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Building an awesome brand part three: visual identity

Apr 18, 2018 | 5 minutes read | Entrepreneurship

Welcome to the third part of our April #goals series, where we’ll be tackling the challenge of building a strong brand in four parts:

  1. Mission statement
  2. Brand positioning
  3. Visual identity
  4. Brand story

This post will focus on the third item on the list—your visual identity. If you missed the other posts in this series, make sure you go back and read them first because we’ll be building on it.

What’s a visual identity?

A brand’s visual identity includes all the visual elements that come together to form your brand’s unique expression. It’s the visual expression of what your brand stands for, and it’s what helps make your brand memorable and recognizable for your customers over time.

Visual identities include:

  • Color palette with 1-3 primary colors and 2-3 secondary colors
  • Primary logo and wordmark
  • Different logo lockups (how your logo can look on different backgrounds)
  • Typography (acceptable fonts and how they’ll be used)
  • Image guidelines (image styles and how they’ll be used)

Why visual identities matter

The goal of a visual identity is to help make your company “sticky” for your customers. We live in a highly competitive world where companies in every industry are fighting to capture a share of the market from customers. Having a strong visual identity helps build your brand’s image and reputation.

Your brand’s visual identity is essentially a series of symbols, which on their own have no inherent meaning. The goal is to embed meaning into those symbols, so that when people see your logo and brand identity, they learn to think a certain way about your company.

In order to fully understand why your visual identity matters and how it works to build your brand, it helps to look to semiotics. Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols, and how people interpret meaning from them. In semiotic theory, there are three main types of sign:

1) Icons: Where the sign resembles the thing it represents (i.e. a sign with a person in a wheelchair to represent an accessible washroom).

2) Indexes: Where the sign is related to the thing it represents (i.e. an image of smoke used to represent fire)

3) Symbols: Where the sign is only related to the thing it represents by convention (i.e. the Nike swoosh logo).

Symbols play a big role in branding and advertising. Marketers try to push audiences to view a product or company in a certain way by combining ideas together with symbols, to create a certain patina—an impression that gets associated with that brand or product.

“To possess the product is to ‘buy into’ the myth, and to possess some of its social value for ourselves.” —Jonathan Bignell

Keep in mind that not everyone will interpret and relate to your identity exactly how you want, so just focus on making it clear and memorable. It will take time for your brand to fully become accepted in the minds of your customers—it has to sit with them for awhile, especially if you’re rebranding.

How to create a visual identity

Before you can create your visual identity, you’ll need to make some decisions. First you’ll need to decide how you’re going to go about creating your visual identity—through a professional designer or design agency, a crowdsourced design, or a templated design.

Designers and agencies are usually the best choice if you want to build something truly professional and original. That being said, it is the more expensive way to go. Ask a designer or agency for a quote and pricing can be anything from $1,000 to $10,000, just for a logo. The best step is to look at your budget and the maturity of your company, and decide what you can afford.

Using a designer or agency

If you decide to go this way, the most important thing you can do is to be prepared. You need to be able to clearly articulate your brand to the designer or agency. The exercises we did in parts one and two of this #goals series (to help you understand what your company stands for, how you’re different, and how you want to position your brand) will come into play again now.

You should also take some time to research other brands you like, and collect samples of these in a mood board. While you’ll want to come with ideas about how your brand can be represented visually, try to stay open-minded. Let your designer’s experience guide the exercise, and be open to how they interpret your brand. They’ll take all of the information and insights you provide, and come up with a really unique way to express your vision.

There are a few different ways you can find a designer to work with. You can post on job boards like Craigslist, or you can search for a designer to work with on sites like UpWork and Behance. If you’re looking for a design agency, try a Google search in your local area, and take a look at their portfolio to see if it’s a match. Agencies often specialize in certain industries or sectors, so try to find one that has worked with similar companies to yours.

Using a logo crowdsourcing tool

Another option you can consider if you don’t have a large budget, but are still keen on having the originality you would get from a designer, is crowdsourcing your visual identity. This is where you can pitch your project to a bunch of freelance designers, get a variety of options back, and buy the one you like best.

Squadhelp is a great option for crowdsourcing your name, logo, tagline and more. It lets you host branding competitions with creative people from across the world and get high-quality results, fast. Packages range from $199 to $999 USD depending on what you need.

Thousands of creatives compete with each other, suggesting ideas, and the one you pick gets paid. You can also use Squadhelp to help you validate your new company name, and carry out domain checks, trademark support, linguistic analysis and professional audience testing.

Using a template tool

Sometimes you don’t have a large budget to work with and you just need to create something simple as a starting point for your brand that you can build on later. A template tool can come in handy in this situation.

Logojoy is a good option to get the best bang for your buck. It’s an AI powered logo maker that works by having you select logos styles, colors and icons you like from the options provided. The tool then uses that information to create mockups, and as you continue clicking on ones that you like, it will generate more that match your preferences.

Logojoy will then show you what the designs will look like on different items—business cards, t-shirts, and more. You can customize it how you want with a choice of 475 fonts, 550k+ premium symbols, 5.5k color presets and six layouts. The changes you make in the editor update in real time, so you can see how it will look in real life.

Once you’ve chosen your logo, Logojoy will send you high res PNG and vector files to use in print, online, and anywhere else—even customized for social media—with brand guidelines for the colors and fonts used. Prices range from $20 to $195 USD.

What to do with your visual identity

It takes time for your brand equity to build, so being consistent is everything. The key to doing this well is to think consistency, and developing brand and writing style guidelines for the whole company to follow is a good place to start. Having defined standards helps ensure that your brand is consistently represented, even if you’re outsourcing your marketing to someone else.

In our final #goals post, we’ll look at how your mission, positioning and identity come together in the real world to tell a powerful, consistent brand story.

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