I’m going to name a few design elements. Tell me what companies come to mind.
- A red and white color scheme.
- A smiley face.
- Two black circles overlapping a larger black circle.
- Product names beginning with the letter “i.”
I’m willing to bet that you can figure out at least two well-known brands from those elements alone.
It’s no coincidence that the biggest, most influential companies often have the most iconic brands. That’s the reason why branding is universally considered one of the most important parts of running a business, and why people who can create iconic brands are often the biggest influencers in the business world.
Your brand is comprised of a story and an image, so before we get into the “image” part, we really recommend this post we’ve previously done on how to write the story. Your brand image is directly tied to your brand story, in fact, you could say it’s a visual complement to it, and it’s very important that you have one worked out if you’re going to work on the other.
There are several basic elements to a brand image:
Your job is to create all these elements in a manner that will work together. And make sure you have them all established before debuting any individual one. If you try to start too soon, you’ll end up having to improvise something on the fly later, which could easily end up being the weak link in your brand strategy.
But first, before you create any of these, you need to…
Decide What You Are
Draw up a brand strategy that includes your values, your vision statement, what you’re hoping to bring to the table for your customers, and what you want people to think of when they hear your name. Write down a set of keywords that you’d use to define the image you’re looking for.
One process you can use for this step is called a SWOT Analysis. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, and is intended to help you identify the four cornerstones of your business. “Strengths” are the values you bring to the table and why anyone should care about you. “Weaknesses” are why you might not be worth it, or a prospective customer might want to choose someone else. Opportunities are things that you might have a chance to do in the near future, or immediate goals you’re working on. And threats, even though you might not like to think about them, are the things that could possibly damage your business, or the biggest obstacles you’re now encountering. Once you have a clear understanding of these, you’ll be much closer to ready for the next step.
Define Your Goals
Like any e-commerce endeavor, if you don’t set a goal at the beginning, you won’t have any way to measure your success.
If you’ve written down what you want people to think of when they hear your brand name, you’ve already begun. Next, what’s your specific goal for this branding (or rebranding)? Is this your first time branding your business, and you’re aiming to create the basis of all your future efforts? Do you already have one, but you want to see if a new image increases conversions?
Next, identify who you’re writing for. Once again, knowing who you’re writing for is a crucial part of the branding process. We mentioned this in the brand story article as well – different demographics respond to different styles and sets of values, and since your brand image is just an extension of your values and your style…Yeah. Same thing here. So double-check that analytics data before you get started with this.
For inspiration, don’t be afraid to look to the competition, as well as anyone else who’s developed a brand image you admire. See what fonts they use, what composition they use for their layouts, the logo types they favor, and perhaps most importantly, what they’ve done that could be improved on.
Design Toward a Purpose
Limit your color palette, use only a select few fonts, and make sure they’re all visually related somehow.
There are two basic types of font you need to worry about: head and body. Your head font will lead your ads and sales pages, and as such, it should hopefully be somewhat distinctive and attention-grabbing. The body font, however, should stay in the background and avoid drawing attention to itself. The main consideration for one, besides how well it matches your image, is legibility at small sizes. A good guide to picking one can be found at Creative Market.
Iconography should usually be as simple as possible to stay memorable, but don’t treat that as a hard rule.
It often helps to develop a style guide or standards manual—a brochure from which agencies or employees can make decisions about how to write in accordance with the brand. This will help to ensure that anyone you work with knows how to keep things consistent.
And consistency across all your campaigns is one of the most fundamental elements of a brand image. If your website looks like it was done in a different decade than your business cards, something’s wrong.
Adjust Your Business Accordingly
Just like your story, how you conduct your business is a fundamental part of your image as well, since they both deal with what your customers will mentally associate with you. And no matter how careful of a brand image you build, one “Ocean Marketing” incident can ruin it all.
In fact, putting too much effort into your corporate standards manual and not enough into ensuring that your customer service and business practices are up to par will just give you a false sense of accomplishment.
Once you understand your brand’s strength and what you’re going for, you can plan your promotions and activities so that they serve to further your brand image. You can even plan your orders (or designs, if you make things) to ensure that what you’re selling helps to reinforce that message, and pick people to work with who are well-suited to your goals.
For example, Disney is one of the best examples of a brand that’s carefully engineered everything they do towards their image of magic and childlike wonder. This is especially prevalent in their theme parks, which are masterpieces of brand-based engineering. We recommend you take a look at Drew McClellan’s “Marketing Lessons from Walt” for more examples.
We have to stress this—if you can afford to hire an ad agency, design firm, or independent graphic designer, you really should do so. They’ll have technical skills it would take you years to master, and they have a thorough knowledge about which fonts and graphic elements bring certain images or associations to mind.
And don’t be afraid to change your image later, if you feel that’s what called for. Every brand goes through major changes over the course of its life, often for very good reasons, as anyone who remembers Frito Bandito can attest to.
Any examples of perfect branding that you particularly want to highlight? hat are your favorite types of branding, and how do you pull them off? Let us know in the comments.