Let’s Talk About… is a series of short publications where complex topics are discussed in an accessible and light-hearted format. Let’s Talk About… is presented as a case study of the ins and outs of the world of design for seasoned experts and newcomers alike, including those who may be undergoing the research process before engaging with an agency for future projects. With this in mind, we hope you enjoy this series of publications as much as we’ve enjoyed producing it.
When does a brand need a brand identity strategy? Why does a brand need a brand identity?
You may wonder and think every brand needs a brand identity strategy right from the get-go, and you’d be almost right, but you’d also be somewhat wrong. Like most big questions in life, a non-answer is the right answer.
Let’s dive deeper. A brand that was just launched and is starting to dip its toes in the water, only needs a name to exist in its own right. In the very early stages of a brand’s development, while the dust settles, there is very little need for the flashy.
So why bother with a complex beast like a Brand Identity undertaking? A brand identity strategy is one of those components that you don’t need until you do. And when you do, it’s usually too late. Countless brands have hastily prepared branding guidelines and manuals because when they were needed, it was already too late – and it shows. Think of it like car insurance for a brand. Sometimes it sits quietly, and no one thinks about it, but when it works for you, you notice it.
A brand identity strategy ensures a coordinated experience across multiple touchpoints, this means no matter where you go in the world, when someone interacts with a brand, they will have a consistent experience. This also translates to different mediums. Interacting with a brand in a supermarket shelf, a print-out, or on the web all should have a similar experience. Visually, this can be ensured by consistency in the visual elements that are used across the board.
When does a brand need to worry about the brand identity? The sooner the better, but when it comes to this question, the 11th hour tends to be just before a brand begins to expand outside their initial bubble. Brand Identity projects can be massive, they can take hundreds of hours, countless meetings, and perpetual back-and-forth. It is understandable that a new brand may want to delay this, but as soon as it is developed and implemented, it starts to show the benefits quickly and consumers will notice this effort and respond accordingly.
Why does a brand need it, though? A lack of an established and thought-out brand identity creates a vacuum that, in and on itself, is a brand identity, just not the good kind. A good brand identity works for the brand, not against it. It can be as simple as consistent use of a specific color and typography, or as intricate as a thousand-page tome that specifies the minutia of the brand, specifying spacing, design languages, voice, etc.
You’ve decided to start developing your brand’s identity. Now what? Much like being invited to the cool kid’s table in the cafeteria, this doesn’t happen overnight. You must carefully craft your persona to get that invitation. The same happens with a brand’s identity. Think of it as a mathematical equation: goal-oriented consistency x time = brand identity.
The first and simplest step in creating a brand identity is a set of deliverables. Let’s use the made-up brand HayBark once again. This first round includes things like letterhead, business cards, uniforms if applicable, among others.
Before we can begin, a good idea to have a cohesive brand identity is to create a mood board or a similar document that briefly showcases the goal for the visual language of the brand. This can be done right after analyzing the target audience and the message the brand wishes to communicate.
For this brand, we decided to go with natural textures, photos of the great outdoors, and a modern grunge look— a simple but effective first step towards building a brand identity. With this, we can now start to create other materials that build up the brand identity.
With a consistent use of the same typography, colors, and visual language, a brand identity starts to emerge. Consistently using the logomark as an element to create negative space or frame the elements within the design is a simple way to cement the logo in the design. Always keep in mind that subtlety is key.
When creating a brand identity, look at all the elements side by side and ask yourself: Do these different items look like they are part of the same brand? If you answered yes, pat yourself in the back – you’re (almost) done!
A good brand identity includes other intangible elements, aside from the visual aspects we’ve discussed. Think of this example: we all know someone who you can tell apart just by the way this person speaks. That is part of this person’s identity, and the same applies to brands. How a brand speaks is equally important to the brand identity.
Let’s use Wendy’s for example. Most brands try to communicate with professionalism and be civil, but Wendy’s goes the opposite way when it comes to social media.
While this may seem out of touch, this is a crucial part of their fun, young & hip brand identity. There is no clear roadmap to how a brand curates this identity, it is entirely up to the different teams that work together to create a cohesive brand strategy. At the end of the day, it all comes down to devising a plan and consistently working towards moving the brand in the desired direction.