A strong brand identity doesn’t happen overnight. You can’t just pick a few colors and haphazardly slap a logo together. You need to approach your design strategically to build an identity that truly reflects your brand—and can support you as you grow. This requires deep thinking, a team with strong communication and design skills, and an intimate understanding of who you are, what you do, and how you want to present your brand to the world.
This work isn’t easy, but it’s some of the most important work that any brand can do. So if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it the right way. Of course, tackling a brand identity can be both intimidating and confusing. What should it include? How do you start? Who needs to be involved?
Don’t worry. With the right guidance, you can move through the process effectively, and that’s why we’re here. To make it easy, we’ve broken it all down into this simple step-by-step guide, including our best tips and handy toolkit to help you along the way. Follow this guide and you’ll end up with a beautiful, functional brand identity that will help you outshine your competition, connect with the right people, and tell your brand story through every piece of content.
Let’s get into it.
• What Is a Brand Identity?
• What Does a Brand Identity Include?
• What Makes a Strong Brand Identity?
• How to Build a Brand Identity
• Step 1: Know Your Foundation
• Step 2: Assess Your Current Identity
• Step 3: Audit Your Competition
• Step 4: Hone in on a Visual Direction
• Step 5: Write Your Branding Brief
• Step 6: Design Your Logo
• Step 7: Choose Your Color Palette
• Step 8: Choose Your Typography
• Step 9: Design Additional Elements
• Step 10: Build Your Brand Guidelines
• How to Use Your New Identity
What Is a Brand Identity?
Is it your logo? Your color palette? Your infographic style? It’s all that—and more.
Branding pro Marty Neumeier defines a brand identity as “the outward expression of a brand, including its trademark, name, communications, and visual appearance.” To us, a brand identity is the sum total of how your brand looks, feels, and speaks to people. (Sometimes that even includes how it sounds, tastes, feels, and even smells.)
That said, when most people talk about brand identity, they’re referring to a brand’s visual identity. For the purposes of this post, that’s what we’ll be focusing on.
Why Do You Need a Brand Identity?
A strong brand identity is not about making pretty packaging; it’s about communicating your brand story effectively. Design is a powerful tool that can transform how people interact with your brand in three important ways.
1. Differentiation: How can you stand out in a crowded marketplace? Your brand identity can play a strong role. Whether you want your product to stand out on a shelf, or you want your ads to stand out on Facebook, creating a consistent, cohesive presentation is the secret to success.
2. Connection: The more effectively you communicate who you are, the easier it will be for people to engage with you and, ultimately, join your community of lifelong fans.
3. Experience: Everything you create reflects your brand. Thus, if you want to create a consistent, cohesive brand experience, you need to present a consistent, cohesive identity. From your website, to your social media, to your sales brochures, a strong identity is the key to elevating your brand experience.
Some brands elevate brand identity to an art (think Apple, LEGO, or Levi’s). Some brands make it their entry into the playing field (think Warby Parker or Casper). Others struggle because they don’t know who they are or don’t know how to communicate it effectively. (The truth is too many brands fall into this camp.)
Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, one thing is certain. If you want to be a competitive and successful company, crafting a strong brand identity is mandatory.
What Does a Brand Identity Include?
When you create a brand identity, you’re basically building a toolbox of visual elements to help you communicate effectively. This can be basic or extensive; it all depends on your brand’s needs.
Regardless, every brand needs a basic identity, which includes three core elements:
• Color palette
If you create a wider variety of content (or plan to), you may also design additional elements to express your brand across mediums, including:
• Data visualization
The good news is you don’t have to design everything all at once. If you don’t have a ton of resources (or don’t know what your future needs will be), start with the basic logo, color, and typography. You can build out additional elements as you need.
What Makes a Strong Brand Identity?
Here’s the thing. Having a brand identity on paper doesn’t mean your identity is good or effective. Even if you design every element needed, it may not help you achieve your long-term goals.
A strong brand identity needs to work for everyone, both your internal team (e.g., brand ambassadors, content creators) and the people who will interact with it (e.g., customers).
To truly succeed, you need to build a brand identity that is…
• Distinct: It stands out among competitors and catches people’s attention.
• Memorable: It makes a visual impact. (Consider Apple: The logo is so memorable they only include the logo—not their name—on their products.)
• Scalable: It can grow and evolve with the brand.
• Flexible: It can be used in many different applications (web, print, etc.).
• Cohesive: Each piece complements the other.
• Easy to apply: It’s intuitive and clear for designers to use.
If you design an identity that doesn’t resonate with your target audience, or doesn’t truly reflect your brand, you will have wasted a lot of work. (Luckily, we created this guide to ensure this doesn’t happen.)
How to Build a Brand Identity
To demystify the process for you, we’ve broken the process into 10 steps to get you from A to Z. These steps are listed in this specific order, as different elements of your identity are built upon others. Whether you’re building a fresh identity from scratch or embarking on a rebrand, follow this sequence to design a strong brand identity that sets you up for success.