Creating a cohesive brand identity is deceptively complex. On the surface, it may appear to be as simple as hiring someone to create an eye-catching logo and engaging content that can then be distributed to consumers. In reality, the process of creating effective branding begins with deep introspection about the core values the brand represents and an examination of the ideal client they are trying to reach. From there, it is possible to identify the colors, fonts, stylistic elements, and types of imagery that will best represent the brand and resonate with the customer.
One of the most important things a company can do when developing their branding procedures is to identify their core values. For businesses with only one or two founders, these values will closely reflect their personal core values. Businesses that have decided to rebrand typically benefit from bringing their upper-level management into the discussion.
The core values of Build-A-Bear are “reach, learn, di-bear-sity, colla-bear-ate, give, and cele-bear-ate”. These values are clearly demonstrated in every store, advertisement, social media interaction, and new design the company creates.The workshops are built to facilitate learning, collaboration, and celebration and the bears reflect diversity. The workers give customers any assistance they need and the company encourages others to reach for the stars.
The core values of Whole Foods Market are more complex but equally compelling. They include:
- We Satisfy, Delight, and Nourish our Customers
- We Serve and Support our Local and Global Communities
- We Promote the Health of Our Stakeholders Through Healthy Eating Education
Anyone walking into a Whole Foods Store would immediately be able to see evidence of these core values. They offer extraordinary customer service as well as gorgeous store environments with a wealth of educational opportunities for guests.
They support local communities with donations to food banks and hold community-giving days several times a year where 5 percent the net sales from that store are donated to a local organization. Globally, they have created several organizations to give assistance in targeted ways.
The company actively promotes healthy lifestyles through education efforts within their stores, informative advertisements and displays, offering healthy recipes and articles on their website and social media channels.
The important thing to remember when choosing the core values of a company is, these values will not appeal to everyone. They are not meant to be relatable to all potential customers. They are meant to resonate with those who build the company and their ideal customers.
The next step in creating cohesive branding is to know exactly who your brand wishes to attract. Once the core values have been firmly established, it is far easier to discern who the target market should be. With that information, it is possible to attract the right customers by creating more effectively targeted copy, designs, and content.
The ideal customer is not a set of demographic facts or statistics. The more detailed a brand is able to get about exactly who they want to reach, the greater their success. Anthropologie is an excellent case study. They do not make an effort to reach every female in the market; they know exactly the type of women who will resonate with their branding and they cultivate a shopping experience specifically designed to speak to her.
To do this effectively, it is important to ask very specific questions about the potential client and to carefully think about the answers. You can take it one step further and create a fully fleshed out character to represent your target market and then speak directly to him or her in every single piece of content created going forward.
Why does this person resonate with the core values the company has developed? Where do they live and vacation? How old are they? Are they married, single, or divorced? What is their household income, educational background, and ethnicity? How do they spend their time? What books, movies, magazines, and television shows are they drawn to? What experiences helped to make them who they are?
Yes, this does take a significant amount of effort to fully develop. However, the benefits of doing so are immeasurable. Imagine creating a brand that felt so on point that customers felt it was created specifically for them. This can create rabid fans who will loyally proclaim the virtues of doing business with a particular brand to the rest of their network, which are likely to share many of the same traits and to feel the same connection.
It will also repel those customers who are not a natural fit for the products or services the company provides. This may feel initially intimidating to those who are afraid of losing a sales opportunity. But if they aren’t the type of person to resonate with what you are offering, it is a waste of time and resources to create any type of content that will appeal to them. Growth can only be achieved when a company can effectively and efficiently reach out to those who are willing to engage with them on a consistent basis.
Traditional branding advice focuses on the design elements of the brand. These include creating a color palette that will be utilized in all visual elements. The types of colors one chooses should be based on the emotions one wants to evoke in the predetermined ideal customer. For example, a company that had core values centered around environmentalism and an outdoor lifestyle would likely stay away from neon colors. Similarly, one with an ideal customer who was a single male in his 40s living in the city with an income in excess of $100k a year probably wouldn’t feel a connection with branding in a pastel palette.
Two ways to narrow down color options are to examine the competition and to consider the psychological associations linked to specific colors. Once a niche has been determined, it is easy to find competitors catering to the same ideal client. You can use their existing color schemes as both inspiration and an indicator of what to avoid to prevent confusion. Newer companies may want to evoke a similar feeling as a lateral brand and could choose different tones within the same color family. If there are no existing brands that offer adequate inspiration, consider the core values again and look for colors that resonate on a psychological level with those values. Blue creates a feeling of trust and stability, purple indicates innovation or wisdom, green tends to represent growth or health.
In order to create branding that uses the same colors consistently it is best to limit the selection to three; a dominant color, secondary color, and accent color. They should then be used according to the 60-30-10 rule. Approximately 60 percent of branding efforts should feature the dominant color, 30 percent the secondary color, and 10 percent the accent color.
Ultimately, the key to creating a remarkable brand is intentionality in every step of the process. This is true for the creation process involved in selecting the core values as the foundation of the company and the colors which will represent those values going forward. It is not enough to simply choose colors that are trendy, as trends are mercurial. Nor is it sufficient to make the selection simply based on personal preference. It is important to research options and ensure they clearly resonate with the desired image of the brand.
Fonts are the newest candy in the design confectionery store. This is somewhat surprising considering the history of digital fonts. For decades it was painstaking work to create a new font and the ability to put it in front of people who may be interested in applying it was difficult. As with everything else in the digital age, the process has become much more streamlined. There are now tutorials to teach people to create their own fonts. This is where fonts turn into candy.
It is tempting to spend days browsing through the catalogs of fonts available. Each one looks more stunning, artistic, creative, and compelling than the last. Eventually, one may even decide the only solution is to hire someone to take the best features of several fonts and create something of an amalgamation that will be as unique to the brand one is creating as the golden arches of McDonald’s or the flourish used in Coke’s marketing.
While that may be an excellent idea when creating a logo, it is less than ideal for creating branded material. The problem is, not all fonts are easily read by all systems. For the past several decades, it was necessary to choose a web safe font if one wanted to ensure everyone would be able to read any content which was posted online.
Google Fonts has compiled a list of more than 800 fonts that are visible in all of the most popular browsers and across operating systems. They continue to update the list and add to it as more fonts are created. Using a combination of these fonts in all printed and digital marketing helps to solidify the brand’s image over time.
Even though there are more viable options than ever before, it is best to choose no more than two. A primary font for the majority of content with a secondary accent or impact font for calls to action or greater emphasis.
Stylistic elements are the icing atop the branding cake. These are the little details which will be largely unnoticed on a conscious level by those that see them. The use of a specific shape throughout the website and other branded materials can be embedded intentionally to create a cohesive design style that does not rely heavily on obvious branding techniques.
The logo is an obvious stylistic element. When creating the logo keep in mind the core values, ideal customer, and brand fonts. Successful logos can be as simple as the name of the company or a design that effectively represents it. Whatever is chosen, it is important to ensure the impact of the design remains the same when it is scaled up for larger signs or scaled down for business cards. An intricate logo may be more difficult to scale either way even if the imagery is particularly powerful in the original size.
Choosing the Perfect Images
All brands benefit from social media engagement and one of the most powerful tools to facilitate growth in this area are images that have been carefully selected and edited to speak to your ideal customer. The images one chooses to post need to utilize all of the branding elements the company has selected.
They should contain similar colors, editing, and photography styles. The images should speak to the desires of the ideal client and should reflect the brand’s core values. They fonts used in the editing process should be those used throughout other promotional materials. There is room for creative flare, but only within the confines of the branding rules which have been carefully chosen.
An easy way to ensure the colors are similar is to apply the same filter or set of filters to any images which are chosen. Over time, this helps make the images recognizable as part of the brand identity. There are many tools for creating stellar social media images, once you find one you like add it to your style guide and use it consistently.
Cultivation of a Brand Identity
Once these elements have been fully fleshed out, it is possible to create a cohesive brand identity that can be systematically leveraged in all areas. To do so most effectively, create templates in as many areas as possible to ensure consistency is maintained even as new team members are added. A comprehensive brand guide should also be created, the components of which should be implemented in all internal and external content creation.