When customers interact with a brand, “who” are they interacting with? If the brand were a person, what sort of person would it be? Excited and friendly or sophisticated and reserved? The personality of a brand relates directly to the sort of person your brand is trying to cater to, and the sort of person they expect the brand to be. A luxury car brand would have a very different personality than a late-night cookie delivery service. That’s because they’re catering to different people with different preferences, and these markets have certain expectations for the types of “people” these brands should be.
Related to a brand’s personality is its voice. If it were a person, given its personality, what sort of things might it say? This is extremely important for marketing purposes, where the goal is to communicate clearly and consistently with consumers. Just like a character in a movie, the things a brand says in its ads, on its website, and anywhere else it shares messages, its voice needs to be consistent. No one would believe the authenticity of a character that seemed to flip between voices throughout scenes, saying things that are inconsistent with things it said in the past. Likewise, a brand’s voice needs to feel appropriate to its personality and remain constant over time. Otherwise, consumers will have a difficult time believing it and connecting with it.
Like a person, a company can stand for things. It can value certain ideals. These company values translate directly to brand values and contribute to a brand identity. According to Harvard Business Review, 64% of people that say they have a relationship with a given brand give shared values as the main driver of the relationship. People want to know that the companies they give money to use that money in ways they would support, so defining your brand values is an important part of brand identity.
A brand’s mission is related to its values. What a company does is fairly obvious to the consumer. Why it chooses to do this isn’t. A brand’s mission gives the consumer context for the products and services it offers. It helps them fit the brand into its competitive landscape and gives them reasons why they should support it over some other brand. This is why you see a lot of companies today wrapping social awareness into their brand identities. It’s important to them that consumers understand they aren’t just doing what they do for the money but also because they want to affect some sort of good in the world. A brand’s mission “humanizes” them.
This characteristic is, in some ways, a summation of all the other internal characteristics we’ve discussed. It’s trying to communicate what makes the brand unique. However, it does this from the perspective of the competition. Instead of being purely descriptive, a brand’s unique positioning is also comparative. It looks at the competition — their identities and offerings and then contrasts the brand against these. Whereas everything before has simply said, “this is who were are”, brand positioning discusses this but also talks more about the competition, and then reflects on their undesirable characteristics the brand doesn’t share.
What Defines a Brand’s External Identity?
Ultimately a brand’s external identity, or visual identity, is defined by its internal identity. The visual cues a brand uses to create its visual identity should be formulated with care to communicate the core of the brand’s internal identity quickly and clearly, as these visual cues are the most obvious facet of the brand’s identity. It’s the visual identity, paired with the brand’s voice, that people come into contact with before anything else, so it’s important that they complement each other.
A brand’s logo is a single visual symbol tasked with communicating as much as possible about the brand’s internal identity. Designing a great logo is no easy task. It involves distilling a brand’s identity down to its essence in order to create a single visual statement that immediately conveys the intended message.
The logo also sets the tone for all of the rest of the visual collateral that is created in the process of marketing a brand, so if a brand’s handlers get the logo wrong it’s possible the brand’s entire visual identity will inadequately express its internal identity, or worse, conflict with or confuse it, with dire consequences.
It’s critical that designers give careful, reasoned, and extended thought to a brand’s logo design.
The following factors should always be included in logo discussions, and in discussions for any complementary collateral, as these are the features that create the subtext for a brand’s visual identity.
This is the single largest consideration when creating a brand’s visual identity. In order to properly convey who/what it is, a brand needs icons and artwork, both in its logo, on its website, and elsewhere that instantly capture the flavor of who that brand is. It’s not just the chosen art, but also the style that matters. A more buttoned-up, corporate identity might require solid, imposing icons that convey strength, whereas a creative company might choose a quirkier, edgier style that screams, “We don’t subscribe to your corporate dogma…we do our own thing.” Art choices are critical for creating a visual language that agrees with and quickly conveys a brand’s internal identity.
Color choices have an effect on how a brand’s visual identity is read. If you’re attempting to convey eco-consciousness and you don’t integrate green across your visual collateral you’ve missed a huge opportunity to instantly convey that information. If your brand is feisty and gregarious and you choose mostly cool colors like blues, you’re likely not conveying your personality as readily as you might by choosing warm, active colors like reds and oranges.
Your typographical choices convey a huge amount of information about your brand’s identity. If you’re a tech company you might want to choose sparse, sleek, modern fonts that convey a sense of looking to the future. However, that’s probably a poor choice of font for a home improvement company that’s more concerned with conveying trustworthiness and craftsmanship.
Each font family has its own in-built connotations that can amplify and clarify a brand’s identity when used properly, or confuse and muddle the message when employed poorly. Typography is an extremely useful tool for conveying a visual identity.
It’s important that the imagery a brand uses in its website, ads, billboards, and other visual mediums are consistent and convey useful information about the brand. A line of childcare products would likely employ an imagery strategy that focuses on happy families, with bright, beaming children. This imagery provides a quick snapshot of who the brand is and what they care about. The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words applies here. You can convey as much information with the image you select for an ad as you can with the copy that accompanies it.