Your brand is more than just a reflection of your business.
It’s an asset, and an incredibly valuable one at that. Before we can discuss best practices, allow me to break down what a “brand” is, exactly.
After that, I’ll cover how to build your brand logo, and how to create a style guide for your brand.
B2B Brand Awareness: What is a “Brand” Anyway?
To put it simply, your brand is defined by the overall perception of your business among consumers. It’s composed of many things, from logos to letterheads and values to voices. I’d argue that nearly every facet of business can play a part if given the chance, and in some cases even your audience can embody a major component of your brand (ever heard of Supreme?).
Now, you might be thinking: If everything I do is contributing to my brand anyway… what’s left to do? How do I leverage this?
The answer is simpler than you might think: Consistency.
Designing a Brand Style Guide: Establish a Plan & Stick to It
Your branding isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s a process that never really stops, but if you’re diligent enough to stick to a clear and consistent set of guidelines, you’ll see exponential increases in brand recognition over time.
Most companies use something called a Style Guide to accomplish this level of consistent brand imagery. You can think of it as a thorough brand identity cheat sheet. I’ll come back to those later.
So, why is brand consistency important? When customers are exposed to the same ideas on a consistent basis, whether it’s a tagline, a logo, or an annual blowout sale, they begin to create an image for you in their mind. They’ll stop thinking of you as “that place that does that thing”, and start to think of you as bright colors, bubbly attitudes, happy music, and that little puppy dog mascot (or whatever your brand’s image may be).
These ideas go a long way.
There’s a reason Nike hasn’t strayed from their signature swoosh in nearly 50 years (since 1971). They’ve created an iconic symbol that will promote their brand at a glance, and every impression they’ve made along the way has strengthened the ties between a simple shape and the values of a multinational corporation.
Build a Strong Brand Image: How to Break the Rules
Once your brand is known for a specific type of imagery, you’ll be able to garner immediate attention by cleverly subverting your own norms and traditions.
These are muddy waters. I don’t want you to leave this blog thinking that breaking the rules is better than following them. It’s a tactic that only works carefully and sparingly. After all, if you do this all the time then there were never any rules to begin with.
Here’s one of my favorite examples of this idea:
This is a red coffee cup.
When I look at this image, a few things pop into my mind: Starbucks, the holiday season, and an unfortunate controversy.
The solid red 2015 seasonal cup presented a noticeable shift from past designs, which had featured snowflakes, Christmas trees, and generally Christmas-themed illustrations. Starbucks’s Vice-President of Design and Content, Jeffrey Fields, stated “This year we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories. We’re embracing the simplicity and the quietness of it.”
Starbucks broke the mold of their own branded imagery in order to promote inclusivity, and it did not go unnoticed. A controversy arose surrounding the “War on Christmas” and Starbucks was caught at the center. Despite this, they reported a record-breaking first quarter and a marked increase in gift cards and seasonal drink sales (along with lots and lots of free media attention).
Obviously a national controversy is not the ideal outcome when straying from brand standards, but it goes to show just how ingrained our preconceptions of brands are, and how impactful a simple design change can be when the branding is otherwise consistent.
Developing Your Consistent Brand Identity
Now that you’ve seen the value of consistent and deliberate branding, let’s break down some of the things you’ll need. There are three critically important things when it comes to creating a brand from scratch: the message, the image, and the standards.
- Your message should bleed into everything you do. It’s probably the reason you started your company, it’s what you want the world to take away from your efforts, and it motivates each and every branded decision. Most brands have a “Mission Statement” that defines their goals and their purpose, and guides their actions. It’s a bit like a condensed sacred text to refer to if you’re feeling lost.
- Your image is the way you are perceived by the public. This is influenced by everything from your logo to your website, and even by the way your employees interact with the world. It may seem too abstract to define just yet, but you’d be surprised what one good logo can do to set the tone of your brand’s image.
- Your standards are the guiding principles that help you to maintain consistency and meet customer expectations time after time, the lines you won’t cross and the values you won’t sacrifice, whether it's as grandiose as promoting social justice or as simple as avoiding the color green.
It’s nearly impossible to find branded content that isn’t inspired by all three aspects at once.
Creating a Custom Logo (That Will Actually Stand Out)
Most people like to kickstart their brand identity with a logo, and it’s a pretty solid strategy. Creating a logo can serve as your first dive into the aesthetics of your brand. You’ll get a chance to play with colors, shape language, fonts, and the overall tone of your brand, until you can find something that feels representative of your values.
Have fun with it, get second opinions, take as much constructive criticism as you can get, and make sure you’re either following or establishing a set of consistent stylistic rules.
I’ve whipped up a fake logo to use for the sake of example (using Adobe Illustrator). I’ll break it down and explain some of the things that I find to be worth noting about the logo and the design process.
This is a logo for a company that I just made up, called GoldFinch. With this design, my intention was to create a logo for a money transfer service (such as Venmo, or CashApp), though if I’m being honest I just drew a bird and saw where things went from there.
While designing, I had a few key principles in mind for both the graphical and the text portions:
1. Simplicity & Shapes
A logo should be instantly recognizable and understandable. Complexity in your design will lead viewers to connect your business message with intricate and confusing ideas. If an element of your logo doesn’t serve your message or contribute to the whole, get rid of it. In the GoldFinch example, I used two birds with smooth rounded lines and streamlined features to imply that the company is quick, consistent, and efficient. The text mirrors this, with “GOLD” as a strong bold concept, followed by the light and nimble “FINCH”.
Note on Shape Language: Shapes are great communicators whether you know it or not. Triangles tend to convey improvement and dynamic power, circles can represent unity, etc. The GoldFinch logo makes use of a natural shape that is vaguely reminiscent of both an X and a spiral, both of which are capable of inspiring hope and comfort (seems appropriate for a banking service, if you ask me.)
Color plays a huge role in the first impression a logo can have on a consumer. For example, the combination of red and yellow tends to make people hungry, with red representing passion and yellow representing freshness. Take a look at the next fast food restaurant you see and I’d bet there’s a predominantly red element in their logo. GoldFinch benefits from using a gold color to strengthen the connection between the name and the logo, as well as the connection between the company and the world of finances and profits.
The worst thing that can happen to a logo is to become outdated. If your design will need to be replaced in one or two years time, it’s not worth investing in. It may not always seem like it but brand imagery is an investment that can fuel its own success over time. Avoid using elements or ideas that could potentially become obsolete. This can include certain technologies or popular design trends. Shoot for modern, not trendy.
There’s plenty more to consider when designing your logo, but these ideas should get you working in the right direction. Make sure your final product is scalable, memorable, and looks good in black and white or grayscale (unfortunately, you won’t always be able to use those pretty colors you worked so hard to choose.)
Make sure to save distinct versions of your logo for unique purposes, and reserve consistent whitespace around your logo to avoid visual clutter down the line.
Setting Standards with Style Guides
We’ve finally made it to the fabled “style guide”, a place to define each and every aspect of your brand guidelines. If you treat this document with enough diligence and respect, it can truly be the difference between a well-oiled machine and nightmarish headache disaster, trust me.
Sample Brand Style Guide
Here’s an example of a style guide I’ve created in the past (big thanks goes to Dahlstrom Roll Form for permitting me to use their guide for the blog). This is a reduced form, as it mostly covers the conventions of the logo and not much else.
Most brands have a full style guide (about 4 to 5 pages) that covers their branding in full, from the values and the mission statement to the hex codes of your website’s background. A few things that are typically included are:
- Mission and Vision statements
- Logo variations
- “Brand Personality” metrics
- “Do’s and Don’ts” for specific concepts
You can find plenty of examples online and I encourage you to try a style that you feel will work for you. In the end, what’s important is that this keeps you and your team in alignment and makes consistent branding just a little bit easier. To this effect, you can also add a link to any available cloud-hosted assets (logos, etc.) on your style guide for team members to access.
It’s Time to Build Your Brand!
Brand building is no simple process, you won’t get results without calculated efforts. Hopefully you’re feeling a little more confident now, not only in terms of how but why to get started today.
With a solid plan, and diligent, consistent efforts, you can begin down a path of exponential brand awareness.