It’s a common thing to approach a graphic designer and ask for a logo. It happens all the time. People are starting up businesses or launching a product, perhaps for the first time, and they want something to identify it by. So they ask for a logo, because that’s what everyone has, isn’t it? Most of us can probably summon up the logo for Coca Cola or Nike or McDonalds without much mental effort.
But often it’s not really the logo that sticks in our minds, but the brand. This is something bigger.
What is a brand?
A brand is essentially the name and reputation of a company. It tells people who you are and what your personality is. Talking about companies having personality may sound strange, but in real life scenarios it starts to make a lot of sense. Let’s say you are an eatery; what kind of place are you? Are you a fancy and elegant restaurant, a cheap and cheerful cafe, or a cosy teahouse? Do you specialise in Mexican food, or kid-friendly menus, or authentic craft beer? All of these are different varieties of the same basic model, but their brand identity will tell the public exactly which variety of it they are.
Knowing what space in the market you occupy and branding yourself accordingly helps your customers to find you and pick you out of the crowd. A brand that is used with purpose and consistency portrays a business with a strong sense of self, which in turn gives clients confidence that they know what you can offer them.
For this reason a company’s focus and brand identity need to match; one shouldn’t change without the other. The fancy restaurant can’t suddenly decide to branch out into cheap ready meals simply because there’s a gap in the market for them – it would be discordant with the brand (the personality) they’ve been portraying all this time and their clients would be confused about what they were going to get. If the restaurant owners wanted to get into ready meals they would be wise to have a separate brand for this area of the business, to differentiate it from their more upmarket food.
So where do logos fit into this?
A brand may include a logo, but also has other many other elements that sit alongside it and interact with it. Which makes sense when you think about it, because sometimes you can’t just put your logo on everything you own without looking ridiculous, and at other times the logo on it’s own just isn’t enough. If you had a line of products, and you removed your logo from all of them, would you still be able to tell they came from the same place?
A very simple example might be a promotional vehicle. Just slapping a big vinyl decal of your logo on the passenger door of your Volvo isn’t exactly awful, but you could do so much better. When the car is speeding along the motorway at 70mph, who’s going to be able to read that thing anyway?
Instead, let’s say that part of your brand was two signature colours – yellow on a blue background. Rather than just having the logo on a standard car, that car could be painted in your signature colours. Perhaps you even pick a vehicle with a reputation that embodies the style of your business – a cool little smart car for a youthful startup, or a classier model for a more established and traditional firm. Whenever that car is driven, it will say something about you. Whenever people see that car coming, they’ll be able to recognise the brand while the logo’s still a fuzzy dot in the distance. And if they ever see those colours or that model of car anywhere else, without the logo or even the vehicle in sight, they’ll be reminded of you.
And if you’re chuckling to yourself and thinking “Blue and Yellow? I’d never use those colours; I’d look like I worked for Ikea!”… Yes. My point exactly.
That’s the power of a brand.
This idea works across everything you can think of. There are so many different ways for people to interact with companies now; from old fashioned foot traffic in a physical shop through to websites that can be viewed on phones, tablets, and even watches. A well made brand will have multiple elements working together to form a unified visual identity that speaks with conviction about who you are, while simultaneously being flexible enough to work in any and every situation you need it to. In five years time that cosy teahouse we mentioned before could have franchises all over the country, and the brand needs to be able to take that scale of change in it’s stride. All this is no mean feat, but pulling it off correctly is what separates the wheat from the chaff.
What elements can make up a brand?
It’s a bit more nuanced than a list of items, but these are some of the things that you might expect to see presented to you in a Brand Guide by your designer:
Tone of Voice
The level of formality you choose will affect who feels connected to you. A formal tone can seem mature and intelligent to some, but arrogant and cold to others.
Deciding who your audience is will change the kind of language you use: Are you caustically funny or just mildly amused? Gentle or firm? Casual or serious? Deciding this affects the decision you’ll make on all the visual elements.
This may feature as your logo or it may be an additional piece of design. Often it depends on where you’ll need your branding to appear, and how reputable your business is. McDonald’s usually just shows it’s ‘Golden Arches’, but then it is a brand leader in it’s market so it can get away with that sort of minimalism.
As it says on the tin. We’ll address these more fully in another post.
For official documents, text on your website and blog, copy on products, you’ll have a set of fonts that you use every time.
You’ll often have a selection of key colours that work well together and appear throughout your branding. It may be that different areas of your company or website are characterised by their own tones from the palette, so your client can always know where they are.
This is one that often gets forgotten. It’s not just having these items, logos and fonts and so on, but using them in a consistent and professional way. Maybe the logo will always be found in the top right hand corner, and one of your chosen fonts is for titles while the other is for body text. It sounds very obvious, but poor consistency is the visual equivalent of sending out company letters that are littered with spelling mistakes. Your designer will normally draw up a document called a Style Guide or Brand Guide. These lay out the rules for using your brand elements, so that you’ll able to continue producing documents that all match in style and look professional, even after the design process is over and you’re on your own.
Where and how you decide to talk to people is just as important as what you choose to say to them.
Your brand can be extended to characterise your workplace or outlets, right the way down to decor decisions. How you visually present yourself to visiting clients, and also to your employees, can send a strong message about the culture of the business. The big challenge of branding isn’t just the choosing of a font, for example, but choosing the right font. The one that fits you best, and fits with all your other elements too. All the parts that make up your brand need to balance correctly, not unlike baking a cake. You need flour and eggs and sugar, but you can’t just throw them together randomly, or in the wrong amounts, or your cake will taste like a cardboard box. Branding is not just creating each of these elements, but having the experience and knowledge to make them work harmoniously together, and still say what you need them to.