How to build a brand identity for a small business

What is a brand identity?

Think of it as your brand in a visual form and something which should be visible wherever your logo is displayed. From your business cards to your uniform and your logo to the colours that make up that logo, they’re all elements which will utilise a brand identity system of design to compose an overarching brand identity.

It’s also known as a corporate identity but as a brand identity design studio we create dozens of brands for businesses of all sizes, so I don’t like the term corporate identity as it suggests that only corporate companies should have one.  That’s not true. The strategy behind any form of branding is marketing, and any business regardless of its size needs to market itself to stay in business.

As a small business, you may not have a giant sign on your office building and you may not even have a fully fledged office but you do have assets of some sort.  It might be a vehicle, a pen, a website or the shirt on your back. Any and all of these things can be used to build a brand identity and promote your business.

The basic premise of a brand identity design is to:

  1. Communicate a message
  2. Communicate it consistently
  3. Communicate it uniquely
  4. Communicate it repeatedly
  5. Use it to create a relationship with your customers
  6. Resonate with your customers

A brand identity is there to build a visual relationship with your potential customers.  They may not know your business but after seeing your logo design and other assets regularly, they’ll get familiar with it. Each element of it will communicate something to them, even if it’s at a glance. Soon enough they can identify it and once they do that, they’ll remember it.  By remembering you through your brand identity design means that they’ve built a visual relationship with your business and when they need someone like you, they’ll think of you.

How to build a brand identity for your small business?

1. A logo design

A good logo design is as much about technical details as it is emotional. To create a good technical logo design you’ll want to create a vectorized logo design.  A vector logo design uses vector software to produce your logo so it can be re-sized and re-produced perfectly at any size. Not only will it leave a professional finish but it makes your logo accessible and usable in any situation.

You’ll also want to consider the sizing on your logo design. More often than not, this is where an amateurish logo design will fail. To create one that’s sized and spaced proportionately and pleasingly to the eye, you’ll want a logo design that’s created with a grid or the Fibonacci scale in mind. To find out more read How to create the perfect logo design.

In addition, you’ll want your logo in a variation of layouts to use in different spaces. eg. A portrait layout, a landscape layout, a typemark layout, an iconic layout.

Visually, the logo design will be the beacon for your business but also act as a springboard and foundation for the rest of your brand identity design, allowing all other materials to be built upon it.

brand identity design for small businesses
Brand Identity Design by Conceptstore for an Award Winning London based Mortgage brokers.

To create a brand identity you need to fulfil the following brand elements

2. Your Brand Colours

When I create a brand identity design I don’t just pick out pretty colours willy nilly. Colour is a science and it has rules.

Colour is produced by a combination of Hue (pure colour) and saturation (the amount of white light infused into that colour). The hue might be red but if we add a little white to it it might get a bit orangey. Add more white light and it becomes very light pink. The variances of hues and white light combinations reveals an infinite amount of colours that the human eye can see.

How we interpret those colours is also tied into colour science. It’s not a case of “red means energy or excitement” and “black means, evil or classic”. Those are subjective opinions based on specific combinations of colour and other elements such as line, shape, type or form. We’re talking just about colour here and it’s the colour wheel, formulas and calculations that reveal what colours are naturally appealing to the human eye.

Picking Colours for branding using a colour wheel
Colour Wheel symbolising colour space

Rules such as Analogous, Monochromatic, Triad, Complementary, Compound and Shades are formulas used to find sets of colours which naturally go well together and are naturally pleasing to the eye, also known as colour harmonies. In addition, you can create a custom rule to create bespoke colour harmonies.

our rules for branding
Top: A colour harmony using red as a primary hue with an Anlogous rule.
Bottom: A colour harmony using red as a primary hues with a Complimentary rule

When creating a brand identity design you’ll want to pay attention to these ideas about colour so that you can create a colour harmony for your business that’s original, psychologically pleasing but most importantly functional.

The colours you chose need to work together to compliment each other and create contrast with each other so your identity works in different colour spaces and remains legible at all time.

Colour plays a huge part in brand identity design so pick at least one colour but if possible pick five different colours and pick them correctly.

2. Picking fonts for your brand identity design

I won’t go into detail about the different types of fonts, you can read this guide to picking fonts your business.

Once you’ve picked a selection of 2-3 fonts for your brand identity design you need to also know how to use them as apart of your text content delivery by making a hierarchy of typography.

In it’s simplest form picking fonts and creating a structure of text delivery is a way of planning how documents should look with regards to titles, sub-titles and paragraphs.

It will detail what font and format will be used in which instance and the end result will :

  1. Identify a document as a document belonging to your business
  2. Create contrast and legibility for your documents
  3. Guide users through your documents
Content hierarchy for brand identity design
Text content delivery structure

And when I say documents I mean anything where you present text. From your website and social media posts to your vehicle livery and business cards.

Picking out a set combination of fonts, structuring their usage and systematically using that rule will leave you with the makings of a great brand identity system.

3. Brand Imagery

Your logo can be considered as brand imagery but at some point, you’ll realise that you need to display more than a logo to make documents stand out visually. Good typography can do the trick but if you want to diversify your brand identity and make it stronger then you need to develop additional brand imagery.

Brand imagery can be seen as visual content in addition to your logo design that can be used communicate with your customers and identify your business with.

Additional brand imagery can come in the form of textures, patterns, icons, illustrations or photos, and sometimes it might just be a style to define how you develop any design communication.

Textures & Patterns used for branding
Textures & Patterns used for branding

Additional brand imagery may not seem important at first glance but when it comes to producing documents it’ll play a key part in differentiating your documents, delivering messages and driving your brand identity design.

4. Tone, message & language

The core purpose of a brand identity design is to deliver a message through a visual display that resonates with your customers.

To figure out your message you might want to look at discovering your brand strategy.

Once you’ve defined your brand strategy and values, you’ll need to use tone to refine the delivery of the message.

For example.

  • is this your message?

Your values, tone and message is a way to personify your brand and identity making it appealing to your target audience using human characteristics. Read this great quick read about tone of voice that sums up the ideology.

With a tone of voice comes language, a way to redefine how your brand specifically speaks with various uses of words.

Example of brand language
Example of brand language

Overall, tone, message and language should generate direction, personality and define your audience clearly for the creation of your brand identity design.

Applying the brand identity design

Once you have a brand identity system in place, apply it?

Whatever size business you are, think about your assets. What can you place your logo design on and why should you want to place your logo design on it.

Typically it might be your stationery, digital documents, email signature, website and business cards but your business may have special assets such as a van or shop sign in which case make sure the identity design is applied to them in particular.

You can alter the theme slightly according to a specific purpose but you should always be visually identified as the company you are, hence the term, “identity”.

Using a consistent visual theme across your business assets make it easy for potential customers to recognize, and essentially easier to market.

small business brand identity kit

Following Big Businesses:

You may not be a corporation but it’s good to see what they do and how you can take their actions into consideration. Some corporates tend to keep their logo and brand consistent but change the corporate identity elements according to the current marketing campaign they’re running. Some keep the company logo in the background whilst their product logos are propelled forward. These are strategic decisions to maximize the potential of their marketing message without losing focus of the brand.

O2 Branding
O2. Same logo and bubble identity, New pet theme for marketing

Corporate manuals are used as a guide to how their identity should be used and these guides will cover everything, even the way their office buildings look inside and out.

All in all, this creates a strong and consistent identity affecting the business internally and externally. In return, the result builds, which we become familiar with and can trust unconsciously, and that’s the end goal to building a brand identity design for your small business.

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