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What makes a strong brand identity?

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It may not be something you consciously realise, but through the planning and implementation of an effective brand identity strategy, brands are able to plant themselves in your mind using even the subtlest of subconscious cues.

And as 95% of our decision making is made in the subconscious, it’s no wonder that this is an effective approach. From instantly spotting a Disney product simply by the font they use and associating a yellow and red shell with petrol, for example, to understanding the word ‘Amazon’ as being more than just a South American rainforest, successfully implemented brand association and identity can be seen in action everywhere.

Believe it or not, the world’s most recognisable brands have put hours of planning and years of ongoing development into formulating an identity for their brand and allowing it to adapt as it begins to grow. If you’re in charge of a brand and want to both make it relevant to its goals and aims and connect with your target audience, it’s important that the identity is exactly right. But how is a brand identity defined and what goes into creating one?

What is brand identity?

Formed from a multitude of elements and across an array of touchpoints, a brand identity is an overall style and that is unique to the chosen brand and utilised to form a brand image appearance that is both verbal and visual. It can be created using a number of components such as its value, meaning and position in the market, how it differs or relates to competitor brands, long-term goals, the interest and core values of the target audience or the company’s overall mission statement.

Within a brand identity, key elements include the name, tagline, slogan or motto, fonts and colour schemes, a visual logo or symbol and a tone of voice and style. All of these elements must be unique to the brand and relevant to the target audience, and in the case of many successful brands, consistency is key to keeping the brand in the subconscious minds of the audience it’s been created to connect with.

However, a brand identity isn’t always this black and white. For instance, if you were creating a brand identity for a company that specialises in graphic design, it’s more likely that there would be an emphasis on the visual elements, just as a brand that has prioritised a presence on social media or an online blog may be more inclined to focus on formulating a style and approach that is unique, impactful, relevant and consistent throughout all posts.

A logo being drafted together as part of brand identity ideation.

Why create a brand identity?

According to brand logo and naming experts Crowdspring, it can take consumers as little as ten seconds to create a subconscious first impression of a brand based on visual stimulation, and between five and seven impressions of a brand for a consumer to recognise it based on these visuals.

However, as Crowdspring also claims that 77 per cent of consumers make purchases based on the name of a brand, it’s fair to say that brand identity goes beyond picking the right logo, colour and visual appearance. For instance, the word ‘flicker’ would have previously been best associated with light rapidly moving in and out of someone’s line of sight, but, for many younger people, it’s now more likely that someone hearing that word would recognise it for Flickr - the photo management platform. Similarly, prior to 1976, an apple would solely be recognised as a fruit. But with the formation and rapid growth of Apple Inc, the word is just as likely to induce thoughts of iPhones, iPads and iPods.

That said, 72 per cent of brand names are said to be created from fictional words and acronyms. This finding makes sense of the success of the many immensely successful brands such as Samsung, Facebook and Microsoft. Before the ideation of these terms, saying them out loud could have seemed nonsensical, but in the twenty-first century, all of these terms are commonplace. As such, a brand identity can have an enormous impact on your target audience and the process of setting a stamp on the market you’re looking to move into.

Even smaller brands in less audience-driven industries require some level of brand identity, and providing it’s formulated in a way that is appropriate to the target audience and suitable for the aims of the brand, it will at least present a level of consistency and relevance that all brands need.

How to create a brand identity

Creating your own brand identity takes a number of steps, and some may or may not be applicable depending on the type of brand you’re working with.

Steps for creating a brand identity:

1. Formulate a brand strategy comprised of the brand’s purpose, values and visual identity

2. If you’re working with an existing brand, dissect its current identity and look to implement changes that could make it more relevant and effective

3. Carry out research that emotionally connects with anyone involved in the brand, including the current audience, such as ethnographies, semiotic analysis of your current signs and code, symbols and focus groups, to gauge what works, what doesn’t and identify what is cultural resonant and what should be changed.

4. Consider different personas andtones of voicethat your brand may need such as for engaging via social media, customer service, on a brand website or more formal settings such as LinkedIn or email communications

5. Identify, through category research and analyse as above, the brand’s competitors, noting what will make it equally as relevant and useful as well as what could differentiate it and make it unique

6. Outline the brand’s name, logo, tagline, fonts, colour schemes and any other areas of its visual identity within a concise creative brief

7. Speak to a mix of audiences and experts to brainstorm other areas that could make your brand unique and fill a gap in the market

8. Design individual elements such as the logo and other visuals such as videos, images and assets for the website and social media accounts

9. Create a style guide for outlining the tone of how brand content will be written and the types of imagery that may be used (e.g. graphs, cartoons, photography, tables).

In some cases, you may not need to carry out some of these steps or you may even be required to improvise additional steps to create a relevant identity for your brand. As a general rule of thumb, the identity of your brand should be suitable as long as it’s:

  • Open to future development
  • Distinct and unique
  • Capable of encompassing all elements
  • Easy to remember.

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