The concept of brand identity is something that most business owners are aware of, but few ever master. Why is that? Because there’s a difference between having a brand identity and having a cohesive one.
When most business owners think about what it means to have a brand identity, they envision something along the lines of a logo on a business card or website. While that’s certainly a part of the equation, that’s barely scratching the surface of what it means to develop a cohesive brand identity.
To be clear, the term ‘brand identity’ can encompass quite a bit. Typically, it’s a reference to the visual language that your business uses to communicate with its audience. That’s why today, we’ll be covering all the aspects of developing a cohesive visual brand identity.
If you’re new to the world of brand identity, you’re probably wondering what exactly makes a brand identity ‘cohesive’ or not. There are a variety of factors at play here, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll use three benchmarks to define ‘cohesive’. Essentially, a cohesive brand identity is:
Using these three benchmarks as our foundation, we’ll dive into the world of brand building and breakdown what it means to develop a powerful and impactful brand identity.
1. Audit Everything
Before you even start looking for website designers, you’re going to be spending quite a bit of time researching and planning. Whether you’ve been in the industry for years of a few weeks, it’s time to a good look at your audience.
For whatever reason, there’s an idea floating around that your brand identity is all about clarifying what your business wants. While that’s a nice sentiment, the reality of branding is that your identity is going to be defined largely by your audience. At the end of the day, it’s not about what you’d like to present, it’s about understanding what your audience wants and creating a brand that they can subscribe to. If you haven’t already, create buyer personas for your potential customers. If you’re serious about understanding what your customers are interested in, you’ll need to know things like:
- Their problems
- Their preferences
- Their concerns
- Average income
Some people might cry that this behavior isn’t authentic. Nothing could be further from the truth! Quality branding is as authentic as you can get, in the sense that it’s tailored to exactly what customers want. More importantly, branding that isn’t congruent won’t get much traction with the average customer. The branding needs to be accurate, otherwise customers will lose faith in your business.
Once you understand your primary audience (customers), it’s time to consider secondary audiences that you’d like to reach. If there’s another brand you’d like to reach, remember that your brand identity is the first impression you give to the rest of the world.
From there, it’s time to audit your own business/site. If you’re building your brand identity from scratch, this section won’t be particularly relevant to you. If however, you have an identity (it’s just not the identity you’d like), there are a few things you’ll need to consider.
Right off the bat, honestly determine how your brand is currently being perceived. At this point, there’s no room for romanticizing things. Be as objective as you possibly can be. If you have a team behind you, make sure that they are consulted with. The more you understand the current state of your brand identity, the easier it will be to make meaningful changes.
Finally, you’ll have to take a look at the competition. Why? Because one of the key elements of building an impressive brand identity is to find ways to stand out in the crowd. It’s the only reliable way to make the brand visible and worth paying attention to.
Analyzing how your leading competitors communicate with their audience when it comes to things like trends, their choice of visual elements and even brand personalities. If you haven’t studied the competition and industry-specific trends, it’s easy for your business to blend into the background.
2. Consistent Design
Once you’ve handled the research component of brand building, it’s time to take on the real challenge: determining the right type of visual language to use when communicating with your audience. While there a variety of issues we could choose to focus on, today we’ll stick to 5 of the most crucial (and troublesome) elements of visual branding.
If you’re not familiar with the concept of developing a cohesive brand identity, you’re probably wondering what makes your choice in color palette so important. Make no mistake: choosing the right color scheme is one of the building blocks of having a high-quality visual brand identity.
Ideally, these should be colors that complement the colors used in your logo. One of the principles of good design is that the color scheme you choose should work well on both websites and printed media.
At this point in the creative process, it’s important to be honest about your limitations. If you have a background in design, then feel free to select the color scheme on your own. If you know next to nothing about design and color palettes, it would be in your best interest to consult with a professional designer. Not only can you get a few ideas about which colors to choose, they’ll be able to advise you against making poor choices, like using certain unappealing colors for your fonts.
If professional designers are out of your price range, there are a variety of inspiring (and more importantly, free) color palette blueprints you can find online with little effort, like this one from Canva:
Above all else, remember to choose a color palette that consistently embraces the principles of good design. Keep in mind that when choosing your color palette, you should always have your competition in mind. The reason we did all that research was to ensure that we stood out within the industry. If everyone has decided to choose red-and-black color pairings, shake things up by differentiating yourself from the competition with your design choices.
Some business owners might occasionally feel the urge to play with font styles. They might rationalize it by saying that using the same font for every aspect of their site is so corporate and boring that it goes against the principles of engaging design.
While it’s true that using the same font for your entire site is a great way to handicap your visual brand, consistency and novelty need to be balanced properly in the world of brand identity. Having a different font for each project or page might break your industry norms, but it also gives off an undeniable amateur vibe that can make connecting with your audience much harder.
On the other hand, choosing a single font for every single aspect of your site is undeniably boring. Instead of choosing the lesser of two evils, use your understanding of good design practices to get the best of both worlds. If you’re struggling with deciding how many fonts you should be using, a good rule of thumb is having two complementary fonts that are used across all your materials. As long as the fonts are easy to read and work in a variety of different contexts, you should be fine.
Custom Design Elements
There are a variety of elements that exist on your website that you can have custom built. Once you understand the importance of having a cohesive brand identity, you’ll recognize why this can be such a massive asset to your website.
There’s nothing that screams amateur quite like the generic. While you can certainly find menu and button options on your own, there’s a difference between having a functional website and an impressive one.
Typically, you’ll need to consult with a graphic designer about this. Not only are the most likely to create visually engaging graphics, they’ll understand how to style these design elements in such a way that it complements your color palette, logo and the overall brand identity you’re trying to convey.
Thinking about theme selection is something that should start during the research stage. For the record, there’s nothing wrong with experimentation and ensuring that your website challenges the trends of your industry. The problems start to arise when businesses think that having a logo, color palette and fonts is the same as knowing how to present them.
Determining those only provides your website with some great building blocks. If you actually want to lay down a strong foundation, you’ll need to determine the best layout for your website. Admittedly, with so many theme options available for business websites, it can be difficult to decide which one is best for you and your customers.
We saved the best for last, mostly because people typically focus on the wrong aspects of choosing a logo. Throughout this post, we’ve kept the three principles of cohesive brand building (consistency, clarity and engagement) in mind. Nowhere are these principles more important than when it comes to designing your logo.
Arguably the first impression that customers will have of your business, your logo is your official visual brand identity calling card. Which makes it all the more surprising that businesses don’t spend more time ensuring that every aspect of their logo is flawless. Little details like preparing several different size logos matters because it ensures that your logo doesn’t look like a mess when it’s presented in a different way (horizontal vs. vertical, for example).
The key, with this and all other aspects of your visual branding efforts, is consistently using the same visual language throughout your website. These may seem unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but make no mistake: attention to detail is what separates the amateur from the professional.