic variance” to keep the layout and design from appearing flat and boring.

Gucci does an excellent job of matching its typography to its blend of timeless history and modern high fashion. Its classic logo written in Granjon, an old style serif font, is balanced with a more modern and sleek Futura Times font. This is fitting as it’s a brand established in 1921 in a place that still remains the high fashion pinnacle of the world: Italy.

A screenshot of Gucci’s homepage exemplifying their extravagant brand with serious high fashion models showing off their bags.

Gucci products are also instantly recognized for their signature “GG” emblem. Although the emblem is not the same typographic style “G” as the one found in their website logo, the two Gs are instantly recognizable around the world. The similarity and strong brand identity Gucci has created over the years lives on through these two letters.

A screenshot on Gucci’s website of a Gucci purse with the famous “GG” emblem.

3. Select on-brand images and design elements

Whether it’s with tints, vibrancy, contrast, saturation, or blurring, how you manipulate your images and design elements will also set the tone for your brand. It’s important to have a clear idea of what “on-brand” means to you and to carefully consider how every design and image choice reflects who you are as a brand.

Once you do that, you can ensure your assets and layout are consistent by using a style guide that dictates the types of filters, colors, or any other relevant specs.

For instance, it would be off-brand for Lemonade to use the same elegant, high-fashion photos and design elements that Gucci uses. First, because Lemonade tends to use illustration over images. But, also, because Lemonade’s vibe is youthful and quirky! Lemonade uses fun illustrations like these:

Screenshot from Lemonade's homepage.

A model sits on a velvet orange couch in a brown suit and holds a Gucci tote bag. A high fashion model donning a Gucci dress, shoes ,and bag sits in a fancy, upscale location drinking tea and is surrounded by two tigers.

Screenshots of Gucci’s gift's page.

Canva houses millions of images and icons that are free to use in your designs.

Multiracial happy young people laughing eating pizza together in pizzeria

Group Icon

4. Craft a consistent brand language

Crafting a familiar brand language and using it consistently across all platforms will help your audience recognize and empathize with your brand. The language that reflects your brand identity can help minimize potential misunderstandings and increase brand loyalty. From your website, social media pages, and packaging to your advertising and emails, you can use a language style guide to ensure the way you communicate with your clients and potential customers is consistent.

Here are some tips to remember with brand language:

  • Use first-person plural: The first-person plural shows there’s a united team behind your brand, and generally, if there’s a happy team, customers are more likely to want to get involved: “We love unique graphics” or “Here at Canva, we love unique graphics.”
  • Be definitive: Avoid language that lessens your authority in the field. “The color mint goes well with gray” is much stronger than “We think the color mint goes well with gray.”
  • Use correct spelling and grammar: People don’t notice when it’s correct, but they certainly do notice when it’s incorrect, and clients, customers, and potential partners will think twice about your brand and how seriously they should take it. Always make sure to proofread any copy before finalizing it.

Even if your brand identity is playful or cheeky, you can still inject your brand language with these attributes without diminishing professionalism. If you always remain polite, considerate, and helpful, you’ll still express a professional brand identity no matter what cool and crazy vernacular you use.

Streamline your assets across departments

When you streamline your assets with a brand kit, your sales and marketing teams will always use collateral that reflects your brand identity. Whether you’re a small business, a freelancer, or a growing startup, as your team or client list grows, using a brand kit will help you manage your brand assets and stay organized. Your brand kit will also guide you and your team in understanding your visual brand identity and how assets should look in any given situation.

On Canva, your brand kit will be accessible and adjustable as you update your brand identity. Then, when your team is designing, they’ll be able to easily select the correct colors, fonts, and logos.

A screenshot of Canva’s brand kit feature.

Create your Canva team to collaborate seamlessly with everyone you work with.

Infuse your brand identity into your social media presence

Ensure that your social media pages all showcase the same logo as the profile picture so that your brand is easily recognizable and presents a unified look. Posting regularly and providing useful resources for your clients is crucial, but you should always remember your brand language – you can be professional and express your brand essence, too.

Your online presence acts like a spotlight, so you want to be as interesting and engaging as possible. Highlighting new features and products as the core of your social media campaigns will present your brand in the best possible light.

Posting for the sake of posting went out of favor years ago; now, it’s more important than ever that you post only when you have something to say and that something is in step with your branding and offers your audience something new. Remember that one of the top reasons why people lose interest in a brand is because they post online too frequently, without relevance. After you’ve done your research, strategize and plan out your social media schedule to optimize audience engagement.

Streamline your social media by including posts with eye-catching graphics. Canva templates can help you build and customize posts from Instagram to Twitter.

Share your brand story, and make it shareable

Humans connect with authentic stories. Eighty-six percent of peoplefactor in authenticity when deciding on which brands to support. Indeed, research shows that the brain has a natural reception to storytelling, as it helps us process news and events as experiences rather than information. As such, a great brand experience is one with a plot (news), characters (your staff), context (your unique background), and core values and beliefs.

Here are a few ways to do this:

Know why you’re a great brand. By determining the reasons why your brand is great, you’ll be confident about what kind of narrative you want to share with the world.

Put names and faces to your team. Introducing the members of your team will add a personal touch to your brand narrative as they are characters in your story. This will ensure that your brand becomes “real” and authentic rather than generic.

Make sure your story evolves with you. Blogs, social media platforms, and press websites allow content to be updated quickly and regularly, which is a great advantage in showing the evolution of your brand. Social media campaigns are a great way to incorporate new features, products, and additions into your brand narrative in the online environment and give you direct access to your audience.

Match your story to your style. Visual storytelling is just as important as writing or speaking about your brand. Even just choosing colors that reflect your mission statement and target audience can be a great way to develop a more direct brand narrative.

Make it easy for your audience to share what you’re creating. Allowing your users to comment on your social media posts, blog, or website can be a great way to add numerous voices to your narrative. Social sharing can also increase by adding social media “buttons” to interesting posts. Remember that people share content that reflects well on them. Creating content that is visually interesting, insightful, and newsworthy will make your brand more shareable.

Conclusion: How to use brand identity to strengthen company culture

Embracing brand identity throughout your internal team communications can help strengthen company culture. A stronger company culture generates employees who are loyal to your brand, which then feeds back into fueling a stronger brand identity and, ultimately, a more successful company.

For example, if your marketing or sales team is pitching a new idea and they have a strong grasp of your brand identity (and the assets that should be used), they’ll put together a more persuasive and impactful presentation. Every role at the company cements another powerful building block into your brand’s identity. When you foster a more cohesive workforce, you produce better results across the board.

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