How to Create a Distinctive Brand Identity
Whether you're finding it tough to find your spot in an overcrowded market; constantly battling to get your clients to take you seriously and pay what you're worth; or you simply want a website that you can be proud of, you need a brand identity that's more than smart. You need something that authentically reflects what you're about, that resonates with people emotionally and that makes your business utterly irresistible. Smart simply isn’t enough. Smart doesn’t tug at the heartstrings; smart doesn’t create a gut feeling, at best, smart reassures. But smart doesn’t galvanise action, smart isn’t compelling.
Creating something compelling means creating an emotional connection between you, your business and your customer. It means capturing the essence of what you do and communicating that through every design decision you make for your brand. It’s about tapping into the overwhelming majority of customers who buy with their hearts and not their heads.
And whilst jumping on the latest design bandwagon may be tempting, rebranding with yet another cookie-cutter style logo or website template isn't going to help you stand out. So go with a creative direction that reflects your aspirations for your business; pick fonts and colours with intention so that they reflect your unique business and say something positive about you. Use pattern, illustration and photography with flair and panache: making each decision count.
Easier said than done, I know, so *long post alert*, here's my guide to the Absolute Essentials of Creating a Distinctive Brand Identity that'll Get Your Business Noticed. Grab that coffee, and keep a notebook to hand as you work through my top tips to creating something that'll win you business. Oh, and do pin this post won't you? As your business grows and changes this is something you'll want to refer to again and again.
Start by getting focused
Everything starts with focus. So take some time to identify what it is that makes your business so special. What do your clients value most about what you do? What inspires you most about your work? How are you different to the competition? Who are your most profitable clients? Who are the ones that really value what you do and are prepared to spend what you want to charge?
How would you describe how you'd like your new brand identity to be? How do you want people to think and feel when they visit your new website? Are there any perceptions about your business that you need to change? All of this is important food for thought. Before you can make design decisions with intention you must be focused.
Finally, condense your brief down into three, key words. What are the most important words that describe how you'd like your new brand identity to come across?
Be inspired by what's possible
Armed with a clear focus, let's start with a little research. Many of us take to Pinterest, perhaps you already have your own scrapbook of inspiration on your desk or a box full of goodies waiting to be called into action. Take a look around at what's out there and ask yourself "How does this relate to what I want for my business?", "Why do I like this?" "What works about this?", and most importantly "How would I make this my own?".
I loved working on this creative project for the Flowerona Social for Florists workshop: branding from concept to completion.
The key to creating work that's unique and inspired is to stay focused on the task in hand. By all means look for inspiration but in every case, just hone down on the few elements that really work for you and always, always make it your own. Love the white space in a design? Great! Translate that through to your site, but you don't need to copy every last detail down to the font and colour palette!
Use colour psychology to make sense of your creative direction
Colour psychology is one of the most game-changing tools you have at your disposal. Use it to understand how to translate the words we came up with in the first step to tangible design elements as well as understanding why you're responding to certain design styles and why others bring you out in hives! You'll find lots of pointers in my post The Absolute Essentials of Colour Psychology as well as my post on How to Use Colour to Sell More.
create a clear creative vision
Now is the time to combine all of your preparation work into one, inspirational mood board with the vision and clarity you need for the creative process. Whether you plan on creating your brand identity yourself or you will be outsourcing to a brand stylist or graphic designer, it's important that you know what you're setting out to achieve in the first place. This is your sense check and is essential if you are to avoid creative overwhelm.
Part of my Creative Direction for the soon-to-be-rebranded LeTrousseau.
You'll find my guide on How to Create a Mood Board for your Brand here.
Your logo is as good a place to start as any
When I was running my brand styling company we would always kick off a project with a creative meeting where we would decide on the creative direction, brainstorm our options, create a colour palette and sketch out ideas for logos and other design elements. Professional designers will often make decisions about colour, fonts, illustrative styles and pattern concurrently but when you're starting out it's good to approach things in a logical manner. You have a clear vision for where you want to be headed with your vision board, so make lots of notes and sketches to both inspire you and sort your ideas out in your mind.
How stylish are these logo concepts for Gohan by Breanna Rose? This sort of simple but hugely effective design takes a deceptively high level of skill to pull off - look at the balance between each element as well as the simple strength each exudes.
When it comes to creating a logo, remember that less is almost always more. You don't necessarily need an icon but what you do need is a smart, unique and instantly recognisable mark for your business. One of the lovely things about brand styling is the fact that you have the chance to add all sorts of creative touches throughout your brand identity, not everything needs to be crammed into your logo. So keep it simple, stylish and easy to read.
Pick fonts and brand elements with intention
There's an art to pulling together the various brand elements to tell a cohesive and compelling story about your brand. Each has a distinctive personality which will add or detract from your brand so ask yourself with each decision, how does this relate back to what I set out to achieve? Take a look at my post on colour psychology for more of an insight into the messages certain typefaces and colours communicate subconsciously. And this post on hand lettering gives you a bit more of an insight. It's about picking up on the detail: look at the flicks, swishes and swooshes or the slabs and serifs. Pick with intention.
I love everything about this Nordic Twigs logo design by EvaJuliet. The way the lettering loops and swooshes, the confidence and strength in the strap line, the whimsical illustrated leaves. All of it. Just gorgeous!
Notice the energy that's in an illustration too. And in choosing photography for your website, look at what the light, content and style says to you. Does it fit with your business and your brand? Is it visually exciting as well as right for you?
Pull everything together and review what you have
Quite possibly the most important part of creating an authentic and distinctive brand identity: making sure that each element comes together to create a powerful whole. Often when I'm advising clients on rebrands we'll find that many of the brand values can be communicated via a specific colour but that some elements just need to be brought in via a font or icon here and there. And likewise, when I'm reviewing work I'll be sure that everything is pulling in the direction we want it to. Everything communicates a message subconsciously and it's important that you make sure it's sending out the message you want.
I really like how Ditto have used a beautiful combination of fonts to create a strong and clean logo design for garden designer Stuart McMahon. The supporting brand elements give him plenty of options moving forwards for his website and vehicle livery too.
This is where seeing everything together on a brand board (as below) gives you so much more than a pin-friendly image: it lets you see the whole design in one place and review everything together.
Lobster and Roo brand identity by Jane Reaction. It's not on her blog any more but I love it so much I'm afraid I just had to feature it!
To review your own, or a designer's work constructively, take your original written brief and your mood board and ask yourself "does this achieve what we set out to?". Does every element on there add something? Is it immaculately executed? Good design is essential to communicate confidence and professionalism. Does what you have send out the right signals? If not, simply tweak and refine until you have a brand identity that you can be proud of, and that most importantly, wins you lots of business.
Post cover image by Jen Serafini.