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How To Create A Brand Identity

How To Craft Corporate Identity And Brand Design

While starting a new business you will at some point face the task of creating a brand identity or corporate identity for your business - some sort of a visual identity that will help you help you distinguish your business from others and enable you and your troops to rally around a common banner or cause.

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What Is Brand Identity?

The process of brand identity creation has been around since ancient times, when livestock owners would heat-stamp symbols on cattle and 'brand' them to separate them from cattle owned by other people. That's where the term 'branding' comes from. These symbols and marks are also the earliest instances of logo design.

Over time you had kings marching with their flags and banners - branding and visual identity that would help their armies stand out on the battlefield. The battle continues to the present day and you have iconic symbols such as the Apple logo and the Mercedes 3-pointed star creating visual brands for companies worldwide.

But brand identity is not just your logo. It is the sum of all elements - visual, phonetic and experiential - that give form and character to your business or brand.

So how do you go about crafting a brand identity for your (soon-to-be) global brand?

Naming Your Brand

Brand identity, also referred to as 'corporate identity' or 'visual identity', has several elements. It starts with naming your brand.

Naming is the most crucial part of the brand identity design exercise. Your logos, brand colors, website design and print media design may change over time, but your name is something that you will probably be stuck with for a long, long time. So choose it wisely. Your business may change and evolve into something different over time. Select a name that can endure all these changes and developments and still be relevant.

'Kate's Wedding Store' is great cause it uses the word 'wedding'. This helps you establish yourself in the niche wedding market and helps your business come up for 'wedding' searches on Google. But if you want to diversify into casual wear or sportswear or yoga accessories at some point of time then you should go in for a more general name, like 'Kate's Apparel' from day one. Once people, search engines and business directories start associating you with weddings it will be difficult breaking into other areas of the fashion trade.

Blipteam started out with a different name. We had to change it after 3 months when we realised a competitor at the time had a similar name. Do some market research, make sure your name is distinct and does not translate to 'your mum is a 3-legged goat' in Chinese or something. Sure you want to be stuck with 'Kool Kar Dude' for the next 20 years? Perhaps 'Jack's Auto' is a better name for when you start sprouting grey at the edges?

Study some iconic brand names out there, 'IKEA' for instance. The multi-billion dollar furniture retailer got their name from the first four letters of the Swedish founder's name and village - Ingvar Kamprad (the founder), Elmtaryd (the farm where he grew up) and Agunnaryd (his home village).

After you have agonised over your brand name for a few days and checked out domain name availability and all that, it is time to move on to logo design. Don't get hung up on a name. You may end up changing it. Just settle on something you can work with and move to the next step - visual design.

How To Create A Logo Design

What kind of a device are you reading this on? A laptop or a smartphone? Locate the logo.

Is there a picture of an apple on it? That is your 'logomark'. Or does it say 'DELL' or 'SAMSUNG'? That is your 'logotype'.

Do you have an Apple laptop? The picture of the apple is the 'corporate logo' - that is the mark of the corporate entity that manufactures your laptop. And the bit that reads 'Macbook Pro' below the screen - that is the 'brand name'. The Apple company (corporate identity) makes several devices - iPhone, iPad, Macbook, etc (brand identity). Creating an iconic symbol like that apple may take a few days but getting the public to remember it will take years.

It is nice to have some sort of a visual symbol that brings your entire business together. But maybe in the beginning you can just get away with a logotype? The apple logo took several iterations before they settled on the present one, by the way. But look at 'IKEA' - no squiggles there, just text.

It does not need to be a fancy font either - you can select one yourself or get a designer who can identify a font that works across print media and electronic screen, large versions (shop signboard) and tiny versions (visiting cards and mobile sites).

Creating a logo is not a one-time task. It will change over time so don't blow up a lot of time and money trying to paint the Sistine Chapel at this stage. Just get a working logo and move on to the next step in starting up your company - website, manufacturing, team-building or whatever crucial phase is required next.

Defining A Color Pallete - Your Corporate / Brand Colors

Your next step would be to create a corporate color palette.

Orange and grey? Blue and white? Are you a playful brand (orange)? Are you a serious financial services brand (blue)? Are you into fashion or creative services (neutral)? A bakery (brown and warm)? Some of these are cliches, of course, but color theory and application is a serious practise beyond the scope of this article.

You can read up more about it or hire a graphic designer. These are colors you will use across your business - website, print media, marketing collateral, physical signboards, uniforms and t-shirts, office interiors, etc.

How To Select A Graphic Designer

Hiring a designer is another painstaking part of the brand design exercise. Your designer is not someone you will meet once and then forget. ideally your designer is someone who will invest time in getting to know your business and probably be around with you while you go through changes in the first 6 months. Think of it as a long-term relationship, not a one-night stand.

There are several places to find graphic designers (or brand designers or visual designers). There are websites like Behance where designers post their portfolios, professional online services like Fiverr and job sites like Coroflot. You can also look up art colleges or design schools in your area. You could get a student designer who is willing to work for a chance to fill their portfolio or you can look up alumni networks for more experienced designers.

You can also get recommendations from people who already have businesses running - most have had to work with a designer at some point of time. Once you find a designer you can always ask to see a portfolio and get some idea on rates.

Design Cost

Designer rates are mired in dark arts. How much should a designer charge? It depends on whether they are Michelangelo or a newbie or just a regular designer who happens to specialise in your industry and commands good rates.

Sometimes a designer can crack a nice logo in 10 minutes. Sometimes it can take 10 months. Experienced designers will spread out their rates across 'easy' projects and elaborate time consumers and there's no way of telling which one your project is going to be in the beginning.

Budget permitting, concentrate more on building a relationship with someone who can help you develop your identity over a few months rather than someone who will knock out a logo in 3 days. They will need to apply your logos, fonts and colors across various types of media - electronic and print, so do not expect to get this done fast.

Nothing irritates an experienced designer more than a business owner asking for a free trial. If you want a free trial go find a Häagen-Dazs. Serious designers are not just drawing squiggles on a piece of paper. They spend years in design school and even more time afterward polishing their craft.

What looks like a quick doodle to you might take days of hair-pulling and many hours of fine-tuning. This little doodle may well bring your entire business to life. A little bit of respect for their craft will go a long way.

Also, learn to distinguish between 'Photoshop operators' and true designers. Design is about concepts, not mastery of computer programs.

Brand Messaging

Your brand messaging is the way you come across to your customers. Are you a fun brand? Are you a hard-nosed, sales-oriented brand ('Buy now! Offer lasts until September 14!!')? Old money? Trusthworthy? Sporty? Trendy?

Crafting your brand messaging gives some character to your brand. Craft a brand character that you can live with. A brand character is what makes you wake up in the morning. It is what your customers recognize you for and it is what your entire team understands. You cannot say one thing on your website and another over a customer support phone call. Consistency is important.

Bringing It All Together

So you have your name, your logo, a nice color pallete that goes easy across web and print, home page banners that echo your brand message accurately. Getting it all together is like getting an award-winning recipe together.

Crafting and delivering a consistent and quality brand experience is not a job for most business owners - it is for a brand or graphic designer. Concentrate more on getting a good team together and keep things super simple in the beginning.

Take a look at this travel brand - GoTripCo - that is about 15 years of design experience and 5 days of work.

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