If there’s one thing to be sure about in the design and business world, it’s that in order to attract an audience and then turn them into customers, you're going to need a strong brand identity. 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 for all of your marketing cannot be underestimated.

A good brand should not only allow people to remember who you are but communicate your entire essence, history, and values-all at once.

An introduction to branding

What is a brand identity and why do I need one?

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 shoes with funny limericks on them,  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 to 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 with a quick glance at a cleverly designed logo or webpage and this is the power of branding.

Practically, your brand identity is all the combined elements of your brand, including color, logo, content messaging, and overall feel and look that identifies you to your customers. Creating a brand identity builds awareness for your product or service, cementing you as unique even against competitors who might be in the same space. A strong brand 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.

Your brand identity can be woven through all 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.

What makes a good brand?

  • Good branding is trustworthy. 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 to 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 their 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.

How to craft your brand image and visual identity

The use of typefaces, the harnessing of color palette, and the integration of images is an imperative part of the brand development process and a style guide will help you to apply them correctly and consistently throughout all visual assets that are intended to represent you.

Build your brand personality

Brand personality is 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 four-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?

Take Corona, for example. The brand’s marketing images often depict exotic outdoor scenes, beaches, sunsets, and cold bottles of beer. Corona’s color palette is warm and yellow, while many of its branded images feature a highly saturated filter. The consistent application of these visual features creates a recognizable ‘sun-drenched’ look that leads many people to associate Corona with summer and holidays. By doing so, Corona sells an experience – not just a bottle of beer.

By having a clear idea about how you want your brand to be perceived, you can start planning how to apply your visual assets consistently.

How to choose your brand colors

Color gives your brand the ability to express different moods. It has the power to express a brand’s attributes and values and, according to studies, to increase brand recognition by up to 80%. (Think about Coca-Cola’s tomato red when considering whether this statistic holds true). When used effectively, your brand color palette should evoke an emotion that reflects your brand identity.

Red: Red is eye-catching and vibrant, and 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 it's 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: Symbolism of green tends towards 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 to layer 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. 

How to choose a typeface for your brand

In the same way, 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 expressive of the persona of the brand. If you want to use a script, uppercase, or title font then the heading is the place as these typefaces aren’t easy to read in small or dense copy.

Subtitle fonts and body fonts should be easy to read. A great option 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, or increasing the letter spacing.

Consider Nike’s uppercase, bold, sans serif font that it uses consistently across marketing graphics. This font is designed for its clean and bold impact, which works well with Nike’s call-to-action style images.

Limiting your font selection is a good fit for social media graphics that don’t need heavy amounts of text. If you’re just going to use one font, like Nike, choose the most recognizable font associated with your brand.

How to select on-brand images

Whether it’s with tints, vibrancy, contrast, saturation, or blurring, how you manipulate your images will also set a mood for your brand and can give a unique look and feel. As such, you should always ensure your images are consistent—it would be off-brand for Corona to use the sharp, action-centered photos that Nike uses, for instance. In the same way, carefully consider how your image choice reflects who you are as a brand.

Some filters will brighten your images, while others will bring out certain colors, so it’s important to have a clear idea about how you want your images to look. Just remember consistency is key: ensure your filters have the same synchrony as the other elements within your style guide.

Lifestyle magazine Kinfolk always uses the same style of images for its publication, website, and social media platforms. Its conceptual, pastel-tinged photos complement the brands ‘less is more,’ minimalist approach, and suit its understated brand essence.

Canva houses millions of images that are free to use in your designs. Want to channel Kinfolk’s conceptual look? Try photos such as this rust-colored photo of Antelope Canyon or the cream-tinged White Beam of a Building.  

How to decide on your brand layout

The position and size of your logo, tagline, and other visual assets should also remain consistent.

Position your logo in the same place every time and with even padding around each side for balance and aesthetic harmony. If you’re using it over images, be sure you can see it and it’s clear enough to have an impact. Having alternate versions (black, white, color) will ensure it can be offset against your background.

In terms of size, your logo should never overpower your design, but it’s also important that it isn’t too small. Determine a minimum size for your logo so that it is still clear to read.

How to craft your brand language

Language is how you communicate with your clients and potential customers and it applies across multiple platforms: from a website, social media pages, packaging to your advertising, and emails.

Here are some tips to remember with brand language:

  • 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 and avoid language that lessens your authority in the field. “The color mint goes well with grey” is much stronger than, “We think the color mint goes well with grey.”
  • Correct spelling and grammar is a professional must – no excuses. People don’t notice when it’s correct, but they certainly do 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.

How to choose a domain name and email address for your company

If you’re serious about your business venture, bypass the free domain names and commit to a top-level domain name (.com or .com.au) from the get-go. This projects a professional and consistent image to clients, reflecting an investment has been made (because if a company won’t invest in itself – why should a customer?).

Similarly, email is a primary means of communication and they need to reflect you and your brand. Your email address should have the same domain as your website, for example, [email protected], rather than [email protected] or [email protected]

For consistency, make the domain and email name your company name, if you can. This makes it easy for your audience to find you and connect with you.

Using your branding to create an effective 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 to your clients is crucial but you should always remember your brand language – you can be professional and express your brand essence, too.

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

How to use data to inform your branding and campaigns

A successful brand is all about the customer and establishing a positive relationship with them. Personalization by using data such as their name, gender, age, where they live, what their hobbies are, and ask about their preferences can win a customer over and encourage them to use your services again. Your clients should feel as though they matter to you as individuals; understanding their habits and what’s behind their need to purchase can take you and your brand a long way.

Take the Coca-Cola Share A Coke campaign that dominated billboards, social media, and selfies for the better part of a year in 2011. To increase the consumption of the soft drink and kick start an ongoing conversation about the brand, Coca Cola’s marketing experts worked with data they had about their target audience (social media-savvy young adults; the ‘selfie’ generation; the demographic that used colloquial terms like ‘mate’ and ‘bestie’) and used this to change the current attitudes towards the brand.

The results of the campaign were jawdropping. When the stats came in, it was found that young adult consumption had gone up 7%, traffic to the Coca Cola Facebook page had increased by 870%, while the page itself grew a further 39%.

The takeaway? Say goodbye to templates and bulk emailing—getting personal is the best way to build your audience and data can help you do just that.

Another important application of data is its ability to uncover what you’re doing wrong as much as you’re doing right when it comes to your brand. Are your customers less engaged with your new, bright-red-colored content? Switch it up. Is there discussion in the comment section of your social media channels about an ad you’ve just created? Listen to the feedback and make changes accordingly.

How to build on-brand social media campaigns around new features and products

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.

How to build a brand narrative

Humans connect with stories. In an experiment from 2005, it was discovered that in just 90 minutes, a person could be exposed to 250 different advertising messages from more than 100 brands. Of those, it was revealed people are most attracted to brands with authentic or unique narratives. 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 the characters of your story. This will ensure that your brand becomes ‘real’ and authentic, rather than generic.
  • Make sure your story is evolving with you. Blogs, social media platforms, and press websites allow content to be updated quickly and regularly, which is a great advantage for showing the evolution of your brand. Social media campaigns are a great way to incorporate new features, products, or additions into your brand narrative in the online environment and, gives 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 sharable.

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