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When we think about the word “branding,” what usually comes to mind are the things that our customers can see — our logo, website, and our distinct colors and fonts. But these things are actually a more specific facet of branding known as brand identity…
Brand identity refers to the aspects of your brand that people perceive. It includes your visual brand — your logo, fonts, color palette, and the distinct way you design your marketing materials. But it also includes your tone of voice — that is, not just what you say, but how you say it. All of these things, when done with intention and consistency, work together to let people know who you are.
And knowing who you are is important to your customers because they’ve got lots of options. Beyond the features and benefits of whatever it is you sell (because your competitors have those things too), what they see informs how they feel about you and those good feelings are what lead to sales.
Brand Identity vs Brand Image
If the way you communicate (through words and visuals) is your brand identity, the result is your brand image — how people actually perceive you. In communications, we call that “encoding” and “decoding” the message.
What we want is for those two things to be perfectly aligned and that means being consistent and following through on your brand promises too.
Why Brand Identity is Important
Your brand identity has the power to elevate perceptions and send a signal to the right people that you’re the one for them.
Research shows that design plays a huge role in establishing credibility and as I like to say, “If they don’t trust you, they ain’t buyin’.”
I can think of multiple examples of marketers that dismiss design at their peril. “Design doesn’t matter,” they say.
But think about times when you’ve been evaluating whether or not to make a purchase but didn’t because what you saw looked spammy, unprofessional, untrustworthy.
Your brand identity can shortcut the process of building your trustworthy reputation and with consistency — becoming recognized, remembered, and considered too.
What are the components of your brand identity?
There are two key considerations: your brand identity design and brand philosophy. Let’s start there with the foundation:
Think about one word you want to “own” in the mind of your customer. For Volvo, that word is “safety” and for Disney Word it’s “magical.” This gets to the heart of the emotional reasons why your customers will choose you.
Think about the reasons why you’re in business. Having a purpose is what allows people to identify with you. In other words, your customers are given the opportunity to strengthen their own personal identities as it relates to your brand.
People who buy Tom’s Shoes or Harley Davidson are certain types of people and their association with these brands make them feel good about themselves.
Your Special Sauce – Value Proposition & Brand Positioning
These are the things that set you apart from your competition. What makes what you have to offer more special and valuable than your customers’ other options?
What is the experience you’ll create for your customers? You’ll make claims about this in your marketing copy and that’s the promise, but think too about how you’ll follow through.
If your customers’ experience is what you promised it would be, they’ll naturally tell your brand story for you in their reviews and testimonials.
Your brand personality is what gives your company human characteristics and that matters because ultimately, people prefer to buy things from people they like and relate to.
What are some adjectives that you want to “own” when people think of you? Your tone of voice and visuals should reflect those consistently.
Think about your favorite political commentator.
Now, think about one you agree with but every time they start to talk, you turn the channel or click away because you can’t stand the sound of their voice.
(If you’re not into politics — and I don’t blame you these days — think about your favorite YouTuber, blogger, or influencer who you love and then somebody in the same niche who grates on your nerves).
The substance of the message is something you align with, but the tone is off.
That’s how it is with your brand voice. It’s choosing certain words that let people know what they can expect from you.
The important thing to keep in mind is that developing a distinct brand voice is about being authentic, creative, and even courageous.
Nobody likes boring, safe, robotic corporate-speak. We don’t do business with encyclopedias, we do business with people we feel a certain kind of way about.
There are lots of people who turn me off with their tone of voice… too many swears, too condescending, too cutesy-patootsie.
But! I respect the choice to commit to a direction knowing it’s not going to be for everyone. (That’s exactly what you want.)
Brand Identity Design
Your brand identity design works as a system and provides rules for how to achieve a consistent vibe with your visuals.
Your logo is the symbol of your brand. Ideally, it should embody all of the things we’ve discussed so far so when people see it, that emotional connection (“I trust this person” or “I like this company!”) is registered instantly.
That said, your logo doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive to work… and I say that as someone who designs fancy and expensive logos.
The most important thing is that your logo is brand-appropriate and functional, and you can achieve that as simply as choosing the right font to typeset your company name.
Perhaps even more important than your logo, your color palette sends strong signals. That’s because people respond so emotionally to color.
Again, it should be brand-appropriate (does it reflect your brand personality?) and functional (can you create visual contrast and harmonious designs with your palette?)
The biggest mistake here is choosing too many colors that don’t give you enough to work with to create versatile designs.
I’ve written an extensive guide on choosing and using brand fonts, but in short, you want to think about fonts as having personality. Which ones are appropriate for yours?
And I have to say this because I see this mistake every day: don’t just use fonts because they look cool. It must also help people read comfortably and easily and if they’re not, people aren’t going to squint and struggle no matter how pretty they are.
Creating Brand Identity Guidelines
Putting all of your brand identity decisions and rules into a brand guide is one of the most powerful exercises you can do to create a clear, consistent, and strong brand image.
Branding guidelines include the foundational brand messaging statements (if you need some help getting clear about that, check out The Brand Story Blueprint) as well as set rules for your visual brand: logo usage, color palette, and fonts and this helps you create consistency.
I always say that the magic of branding is in the consistency because people are busy… they don’t have time to figure you out if you’re showing up this way one day and some other way the next.
A consistent brand identity shortens the time it takes for them to become aware of and trust you too.
Creating a brand guide is something that can take weeks and months and tens of thousands of dollars to produce or it can be something you sit down with and create in an afternoon using simple tools like Google Slides or Canva.
The benefit of the exercise is the same and that’s to create consistency! You learn more about creating a brand guide here and you might also check out my Brand Guide Template for Canva and the Brand with Confidence Toolkit that includes 6 guides that will help you make decisions about your brand identity.
Your brand identity is similar to the identities we express as humans. Choices about what to wear, how we speak and the values we stand for tell other people who we are and draw the right people to us.
It’s no different with your brand. It’s about being intentional, consistent, and embracing the qualities that make you unique and communicating that through your tone and visuals.
I hope that was helpful and you feel ready to strengthen your brand identity! If you have any questions hit me up in comments.
Taughnee Stone is an award-winning designer, brand strategist, and location-independent business owner for over 15 years. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, she now lives in Croatia with her husband, energetic Samoyed, and three bossy cats.