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 brand. It doesn’t matter if you work for a large-scale company or are working 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. Here is an introduction to branding, plus four levels of branding—from basic to advanced—that will have your brand looking smart and professional.
Branding basics: An introduction to branding
Why do we need branding?
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, without good branding anyone can quickly fall into obscurity. If the information isn't delivered fast, and with an engaging angle, it's likely that you will lose the majority of your audience. Luckily, grabbing your audience's attention isn't difficult. In fact, a clever logo or exciting color scheme can deliver just as much information as a three-page mission statement if designed properly.
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.
- Good branding is memorable. Take Apple, for example. The visual simplicity of Apple’s branding is aligned with the functional simplicity of its products. So to be memorable, think about the most basic essence of your product and run with that concept throughout your branding.
- 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.
Branding level one: Image and identity
The use of typefaces, color palette and images together is an imperative part of the brand development process and a style guide will help you to apply them correctly and consistently and ultimately build your brand like a pro.
01. Brand personality
Brand personality is the style or unique voice of your brand respective to the product or service you are selling. For example, is it masculine or feminine? Natural or man-made? Trendy or traditional?
- What are the main goals or ideas of the 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?
Answering these questions will help you develop your brand identity. It might help to create lists of words that speak for your brand in order to find the fitting visual response for your graphics.
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 and 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 holidaying. 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. Let’s take a closer look at some good practices to develop a strong visual brand.
02. Brand colors
Color gives your brand the ability to express different moods as each color. It has the power to express a brand’s attributes and values as well as increasing brand recognition by up to 80%. When used effectively, your brand color palette should evoke an emotion reflecting your brand identity.
Choose your colors in order of importance: from your primary palette (the one you will use the most, which you want to be 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.
Benefit Cosmetics does a good job of expressing its feminine identity using a predominantly pink color palette and these three images from Benefit’s Instagram use the color pink in clever and creative ways.
03. Brand typefaces
Consider your brand essence and choose a typeface reflects it. For example, is your brand traditional or modern? The typeface/s you choose will affect the way the audience perceives your brand.
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 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.
04. 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.
Some filters will brighten your images, while other will bring out certain colors, so it’s important to have a clear idea about how your 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 desaturated, muted, almost film-processed photos complement the brands ‘less is more,’ minimalist approach and suits its understated brand essence.
05. Brand layout
The position and size of your logo, tagline and other visual assets should 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. 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.
BRANDING LEVEL 2: Professionalism
06. Brand language
Language is how you communicate with your clients and potential customers and it applies across multiple platforms: website, social media pages, packaging, advertising, emails, and so on.
Here are some tips to remember with brand language:
- 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 funky graphics” or “Here at Canva, we love funky 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. Proofread, copy edit, and search grammar and spelling online.
- 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.
07. Be user-friendly
Websites, products, services, apps should all be user-friendly or clients and customers will be turned away. User-friendliness wins over complicated design every time. When it comes to developing a website, ensure there are enough features such as search bars, drop down menus and categories to help customers find information or buy products as quickly as possible. The process should be as streamlined as possible: Just remember, less clicks is better.
08. Domain name
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?).
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].
10. 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 you are presenting a unified look.
While posting regularly and providing useful resources to your clients is crucial, always remember your brand language – be professional while still expressing your brand essence.
BRANDING LEVEL 3: Personalization
11. Use data
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. 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%. On a smaller scale, this means saying goodbye to templates and bulk emailing — you need to tailor your emails.
“96% of organizations believe that personalized marketing improves response rates and personalized emails improve click through rates by 14% and conversion rates by 10% .” – Hubspot.
12. Create a team graphic
Creating a team graphic shows that your brand isn’t just a one-man show, that it is in fact, a legitimate business. Secondly, it allows your clients and potential clients to put faces to names they may have seen across emails or elsewhere. Lastly, it’s great to show there’s a happy team behind your company – if people are happy to work with you, there’s obviously something good going on.
Include individual photos or a group shot with each team member’s name, position and one or two ‘fun facts’ about them. The photo and information should suit the tone of your brand – professional and friendly if you’re a corporate organization, or fun and cheeky if you’re a young start-up.
The at Mashable incorporated headshots of their leaders, separate pages for their departments as well as an editorial team list, which includes the team member’s social media pages.
13. Guest posting on social media
Relax and have a little fun with your marketing on social media, which is one of the best ways to personalize your brand. But, always be sure that your posts and topics are centered on your clients.
As Margin Media says, be human and encourage engagement, so get your team involved with guest posts across your social media platforms. For examples, ask team members to share their advice/expertise from a different department each week. This is a great way to introduce your clients to the people behind the scenes as well as show them that you’ve got a range of experts across all fields.
BRANDING LEVEL 4: Make your brand pop
14. Build 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.
Post with relevance! Remember that one of the top reasons why people lose interest in a brand is because they post online too frequently, without relevance.
15. Advertise directly to your target audience
In all advertising, consider your target market factors, such as age, sex, occupation, etc. Analyzing this data in relation to your brand will help you establish which groups to target, giving it the best chance of being noticed.
16. Use visual devices to engage with your audience
Up to 90 % of information transmitted to the brain is visual, so images, infographics and other visual devices can play a crucial role in making your brand identifiable.
In one case, analysis of Facebook’s timeline feature showed that brands received 46% more engagement per post with images, while another case study revealed that the traffic of publishers using infographics grew at an average of 12% more than those who didn’t.
17. Build a brand narrative
Humans connect with stories. In an experiment conducted by a London research firm, 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.
How to build a brand narrative:
- Know why you’re a great brand. By determining 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. Check out this blog for useful tips.
- Make sure your story is evolving with your. 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 can be a great way to incorporate new features, products, or additions into your brand narrative in the online environment; and having a good relationship with the press will also give you a chance to have the greatest scope for storytelling as you grow and evolve.
- Match your story to your style. Visual storytelling is just as important as writing or speaking about your brand. This blog explains how visual interpretation is actually our strongest developed sense. 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. 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. Facebook has even created a function to integrate blog and social media commentary. 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.
18. Make bold decisions
Steve Jobs once said: “You’ve got to be willing to crash and burn. If you’re afraid of failing, you won’t get very far”. Success, in every field, is owned by the game changers and the rule breakers. By pushing the limits of an idea, your brand will become an innovator.
Whether you’re starting your own business or creating marketing materials at work, branding is a fundamental part of a strong visual strategy. A consistent application of images, colors, fonts and layouts are all elements of graphic design that will play a huge role in making your brand image stand out; while language, narrative, and engagement with your audience will all having you branding like a pro.