Your ultimate guide to branding

While reputation counts for an incredible amount in business, the founder of the famous Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford, once observed that businesses “can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.” In a way, that’s what branding does for a business — it’s a promise between a company and a customer on what you’re going to provide and how you’re going to provide it. By extension, the practice of branding can solidify everything from your mission statement to your product offering as a visual representation and that’s why it’s important to consider it as one of the major factors in your business plan.

What is branding?

Branding is the marketing practice that gives meaning and personality to any business. Branding is often seen (but is not limited) to a logo, a company name, packaging, website design, or distinctive colors that run across all brand collateral.

Colors can make all the difference when it comes to branding. Canva has a wide range of templates to suit your brand, no matter your mission. Beige, Pink, and Gold Visual Storytelling and Branding Website is perfect for upbeat, positive brands while something like Health and Fitness Business/Advertising Website communicates a more professional, nurturing message.

Why is branding important?

Branding is important because it helps create a memorable experience for the consumer. Branding helps businesses go beyond their product offering, and instead helps provide brand awareness and brand loyalty.

Just think, how did Apple manage to go from a two-man team working out of a tiny garage to a company with a fiercely loyal customer base now worth about a trillion dollars? They developed relationships. They spent half a century building products and working out ways to sell them that fed the interests and emotional needs of their target consumers.

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Image by Apple

Nike has done the same. It’s never really focussed on selling sports attire. Instead, it’s spent billions of dollars on endorsement deals and marketing campaigns with the world’s biggest sports stars, communicating the idea that everyone can be an elite athlete if they had elite equipment.

Nike

From these examples above, we can see that effective branding allows you to build that relationship or association with your consumers in a matter of milliseconds — when they see your logo, or your storefront, or receive a brightly colored email from your customer service team, what message about your brand or company are you sending them?

How to build your branding from scratch

1. Define your brand

Your brand communicates who you are to your consumer, and therefore a strong and effective branding should encapsulate into your core mission, values, and main features of your company.

To figure this out, you can ask yourself some questions to get a well-rounded idea of who you are and what message you want to send to your customer:

  • Why does our company exist?
  • What qualities do our customers already associate with us?
  • What brands do we look up to, and who are our competitors?

2. Perform a SWOT analysis

This planning technique has been popular with businesses for almost 50 years. Its strength is in its simplicity and involves a thoughtful analysis of four areas of your business:

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Opportunities
  • Threats.

For each section, jot down the key considerations for your business based on these sections. Questions that could help you answer this effectively include: does your business have an interesting backstory? (strengths), do you have a lack of resources that affect the acceleration of the business? (weaknesses), are there any current trends that could align with your business as it stands now? (opportunities) and ‘what do your competitors possess that you can’t mimic?’ (threats).

Want to keep your findings in a place you can regularly return to? Canva templates can help. Infographics and number crunching templates such as Brown Pitch Deck Slides Business Infographic and Retro Colors Costing Business - Infographics.

3. Create a brand guide

Once you’ve decided on a few keywords, phrases, or values that represent your company, you can find some appropriate visuals to match. If you’ve decided your brand’s focus is ‘fun’ and ‘frivolity’, consider the ways you could incorporate this: should you use sober, serious typefaces or would it be more appropriate to try lighter, more spontaneous-style text? Whatever you land on, create a branding guide for all staff members to stick to in order to ensure continuity throughout all materials, from your website to external emails.

How to create a brand guide

1. Choose your brand colors

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Image by Damon Lam via Unsplash

A brand color palette can be defined as the core colors your company uses to help convey your brand identity. It aims to underpin and help communicate the defining characteristics of your brand and help you to become recognizable at a glance. Brands who have successfully outworked this is the past include Google, Instagram, and Facebook.

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Research the meaning of colors and allow that to inform the colors you're thinking of using in your brand color palette and also choose them in order of importance, from the one you will use the most, which you want to be the primary voice of your brand, to the ones you will use the least. The colors you choose will also need to be functional as well as visually effective, ensuring there are good contrasting tones to layer text on flat colored backgrounds. Remember, colors can be the heart of your brand and should be chosen carefully.

2. Choose branding fonts and typefaces

A font or typeface can be defined as the type of font you use in all your brand assets. This can include flyer designs, Instagram posts, and even internal newsletters. When it comes to choosing fonts that will become a part of your brand guide, it's important to go back to your brand essence. First, start by thinking of your brand essence qualities, and what type of font will help you achieve that goal, then consider what type of marketing will you be investing in most, and how will this font looks on your designs. You’ll also need to bear in mind what other fonts can you pair with your core font and what message is this sending to the audience.

Common branding mistakes

1. Design inconsistency

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Image by Pentagram

Being inconsistent with your branding - from using a few colors or fonts that aren’t attached in a complementary way - comes across unorganized and unreliable, and you run the risk of your customers confusing your business with your competitors and other brands. The above design for the Wildlife Conservation Society by Pentagram is a great example of consistent branding, following a precise style guide to keep everything looking sleek and consistent. To easily overcome this and avoid future inconsistencies, it’s worthwhile establishing a defined style guide for your business, which you can read more about here.

A simple and effective way of giving all your images a consistent look is to utilize Canva’s Advanced Filter tool, which gives you greater control over each image’s brightness, contrast, and saturation among other things, as well as access to a variety of predefined filter overlays.

2. Copying the branding of others

It’s easy to feel inspired by other successful brands to help boost your own, however, this mindset leads to unoriginality, inauthenticity, and a lack of trust with your audience — not to mention possible legal trouble. Following the success of the City of Melbourne logo by Landor for example, many imitations popped up all around the world.

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With millions of logos out there, there is, of course, the chance that you will come across something similar to what you’ve created but try to push yourself to be original and think about what you can do to stand out. Canva’s customizable layouts for every use and occasion are a great way to make sure your branding is always original.

3. Trying to appeal to everyone

Having no specific demographic may seem like a great idea for your brand at first; the idea that if you can appeal to everyone, you’re more likely to increase your sales. There are very few businesses however that successfully appeal to an unrestrained demographic.

You may be scared to focus on a niche market in case you miss out on the larger market but homing in on your target demographic is actually the best way to build a deep connection with your audience. Stop chasing approval and start focussing on forging an authentic connection with your desired audience by making your visual branding very clearly portray what you value.

4. Out-of-place visuals

Once you’ve found your target demographic, carefully consider what kind of visuals might appeal to them, without relying on assumptions and stereotypes. Still unsure? Think about what might appeal to children, now consider what would be appropriate for corporate branding—there should be few similarities. Everything from fonts to colors and general imagery will need to be suitable for your brand and audience.

An out-of-place visual can also be a bad quality graphic—avoid any outdated and cliche stock photos or images that could dent the professionalism of your brand.

5. Over-reliance on the logo

Everything from your business name, logo, colors, fonts, slogan, and imagery all contribute to your visual branding. Having a good logo doesn’t mean the journey is over. To create an effective visual brand, you must carry the effectiveness across everything you produce, from social media posts to gift cards.

5 examples of strong branding

Apple

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Image by Apple

The success of Apple’s branding strategy is all down to its sleek, uncomplicated simplicity. A large majority of their advertising material is a blank white space containing a logo, a product, and if you’re lucky one line of text. It’s memorable because you associate the simplicity of the design with the simplicity of their products, as well as communicating hardware simplicity and ease of use. Although this might not be relevant to your company, think about the most basic essence of your product, then incorporate that concept within your branding.

Nike

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Image by Nike News

This clever campaign by Nike took a unique perspective by focussing on children working to ‘find (their) greatness’ rather than elite athletes as was the norm. This fresh campaign struck a chord with people emotionally, triggering the hot button of ‘reinventing oneself’.

Starbucks

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Image via The Dieline

Every year at Christmas, coffee retailer Starbucks switches out their typical white cups for festive red cups. This simple, seasonal change has become a beloved Christmas tradition among consumers.

“The red cups have taken on almost a cultural role, at least in the US, and now in a lot of other markets around the world as well. When the cup turns red at Starbucks, that’s one of the first cues that the holidays are upon us,” says Starbucks senior vice president Terry Davenport.

Wildfoot

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Wildfoot

The site design for travel agency Wildfoot channels the hot button ‘excitement of discovery’ by using luxurious full-screen images of each destination, with a simple piece of copy that reads ‘Take me to…” which immediately immerses the viewer in emotionally planning their next vacation.

Your secret weapon for stunning design