What is a Brand Identity: Your Brand is Much More Than Your Logo

Think of a brand you love – what are you envisioning? Is it the logo and the colours they use? Now think about all the marketing you see from them; how do you know it’s their marketing? Do you look for the logo first or dive in instinctively knowing which brand is talking to you?

In 99/100 cases, you’ll know instinctively without needing to see their logo because their fonts, colours, layouts and voice will be the same whenever you come into contact with them. But what goes into a brand identity and, more importantly, why does it matter for your business?

What is a brand identity?

Let’s start by breaking it down; a brand encompasses the entirety of your business. It’s not just your logos and fonts but also the way you speak and how you do business, it includes the emotional response your ideal customer has toward you (do they feel excited? At ease? Important?).

Your brand identity is what many people mistake as just a logo – it’s how your brand shows up visually to your clients and potential clients. We’ll dive into all the different parts that make up your brand identity in just a moment, and all those components should reflect your overall brand, such as your values and the emotional response you want to evoke. 

What’s the difference between brand identity and a logo?

A logo should be a part of your brand identity; it needs to be a part of the overall picture. For example, everyone is familiar with Starbucks’ logo, but if you see their signature shade of green with white text and the image of a coffee cup, you’re going to think of them, even if there’s no logo or name written on the image.

Your brand identity is what will help people spot your Pinterest images in a sea of other pins, it will get people excited when they see a package or parcel from you, it will give every product or piece of marketing you create cohesion.

What components make up a brand identity?

Now you know the difference, let’s break down the different components of a successful brand identity.

  • Primary Logo – this is the piece everyone starts with when they think about creating their brand. It’s your brand’s equivalent of the Nike swoosh, the Starbucks mermaid, the Disney castle. It is something that can be instantly recognised as yours.

  • Secondary Logos & Sub Mark – most brands have 1-3 secondary logos, depending on their needs. These logos are variations on their primary logo that have elements changed or removed to better fit a different colour background or application. Think YouTube’s play button – you associate it easily with YouTube, but it’s not their primary logo.

  • Typography – Typography is a common area for people to overlook, but it is absolutely essential to your brand identity. Your brand should use the same fonts religiously. Generally, this will be 3-5 different fonts you use across your headings and body text. Fonts often don’t seem all that important – it’s the content that matters, right? – yes, but using the same fonts with the same colour palette is what will make all your materials quintessentially your brand. Your fonts don’t need to be unique to you, but it’s the combination of fonts and colours that make your brand identity yours.

  • Colour Palette – we all associate certain feelings with colours, and so it’s essential you pick the right palette for your brand. We all know when a brand identity feels off, you may have thought a company’s branding was off when driving behind their van. You saw their brand identity from a distance, and when you got close, you realised they were in a completely different industry to what you expected.

    The right colours will evoke the right emotions about your brand and help customers decide if you’re the right business to buy from. Bright pinks evoke energy and excitement, while pastel pink is soft, caring, and calming. Your colour palette will generally contain 3 primary colours (those you’ll use most, not red, blue and yellow) and 2-3 secondary colours.

  • Image Style – This element is of the utmost importance if you’re a physical product-based business but applies to all brands. If you take any photos for your brand, whether that be product photos, for your website, or for your social media, you should outline your image style.

    Your image style will define:
    • Will your images show people?
    • What colours will they use?
    • What depth of field do they typically use?
    • Do you use filters on your images?
    • Do you want your images to look like something that would show up in a personal feed or in a high-class magazine?

Your image style should also outline what kind of images you choose when you’re purchasing stock photos.

  • Graphic Elements & Illustrations – Many businesses now choose to include graphics and illustrations as a part of their branding, and these should have a cohesive style. Fortunately, you don’t need to work directly with an illustrator for these (though doing so will add even more uniqueness to your brand); many graphic artists upload collections of images to stock sites like Deposit Photos and Shutterstock. These images need to sit well with the other elements of your brand and ideally reflect most of the colours in your colour palette.

    If you’re working directly with a designer, most will or can include graphic elements and patterns unique to your brand identity, so ask if it isn’t a part of their package. This is definitely the best way to go; all too often, I see brands that have bought illustrations that—while beautiful—are misaligned with their branding and throw everything off.

These elements will go into a brand style guide, also known as a brand book or brand guide. This is a key document that you can hand to every member of your team, or anyone you outsource to that will instantly tell them your brand guidelines. At a glance, they will be able to see how to create on-brand content for you. It’s the document you need to communicate your design standards to everyone involved in the success of your business.

Does anything else inform brand identity?

Yes, two essential pieces of the puzzle must come before you put together your brand identity. These two pieces are brand strategy and creative direction.

Brand strategy encompasses your long-term vision for your brand and is focused on what impression you want to leave on your ideal clients and customers. This will help you establish where you want to place yourself within the marketplace and account for future growth. For example, if you know you want to expand to working with a global market in the future, it may be worth researching if any of the words or colours you want to use have negative connotations in any major markets for you. 

Your strategy must inform your identity – this is an essential step that many business owners skip, only to have to rebrand later because they didn’t strategise. (If you need help, check out my Brand Identity Experience or Brand Identity Lite which will help you gain clarity around your brand strategy.)

The second element is creative direction. Creative direction builds upon your brand strategy to develop potential directions you may want to take your brand identity. It’s the very first step of the visual work – the jumping-off point for everything else to come.  

When I work with clients on their creative direction (after we’ve discussed their brand strategy), I create visual mood boards, vibe words, and a list of ways we could execute their brand identity. I’ll usually come up with two different directions, and my client will choose which they feel matches their brand best. This direction will inform every other element of the brand identity, from colours to typography and beyond.

How do I know if I have built a brand identity correctly?

Building a brand identity without the help of an experienced professional takes work, but it is possible to build alone. There are a few “tests” you can do and questions you can answer to tell if you’ve built a brand identity correctly:

  • Look at your website, marketing materials, and product and cover up the logo. Do they still look like they all belong to the same brand?
  • Do all your website pages, blog posts, and social media posts contain the same fonts (where possible)?
  • Do you have an established colour palette you use religiously for all your business’s materials? 
  • Do your colours represent what your ideal customer is attracted to?
  • Do you have a logo (or range of logos) that you can apply in any circumstance?
  • Are you getting the right clients?

If you answered yes to all the questions above, then you’ve likely got a cohesive brand identity or are well on your way to having one. However, if you answered no, felt worried or confused, or are consistently getting clients who don’t have the same values as you, then it’s time to consider working with a brand identity professional.

I’m Here to Help

If you’re struggling to develop your brand identity or believe you’ve developed one that isn’t aligned with your goals and ideal clients, I’m here to help. I’m all about strategy-led branding that makes being you effortless. To find out more about me and the brand strategy packages and creative direction I offer, as well as my signature brand identity and website experience package, click here.

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