There’s a terrifying term commonly thrown around in marketing that a lot of people don’t entirely understand: brand. A designer or marketing specialist will often use this term when speaking with clients about their business, their presence online and in other physical media, and the way they present themselves in general - here at ICONIC, working almost exclusively with small businesses, we use it all the time. But what is a brand? And what makes a good one? Let’s start with a definition and go from there.
noun: brand; plural noun: brands
a particular identity or image regarded as an asset.
This isn’t the only definition of the word, but in marketing it’s the one we work with most. A brand is an identity - of a product, of a business, or even of a person - and in design (and marketing) creating a brand is a careful process. A brand can begin with your business name, your logo, your colour scheme - but it’s much more than just those design elements alone. A brand is the “perception someone holds in their head about you, a product, a service, an organization, a cause, or an idea.”
A strong brand is made up of a collection of elements; fonts, colours, imagery, icons, textures, and your text and media content itself, etc, specifically selected to work together that create and communicate a feeling or message, and create trust and awareness with your audience. These elements collectively make you and your business easily identifiable; the aim is that when implementing your brand across multiple avenues and platforms, people can easily recognise who they are dealing with.
In short: your brand is your identity, and it should encourage your audience to identify and connect with you. So then - how do we create one?
We say this part a lot - because it’s the most important part of branding, and of running a business in general! Defining a target audience is crucial!
Starting or rebranding your business is an exciting process, and inevitably you will be caught up in a thousand ideas of what designs you love and want to look like. That said, in order to create a strong brand it’s essential that you’re able to detach yourself and your personal preferences from the entity that is your business.
Of course you want to end up with a brand that you love (you’re going to have to look at it every day after all), but at the end of the day your branding is all about selling to future customers, and to do that you need to focus on what they will love and what speaks to them!
Before we even start putting ideas down on paper we spend a hefty chunk of time identifying and researching your target audience; their gender, age, lifestyle, income, hobbies, passions, morals. Everything that could clue us in to what they are looking for and what visual cues will help build a strong relationship at just a glance!
Don’t be afraid to be specific here either! It’s a common fear in all aspects of business that you may push away potential clients, but attempting to make a connection with everybody will come with the sacrifice of weakening your message. A strong bonds with one customer will always get you more sales and recommendations than a lukewarm bond with a dozen. Identify who your product appeals to and capitalise on that appeal - others will follow.
After researching your target audience our second step is to research other businesses like yours and their branding. It might seem odd, snooping at others for inspiration, but this is essential for getting an idea of what the current trends are in the marketplace you will be competing in. This helps in two ways: identifying what traits to use to help your brand fit in to the scene, and what traits can make you stand out.
Every market has it’s cliche’s; fast food loves red, social media loves blue, bakeries love kitschy portraits, gyms love block text, and to some extent you want your business to look like it fits in with the relevant scene. For example, if you’re offering meditational services you wouldn’t want to be rocking a bold, bright red logo - it’s not going to look very relaxing. But a strong brand is one that is recognisable, and boasting an overdone or unoriginal brand is not the way to achieve that!
Looking at other similar businesses and their brands is a perfect way to discover what trends and imagery are over-saturated and then plan ways in which to make your business stand out!
Like all elements of design fonts (or more accurately, typefaces) have the power to speak all on their own, and with so many fonts available now it can be an intimidating decision to choose just one!
We could (and probably will) write a whole blog post on the wonders of fonts and choosing them, but in general the key things to keep in mind when considering a typeface are message, legibility and dynamic.
Different fonts and styles say different things. In general, sans-serif fonts are more modern and classy; handwritten fonts have a very homey, personal feel; bold or block fonts are very powerful and aggressive. It’s important to choose fonts that support the image you have in mind for your business!
Checking the legibility of font is essential, not just for your logo but for use on any documents or signage you may need in the future! Many decorative fonts are not suitable for long words or paragraphs of text, and in some cases certain words and letter arrangements can cause the letterforms to become unclear or, in the worst case scenarios, create misreadings or imagery that are totally unintentional and confusing. Make sure you have a few pairs of eyes look over your choices to be certain the general public are seeing what you’re seeing.
Finally, it is likely you will adopt more than one font for your brand in order to suit a range of purposes, so not only do they need to communicate well on their own, but it’s important they compliment each other. Choosing fonts that have contrasting characteristics is a great way to create emphasis throughout your brand - but they still need to look like they belong on the page together.
Colour is important for two reasons:
Every colour, including black and white, has implications. The colour you choose communicates a message or feeling to your audience that has already been preset into our brains by nature or culture. It’s also the most recognisable part of your brand! There’s a reason Cadbury trademarked it’s purple! As such, it’s important you have researched the psychology of the colours you are contemplating for your brand. Don’t just pick it because it’s a nice colour - pick if because it’s relevant to your message! (If you haven’t already, check out our blog post on the Psychology Of Colour where we go over the general implications of each colour.)
Secondly, colours placed side by side impact on each other. You will probably remember studying the colour wheel in art class during your school years, but this is barely the surface when it comes to the science of colour and colour mixing. Colour theory is something we study whole modules on in design school!
If you’re not an expert of hues, tones, saturation, complementary and harmonious colours, keep in mind the following; In general, bright and bold colours are great for capturing attention, but can appear obnoxious. Muted tones allow for a more sophisticated image, but also come at the risk of being easily dismissed. It’s also important to keep in mind when considering the colours for your brand that choosing the wrong colour combinations can result in your brands and designs becoming flat and losing legibility!
Colour selection can seem like a minefield, but there are plenty of palettes and design resources out there online to help give you ideas (and plenty of designers who specialise in brand creation), so keep an eye out and give your colours some consideration before you slap it on the logo you’re going to be using for the next few years.
Keep It Simple
Keeping your branding and designs simple is the best way to make sure you’re making the biggest impact you can. It’s also ideal for making your brand timeless, which can save you a lot of time and money, and help establish a stronger relationship with your clients in the long run.
Your business has a lot to offer and it’s natural you will want to share as much as you can with your audience, but the key to a good brand is to refine all it’s best points down into it’s most basic form and keep the details to your marketing!
Simple designs are easy on the eye and thus much more memorable, especially when logos come into play. They’re also much more versatile and allow stronger branding across design and marketing elements in print or online.
The best part is, with simple and strong design, your branding isn’t going to become outdated in the next few months or years, which means you’re not going to be sitting there in the future wasting more time and money to stay relevant or lose the traction and trust with the client base you’ve worked hard to build.
When you’ve established your brand, it’s essential that it remains consistent across all your design and marketing elements. You want your customers to know at a glance, whether its looking at your website, the sign outside your shop, the business card you hand them, the order form you have them fill out, the ad that pops up on their feed, that it’s you!
This isn’t to say that you can’t ever change things up a bit, but the point is that you have a system that you stick to, and the changes you make are purposeful for creating contrast and emphasis. Say for example that you’re having a summer special and want to throw some oranges and yellows in but your branding is usually blue. You can achieve this and maintain your branding by keeping the fonts, the textures, the formats similar to your usual branding, which assures some familiarity for viewers.
Ultimately the success of a brand is determined by the customer relation it builds. As designers, we're of course going to tell you that your brand should be visually appealing, but at the end of the day the most successful brands are those that remain timeless and maintain there relevancy and appeal over the period of years and decades! It's important to really take the time to consider and contemplate what will work best for your brand early. so you can make sure it checks all the boxes