Creating a brand identity

Brand creation, Branding, Identity design, Tone of voice / October 2017

Ben Cooper

So far in this series of articles we’ve had a top level look at what goes in to making a brand, and we’ve looked in a little more depth at the branding workshop. In this article we’ll look at what goes into creating a brand identity. For the purposes of this blog I’m defining brand identity as the discrete components that make your brand stand out from its competitors.

We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so let’s roll out.

Deciding the core values

I’ve talked at length about brand values, and how important I think they are, in another article and I’ll continue to stress the critical role they play in creating a brand identity. To steal a musical analogy they are the riff or motif on which you build the rest of your song. A memorable and unique riff is the bedrock of a song that connects with people, that burrows down into their subconscious. A predictable riff is destined to be forgotten.

And much like musicians we have a largely limited palette with which to work, there are really only so many values or attributes you can use for a brand, but it’s the choice and application that matters.

It’s important to separate core values from the rest, and we spend quite a bit of time in our workshops getting stakeholders to do just that. At first they’ll have to select the values or attributes that they think define the brand. Then together they’ll compare their lists and have the opportunity to discuss and defend their choices.

After this initial stage, where there can be some alignment and often some disagreement (which is always good as it gets people thinking in depth to rationalise their choices), we move to categorisation.

I follow branding expert Paul Hitchens’ approach, which is to sort values into the following:

  • Core values – These are the values that are integral to your brand, that capture its essence, and if they were changed would alter the nature of your brand.
  • Aspirational values – The values we want the brand to have, but perhaps we don’t manage to always deliver them. It can be very easy for stakeholders to put aspirational values into core values. This has to be challenged because it can lead to a brand promise that doesn’t stand up.
  • Accidental values – This covers the sorts of values and attributes that your brand has by its very nature. You’re setting up a design agency, and choose creative as a value. All well and good, but you can’t help but be creative given you’re a team of designers and illustrators.
  • Expected values – The values/attributes we expect of pretty much any business. Words such as professional, transparent and so on end up here. Now, these words don’t have to be expected. After all if you’re operating in an industry not known for its transparency then this could be a core value, but you must think very hard about this. Are lots of other businesses also touting their ‘transparency’ in your sector? Well then it’s just more of the same. However, is your business doing something more to be transparent? Like allowing clients access to information via a technology platform 24/7? If so then maybe you can shift transparency into a core value.

By sorting your values into these categories you can begin to form a foundation for creating a brand identity, and on which your future marketing activity can be based. The emphasis should always be on your core values and aspirational values.

Crafting the brand personality

When the values are in place the next stage is the brand personality. The personality will have many influences.

For small businesses a lot of the personality comes from the owners and the staff, because they are often so heavily invested in the business and also because small business owners often hire people who reflect their own values, desires and drive. Larger businesses may have a personality that has emerged and changed over time, or has some heritage element from earlier in the brand’s history. Or it may have none at all.

The sector the brand operates in, and its competitors, will also have an influence. A professional services brand shouldn’t be jovial, though this doesn’t mean they have to be dry and dull. Looking closely at competitors also means you can chart a different course to make the brand stand out.

A brand personality should feel aligned with the brand values of course, in much the same way we would expect a person’s values to inform their behaviour and personality. It’s often possible to infer an individual’s value set from the way they talk, the things they talk about, and the way they act. It should be similar for a brand, but you’re engineering this as opposed to it being an organic process that takes years.

The brand persona

A useful exercise we get clients to do it to pick a brand persona. We don’t explicitly tell them that this is what they are doing, but we get them to look through a series of images of people and choose the one who best reflects their brand.

Once we have a generic brand persona in place, a sort of archetype that relates to other existing brands and their behaviours, we have a starting point for creating a more detailed brand persona. Often this is realised in a mood board that captures the essence of the brand and a bit of inspirational copy, a bit like a brand manifesto that is written as if the brand is a person.

With all of this in place we can then look at fashioning the mission, vision and positioning statements to reflect the aims of the business and the brand personality. It goes without saying that the brand personality informs the tone of voice massively.

Building the brand identity

The last stage of creating a brand identity is crafting the customer facing elements of the branding. This includes:

  • Name (if not already existing)
  • Strapline
  • Word mark and logo mark
  • Primary brand colours
  • Extended brand colour palette
  • Imagery guidelines
  • Tone of voice

It’s not possible for me to talk in detail about what happens here because so much creative work goes into these elements, but each of these components of the brand all stem from the work done earlier. It should be possible to trace each one back to the brand values and to the information yielded by the workshop, and this should give the brand identity a cohesiveness and logic, even if at first it isn’t apparent.

That’s pretty much what goes into creating a brand identity, in a distilled form. Once everything is refined and agreed on then we create your brand bible, a guidebook that contains all the elements of your brand, how to use them and what not to do. This, along with all the agreed collateral for the project, is the tangible output from the project, and is vital for future success because it is at the heart of keeping the brand consistent.

So those are the steps, but much like riding a bike you can know the individual stages in your head but to ride the bike takes practice. So if you don’t fancy all the grazed knees give us a call and we’ll help you create the brand you’ve got in your head.

If you’re interested in creating a brand identity then check out our branding services and get in touch with us today to see how we can help.

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