Brand and visual identity
In this talk we’ll cover common terminologies and aspects of visual identity explaining some of the jargon which is used in the industry of marketing and branding. This will help you develop your business’s visual output enabling you to strengthen your messaging which will allow you to retain existing clients and gain some new ones.
First I’ll be using the terms user, consumer, client, audience throughout this talk but they all mean the same thing it’s someone who is buying service/product from you / your company.
I’m going to start with what do we mean by “a brand”?
The Design Council in the USA classify a brand “as a set of associations that a person (or group of people) makes with a company, product, service, individual or organisation.”
What that means, as a general definition, is a brand is a companies personality – what they represent, what they’re saying, who their audience is, what their audience is saying, their history etc. It’s the emotional portrait of a company to the world. I use the term emotional for a reason and I’ll go into that later on.
Coke is a great example of how important branding is for a business. Coke as a product is just a carbonated soft drink but as a brand it’s a shared experience of friendship, refreshment and unifying the world by sharing a drink. This is clearly shown through their 1971 advertising campaign “I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke”.
Their visual identity reenforces this by use of friendly and readable typography and imagery of people all ages, races, genders and backgrounds sharing and enjoying themselves. Unified by Coke.
A Coca-Cola executive said this about Coke’s brand:
“If Coca-Cola were to lose all of its production-related assets in a disaster, the company would survive. By contrast, if all consumers were to have a sudden lapse of memory and forget everything related to Coca-Cola, the company would go out of business.” https://www.designcouncil.org.uk/news-opinion/power-branding
This quote sums up nicely that socially we connect more to a brand than the actual product itself.
To create a brand you need to start asking some important questions. What is the purpose of the business? What does it do differently? Who are our target audience? How does it want to be perceived?
These questions overlap with marketing and business strategy but they form the foundations of the visual identity that will be one of the main points of communication with your audience.
Visual identity comprises of elements such as your logo, imagery, typography, colours, documents, packaging, mailouts; basically anything which is seen by your audience.
So that’s a basic overview now I want to go into some key elements of how to form a brand structure and then move on to how this becomes your visual output.
This is your most powerful asset in branding. If you can create a positive emotional response that’s half the battle won.
A quote from Salesforce sums this up nicely:
“84% of customers said the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services” https://www.salesforce.com/blog/2019/12/customer-relationship-management-trends.html
When they talk about experience they are referring to a users interaction on all platforms (be it verbal or visual communication, email response, digital presence (which is reviews, social media posts, influences, website) and so on).
The experience someone has with your company is a journey. For example say you’re selling a new soft drink. The customer sees an add on a social media platform, then an advertisement on tv, then sees your product in the shop, buys it, drinks it, enjoys your drink therefore becomes a repeat customer. To get to the point of buying the product the user has to engage with the product in a positive way. They have to relate to it and think “this is something for me”.
“Brands need to be created from the customer’s perspective,” This is a quote by Thomas Mueller from Fjord which is a global design and innovation consultancy. How we can create these emotional responses is by thinking “if I was a potential customer why would I buy this product”.
Now this goes into marketing more specifically target market segmentation and client profiling which I only want to briefly touch on. Marketing, branding and visual identity all intwine and rely on each other to help create a successful business. You can’t really have one without the others.
Target market segmentation is identifying a select group of people who your product or service is designed for and then breaking it down into distinct characteristics. For example your business is an architectural practice who designs offices. Your target market are companies/organisations. The segments could be company scale (how many employees), company turnover, sector (private, public or third) and so on.
Target market segments can help inform your ideal client profile. An ideal client profile is a representation of someone who is going to use your company.
These are big subjects so that’s all I’m going to touch on today but to learn more about these aspects of marketing Goldsmiths typically have seminars on it which are free through the dek program. So if you’re interested in these areas I’d start there and I’m happy to share a link to the dek after.
If we know who we’re targeting and we’ve profiled them how can this have impact on our brand? Using the previous example of the architectural practice that designs offices. Let’s say one of our target market segments are large banks typically 3,000 staff in the HQ. Our ideal client would be the Directors of the bank so our brand needs to aim at them. It needs to express that we’re reserved, cost effective, reliable and will make them trust that we are the company to give them what they want. This is done through consistent messaging of our visual and verbal communications.
This consistent messaging across all media which is targeted towards our ideal client is easy to talk about but in practice is incredibly hard. To show how hard consistency is “In a recent Monotype survey of brand leaders, while “consistency” was the most highly prioritised element in a brand identity strategy, only 44% of those surveyed report maintaining consistent typography, colours, and imagery within all of their customer touchpoints.” https://www.monotype.com/resources/articles/consistency-is-the-future
Consistency is not only expected, so according to Salesforce:
“75% of consumers expect companies to provide a consistent experience wherever they engage with them—both online and offline." salesforce.com/blog/2018/02/digital-identity-customer-experience.html
But it also reassures our customers that they are buying a professional and reliable product from a company they can trust. It’s hard to stress how important consistent branding is.
Consistency doesn’t mean brands are stationary. Businesses change, their customers will change which means their brands will change. There’s a term in branding called dynamic brand identity. This was a term coined by Paul Scher from Pentagram, which is the world's largest independent design consultancy. A dynamic identity is one which allows for the visual output of a company to change over time. This means something created ten – twenty years after the initial identity was formed keeps up-to-date yet still looks and feels like the original, expressing the same values and ideas. Consistent messaging with the ability to adapt built in.
As society changes so does it’s expectations of a brand.
“Today, brands are more than what they say, they are what they do.” This is a quote from Simon Gill from Isobar, a global digital agency. An example is Volkswagen who wanted to reach a target audience for a family car range in the Netherlands. Volkswagen started by reacting to a Daily Mail article which stated “7 out of 10 children are now glued to their devices while in the car”. Working with Isobar Volkswagen created an app which utilises augmented reality. The app was part of an interactive campaign to engage the imagination of children by partnering with noted children’s book authors. The app contained modular stories which mapped the roadways getting children to think creatively during a ride in the back of the car. This strategy of creating something to tackle a problem seen by their target audience helped parents feel that Volkswagen was the car designed for them and created trust in the brand.
This is a bit of an extreme example; but younger generations are engaging with brands in a different way, and they do expect that if a company says they’re “environmentally friendly” or
“for a fairer society” that they’re active on those grounds. We heard last time from Alex Kempner, Business Clan about marketing to different generations. This too is true for creating an evolving brand.
How to create a visual identity
Now I want to go into how to create a visual identity. We’ve now formed the basis of our brand by looking at our target audience, their emotional ties, how our brand is different, what our brand is trying to do. We now need to visualise that so we tell our story in a clear and engaging manner.
One of the hardest things is that design is subjective. What you like might not be what your audience like. What you like might not tie into what your brand is trying to say. Even though there’s a lot of opinions around what looks good, it’s usually best to focus on the reason behind the choices. If you can explain why and what it means then your audience will find it easier to engage with your messaging.
An identity is made up of a few key elements:
“A typeface needs to represent who you are,” This was said at a Brand Talks in San Francisco in 2019 by Tom Censani, Director of Product Design, Eventbrite.
A typeface can say a lot. Sarah Hyndman is a typography researcher who looks into the attachment we have to type. In a Ted talk titled “Wake up and smell the font” Sarah makes a little statement:
“Typography is story telling. Fonts turn words into stories”
This is what design does. It takes all this research into marketing, this messaging of branding and wraps it in a package that makes sure your brand story is understood. I’m a lover of typography and could talk about this subject for hours but I’m just going to show you a couple of examples of how typography can change the meaning of a word.
Colour theory has been around for a long time. We have emotional and social responses to colour. For example purple in a western world often represents royalty where as in Thailand it can mean death or mourning. To me it represents sweet, milky, magical, Willy Wonka style Birmingham chocolate that unfortunately makes me put on weight. This shows how people can react differently to colour just by their background.
Understanding the power colour can have is crucial. Again it goes back to understanding who you’re targeting and what you want to say.
A logo is typically split between an icon and logotype. An Icon is a symbol designed to represent your company and a logotype is your company name drawn in a particular style. An example of an icon would be Apple’s logo and an example of a logotype would be Google’s logo.
Typically you wouldn’t use an icon without a logotype until you get to a point of a certain size or recognition for example Nike. But you would just have a logotype on it’s own.
Imagery can be a powerful asset if used correctly. It’s no secret that people look at images more than they read the words next to them. These images need to express your key messages and ethos of the brand. Let’s use an example of a bank who’s focus is on customer service. Now we could use images of a safe, money and a grand building. But even though these images might represent a bank but they don’t particularly shout “customer focused” they more say “back off, this place is secured and too important for you”. A more appropriate selection would be staff members helping customers ease the stress of banking and the customer leaving with a smile that says something which was stressful has been made easy.
Images don’t always mean photography it could be illustrations, graphics, infographics it’s basically anything none written which represents your brand.
How much to spend
How much can you spend is probably a more sensible question? Budget is key here. A designer can be anywhere from £20 per hour up to £150+. This all depends on their expenses, their experience, whether you're going to an agency, freelance or sole designer. It’s always worth getting a couple of quotes and meeting with the designers first so you can figure out which one to go with. The best is not always the most expensive. You want to chose a designer who understands your brand and what you’re trying to achieve. You also want to look at their previous work and see if you like it.
What are the options for designing a brand
Freelance designers, agency / studio all take a similar approach of discussing your company and will help form a brief and scope of the work based on your specific needs. They will then produce a quote before they start the process. Design can take some time depending on the scope of the work so it’s best to have an open discussion with the designer as to how long the process will take. It’s better to spend more time at the start of the process getting the brief and scope right before entering into any job as this could cost you in the later stages.
Another option is freelance sites which work in different ways depending on what site you’re looking into. Examples of these sites are Fiver, Upworks and 99Design.
These type of sites have increased over the years. The fact that you can get a logo for as little as £15 online has made these websites very popular with people starting new businesses. The downside is that for £15 your logo won’t be bespoke for your company at all. As mentioned designing takes time and communication with the designer. A well structured brand needs someone who understands you, your company and your clients.
All now or staggered?
There’s nothing that says you need everything all at once. Think simple at first and consistent. You can start building a visual identity with just a simply using the same font and a couple choice colours for everything. Then build from there.
To sum up why is branding important?
Branding helps you stand out from your competitors, adds value to your offer and engages with your customers on an emotional level. A strong visual identity tells your story increasing your user experience throughout your business’s platforms. A brand is more than your company and product. It’s what it represents and who your clients are.
I’ve just done a very brief overview of what is a very large subject which has no right or wrong and is ever changing. But I hope this has helped you understand how to go about starting the process of creating a brand and helped you understand some of the terminology.
If you have any more questions or would like to talk to me after please feel free.