By Frances Collins
21/02/2020
  1. Home
  2. Insights
  3. Article

How to build your brand in 10 steps

Building a brand that stands out from its competitors is a tricky task. In a world where we have plenty of choice - from what smoothie we drink to which car we drive - more and more decisions are being made on appearance. As a business owner, building a brand in this environment requires more time and energy than it used to. However, brand is climbing the list of priorities for small business owners, and questions like the below are becoming essential:

“Will my brand resonate with my customers / clients?”

“How should my brand make people feel?”

“How do I work out what my brand should look like?

While the brand process might feel overwhelming, focus on two things; knowing who your audience is, and working out how to speak to them. It’s worth spending time on the answers to these questions and the foundations of the brand. You will develop a brand that is much more likely to be successful and work for you.

Your company’s brand could be one of its main assets. With a bit of thinking around how you are viewed, and how you want to be viewed, you could strengthen your brand within a matter of hours. This branding strategy guide will take you through ten key areas. Together with this knowledge, it will provide you with access to resources to clarify your thinking.

Follow these 10 steps to build your brand:

  1. What makes your business unique?
  2. What is your brand’s personality?
  3. Who do you want to speak to?
  4. Who are your competitors?
  5. Rebrand or not to rebrand?
  6. Working out how to speak to your audience
  7. What is your tone of voice?
  8. Creating the look and feel
  9. Designing your brand
  10. Plan how your brand is going to grow

This guide aims to be straight forward. With some easy wins to strengthen your brand. Feel free to skip ahead using the contents above, honing in on any areas of weakness for your business. But first, let’s look at the basics to ensure we are on the same page.

What is branding?

The term branding covers everything you do as a company to create an image of your business / event / product in the eyes of those that engage with it. The term branding isn’t just visual. It could cover the tone of voice, the written word, or the spoken word.

Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon

What is brand strategy?

Brand strategy is working out what you want your brand to stand for, what makes it unique? Then, establishing who you want to speak to, who is your ideal customer? With an answer to these two questions you can create a strategy to communicate the ‘what’ and ‘why’ to the ‘who’. Therefore, an effective brand strategy will give you a set of measurables to keep the brand flexible. It will allow your company to grow, even within a changing marketplace.

Build a brand using our toolkit

Build you brand using our brand toolkit

Over the years, we’ve developed a toolkit that helps our clients make decisions around their brand that are cost effective, and speak directly to their customers. Below I’ve set out a snapshot into this process. Soon, we will be making our resources available for companies to use this process internally in the hope that more people will benefit from the power of thinking about brand. If you would like to receive an email once these resources have been launched, please pop your address in the following box.

Brand strategy: step by step

Build a brand by establishing a purpose

1. What makes your business unique?

This question will be easier to answer if you are the founder of the company, or if you’ve had a period of significant change. This question is best wrestled with away from your computer. It will be the hardest to engage with, and the step that will take up most of your time to digest and ponder over. Understanding what your niche is, is the first step to help you sell your product or service.

However, your niche may not be a product feature or a completely revolutionary business approach. You may need to dig a bit deeper to understand the DNA of the company or charity.

Another way to frame the question is ‘why do you do what you do?’ or ‘what is your purpose for existing?’

What is the definition of purpose?

“the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists”.

Decisions are difficult when you don’t know your purpose. It is easy to have decision fatigue, both struggling to know how to prioritise and also never fully knowing whether all your choices are building something. Being confident about your purpose means you don’t spread yourself too thin.

Establishing a purpose for your business also ensures you are being proactive rather than reactive. From your purpose you can develop a mission, a vision, and values. You can split the purpose down into goals and strategy. Does your to-do list look sporadic and random? Or does it look like it has direction and you are working towards a clear goal?

Using purpose to steer a company direction

Tasks. We tackle tasks daily, hourly. They keep the engine of business going. Completing tasks are crucial for businesses to survive, thrive and grow. However, if we use a series of sporadic tasks to drive the business forward, it will feel reactive and weak.

Strategy. Strategy gives our tasks direction. It acts as the titles for our to-do lists. Where do we place our resources; our time and money? However, if we relied on business / brand strategy alone we would find it hard to know where to change course during difficult times. Strategy has a time limit, purpose does not.

Purpose. Establishing a purpose makes strategy and tasks much easier. It allows them a natural direction, and a check to see if the business is on track. If the tasks don’t sit under the strategy, should you be doing them? If the strategy doesn’t serve the purpose, is it misguided?

Where do I start thinking about my company purpose?

If you’ve been in business for a while, you can use the years of experience to solidify your thinking. One of the easiest ways to identify purpose is to observe which actions energise the business.

  • Ask your employees about which parts of their jobs energise them?
  • Who are you in business for?
  • If you could cause one minor change in the world, through your business – what would it be?
  • What are you willing to sacrifice?
  • If you had to work for a year without getting paid, what would it be on?
  • What does success look like?
  • If your company closed down tomorrow, what would you miss the most?

It is worth noting, a company’s purpose is different to an individuals. It’s rare for purpose to completely align – as a founder, you will have a different purpose than your business. But, there does need to be a degree of overlap, especially with the main stakeholders.

Mull over these questions, and more that come to you.

There is no shortcut for developing a clear purpose but these questions will provide a useful starting point to start thrashing the direction out within the team. A conversation about purpose will provide a spotlight on the differing of options, and will realign your company direction. If you don’t have a team around you, ask your friends or family to be a sounding board. Vocalising your thoughts will ensure clarity comes quicker!

How do I write a company purpose?

You’ve hopefully established the general direction of your purpose, now comes the moment where you need to write it down – in one sentence!

Let’s have a look at some existing purpose statements.

  • Sony: To be a company that inspires and fulfils your curiosity.
  • Coca-Cola: To refresh the world…To inspire moments of optimism and happiness…To create value and make a difference.
  • American Red Cross: To prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilising the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.
  • KickStarter: To help bring creative projects to life.
  • Philips: Improving people’s lives through meaningful innovation.
  • Whole Foods Market: Our deepest purpose as an organisation is helping support the health, well-being, and healing of both people — customers, Team Members, and business organisations in general — and the planet.
  • The United Nations: The maintenance of international peace and security.
  • Ferrari: To make unique sports cars that represent the finest in Italian design and craftsmanship, both on the track and on the road.
  • Nike: Bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.*
    *If you have a body, you are an athlete.
  • Genentech: To develop drugs to address significant unmet medical needs.

Thanks to Alessio Bresciani for complying this list.

What can we learn to build a brand?

My immediate observation around these purpose statements is the difference between writing your purpose from a product or service perspective. Ferrari are making cars and Genentech are developing drugs while Nike are bringing inspiration and Coca-Cola are refreshing the world! One is more inward looking, the other is focused on the consumer. I would argue that the former are more about vision rather than purpose, which in turn will reflect in their brand strategy.

Ferrari wouldn’t be able to sell anything but cars (and perhaps keyrings) and Genentech will never sell anything but drugs. Both are good purposes, with plenty of room to grow as businesses. However there is less room to grow as a brand. As a designer, I would find the task of visualising Nike’s purpose without using sports clothing fairly easy. I would struggle to visualise Genentech’s without using drugs.

Who are you speaking to?

Think about who you want to be speaking to. Do you want to inspire, excite, galvanise, help, support, love, dazzle, bolster or liberate them? Explore verbs that communicate clearly.

Then, establish what it is you want them to be accomplishing once they’ve interacted with your product or service. Do you want them to be changed, or supported in what they are already achieving? Find something that’s unique to you.

Finally, test your purpose on your employees who aren’t working on the main operations of your company. So, rather than asking the car designers and mechanics if the purpose resonates. Ask the accountants and the receptionists. This will help you distinguish between purpose and vision.

Write your purpose down.

You’ve cemented the hardest part! Let’s move onto looking at the overarching brand strategy and how your business can use brand to outwork the purpose.

Build a brand by choosing value words

2. What is your brand’s personality?

What do you want your brand to be known for?

Depending on your business, there could be plenty of written, verbal and visual communication in the public sphere that represents your brand. Your social media channels; both what you post, and how others talk about you. Traditional marketing; leaflets, brochures, exhibition displays. Your staff; how they present themselves, the words they choose to use. This extends to your digital presence; apps, websites, email newsletters.

If you gathered all of the items that represent your brand together – would they look like they belong together? Could you remove the logo, and they all be instantly recognisable as yours?

McDonald's instagram brand values for your brand strategy
Fortnum and Mason instagram brand values for your brand strategy

Choose three words

We believe that selecting a number of words to represent your business is crucial to establishing a brand. We ask our clients to select three adjectives. It works in two ways. Firstly, it acts as a useful way to measure the success of any design work, language decisions and customer service choices. Do the decisions you’ve made to establish your brand align with the words you’ve selected?

Secondly, if your brand is the personality of the business, choosing three words in which to sum up that personality keeps the brand strong.

Overtime, brands should develop and grow. A strong brand strategy assumes the brand will want to change over time. You can imagine the type of people most five year olds will grow up to become. Personality grows with a brand, and stops rigid decisions being applied from the start.

However, most businesses are at risk of weakening their brands by changing their visual language (what it looks like) and the tone of voice (what it sounds like) too often. Often businesses make short term decisions to push a new product, or sales strategy, forgetting the effect of the overall brand. Choosing three words can be a safety net to stop this from happening.

Let’s look at some examples.

McDonald's visual brand strategy

McDonald’s. Three words that could be used to describe McDonald’s are: Bold, Fast, Cheap. If you saw a McDonald’s on the street corner, and had never encountered one before, you could reasonably expect to get food, quickly. You could also expect it not to break the bank.

Ensure you select values that are authentic to the product or service being sold. If you are selling fast food, choosing a value word such as ‘gourmet’ is unlikely to be trusted. Your brand values need to filter through every area of your business and branding strategy.

Fortnum and Mason visual brand strategy

Fortnum & Mason’s. Traditional, Sophisticated, Refined. These brand values require decisions to be made around the marketing material of the brand. Printing on cheap paper and posting snapshots on social media aren’t appropriate choices for Fortnum and Mason.

Selecting your brand values is an important step in driving the conversation around your company. Branding is about communication – and choosing brand values that work for you means you can develop your brand over time. They are a useful measurable for establishing whether you are communicating clearly with your target market. Asking your customers which words resonate when they view your latest designs will be more successful than asking if they like them or not!

Our free tool – Brand Words

We have created a tool – Brand Words – to make this selection easier. The tool helps you select your three words, but it also indicates which words you don’t want to be associated with your brand. This can be the start of an interesting conversation when looking at your brand values as a team. Which words do you disagree on?

Your company purpose keeps you on track with the why – ensuring that throughout the lifetime of the company, you are making decisions around where you want to be. Selecting brand values keeps track of the who. If your brand is a person, what would they be like? Gentle, kind and intelligent? Fiery, combative and powerful? Knowing your brand values – and using them – ensures you don’t confuse your audience by changing your tone of voice half way through a conversation.

Build a brand by establishing a persona

3. Who do you want to speak to?

Branding is all about communication. Knowing the ‘what’ of what you want to communicate is incredibly important, but you also need to know who you want to be talking to. Who is your ideal customer? Who do you want to be working with, or buying your products?

Personas are a useful tool to start the conversation around who you are designing for. Personas influence brand strategy. They should be used as a short cut to make decisions around design easier. They can help design teams make sure they are always thinking about the end user, rather than their own personal likes and dislikes.

What are personas?

For example, if I mentioned I’ve just designed an app for my Gran, my 5 year old niece, my cousin who is a Professor and my friend who was born, raised and lives in India. What would it look like? Can you imagine the colour palette? The typography choices, the decisions around language? My guess is you have either a competing set of visual cues in your minds eye, or it is looking incredibly dull and bland!

Now, let me tell you I’ve designed an app for Laura. She lives in North London, buys her clothes in Joules, with a bit of Boden thrown in. Has just had her third child, and gave up work to raise her children, but is looking to return to her job in marketing when her youngest starts school. Her husband has a job in the city, but is away a lot. Laura has help with childcare, and likes to keep fit at the local gym, but she also goes swimming in the pools at Hampstead with some of her mum friends.

She’s just found another cafe down the road which is quickly becoming her new favourite. She likes to keep up to date with current affairs, and is keen to learn more about how to save the planet. I think you could start to imagine some of the visual language decisions a designer could make.

That is a persona.

Why should you create a persona?

  • Creating a persona is an easy way to always involve the user in any design decision – especially for the people in your company who don’t interact with the customers / clients on a day to day basis.
  • Researching and becoming an expert on your persona is a lot less time consuming than in depth research into entire parts of your audience.
  • You can make design decisions based on an understanding of the persona as a whole, rather than reacting to individual pieces of user feedback.
  • While it is always preferable to understand your entire user base, creating a persona will save time and money.
  • They become a very useful measurable – alongside Brand Words. You have the ability to perform very quick checks that you are keeping brand consistency.

How to create personas?

There are a number of ways in which you can create a persona. This is largely dependent on the importance of the persona to your design decisions, and therefore the amount of time and money you want to dedicate. Research is at the heart of writing a persona document.

Speak to the people in your organisation who work most with your current customers or clients. Ask them to notice what they notice! Creating personas is largely about stereotypes, observing your users and finding the similarities between them.

Ask the following questions (for a UK audience):

  • Which newspaper do they read?
  • Which TV channel do they watch most regularly?
  • Where do they do their food shopping?
  • Which class are they?
  • Who do they vote for?
  • Describe their housing situation?
  • Who are their favourite comedians?
  • Favourite social media site?
  • Which mobile phone do they own?
  • What are their hobbies?
  • Favourite celebrity?
  • Favourite sport? Playing or watching?
  • Do they speak any other languages?
  • Most likely pet?
  • Where are they going on holiday next?
  • Are they happy with their life choices?
  • Which car do they drive?
  • What is their job title?
  • What book (if any) are they reading at the moment?
  • Favourite movie of all time?
  • What do they tend to do on the weekend?
  • What was their childhood like?
  • Why use personas as part of your brand strategy?

A persona isn’t the same as your audience

Personas don’t represent users. They represent users’ goals. If you can’t reduce the number of goals of your user community down to very few, you don’t understand your users, your product, your business, or interaction design.

Alan Cooper - inventor of the persona

Personas are imperfect; they are shortcuts and are a useful tool to keep user centred decisions at the heart of the design process. You will feel like you are sometimes joining dots up that aren’t there, making sweeping statements and potentially devaluing the opinions of some of your current clients / customers. In reality, you will be. But personas aren’t your audience, and you shouldn’t confuse the two. Personas help you cement design decisions and build your brand strategy – use them well.

4. Who are your competitors?

If branding is about working out your niche, your unique personality, you need to understand the other personalities in the room.

The first question when thinking about your competition is whether you would like to fit in, or stand out. Both are valid directions, although I would argue that standing out might be the more successful approach.

Look at your brand values – are there any other brands that are occupying the same space that you are? Do your research. Find companies who you admire, that are driving their businesses forward in ways that you respect.

Mapping out your competition from a brand perspective is different than from a business perspective – you don’t need to be focusing on their product or service, but instead on how the brands communicate their values and purpose.

Where to start with competitor research?

This will depend heavily on the type of business you run, and how you will want to research your competitors. The two main approaches will be offline and online.

Offline

If your business requires a physical premises, perhaps a shop, or a cafe, then you are in the ideal position to do some competition research. Go and visit them! Notice the details, the customer service, the general feel of the location. Perhaps take someone you trust along for the visit, so you can gather information together. What do their customers look like?

Putting yourself in their customer’s shoes will allow you to notice areas that may be blind spots in your own business. Being aware of what your competitors do well, and where they fail, will allow you to increase the chance of a customer choosing you over them.

Online

If your business is online, there are plenty of tools to start researching them. A data driven approach to competitor research can unearth lots of interesting and often surprising results. Neil Patel has written a blog post that highlight a number of tools (often free, or with trial periods) that dig into your competitors websites and profile their customers for you.

However, while digging into the data can lead to interesting insights from a business perspective, brand is as much about experience as anything else. If you can, work out what you feel when interacting with your competitors. Do you feel listened to? Understood? Is the tone aggressive? Or subtle? If they have an e-commerce website, order something and notice how good the experience of being a customer was, or wasn’t!

It’s totally okay to study your competition tactically, but so many organisations study their competition strategically. Because their competition makes a sharp turn to the left, they make a sharp turn to the left. Which means they have no sense of purpose or cause.

Simon Sinek

Using your competitor research to build your brand

Once you’ve gathered your gut thoughts around your competitors, it is useful to flesh out your reactions. Try answering the following questions:

  • Do you understand their main message?
  • How would you describe the quality of their product or service?
  • Does their visual identity feel consistent? Would you be able to recognise them once the logo had been removed.
  • What are other people saying about them? Read reviews and social mentions.

Having answered the above questions for a number of your competitors, search for the gaps that you could fill. As a business, how will you compete?

For example, as a brand agency, we at a dozen eggs didn’t want to appear corporate. We wanted to develop a brand that made it clear that we were easy to work with – that we had expertise and opinions, but weren’t going to be the divas in the project! Founded by two women, the tone of a dozen eggs immediately stood out from other branding agencies within Leicestershire. We could afford to be softer and hopefully, more approachable.

Get to know your competitors

While it is wise to know your competitors, to work out their weaknesses and strengths, it would be remiss not to mention that competitors can become very good collaborators. Surrounding yourself with other people that are facing the same challenges and sharing successes will drive your industry forward.

5. Rebrand or not to rebrand?

In an ideal world, rebranding wouldn’t be a thing! A business would establish an identity that felt authentic from the start, and over time the brand would grow and mature as the business developed. However, there are a number of instances where a rebrand may be required.

The old apple logo

Build a brand: Apple

New apple store demonstrating how to build a brand

“My brand feels out of date”

A great example of this need for a rebrand was Apple. With hindsight, it will be obvious to almost everyone that a rebrand was needed for Apple. As a product brand, the logo needs to feel appropriate when applied. A convoluted logomark on a sleek product would have felt at odds. The entire brand needed to be driven by the devices they sell. In this instance, developing the design work around the logo wouldn’t have been sufficient. An entire rebrand was required to set Apple up as a challenger to Microsoft.

In the early- to mid-1990s, Apple was suffering from low sales, low consumer interest, and tons of competition driving customers away from them. The brand didn’t stand for much, and certainly didn’t stand out, until Steve Jobs took over the company in 1997 and started flipping consumer expectations on their heads. With an image of minimalism and modernity, a host of innovative new products, and a series of marketing and advertising campaigns that focused on ideas and experience more than products or purchases, Apple was able to attract a new, diversified customer base, and cement itself as a thought leader in the tech industry. It’s still riding the momentum of that dramatic shift today.

Jayson DeMers - Forbes

Build a brand for National Geographic

Build a brand: National Geographic by Gretel

Build a brand for National Geographic Kids

National Geographic Kids by Plenty

“My audience has changed”

Has your business pivoted in terms of audience? Or grown to include an entirely new demographic of people? Depending on how extreme this pivot is will change your rebranding needs.

For example, when the National Geographic launched their children’s magazine, a rebrand (or subbrand) was required to speak to their new audience. While this example is perhaps more appropriate when talking about sub branding – the same principles apply. It is tricky to continue the same visual identity for an entirely different audience. Therefore a rebrand is required.

However, if your audience has only shifted slightly or grown to incorporate more demographics, it might be more appropriate to focus on extending your brand rather than changing the logo. Often, rebrands are expensive, but the majority of this cost includes the reprinting or respraying of the logo onto all printed materials; buildings, vehicles, business stationery, etc. Therefore, this becomes part of the decision making as to whether a redesign of the logo is required, or whether you could build up a brand around the existing logo.

“My business goals have changed”

Similar to the change in audience, this question is again on a spectrum. How much has the business pivoted? You have a number of options depending on budget:

  1. Keep your brand
  2. Keep your logo, change your design work and wider brand
  3. A complete rebrand

Conveying your new business message can be done well through design. The question is how aligned your current brand is to your new message. You can build your brand around a logo that doesn’t convey all that you need it to, as long as the logo doesn’t fight against the new message.

Often, for digital businesses (or where budget isn’t a restraint) a complete rebrand is the most obvious solution. You will need to be careful around not alienating your current customers, and launching the brand in a way that conveys the story and intent. However, a new brand can set you up with the tools required to strengthen your business.

Build a brand by speaking to your audience

6. Working out how to speak to your audience

You’ve established who your audience is, and created a persona for them. How can you best use these insights to speak to your chosen audience and further the brand strategy?

Firstly, map out their day. The first draft of this activity can include a fair amount of guesswork. Imagine your persona on a normal day (weekend or weekday) and establish what they are doing hour by hour.

For example, take our persona, Laura. Perhaps she is breastfeeding at 2am, struggling to get her little darling back to sleep and starting to pull her hair out. By 3am she is dozing again, but hasn’t quite made it back to bed. The night light is on, but she doesn’t have access to much entertainment – apart from her phone.

At 7am her alarm wakes her with a startle. There is a mad rush to get everyone out the house, wearing the correct clothes, and ensuring the pack lunches are done.

Despite the frantic start, the school run is fairly relaxing. It starts with good conversations about today’s activities, noticing a change in the seasons and talking about the weekend with the children. At the school gates, she gathers around her mum friends, and they decide to go for a morning coffee.

Continuing this exploration of the day (and night) will ensure you have good foundations for establishing your brand touchpoints.

What are brand touchpoints?

Brand touchpoints are all the ways the brand communicates to their audience. They include, but are not limited to; television adverts, radio, print advertising, billboards, social media ads, website banners, social media feeds, reviews, blogs and websites, recommendations from family and friends, events and guerrilla marketing.

As a brand, you will want to select the brand touchpoints that are both applicable to you and your audience.

You can use the timeline to establish which points throughout the day are the most likely moments for successful communication. For example, 3am, our Yummy Mummy Laura, is on her phone, most likely Instagram. If your brand’s tone of voice is relaxed, optimistic or encouraging then this could be the perfect time slot to strike up a conversation. Complex messages or a brash tone wouldn’t work in the early morning daze. At 8am during the frantic school run, very little will work. If for example, a branded leaflet was pushed through the front door it will either be ignored or, worse still, a subject of irritation. But come around to 2pm, in a local coffee shop your brand could stimulate debate or conversation. There might be a positive, active message that could be communicated within a caffeine fuelled social environment!

Talk to your audience

The exercise of creating your persona, and establishing how to speak to them is a great starting point. However you will have made assumptions during the process. One of the simplest ways to confirm or reject your conclusions is to talk to your audience.

Do you have existing clients or friends that fit the persona? Ask them questions about their life, probe into their decision-making and notice which brands they currently align themselves to.

Build a brand by establishing tone of voice

7. What is your tone of voice?

While establishing your brands direction, it is wise to consider your verbal and written communication alongside the visual. Often, when the two are worked out in isolation the messages compete with each other.

Boxing punch mediation service

Words without images

Recently, while working alongside Professor Elizabeth Stokoe, we came across a mediation company who has made that very mistake. Liz had gathered research to suggest that positive messages that avoided neutrality were the most successful when selling mediation as a service. while care had been taken to follow the lessons learnt from the data, the same thinking hadn’t continued onto the visuals. Leaflets had been plastered with aggressive couples shouting, violent boxing punches and dark caves that suggested no return!

Images without words

As a branding company, we encounter this often, and sometimes fall into this trap ourselves. Words can unfortunately take a backseat to images, or become over-worked. While the visuals do an all important job of communicating the vibe of the brand quickly, words are often more successful in communicating the message.

Words and images are equally important.

Where to start with your tone of voice?

So, how do you begin working out what your brand’s verbal language should be? I think it’s worth starting with the following:

  • Your brand words.
  • A language problem to solve. Perhaps it’s the introduction for your new website, or a marketing campaign. Knowing the context will ensure your messaging remains clear. What do you need your words to do?
  • Your persona. Or an understanding of who your audience is.

Your brand values + persona

Taking a look at a few examples, tone of voice and verbal identity can have a huge impact on brand. Your task is to communicate to your audience in a way that they will understand. It needs not to be bland, but also you don’t need to shock, disrupt, or be punchy if those aren’t your brand values.

Your audience wants to understand what you can offer them, why they should purchase something from you, and why you are different to your competitors. Establishing a tone of voice that communicates clearly, but with character can help you create a brand that your audience actually want in their lives.

New York Cooking gif what to cook today

Build a brand: New York Times Cooking by Gretel

Tone of voice for New York Times Cooking
Build a brand through copy for Back Market

Build a brand: Back Market by Koto

Build a brand through copy for Back Market
Cards against humanity brand pack

Build a brand: Cards Against Humanity

Website for Cards against Humanity showing the FAQ page

Flexible verbal identity

Developing your tone of voice isn’t about finding a couple of phrases that you repeat often. It is more complex than that; it is about creating a personality. Your customers want to speak to you differently depending on the situation.

Your users will want to be spoken to differently during the sales process than during a returns process. When they are rushed for time, or annoyed, more often than not, they will want clarity. Mailchimp is a great example of this. Within their voice and tone guidelines they have set out the different approaches to take with the same user, depending on their mood.

Negative error messages from Mailchimp
Positive error messages from Mailchimp

8. Creating the look and feel

The transition between the ‘why’, ‘what’, ‘who’ of a branding process and working out what your business should actually look like is a difficult process. It is at this stage that you may need additional support in the shape of a brand designer. The bridge between the ‘brand strategy’ part of the project and the ‘brand identity’ stage can be vast.

Working out the ‘why’ of your brand is crucial, and understanding who your audience is and how to speak to them is key to a successful brand. We find that working through all these questions is quite satisfying. Often, when completed as part of a team it drives enthusiasm and everyone feels like they are on the same page.

However, finding a visual identity that communicates brand values and works for a persona is tricky. We have found that businesses enjoy the satisfaction of knowing their brand values, and the increased sense of direction once their purpose has been established. But once the visuals appear, team members can suddenly forget the greater purpose and return to their personal likes and dislikes of design

Our different cultural, environmental and personal backgrounds mean we interpret images differently to each other. A group of friends sitting around a table may have different connotations to the word ‘trust’, or they may conjure up similar images. One person may be thinking of a cold, robust bank vault, while another might think of a warm embrace from their mum.

Using stereotypes to build brand

While taking clients through a brand strategy meeting, we noticed people were good at talking about their audience, about abstract problems, and thinking 10 years into the future (I think it’s a company founder thing!) However, put an image in front of them – and it went straight back to preference. Do I like that colour? Is that font too fun? We find it hard to remove ourselves from gut reactions when it comes to visuals – and understandably, we haven’t been taught not too!

Looking at the visuals through a lens of ‘audience’ is a tricky thing to do, but a step that needs to be learnt if the brand is to gain strength. Again, we need to deal in stereotypes. While you will never be able to guarantee your audience will relate to a certain image, you will be able to narrow down a visual language.

We all have imaginations. A visual language is a group of visuals that when put together communicate a concept, a brand’s values or a dream. The visual language of a children’s book, for example might be large scale, bright and bold illustrations that have soft corners, simple patterns and include obvious emotions.

We recommend adding visual exercises alongside the written ones, both to encourage those sitting around the table to air their conflicting views, but also to start to put together a visual language fitting for the audience in question.

Use moodboards

We have found mood boards to be a very useful tool in building a brand — a collection of other logos and designs that sit in the same market space, or have the same look and feel. These mood boards can spur questions and discussion around the visual feel of what we are wanting to create.

As part of our Brand Toolkit launch we aim to build a tool that will make the creation of moodboards easier. If you would like to stay up to date with its launch, then fill your email into the box below and we will contact you with more information.

If you are putting mood boards together for a group, remember to add in some wild cards! It stirs some good conversations and tends to ensure everyone gets more vocal, quicker!!

Build a brand by establishing visuals

9. Designing your brand

It is normally at this point (step number 9!) that companies look to hire a designer. I am obviously an advocate for including a designer much earlier on in the process, as I believe it makes for stronger brands. However, how do you choose who you are going to work with, or how do you equip yourself with the expertise needed to create a brand if you are a designer yourself.

How should I choose a designer?

Designers come in all shapes and sizes, but a brand designer will have a different skillset than a digital or print designer. What should you be looking out for?

What should you be looking out for?

  • A versatile portfolio. This is one of the main things to look out for when you are choosing a designer to create your brand. Most designers have a style, which is great. But, you need to be selecting a studio that can follow the same visual language that you require for your brand. For example, if a brand studio’s house style is corporate and professional you may not wish to hire them for a new food concept. The best branding agencies have variety within their portfolios.
  • Happy customers. You need to trust the people you work with when developing a brand. When done well, your designer will be asking you some difficult questions. You need to find an agency or freelancer that can listen to you, and that you trust to be honest. Reading testimonials from their previous clients, or contacting them directly can be a useful idea.
  • Expertise within the area you are interested in. If you are a digital business, and the designer you are looking into has no expertise within the digital arena, they may not be the best option for you. While taking a risk on a designer can lead to good results, you don’t want to be their guinea pig for setting a brochure up for print or arranging for a sign to be delivered.

The initial design process for building a brand

Visually, the first step in any brand project we undertake is to refer back to the moodboards that have been created. We ask clients to circle what they reckon will work – and cross out what they don’t. Already, a strong visual direction will be emerging. The next task is to notice the details within the overarching pattern.

There are always multiple answers to the same brief.

The same brand values and persona can lead to completely different visual directions. For example, a dozen eggs had the pleasure of building a brand and illustration style for a food company, LOTOS.

Build a brand through illustration style

Build a brand: LOTOS initial designs by a dozen eggs

Build a brand through pattern

Both design directions would have worked for the audience, and both design directions were applicable for the brand words. Visually, the styles were quite different, but strategically similar.

10. Plan how your brand is going to grow

If you can design flexibility into your brand from the start, then I would advise it. While 10 year business plans are a great start, you can never predict what is going to happen. External events will change opinions and new technologies will change priorities.

Gone are the days of limited brand guidelines, and instead brand agencies are providing ‘how to’ guides that are flexible and short term. Knowing that the brand will grow alongside the company, rather than remaining rigid. Digital companies in particular are tweaking and changing their user experience or visual languages in small increments. Take Facebook as an example, new rollouts are a common occurrence but over time the interface will have changed significantly.

What are the rules?

In order to keep a brand consistent it is useful to understand which rules are there to stay, and which rules are there to break! For example, Airbnb keep their illustration style flexible, but their colour palette is more limited.

Airbnb build a brand through colour and illustration

Build a brand: Airbnb by Design Studio

Build a long term relationship with your designer

Design is becoming increasingly important, with decisions made on gut instincts, in a different manner than 10 years ago. Working alongside designers who can communicate your brand values will be a valuable asset to your company.

If you are interested in understanding more about the power of branding, we would love to hear from you. Get in touch or sign up to our insights newsletter for more information on all things brand!

 


Images from Apple, Pentagram, Gretel, Instagram, Branding.news and Koto.

How to create a brand from scratch?

Creating a brand from scratch using brand strategy; audience, working out your why, your value words and establishing a brand design and identity.

Frances Collins - 09/03/2020
What is a responsive logo?

The need for responsive logos has grown with the demands of a digital environment. Companies need their logo to communicate the same message whether on a billboard, or a bottle cap.

Frances Collins - 14/03/2018
Branding to span sectors

Looking at Easyjet and Virgin, companies that span into a number of different sectors, to identify what strategies worked.

Frances Collins - 21/10/2014
Do I need a logo or a brand?

What is a brand? What is a logo? One of the key questions within our industry, and one that is fundamental to establishing a brand that works.

Michelle Barnett - 23/01/2017