7 Steps to an Authentic Brand Identity Design

Creating a brand identity is a daunting task. It might look like fun because you get to play with colours and shapes like you did in school, but its a far cry from scribbling crayons and splashing poster paint about. Brand identity design is actually more about research than anything else, and a lack of research is usually where branding projects tumble down the hill like Jack & Jill.

One time, I met a potential client about branding their new business. They were a startup business in executive recruitment looking to prospective candidates for high-end roles.

The client said, “I want to name the company WhiteRock Incorporated”

“Why”, I asked.

“Because it sounds prestigious, high-end and elite?”

WhiteRock Incorporated is a strong sounding name with a sense of power and hearing it you might say wow, that sounds impressive and corporate.

Heres the problem…The brand name “WhiteRock Incorporated” doesn’t mean anything to anyone. It didn’t resonate with clients or the company and the startup was not a corporate company and neither was it a powerful or established company, so why choose it?

The name sounded “cool” to the owner and its a name that the owner thought would sound cool to its corporate target audience. It’s a name that takes trendiness, style and ego over function, form and honesty, and its a name that the business owner liked because it would make him sound like a successful business owner.

The client made three grand mistakes when it came to creating their own brand identity design.

  1. They created a brand identity that looked and sounded impressive to attract attention.
  2. They tried to imitate other successful businesses and mimic their success with a name.
  3. They used their own perspective, experience and ego to create their own brand identity.

All three methods are big mistakes and heres why:

  1. Point one will lead to a shallow brand image that focusses on aesthetics with no substance. It’s unauthentic and users won’t care about that brand.
  2. Point two comes off as imitation and unoriginality. It signifies that your brand is either second best, nothing new and again unauthentic.
  3. And Point three is like the blind leading the blind where the business owner caters to their own ego, has no experience of design but becomes their own Creative Director, again leading to an unauthentic result.

The above story is not a standalone case. I’ve met many individuals who’ve taken the same approach to branding their business. They think that branding is all about being catchy, prestigious and punchy. It’s not.

Designwise these projects never turn out bad because I’m a great designer, but strategically they’re just not right and the client themselves realise this a year down the line when they close down or rebrand.

If you’re in the midst of rebranding or creating a new brand identity then take my advice and consider the following points to make your brand identity authentic, thus giving you a better chance of creating an actual small business brand.

1. Create a Brand Strategy First

Don’t dive straight into creating a logo or brand identity system without knowing what it’s supposed to represent. If you do you’ll fall into one of the three (if not all) points listed above and end up with a misdirected and shallow brand identity design that holds back your business idea. To solve create a brand strategy first.

A brand strategy is a creative exploration of your business, detailing how your brand will specifically market itself and to who. It’ll identify your USP’s and create specific messaging for your design communication. In addition, it becomes a regulatory document that can be seen as a springboard to start creating a brand identity design that has meaning and purpose and is based on evidence, not gut instinct or bias opinions.

The end result will be a handbook that details what your brand identity should is without imitation, desperation or miscommunication. The brand strategy is a unique document to your brand, leading to an authentic brand identity design for your business.

2. Don’t create just a logo design

I’m often asked how much I charge for a logo design. My response is that I don’t create logo designs; I create brand identity systems. If this sounds pompous and pretentious then forgive me as that’s not my intention. My intention is the opposite, to give you the client something worth investing in as a marketing tool, instead of what you think you should have.

If you really want it, I can design you a logo and charge whatever you’re willing to pay but a logo design alone is a pretty useless marketing tool for a startup or small businesses. It’s like writing a single word in a book full of pages. It means nothing. To have impact that word needs to be aligned with other words to create a sentence, a paragraph, chapters, a whole book and a complete story, and that’s why I advise you not to get just a logo designed for your brand; get a complete brand identity design instead.

A brand identity design is a system of design that joins and correlates a complete set of visual assets together to create a design language, a book, a complete story of communication for your business.

The logo is accompanied by a strict colour palette, specific messaging, unique patterns and shapes, and set typography. All of these elements together create a theme and a distinct design language thats unique to your business.

Don’t invest in just a logo design, create a complete identity design to ensure that your brand maximises its communication with customers at every given moment.

3. Make it modern

The brand strategy will detail your brands character, tone, mood and values so the question of how your brand should be visually percieved will already be answered. The question is “How will the brand identity design translate this answer into a visual form.?”

This could be done in a number of ways through creative exploration and there is no single right answer as the result will be unique to your business but that doesn’t mean that you can’t get it wrong.

To ensure you’re brand identity design is effective, utilise the following five points as overarching goals. Point one being, make it modern.

Everyone loves modern design and if your branding is modern it will it say that you care about your business, you’re dynamic and fresh, up to date and you’re going to be sticking around as a business. It’ll infuse courage and confidence to your customers as well making them more likely to approach you.

Think about it. Even you as a customer wouldn’t necessarily buy something that’s old or outdated. If you did then it means that you’re investing in something that’s out of times, possibly redundant and unintelligent because it’s not the latest thing representative of the now.

Consumers want the latest, newest things as it’s posed as the best, most intelligent asset to invest in, even if it’s a service and not a product that they’re buying.

I’m not saying that your brand identity has to be futuristic but it has to negate the past and represent the now through contemporary design. Even if your business revolves around antiques, a modern take on it appeals to everyone, rather than an out-dated look which appeals to no one.  Some of the oldest brands in the world use heritage and the idea of vintage style as a USP but still make the effort to look new. This is how they utilse a brand identity as a marketing tool.

What makes a modern brand identity?

Modern: of, relating to, or characteristic of the present or the immediate past

The term modern is easy to define verbally but not so easy to define visually or emotionally.

Some think that a “modern” space is defined through minimalism. Minimal colours, lines and shapes to the point of a sleek timeless style which is almost futuristic.

Modern and minimalistic definition
Modern and minimalistic definition

Some think that modern reflects ideas like modern art where bright vivid colours and ideas make up emotional responses.

Modern art branding
Modern art

And some think that a retro look can be modern, one filled with an abundance of shapes, style, attitude and layers of design. (The opposite of minimalism)

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Style and tone can make a brand identity modern but I’m afraid you’ll have to figure out what your style is as the result will relate specifically to your brand but overall the key to a modern brand identity design is in the execution.

A good designer, using modern tools, exercising research and implementing design principles is what will create a modern brand identity for your business.

A modern brand identity is as much about having it done professionally as it is about anything else.

4. Look Professional

A professional brand identity design could be considered as one that was well constructed technically, and where the professional practice was delivered to create design communication that displays and functions well. After all, if your logo design doesn’t look professional then your business won’t but it’s not all about style and design execution.

A professional brand identity design needs to look professional but also communicate you as a professional within your trade or service, and the idea of a professional image differs from business to business, sector to sector and from person to opinion.

The idea of a professional image for an international business consultancy may differ to that of a local florist. And the local florist’s image of professionalism will likely differ to that of the local doctors surgery.

So, how can you develop a professional brand identity design that works for your business?

To develop a professional brand identity design for any business regardless of size, stature or sector is to project an image of expertise but also deliver an image that confirms customers expectations.

Whether you’re a business consultancy or florist, make your brand identity design professional by delivering what your brand identity says about your business.

Create an idea, present an image, communicate with it and reinforce it with action.  The brand strategy will detail your audience, the competitive landscape and help you develop an idea of what your brand is, who it’s trying to reach and then in turn how it should look, appeal to customers, set up expectations for them and confirm those expectations.

In the end your brand identity needs to show that you’re not just an expert but an expert within a given field and you will deliver on that expertise in a way that’s reflected through your brand design.

A “professional” brand identity design is created when your branding makes you look like you know what you’re doing and that you represent a field of work.

5. Your brand identity must be a symbol of Quality

Quality is not a single layered term, it has levels to it.

There’s high quality and low quality, mid-range and high-range, cheap and expensive, cost-effective and luxury, and the list goes on.

What sort of quality is your brand?

Don’t get snobbish with your answer because theres space, profit and sales available for all types of quality in the marketplace.

Some people want to spend less and some want to spend more. Some want top quality and some just want anything that will work. Some multi-billion pound brands sell their products for a single pound each and some for a million pound each.

How high-quality your brand is, is not the point but defining your level of quality is. Despite the differences between what customers want, desire or are willing to pay for, they all share a common requirement of obtaining a minimum level of quality with their purchase.

If someone pays £100,000 for a car then they’re expecting to get excellence in one form or another. If someone pays £5000 for a car then they know they are buying something which may be deemed as lower quality but that doesn’t mean that they want a car that doesn’t work. For £5000 they still expect the car to run. It has to have a minimum level of acceptable quality for the customer.

A good brand identity design should exuberate a level of expected quality from the brand to define who should be interested in the brand.

In doing so your brand identity can position your brand in the marketplace and communicate to the right audience who are looking for a brand and level of quality that you can deliver on.

6. Make it Trustworthy

You wouldn’t buy something from someone you don’t trust would you?

Why? Because you don’t trust them. You don’t trust them enough to hand over your hard earned cash to because you don’t trust them to fulfil their end of the bargain.

Without a minimum level of trust of some sort, no sale is made.

A good way to start building trust from the outset is to build an image of trust with your brand identity design because that is likely to be the first experience a customer has with your brand.

Trust is ultimately built through experience, character and action so it’s your brand values along with the points above that should be used to build trust with your brand identity design.

7. Your brand design should be original

Originality can be a dangerous thing, especially with branding. It’s easy to try and be original and target the wrong customer or miss the point entirely, but originality is a core element to creating a great brand identity design.

Originality doesn’t get you lost in the marketplace, instead, it helps you to create your own market and space but quite often the attempt to be original comes from desperation and dishonesty and that’s when it falls flat on its face.

To create a true original brand and identity design you just need to do two things:

Research & be honest

Don’t try to be original. Do the research into your brand, competitors and customers to really develop an overarching brand and identity that is honest because honesty in it’s truest form is originality.

Conclusion:

The whole point of a brand design is to create relationships with existing and potential customers through design communication but it’s hard to define modern, professional, quality, trust and originality in design because they’re subjective and contextual terms. 

The answer to any and all good design is always good research.

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