What should a good brand contain? Pinpointing a pragmatic answer to the question “what’s in a brand” can be tricky.
For example, renowned business and marketing thinker, Seth Godin, says this:
”A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” – Seth Godin
As a definition, it’s certainly accurate. It makes a great sound bite. But when you’re struggling to get to grips with how to put together a new brand, or indeed overhaul an older one, it’s not very practical. It makes branding seem like this nebulous, far-off concept that’s far removed from the practicalities of your average, everyday SME.
In truth, a brand is a practical, tangible asset within your business – not to mention one that is highly visible and used throughout your whole team. So let’s leave the touchy-feely definitions at the door and explore the 9 crucial components that all successful brands must contain.
1. Your Brand’s Name
There’s a lot of power in a name. Your name is likely the first thing that someone will see or hear when they find out about your brand, so it needs to align both with your corporate vision and with your audience’s preferences.
A good brand name instils reassurance, establishes positioning, and piques curiosity, whilst also often being a statement of what you actually do. Your name is going to influence how people see you and what preconceived notions they have about your brand as a whole, so choose wisely.
When choosing a brand name, don’t just look at it on paper. Say it out loud – how will it sound in conversation? How does it sound when said quickly, say when answering the phone? Does it include any unusual words or spellings that may trip people up?
In the same vein, write the name down and type it on a screen. What kind of vibe does it give off in plain text? Can or will your name be shortened in any way? Test both long and short versions of your name thoroughly.
2. Differentiation & Self Awareness
Next, it’s time to look around you. What do other brands in your niche look, sound, and feel like? What kind of visual and textual language do your audience expect from your industry – and crucially, is there any space for experimentation?
Branding is fertile ground for creativity and trying new things. So it might be worth finding out your audience’s (and your industry’s) tolerance to creatively rocking the boat. Can you make a splash, or are your hands tied into playing it safe?
Market and competitor research is indispensable when it comes to creating self-aware brands. What do successful brands in your space look like? Do they all have a similar aesthetic, colour scheme, tone of voice, etc.? If so, then there’s obviously something about those qualities that works.
The puzzle is implementing those qualities in a way that still causes you to stand out – forging a brand that is uniquely your own whilst also being informed by brands that are already performing well.
3. Your Logo and/or Wordmark
Humans are inherently visual creatures – our brains process visuals 60,000 times faster than text. Therefore, correctly portraying your brand “feel” through design is essential. And it goes without saying that the most important piece of design your brand will use is your logo or wordmark.
Your logo is how people will recognise your brand when they’re out and about – it’s the face of your brand. A good logo should convey your brand’s whole ethos, approach, and purpose – potentially wordlessly. Your logo is your identity, so it needs a lot of careful consideration; much more than a £5 design from Fiverr or a spare 10 minutes in Canva will provide!
It’s also worth remembering that because your logo is your brand’s recognisable “hook”, it shouldn’t be chopped and changed on a whim. Changing your logo every 5 minutes will erode your brand’s recognisability, so choose a logo that suits your brand and stick with it for as long as it makes sense to do so. Brands (and logos, by extension) will naturally evolve and develop over time, but their lifespan is generally measured in years – not months.
4. General Aesthetics & Visual Language
As your logo starts to take shape, and with market research in hand, it’s likely that you and your designer will start to develop an impression of how your wider brand is going to look.
Colour schemes, fonts, and your brand’s overall stylistic direction is absolutely vital to get right. Because design is the first thing that hits our grey matter, your brand’s aesthetic choices need to invoke a positive and appropriate emotional connection.
Let’s visualise this with a few examples. Firms that need to convey some kind of professional esteem, like solicitors and accountants, tend to generally favour serif fonts, minimalist colour schemes, and a demure tone of voice. This perfectly plays into the emotion they are trying to convey – that fee-earning work will be handled by level-headed, knowledgeable professionals. Sophisticated design paints a picture of reliability and professionalism in the viewer’s mind.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, young, trendy fashion brands are likely to look very different – often favouring bold, uppercase, sans-serif typography; bright, brittle colours; and a more youthful lexicon. Likewise, certain buyers who are looking for a new pair of fashionable jeans are going to resound more with this more vibrant, youthful aesthetic.
5. Your Brand’s Tone of Voice
The language and design that you choose should fit together seamlessly, hand in glove. Just as you need to establish your brand’s visual language, you need to establish its textual language too.
Head back to your market research for a moment. What sorts of language do your competitors use? How conversational are they? How simplistic is the language they use? Do they use humour at all – or even profanity? How much variety and “creative legroom” does your industry afford you? Also, how do your audience talk about your industry in their own words on social media?
Developing your tone of voice should ideally happen at the same time as your visual brand is being drafted, simply to make sure that they don’t clash. For example, if you pair a bright, trendy-looking brand with dry, highly professional copy, your readers are going to be confused.
Hitting readers with the right design and the right words at the right time will put them in the right headspace to buy. Poorly matched design and tone can break this flow and muddy the emotional connection you’re trying to create. Put simply, confusion kills sales.
6. Your Brand Promise
This is the promise that you are making to your customers, just by way of existing. What kind of service can they expect from you? What makes you stand out from the competition? What’s your unique selling proposition? What gaps in the market do you fill? What makes you special?
Now this shouldn’t just be something to shallowly proclaim on your website’s about page. You should have a natural passion to do right by your customers – whatever that means to you – which should readily flow throughout your business. This promise should shine forth in every customer interaction, in every marketing campaign, and in every piece of content you publish.
7. Your Brand Experience
As anyone who has set foot in any mainstream high street store or chain eatery can attest to, strong branding isn’t just something that you look at. It can be something you see in product displays, staff uniforms, printed collateral, even in the way team members greet you as you walk in the door.
In these cases, the brand has transcended the idea of “a few pretty shapes and a colour scheme on a piece of paper” – it has become a brand experience. Though it sounds like a lofty goal, all brands should be on the lookout for ways to make every single customer touchpoint a welcome, familiar experience.
But we’re talking about something much richer and deeper than merely “service with a smile”. Providing a good brand experience shows consistent, on-brand thought and effort. It guarantees that your customers will receive the same great level of service from you, time and time again.
8. Brand Consistency
Your brand needs to be conveyed in a consistent manner everywhere it appears, and everywhere customers may interact with it. Why? Because without consistency, your brand will lose all recognisability – an absolutely irreplaceable commodity in marketing.
Global, household name brands have whole departments stationed around the world whose job is to coordinate the brand’s appearance across cities, countries, and continents, ensuring the same look and feel regardless of culture or language. That’s just how important brand recognisability is.
However, brand recognisability – and therefore brand consistency – is particularly important for businesses on the smaller end of the scale. When you’re a smaller business, you naturally have a smaller sphere of influence. You therefore need to make the brand recognition you do have count, maintaining consistent application of your logo, graphics, colour palettes, fonts, and tone of voice wherever your brand is present.
9. Brand Guidelines
But how do you keep brand consistency high? With a brand “rule book”, of course! A brand guidelines document lays out every aspect of your brand in black and white – from precise colour palettes, to logo presentation, to tone of voice, and more – precisely defining the presentation of your brand.
A brand guideline document shouldn’t just gather dust on a shelf. It should act as a practical guide to staying on brand with every interaction, every design decision, and every piece of text you publish. Therefore, every member of your team should be familiar with its contents and refer to it regularly in order to create on-brand experiences, day-in, day-out. Unsure about what kind of language to use in an email or what colour scheme to favour for an ad? Your brand guidelines should show you the way!
One Last Consideration: Brand Protection
A lot of work goes into creating and maintaining a brand’s identity, and in business – as in life – it’s important to look after what you have.
Nothing we say should be taken as legal advice, but you could consider protecting your brand’s logo and/or name through copyright and or trade mark registration. Though there are registration services online, we’d recommend going through a Chartered Trade Mark Attorney who can best advise you given your own unique situation.
Looking to overhaul an older brand? Or maybe you need to formulate a completely new corporate identity? Look no further than OLCO Design.
Our skilled designers and brand strategists will work with you to create a stylish brand identity that’s distinctively your own. We’ll walk with you through the whole process of initial conceptualisation, through to design, strategy, and finally through to practical application.
Book your free, no-obligation discovery session today!