When you’re launching a business, the key to success is standing out. Building a distinctive brand identity is a surefire way to break through the clutter, grab your audience’s attention, and make an impact. But what goes into creating a brand identity that sets you apart from the competition? We spoke to Ramon Peralta, Founder and Creative Director of design and branding firm Peralta Design, to find out.
In today’s hypercompetitive world, if you want your business to thrive, you need to find a way to stand out. “Unless you’re first to market in your space, chances are you’re entering a very crowded market,” says Ramon Peralta, Founder and Creative Director of Peralta Design, a design and branding firm that has worked with an impressive roster of clients, including the NFL, Disney/Pixar, and NBC. “Standing out amongst the competition should be your #1 priority.” And the key to standing out? Developing a distinctive brand identity.
Your brand identity is the collection of all the design elements—like your logo—that make you uniquely YOU, sets you apart from the competition, and shows your ideal customers why they should work with you instead of the 10,000 other options on the market. Think of it this way—if your company is a Whopper, then your brand identity is the “special sauce.”
But how, exactly, do you find your “special sauce?” What are the steps for developing and designing a distinctive brand identity that puts you a notch above your competitors and shows your potential customers you’re the kind of company they want to do business with?
Get clear on who you are as a brand
When you’re building a brand, it’s only natural to be excited—and it can be tempting to dive headfirst into designing your brand identity. But your brand identity is about more than just design. “Resist the temptation to go right to the drawing board,” says Peralta. “The visual identity is really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to building a strong brand.”
Before you start the design process, it’s important to get clear on a few key questions.
“Before you begin to design anything at all, you should ask yourself ‘What makes us different? What is our mission? How are we making a world a better place? Who is our target audience and what is the most effective way to reach them?’” says Peralta.
If you want to build a strong—and distinctive—brand identity, it’s important to define:
- Your mission
- Your values
- Your ideal customer
- Your brand voice (are you fun and educational or more corporate and traditional?)
- Your point of difference (what sets you apart from the competition?)
Digging deep on these types of questions will give you clarity into who you are, what makes you different, and who your ideal audience is—which is all information that’s going to have a major impact on your design process.
Study the competition
In addition to getting clear on who you are as a brand, you’re also going to want to get clear on who other brands are—particularly your competitors.
“Immerse yourself in your space,” says Peralta. “Who are your competitors? Who are they targeting? Look at everything: the good, the bad and the ugly.”
Doing your due diligence and exploring what other people are doing in your industry will give you insight into what’s working, what’s not working, and—most importantly—how you can set yourself apart from competitors in your space and establish yourself as a unique brand in your own right.
Create an inspiration board
Once you’ve done your homework in defining who you are as a brand and what other brands are doing in your space, it’s time to pull it all together in a way that will help drive your design process—and that’s creating an inspiration board.
An inspiration board is… well, exactly what it sounds like. An inspiration board is like a collage of branding inspiration; it’s a collection of images, colors, text, shapes, textures, or anything else you want to refer to as you’re designing your brand identity. You can either create a physical board (sometimes doing things old-school is the best way!) or you can use Pinterest to create a digital inspiration board.
Now, just want to note—an inspiration board is for just that: inspiration. While it’s fine to pull inspiration from other designs, it’s NOT fine to plagiarize other people’s work or directly copy any design elements.
Understanding the key elements of brand identity
Now that you’ve done your homework, it’s time to start the actual design process. Hurray! But where to start?
With the key elements, of course. These key elements are like the building blocks of your brand identity; once you lock them in, you’ll have the foundation to build the rest of your brand.
Typography is the font (or type) you use in your branding. When it comes to typography, there’s four major categories you need to know about.
Serif fonts have an anchor at the end of each letter. These traditional fonts, like Times New Roman, are a great choice if you’re targeting a more traditional crowd or want to instill a sense of trustworthiness and reliability into your branding.
Sans Serif fonts, which have a smoother appearance, don’t have the anchor at the end of each letter you find with a Serif font (hence the “sans” in the title). These fonts, like Helvetica, have a more modern feel.
Do you remember practicing cursive in grade school? If so, you’re already familiar with Script fonts. These fonts, like Pacifico, mirror cursive handwriting and can be a great way to lend a sense of formality or elegance to your brand identity.
Last up? Display fonts. These are a bit of a tricky one, because there’s no single characteristic that defines a display font—they each kind of stand on their own. Every display font has its own specialized effect (like a hand-drawn style) that sets it apart from other fonts. If you’ve seen the Harry Potter logo—with the lightning bolt “P”—that’s a great example of a display font.
The typography you choose for your brand identity will say about you and who you are as a brand, so make sure you spend time exploring types and fonts until you find one that feels in line with your brand.
The next element you’ll want to consider is shape. While the effect is subtle, shape can actually have a big impact on the final product.
The two shapes you really need to keep in mind are rounded shapes (like circles and ovals) and sharp-edged shapes (like squares and rectangles). Typically, round shapes are associated with a softer, more relaxed feel while sharp-edged shapes are associated with strength and efficiency. So, if you’re building a massage business, you’d probably want to go with round shapes. If you’re building a personal training business, sharp-edged shapes are probably a better bet.
Use shapes to organize designs. The Black and Gold Beauty Makeup Poster places close-up shots of make-up inside circles, while the White Text with Photo Background Motivational Gym Poster has square shaped outlines for text.
Last up? Color.
Because people have strong psychological ties and associations with color, it can be a powerful tool in building brand identity. “There is a psychology to color and color theory and the emotions that colors evoke,” says Peralta. And while you don’t necessarily want to start the design process with color (“in the early stages of design, you want to minimize the moving parts. Have color introduced too early can have an adverse affect,” says Peralta), the colors you ultimately choose can subtly influence your audience and directly affect how your brand is perceived.
Want to be seen as sophisticated and modern? Incorporate black into your color palette. Looking to appeal to children? Stick with bright colors like red, green, and yellow. Want to appeal to a wide audience? Stick with blue, which has pretty much universal appeal.
The point is, the colors you choose will directly influence the way your audience views and connects with your brand—so choose your colors wisely.
Designing your brand identity
Once you have the building blocks in place, you can start using them to bring your brand identity to life through different design assets.
There are some assets, like a logo, that are a universal part of any brand identity, no matter what kind of business you’re in. For other businesses, specific assets are going to be more important than others. So, for example, if you own a social media marketing firm, you’re going to want to put a lot of thought and effort into your social media graphics. If you have an ecommerce business, your website is going to be the most important.
Let’s take a look at some of the essential design assets you’ll need to build your brand identity:
There’s nothing more important to your brand identity than your logo design. Your logo acts as the face of your company and is the part of your brand identity that will be the most visible, so you want to make sure you put your best foot forward.
Your logo should:
- Clearly communicate who you are as a brand
- Incorporate your “special sauce” and stand out from the competition
- Be able to stand the test of time (you don’t want your logo to feel dated 3 months after you design it!)
- Make a real impact on your audience
When it comes to logo design, there’s a few things you’ll want to keep in mind:
Don’t overcomplicate things. When it comes to logo design, simple is best (or, as Peralta puts it, “When designing a logo, start with the K.I.S.S. Rule: Keep it Simple Stupid.”). You don’t want to visually overwhelm your audience by trying to cram too many design elements into your logo.
Think about where you’re going to be using your logo. When it comes to logo design, you want something versatile that you can use on things small (like branded pens) and large (like posters). “A strong logo will work well at all sizes, from business card size to billboard format,” says Peralta.
Think about the graphics you choose. The graphics you choose should be strong enough to represent your brand by themselves. “Take the Nike Swoosh, for example,” says Peralta. “For years it ran with the typography ‘Nike’ next to it. Now, you often see it all alone. Will your brand identity have the ability to spawn an icon that can represent your brand all by itself? The best brands have the ability to do that.”
Your website is another design asset that’s going to be getting a ton of visibility, so you really want to make sure it aligns with your brand identity. From the color and font of the text to the style of your product images, every design element on your website should be infused with your “special sauce” so it feels uniquely you.
Business cards may be considered “old school,” but they’re definitely something you want to have on hand for networking and business development opportunities.
When it comes to designing a business card, you’ll want to follow that K.I.S.S. rule again—because business cards are so small, you only want to include the absolute necessities to avoid overwhelming whoever you’re handing your card to.
These designs are simple, but contains the information needed. Both the Red Utensils Moderno Catering Business Card template and the Blue Freelancer Simple Business Card template offer designs for the back of the card.
Social media graphics
You can’t run a successful business today without having a strong social media presence—and everything you do on social needs to tie back to your brand identity. Make sure all your social media graphics tie back to the core elements of your brand identity (and don’t look like everything else that pops up on your audience’s news feed).
Canva offers a wide range of templates that can be used in different social media websites: the Surf School Instagram Post template, the Modern Photo Events and Education Facebook Post, and the Brown and White Showcase of Products Men's Grooming Pinterest Graphic.
Final tips for designing a distinctive brand identity
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this post, so to wrap things up, lets go through a few final tips for designing a brand identity that will help you stand out from the pack and build a brand that truly makes an impact:
Incorporate your point of difference into everything you do. Your “special sauce”—the thing that makes you unique, different, and special—should come through in your designs, whether it’s in your logo or on your website. “Have a differentiator. Don’t just ‘get in line’ or you won’t stand out amongst your competitors,” says Peralta. “Develop a proprietary brand identity that is unique, iconic and memorable.”
Stay consistent. Your brand identity should be consistent no matter where or how your audience interacts with you—especially if you want to build a relationship based on trust. “Consistency in branding builds trust,” says Peralta. “Once you have established brand guidelines you must stick to them! Do not deviate from the proper usage of your brand design elements...the minute you deviate you are creating confusion, and the minute you’ve confused your target audience, you’ve lost them.”
Remember who you’re designing for. When you’re designing your brand identity, you should ALWAYS have your target audience in mind—and that audience should be driving your design decisions. “Your target demographic makes a BIG impact on your brand identity,” says Peralta. “Everything from the font you choose to the color palette is determined by who you are communicating to. The process is the same, but the results are different. For example, for a brand marketing to children, bubble letters and primary colors might work great. For a bank or financial institution, however, not so much.”
Ready to get started? Explore our database of templates to help you get started in the process of designing a brand identity that feels uniquely, completely YOU!