Brand identity is about more than just "how your stuff looks." It's part of everything your brand does, including the content you post on your website, the social media messages you deliver, the design choices you make, and more.
So what else factors into your brand identity — and how can you make sure that customers absolutely love it? Consider these five surefire ways to create an incredible brand identity that says, "This is who we are and what we do."
1. Convey your brand’s personality.
What does your company stand for? Do you have values or a message you stand for? You should. Great brands have a unique identity that distinguishes them from their competition. The values you stand for and the way you communicate about your products and services are all part of your brand's personality.
This identity needs to be conveyed through your design and content. Your logo, website and every bit of collateral you create should communicate "you" clearly.
Can you tell the difference between these brands?
Chipotle and Moe's Southwest Grill are similar in a few regards, but their brand personalities are different. Both are casual, but Chipotle pushes it to the next level by using shorthand like "brb" and simple, witty Tweets they know their burrito-loving customers will enjoy. Instead of talking to their customers, they talk like them.
What about these?
Target and Walmart have different aesthetics to communicate their brand identity, evident both in the Tweets above and ads below. Target uses more white space, features their products against a plain backdrop, and uses lowercase text. The result is a look that's modern and focused. Walmart, on the other hand, prefers full-color images and products displayed in homes or outside (in other words, "being used"). They're also more likely to cover every inch of space. Walmart's brand design encourages users to see themselves in the ads while reminding them they can get what's new for a low price.
What about their Tweet text? Target uses hashtags and considers the customer ("Start your week"), whereas Walmart uses fewer hashtags and focuses on new products available.
2. Let your brand design speak to your values.
You've established your brand's personality and its values, but how do you communicate them through design?
What values do you think they hoped to communicate with this ad? Coca-Cola often produces ads that showcase sharing, community and helping others. Their campaign to include individual names on the labels allows customers to feel that the drink was produced for them or their friends, instead of on a mass scale. The promotion encourages individuality through unique labels, and is targeted to a teenage/young adult audience (as only young actors are used in the ad).
Also, there's a sense of community through their celebrations, and even a short love story (another common Coca-Cola theme). The end message includes "Share a coke with ...", which goes back to their value of sharing. Coca-Cola's communicates around their slogan, "Open Happiness," and essentially says, "You'll find happiness in sharing, community, love ... and a bottle of Coke."
This unexpectedly serious clip from 2010 pans from customer to customer in a Chick-Fil-A and tells you their story. Some struggles are tragic, while others something to celebrate. Throughout the video you'll hear somber music and see muted colors, which keeps the tone serious throughout. The final message: "Everyone has a story, if we only bother to hear it."
What values could be communicated here? No doubt expression of kindness and concern for their customers. Quite a few are family oriented, and there is a sense of "all are welcome here" by featuring individuals of different ages, genders and ethnicities.
The #LikeAGirl video produced by Always — which won the Outstanding Commercial Emmy Award — resonated strongly with viewers. What does it mean to do something "like a girl"? Always wasn't afraid to showcase their answer by having older and younger girls give their reactions. While the backdrops of the video are dark, the colors the girls wear are bright and colorful. This helps them stand out, making the girls visually bright, and generating feelings of positivity. Audiences, seeing themselves in the video, got the message and applauded them for it.
You don't have to be obvious, but the intention still needs to be there. What are your brand values, and how are you integrating them into your designs?
For tips on telling your business' story with visuals, check out our post, "The Tricks and Tools of Great Visual Storytelling." For more info on company values — their importance and how to create them — see Buffer's fantastic blog post on the subject.
3. Make sure your brand is consistent.
Customers should recognize your brand identity whenever and wherever they see it. Creating a style guide for your designs will help to ensure consistency. What are your brand colors? Fonts? What is the general look and feel you're going for? Is your brand's communication style hip and casual, strictly professional, or have a DIY vibe?
Never would you mistake an Apple product for another brand; they have their aesthetic down to a science. Sleek, minimalistic and modern are the look of not just their products, but their website and advertisements as well. Their logo is similarly minimalistic, without an actual company name displayed alongside it.
If your brand isn't consistent everywhere your customers find you, you'll come across as having a split personality instead of showing that you're a strong, unified company. Customers can't figure out who your brand is if your company doesn't know either.
4. Make your brand stand out.
Every business wants to stand out from their competition in their respective field, which makes it all the more difficult to bring attention to your own. Having customers who love your brand will help a lot, but you need to give them more to love first. If your company blends in with the rest, how will people understand how you're different or why they should choose you?
Here are some brand design ideas for consideration:
Go against the herd.
All these brands sell pet supplies. Does any one stand out to you?
If everyone in your field has a blue logo, consider something opposite (orange or red) or just different (green or purple). If everyone in your industry is nervous about blogging, maybe you can be the first who's upfront and honest about the business.
When NOT to do this: If it doesn't make sense. Sometimes everyone is doing something because it really is the best choice. For instance, different colors evoke different emotions and feelings, so while a calming blue can be great for a hospital, blood red might be an alarming choice. Back up your decision with research, and not "just because."
Solve problems differently.
Pinterest makes sharing inspiration of any topic a breeze...even brand design!
Is your company tackling familiar industry problems in a unique way? Make sure customers know! Consider Pinterest: There are tons of other sites for sharing photos and links, so why is Pinterest so successful? It solved the problem (sharing and collecting photos) in a unique way. You can pin straight from any web page without having to download or upload anything, collect and group pictures in "boards", retain the source, and easily find new pins through searching tags. Pinterest took the concept of inspiration and concept boards and turned it into an innovative digital tool for modern usage.
Consider other design solutions and search for creative new ways to express your brand. Chipotle has a campaign (Cultivating Thoughts) that prints short stories from successful writers on their bags. Jones Soda Co. prints customer-submitted photos on all of their bottles (pictured above) and built this concept straight into their business to ensure customers are part of their brand ("Your Photo, Your Soda, Your Brand").
What about your company's brand? Are you different from your competitors in a meaningful way? (Be honest!) Even if your services or products themselves are tried and true, you can still solve your design problems differently. If the competition is communicating their process through text and images, why not make yours a video or GIF series? If their websites are stale, can yours be interactive?
When NOT to do this: If your creative idea doesn't match your brand's personality or values. Older audiences might not appreciate funny GIFs or memes like a younger crowd, nor do they work for a brand maintaining a serious, professional image. For some industries, interactivity will come across as tacky and obtrusive rather than helpful.
Walk the talk.
Don't be your competitors; be your own brand. Build an identity and culture. You can talk the talk and showcase your values all throughout your advertising, but are you walking the walk? Are those values evident in your company's culture (how employees interact with customers and each other)?
Zappos.com is known for having great customer service. They have almost 2 million Facebook likes on their page, but that hasn't made them too busy to not only reply to every post, but answer each one uniquely. You can find their values right on their website, and I'd argue their customer service on Facebook definitely nails #1 ("Deliver WOW Through Service"), #3 ("Create Fun and A Little Weirdness"), and #6 ("Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication").
Does your team know your company's values, and are they communicating them through everything they do? If not, it's time to reevaluate and have an honest discussion about your company's culture. There are a multitude of reasons people may not believe in the company's message themselves, and often one reason is not knowing or seeing these values put into action. Don't start a blame game; begin making small changes to create the culture your company needs while continually asking for the team's feedback.
When NOT to do this: Never. Always do this. If your team and company don't believe or can't follow through with your brand values, it will show. You'll end up struggling to gain and keep customers if your brand seems inauthentic or dishonest.
5. Make your brand human.
Building trust with your customers is important, and a large part of that means ensuring your business comes across as human. Machines don't admit to mistakes or express values and principles, but people do — so your brand should too.
In 2012, American Apparel attempted to turn Hurricane Sandy into a marketing opportunity by offering sales to those living in the affected states. (They weren't the only company to do so, either.) Many customers perceived this as distasteful, and the campaign sparked outrage. How did American Apparel respond? Instead of apologizing for the behavior, they defended it, saying they did it to keep their business running and to continue generating revenue by keeping employees working. Understandably, customers didn't respond well to this. From their perspective, the brand ranked the business and their money above their lives.
Compare that to the response of JetBlue's in 2007 after a storm forced them to canceled flights and stranded customers:
The "Customer Bill of Rights" he mentions are still in effect today and can be found on their website. This apology comes across as more genuine than American Apparel's. He admits to how their customers were affected, understands their perspective, and states how the company is going to make it right. (For more on good brand apologies, read this article by Cision.)
This doesn't only apply to missteps either. Are your values focused on people or profits? Are your designs and website considering the customer's perspective, or the company's?
Toys "R" Us created a guide to help parents of disabled children find toys suitable for their need. Their list of "toy buying tips" covers the concerns many parents have for finding the right toy, and they use a set of icons to easily help their customers find the best item. Having a "human" brand doesn't have to be complicated, so don't overthink it. Sometimes it really is as simple as being empathetic to your customers’ needs and helping them where they need it.
The brands people love are those which people feel they can trust and rely on. They're honest to themselves and their customers, their values align with both customers and the company, and they showcase their unique brand identity through every interaction and design opportunity.
Turn your good brand guidelines into great ones by listing dos and don'ts that go beyond font choices and colors. Your logo and designs don't make your company's identity; it's the other way around. Your identity informs your design decisions, content, and logo. Irresistible brands never forget who they are, and they make sure customers know it.