In this post, we've assembled information that's scattered across the web to provide an authoritative guide to corporate brand identity design. We've boiled it down to 7 elements that you'll need to include as you create your own brand identity design and work toward the larger goal of building a well-loved brand.
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Before we go over the 7 elements of brand identity design, let's align on a few key definitions. First of all...
What is a brand?
The word "brand" is used pretty loosely these days. For example, people might use the word "brand" to talk about logos, though a logo is just one part of a brand. It's a symbol that represents a deeper emotional tie.
Seth Godin has a great definition of brand that addresses this point: "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."
A logo, packaging, typography, and personality all represent a brand, along with customer service, price, product quality, and corporate responsibility, but a brand is a bit more intangible. It's emotional, visual, historical, and human. It's an experience that separates different products and services in a world where quality is often comparable or the same.
What is brand identity?
Brand identity is the face of a brand. As discussed in the previous section, a brand is an emotional and even philosophical concept, while brand identity is the visual component of a brand that represents those larger ideas.
Brand identity includes logos, typography, colors, packaging, and messaging, and it complements and reinforces the existing reputation of a brand. Brand identity attracts new customers to a brand while making existing customers feel at home. It's both outward- and inward-facing.
It's vital that brand identity be consistent. Because it represents and reinforces a brand's emotions, the message portrayed by brand identity components needs to be clear, and it needs to be the same no matter where it's displayed.
To manage brand identity, organizations should invest in a brand management system that helps them stay consistent while still having the flexibility and speed necessary to succeed in today's market. Components of this system might include a style guide, brand management software, and employee training.
So what is brand identity design, and how do you create a brand identity?
Brand identity design is the actual process of creating the logo, color palette, typography, etc.
With these definitions in mind, let's dive into the 7 key design elements you need to create a brand identity that is strong, consistent, and attractive.
1. Clear brand purpose and positioning
The first part of establishing a brand identity is determining your purpose and position. The brand purpose is the big reason for your existence. Brand positioning is naming who your product is for and why your product is a better option than the competitors. Defining these will inform your strategy as you create a logo, decide on a color palette, etc. A process called Purpose, Position, and Personality is useful for answering these questions (we'll talk more about personality in the next section).
According to Arielle Jackson, startup founder, and Google veteran: "Your purpose is how you want to change the world for the better." Jackson also recommends this diagram as a guide for determining your purpose:
Jackson explains the diagram this way: "In one circle, you have cultural tension. This is what is happening in the world that's relevant to you. In the other circle is your brand's best self. This is what your company delivers at its prime," says Jackson. "The intersection of these two areas is... 'the big ideal' — or your purpose."
For a great example of a succinct, tangible corporate purpose, check out this statement from Apple:
"Apple's 100,000 employees are dedicated to making the best products on earth, and to leaving the world better than we found it."
Not too shabby.
Brand positioning is the process of making the purpose actionable. By naming your target customer and differentiating yourself from the competition, you lay the groundwork for your brand to accomplish your purpose.
For more in-depth information on the purpose, position and personality process, check out this ebook.
2. Thorough market research
A brand's purpose and positioning can be informed, at least in part, by market and customer research. Research is crucial to understand the cultural tension described in the previous section. For beginners to market research, there is a wealth of content online to help.
One of the best ways to conduct market research is to talk to people. Phone interviews allow for detailed discussions and place a helpful emphasis on the human element of research—an essential element if you want to appeal emotionally to customers.
Beyond phone interviews, online survey tools, like Survey Monkey, are a fast way to gather a lot of information, and government resources can also be a powerful tool.
Good market research can also help you determine your main customer personas, a term that is a slightly different concept than "target customers." Your customer persona goes beyond just defining what problem a customer has and details some of your focus customers' professional and personal traits. Defining these traits will help you know what kind of personality your brand should have to appeal to customers.
3. Likable brand personality
"If your brand were a person, what would they be like?" It might be a bit cliché, but this is a smart way to think about brand personality.
Your brand's personality is an important thing to consider. If you get it right, it will come through in every part of your brand identity. Brand personality greatly impacts the voice and tone used in your marketing materials and other communications. Customers will get mixed messages if a personality isn't established, and they may have trouble connecting with your brand.
If you're having a hard time getting started, here's an exercise to try: Which celebrities best represent your brand? Is there an actor or actress, musician, or public personality that embodies the same traits as your brand? This could be a good starting point for nailing down different aspects of your brand's personality.
Once you've pictured the kind of person your brand would be and listed off a few attributes they have, it's helpful to think about how your brand will come to life through your voice and tone.
Here is how we defined Marq's brand personality.
How did we do?
4. Memorable logo
Your logo is central to your brand identity design. It's the piece of your brand identity that most people will be exposed to. It needs to line up with all the other elements of your brand identity and the broader emotional appeal of your brand.
A few guidelines Marq CEO, Owen Fuller suggests:
- Make it memorable
- Make it simple. Can a 3rd grader draw it?
- Make it versatile. Can you apply it across multiple mediums and channels?
- Make it evocative. Does it make you something?
- Make it timeless. Will it work as your brand grows?
For example, take a look at this logo:
Disney has built a brand that evokes nostalgia and magic. The playful script oozes creativity and fun, which jives with the overall brand Disney has established. They undoubtedly have been successful, and their brand has stayed consistent.
A memorable brand is often the simplest brand. Take a look at the logos of the world's top 3 brands (according to Interbrand):
Even Coca-Cola's logo, the most complex of the three, is just a straight line of text in a single font, with no graphical elements surrounding it.
Logo simplicity makes it easier to apply to different mediums. Whether your brand will show up in your product, in your marketing, digital or print, actively designing with every channel in mind will ensure a successful logo development from the very start.
5. Attractive color palette
Your brand colors are often just as memorable as the logo design. Designers often look to color theory when choosing the palette that best represents their brand.
A lot of color psychology is intuitive, like blue expressing calm and red and yellow expressing passion and energy. Depending on the tint or shade of a color you use, that emotion can be adjusted. A tint is a color mixed with white, making it lighter, and a shade is a color mixed with black, making it darker. A lighter tint of blue conveys tranquility, while a darker shade of blue often conveys trust, an effect that many banks use in their color schemes.
Designers should select a set of primary colors to work with and can also include secondary colors to be used for specific purposes. Brand consistency is key, and developing a palette that can be implemented in the same way over time builds brand equity.
6. Professional typography
Stressing about finding just the right font may lead others to designate you as a "typography nerd," but you'll come out ahead when you pick a font that works in harmony with your logo and colors.
Fonts are powerful. The most famous fonts are recognizable even when taken out of context. You'll want a single primary typeface to lead your brand design, which should work well with your logo and color palette. It should also, like your logo and color palette, be simple.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when choosing brand fonts:
- Don't use overly fronts that are hard to read.
- Provide font guidelines for headlines and body text.
- Don't use more than two font families on a single document. When it's too much, it's too much.
- Do mix contrasting fonts (such as a serif and a sans-serif).
- Give guidelines on font size and line length in your brand guide.
Of course, all of these rules can be broken if you know how to do it effectively. The key is understanding why the best practices work, so you can justify bending the rules for your brand identity.
7. On-brand supporting graphics
The final step in creating a brand identity is to build an extended visual language with supporting graphics, design assets, iconography, and photographs.
Take a look at Google's Visual Assets Guidelines to see how they carefully explain their take on icon design. They cover a whole range of brand design considerations:
- A reductive (or "flat") approach
- A preference for geometric shapes
- Icons always face front
- Straight, hard shadows as opposed to curved, soft ones
- Standard background colors
- Icons align to the pixel grid
- Icon padding according to shape
Because of Google's close attention to their extended visual language, when you see a Google icon, you know it's a Google icon.
Creating a brand guide that addresses multiple elements of brand design will help streamline the production of ad materials in the future. This ensures that every email newsletter, social media post, or promotional pamphlet adheres to the same familiar standards.
Distribute brand assets
Once you've determined the core elements of your brand identity, establish clear brand guidelines in a brand style guide. The style guide should provide clear direction on how your logo, brand colors and typography should be used.
Providing brand assets such as business cards, email signatures, social media banners and content templates can also streamline brand guideline adoption.
Create a brand assets hub that can act as a one-stop shop for anyone needing to download the current logo, image files or brand color hex codes.
Maintaining a brand identity
Building a brand identity requires more than simply identifying your visual brand components. Your brand image is ultimately made up of how your brand is perceived over time. Being consistent in presentation and tone is critical to a cohesive brand strategy. Be sure to educate employee's on the importance of the company's brand and use templates and other brand management tools to ensure content stays on-brand.
Brand identity design examples
Whether you're developing your brand identity for the first time or looking to update your brand identity, check out some of these great brand identity design examples.
Airbnb worked with DesignStudio to update its brand identity. The agency focused on incorporating the international, friendly, adventurous, and belonging nature of Airbnb. This meant simplifying the logo from words to just an icon, eliminating language barriers, and making it universally recognizable. By incorporating a large palette of colors and various photography styles, any culture or country can now identify with the Airbnb brand.
In a recent rebrand, Kodak went back to its roots. In 2006 the company had already eliminated the big red "K" block in favor of a simpler wordmark, but then they reversed the decision. Using a fresh sans-serif font, they stacked the letters on the right side of the red block. The visual branding on the packaging is bold and simple, helping their products stand out.
On the surface, Zendesk could be a boring product. They offer help desk services. The old Buddha logo was unique and interesting at the time, but it was aging poorly. Reducing the logo down to simple shapes makes the logo instantly recognizable. They also capitalized on this look by expanding the simple shapes across all of their services. Finally, the shapes were brought to life thanks to fun motion graphics.
Read more: 10 corporate identity design examples
There may be redesigns and re-evaluating ahead, but starting off with a strong, confident brand and a unified brand identity will add clarity to everything you do. And though change may be necessary in the future, stay fiercely consistent so that your brand is the one that comes to mind when someone has a problem you can solve.
Want to learn more about how Marq helps you maintain brand consistency across all channels? Schedule a personalized 1:1 with our team.