To keep it simple, your brand is your first impression. Most times people interact with a brand before they see the face behind the brand. Providing a consistent, accurate representation of your business will help you establish credibility and connect with your target audience. You want to be able to instill the right message without having to say a single word. The hard part is — where do you begin? How do you know you’re accomplishing what you want to?
Let’s start by breaking down what a brand is. It’s more than just a logo or a color palette. A brand is a well-crafted collection of tools that together define your business and your goals. The tools within your brand should work together seamlessly as well as hold their own when used individually.
What I mean by this is within your brand toolkit you define your visual aesthetic, your tone of voice, your messaging and your values. As a whole, these are the heart of your brand, but each piece on its own should be representative of your core values and what your overall brand message is without the supplemental help of other elements.
Brand Tip: Create a standards guide for your brand. Include examples of audience persona’s you’ve developed, your core values, your look (fonts, colors, patterns, logos) and how to manage it, and even sample imagery you’d use in advertising.
How do you determine what your brand values are? Reflect back to the moment you decided to start your business, and think — what makes my idea so unique, what do I bring to the table that resonates with my target audience? The hard part here is making your audience see the honesty within your brand. Now more than ever people are connecting with brands because of the values they hold, not just the products and services they are offering.
I’m not just speaking digitally either; print marketing is still alive, and it isn’t going anywhere! These are two very different realms when it comes to your brand — and both require a thorough evaluation and set of standards to retain consistency.
Oftentimes, print branding is the only branding that gets any real attention or emphasis when agencies "build brands". It is slowly evolving into a scenario where brands are a bit more dynamic and flexible, but if you're in the hunt for a logo and you only get presented with one option for how it can be presented, you should probably look elsewhere.
Brand Tip: Create multiple versions of your logo, a digital friendly version and a print friendly version. Colors are viewed very differently in these two environments and its important to make sure you have colors that work in both spaces. This isn’t the only variant your logo could have though — you could increase the size of part of your logo for legibility in small spaces, or create a vertical and horizontal version of your logo to fit restricted areas within a design.
I want to focus on digital branding for a minute. Digital environments are rapidly changing, and require a deeper level of thought to obtaining and retaining engagement. Here more than ever is where people are CHOOSING to interact with your brand, and they can just as fast choose to not to. It is important to think about how your brand can mold itself into other guidelines (like ADA compliance for websites), but still adhere to your overall brand values and messaging.
The last, and most important piece to building a brand is being prepared for change. Brands EVOLVE folks. Just because 7 years ago, when your business launched you created a smashing logo, with the most out of this world messaging campaign, doesn’t mean it’s still working.
Think about your brand as a person — as you grow older you learn more, you understand more, and you develop new ways of thinking. Your brand will do the same thing. You will learn more about your audiences behavior, understand them better and how to connect with them, and even branch out into different areas you may not have predicted when you started. You don’t fit into the same clothes you did 10 years ago, so don’t force your brand to look the same either.
There are many reasons that people rush into creating their brand when they first start out, but be cautious about what you’re putting out there. It will be more valuable to invest the time upfront and create a comprehensive brand strategy with standards. I’d argue that it is just as important as your business plan — and should be incorporated into the development of that plan, because first impressions go a long way, and you don’t want that first impression to be a 5 minute idea that isn’t resonating with your audience.