Brand identity is how a brand looks, sounds, and behaves. When people talk about brand identity, they're usually referring only to a brand's appearance. This is understandable because a brand's visual components exist in almost all brand media. Examples include a company's website, online and television advertising, and business cards. It's why many creative agencies limit the scope of their branding services to a subset of visual components – logos, colors, and typography – and package the visual assets as a complete brand solution. While helpful and frequently cost-effective, such packages are also incomplete. Alone, visual identity won't convert a shopper into a customer.
In this article, you'll earn how to create a brand identity that makes your value proposition clear, differentiates you from competitors, and attracts new customers to your business. A brand is more than a good product or service. It's a good story and a good reputation. Brand identity helps you tell your story and shape your reputation.
What problem does your brand identity solve?
Your brand has to solve a problem in the marketplace. It needs to satisfy a demand. That demand can be existing or new, but your brand will need to speak to the needs of an audience.
Research your competition
You have competitors, and you need to know who they are. If you're entering an existing marketplace, use Google to find competing products or services that rank for the features your brand will provide. You'll learn two things: how people are already describing your product or service and where you need to differentiate.
If your brand is entering a new product or service category, it may intend to replace an existing product or service or diminish consumer reliance on one. One example is the smartphone. The smartphone didn't replace the PC. However, fewer consumers need PCs because they have smartphones.
Identify your brand's differentiating features
In addition to superior customer experience, which nearly every brand claims, your brand needs to satisfy a demand more completely – with better quality – or more cheaply than your competition. This is why a consumer should choose your brand over your competition. You need absolute clarity on your differentiating features. You'll need to explain them with equal clarity to your audience if you want consumers to switch to you.
Have a clear mission for your brand identity
Your brand's mission is your purpose. It's why you exist. It should inspire both you and others and speak to your product/market fit. It must be something you can confidently share with the world. A mission is not product-specific. It can be fulfilled through any variety of products and services. It's the arrow on a compass, not driving directions.
Understand switching costs
As cost-of-switching decreases, user experience is more important. The reverse is also true. Know your switching cost. They're a consumer barrier. Switching cost takes two forms: financial and effort. They're not mutually exclusive. Both are infrequently considered when creating a brand identity.
Your brand may provide better features and more favorable pricing than your competitors, but that might not be enough to motivate consumers to switch. For example, one bank's checking account may offer improved benefits over a competitor's. However, switching banks is a lot of work. New customers need to recreate all their automatic payments and update their automatic deposit information with their employers as a condition of choosing a new bank. It's a high-effort pain point that can't be ignored. The entrant bank has to answer it, and you'll need to convince people that your brand is worth it.
A second example is major software updates for operating systems on computers. You can look to your coworkers or relatives for proof. Software updates are often free and add a number of new features and security improvements. Yet, workplaces avoid them because they're a lot of work, both the upgrade itself and troubleshooting existing software that might not work with the new operating system. Family and friends avoid updating their computer software because they demand time and attention to learn something new.
Your brand isn't a person, but like a person, your brand needs a personality. Is your brand identity funny or serious? Is it streamlined or rustic, conservative or edgy?
Your brand identity needs a personality, one that you'll express everywhere your brand exists. Returning to the bank example, a new bank may tend toward a more conservative personality which demonstrates confidence and competence. Customers entrust the entirety of their savings to a bank's care. Banks need to be responsible custodians of client funds. The stakes are high and serious. Carefree and aloof are characteristics of brand identity that would make any bank unappealing to its target audience.
Naming a brand shouldn't be rushed. A brand name can't be changed easily, because it's expensive. Brainstorm names with your coworkers and friends. Add names to a notebook or notes app as you think of them. Discard names that are owned or popularly used by other entities. Then, eliminate names for which you're unable to obtain a reasonable website URL. You can use a domain registrar like Hover to check domain availability.
Some businesses use clever or phonetic spellings to get the combination of brand name and website URL they want. Try to avoid that. Your audience will spell your brand name the way they think it should be spelled. When customers search for your brand by name on the web, you'll be harder to find if no one can spell it correctly. When customers type your website URL in their browsers, they'll type the wrong address and may be navigated to a competitor site.
Instead of using clever spelling tricks to obtain a dot com address, use regular spelling and choose a different top-level domain. There are hundreds available at reasonable price points. People expect to see and hear dot something in a web address and are conditioned to remember it. Your copy can say, "Visit us on the web at Healthy Hearts dot clinic or dot fit." Avoid dot co (.co) though. It's too close to dot com, the address that your customers will type.
Test some of your brand names with your target audience and with people outside your target audience. Also, test them with several nationalities. You might be surprised. Seemingly innocent combination of words can mean something sinister or offensive to any of the cultures that might hear them. Your brand name can't offend or exclude. It's something to avoid up-front.
Your brand's visual identity is what makes your brand recognizable to people when they see it. If your brand appears differently everywhere it exists, it won't be recognizable. Visual identity is an important part of brand identity.
A logo is a brand's nametag. It needs to be unique and immediately connect consumers to the brand without additional information. A logo must stand alone, as evidenced in sponsorships. Corporate logos appear on banners, screens, and printed literature, often next to other logos and without any tagline or mention of what the brand is or does.
Make your logo distinct. It should use art not found elsewhere. While it's tempting to download an image or icon from the web, using a downloaded asset won't be unique to your brand and will eventually create more problems than it solves. You may invest years building your brand only to see a new company start using your brand identity to grow its business at your expense.
Generally speaking, a logo will have two components, typography and a symbol. The typography is the company name. The symbol is a graphic or segment or abbreviation of the company name. You'll use the wordmark and symbol – or full logo – in large applications. You'll use the symbol alone in small contexts, like social media profile badges.
Avoid too much detail. Much of your audience will interact with your brand identity on a smartphone. Your logo, especially your symbol, needs to be recognizable on small screens. Lots of detail will look muddy when seen at a small size.
Your logo must be fit for black and white. You won't always have the option to display your brand's logo in full color. Your design has to be flexible.
Color plays an important role in brand identity. People react emotionally to color. Your color choices can impact how people feel about your brand. They'll react to your brand identity based on color alone.
Context matters. Your brand colors need to do more than complement each other. They have to express the feeling you want to create with your visual identity. Building a color palette is more than choosing your favorite color and adding some other colors that look good with it.
Pantone 448 C – the color of the three hearts above – is considered the world's ugliest color. The color is used on cigarette packaging to encourage smoking cessation. It reminds people of tar and sickness. For these reasons, the color is unfit for a wellness clinic or anything related to medical or health.
Be mindful of the conditions under which you will need to use core brand colors. They'll need to work on a variety of background colors at a variety of sizes. If you have a light logo with dark text or a dark logo with light text, it will be difficult to feature your logo on both light and dark backgrounds, and that's a problem.
Approximately 5% of the population suffers from color blindness. Below, a red and green color block is used to illustrate color blindness. Inside box #1 is written the word Protanopia, and box #1 is what people see when unable to perceive the color red. Box #2 contains the word Deuteranopia. Box #2 is what people see when unable to perceive the color green. The color block is illegible to people with color blindness to red or green.
Typography can have a massive impact on brand identity. As is true of color, typography must also complement your brand's visual identity. Below, the Happy Hearts text looks like dripping blood. Color and typography are used to the detriment of the brand. At best, it's a joke. At worst, it's gross.
Use typography and color that don't undermine your brand purpose. Your typography options are nearly unlimited. Google offers thousands of free fonts at Google Fonts.
Below, the blue font creates visual clarity. It's interesting without appearing random or confusing. Blue is popular for medical use cases. It's clean and trustworthy. In the Healthy Hearts example, Pantone's 2020 color of the year, Classic Blue, is applied. The hearts are a familiar red, but they're not blood red.
Your brand identity needs to include parameters for the types of images of graphics you'll use. Images need to be attractive, but they also need to match the tone of your brand. They need to help you tell your story in a way that maintains understanding throughout your brand experience.
How you use shapes is an expression of your brand identity. Your choice of shapes and how consistently you use them create both mood and cohesiveness.
Your brand's music choices influence how people feel about your brand. You may use music less frequently than other elements of brand identity, but it's important nonetheless. Select music that's consistent with your brand personality. Rock music can fit a sports team, but it won't fit a doctor's office.
Brand identity is a system
Your brand identity is a collection of interconnected features that work together in a system. It has its own style and character. Like your personal identity, your brand identity can and should evolve. Its evolution shouldn't be random though. Brand evolution must incorporate a deep understanding of your purpose, business goals, and audience. Randomness creates confusion, and confusion will erode the benefits of your brand identity.
Use brand identity to make your value proposition clear. Make your brand both recognizable and attractive to your audience. When consumers feel good about using your brand, they can be more than customers. They can be brand advocates.