Your brand is not just a logo and color palette. (Yes, I will preach this until the day I die.) It’s the visual and emotional representation of your company. It’s the impression you make and how you communicate without saying a word. Your brand identity can influence things like profit and consumer loyalty just as much as (and sometimes more than) your actual product or service, so it needs to be strong, unified and clearly defined.
Many large consumer brands put together large brand standards documents clearly defining every detail and rule regarding their brand. However, far too many medium and small businesses have no brand rules or brand standards at all. You’ll see them use different shades of their brand colors, different fonts on everything, and even use logos on inappropriate backgrounds, or logos that are stretched or skewed. I personally believe no business is too small to take their brand identity seriously. Your brand is your most valuable asset, define it and protect it.
So what are the essential elements of a brand identity and how to achieve brand consistency?
Logos and Logotypes
While your logo isn’t your brand, it is a major component of brand identity. Your logo needs to reach a specific audience and should be an accurate representation of your brand’s personality. Shy away from using too many colors and definitely don’t use gradients they’re hard to reproduce. Your logo needs to look good in one-color and black and white versions. If you’d like, you can have logotypes or secondary logos and wordmarks, but keep them cohesive. Simple is better. You should have all of your brand assets easily accessible in various file types (.ai, .png, .jpeg, etc.)
Typography and Font Choice
Are the fonts you’re using defined and consistent? Do you use one font for your website but another for any print work you do? Does your font choice reflect the message you wish to communicate? For example, does your font scream “festive” when you really should be giving off a more professional vibe? Analyze your font choice and make sure that it is consistent across all mediums, and appropriate for your business. It’s recommended that you select fonts that can be used both on and offline to keep everything consistent.
Using too many colors will only confuse consumers. A good rule of thumb is to stick to 1 to 3 main colors and 2 to 3 secondary colors. Take note of what different colors communicate, you don’t want to use a shade of blue where you really should be using red. In addition, you can designate certain colors for use as call-to-actions (for example, orange could always and only be used for buttons) and use other certain colors to indicate different product divisions or sectors of your company. Just as important as selecting brand color is defining the specific color compositions in CMYK, RGB, hexadecimal code and Pantone. Because colors on the web are created with an RGB color space, there are certain shades that simply can’t be reproduced in a CMYK printing process. Therefore, that it is an important thing to consider when selecting colors, and it’s important for established brands to know what those colors are in the different color spaces. Your colors should look the same online as they do in print.
Design Assets, Icons, Photos & Style
The graphic style of all of your assets should be the same. If you create graphics for social media, they should match the feel of your logo and fonts. UI elements on your website, such as buttons and menus, should also be cohesive with the rest of your identity. You want everything to “match” and send a unified message to your consumers, so it’s important for all graphic elements to feel like they reside in the same 3D space. For example, you don’t want some icons to be three-dimensional while other icons are flat. In addition, this could include things like product packaging, letterhead, and email signatures. Anything that has a graphic element to it should be reviewed. Also keep in mind photographs. An “on-brand” photo can be hard to define, but you should have a general idea of how you want any photo assets to look. Are they all black and white? Do they show faces? Are they static, or are they dynamic?
Voice and Tone
Your brand also has a voice, and that voice should be the same across all platforms. Whether it’s a press release, social media post, email, or physical mailing, your communication should all sound like you. This may require training employees on your voice, but it’s necessary for a cohesive identity.
You don’t always need a dedicated, full-time brand manager, but someone at your company should function as a brand guardian — the gatekeeper for all of your brand assets. This person will be in charge of keeping your branding consistent and will keep track of all of your brand assets.
To do this successfully, everyone at your company should be aware of the brand standards, understand the importance of following them, and have easy access to your brand standards and brand assets. Most of the time brand standards are violated because someone didn’t have the logo file or font they needed and it was quicker to just do something on their own than track down the proper rules and assets. To solve this, create a brand identity guide in both a PDF and online version so that it is easily accessible by all employees and so that it can be easily shared with vendors.
Your brand is what sets you apart from other companies. It’s not just your logo or the colors you use, it’s how all of your assets work together to communicate your brand’s personality. A cohesive brand identity is the cornerstone of your marketing, and can greatly impact your success as a business.