Ever wonder how great brands are created? Here’s how!
Maybe you’re a on a shoestring without much startup capital, or maybe you have budget to hire a true professional to craft your brand. Either way, knowing all the steps that the pros take will be immensely valuable, either for a DIY project, or being armed to make better hiring decision when you select a creative team. Bonus: knowing the steps and what you need in an end result will mean being more efficient in how you work with your creative team. We can’t speak for all agencies, but we know that organized clients end up with smaller bills from us, and we love that!
Check out the “Pro Tips” below for easy ways to be sure your branding looks as much like how the pros do it as possible, even if your budget means a lot of DIY – you may think these are small things, but your target market has been well-trained by the biggest brands to subconsciously pick up on cues they’re not even aware of.
Below we profile a small client from years ago, because it really shows the transformation from “starter logo” to true professional brand. Sometimes your company needs to reveal what it needs to be over a period of time, but usually you can start with a brand you can grow with… just requires some real thought and work to do so.
1. Get Yourself a Great Brand Name
It’s clear, easy to say, easy to use, and while it may not completely explain what it is you sell, it does make sense when someone finds out what you do or offer.
Pro vs DIY: focused and/or local businesses can probably DIY, and run a short list by the pros. More complex, national, or international brands should hire a pro team.
Names should be trademarked.
Pro Tip: Keep your legal name separate from your daily name. Apple, Inc. appears on copyright lines and legal documents, it never appears in marketing, where it is just says Apple (and sometimes just the apple mark!)
2. And a Clean Logo
Funny thing – many of the best logos look like anyone could have drawn them (Nike and the Swoosh). On the other hand, Starbucks’ is much more complex, yet still holds together simply and is recognizable from a distance.
Pro vs DIY: best to go pro on this one, and be sure to hire a professional to do a custom one, not the $99 online special. (We’ve seen exactly one of those be somewhat on point.) Use our blog post on how to build a great logo to interview potential artists (or hey, just hire us!), and be sure you get – and hang onto – your vector art.
Pro Tip: stay away from photographic logos, ultra thin lines, and unnecessary overlays (like putting the name over the mark).
At its best, a tagline is a poetic positioning statement. GE’s We bring good things to life. agrees with and encapsulates everything it does (things that are electrical in nature), even though what it does is enormously complex (everything from jet engines to hospital MRI machines). Most of the time, complex or multi-national brands need a professional firm to help with this.
For highly targeted, local, or new/small brands, one that is more literal is probably the best way to go to ensure that what you do is not lost in the poetry. E.g. Acme County’s Most Awarded Dental Practice (just make sure any claims are verifiably true, if you want to be taken seriously). This can be DIY, just perhaps run it by your strategic branding consultant (like us).
Do you need a tagline? Most brands will do well with one, but it’s not always required. The tagline position in typesetting might also be taken up by a relationship statement, such as A division of Hallmark.
Pro Tip: Do NOT set your tagline in quotes. Really, just trust us on this one.
There is one absolute: you should always define what your official palette is. Everything else is very brand-dependent, such as the number of colors that should be included. We usually go for two or three main colors, with an equal number of secondary (or “foil”) colors. Each color should be defined by PMS, CMYK, RGB, and HEX color codes, to allow for various production people to know what they’re aiming for.
Pro Tip: Some industries, such as aviation or health care, rely very heavily on blues, which is especially obvious in aviation due to “blue skies”. Choosing a different palette that doesn’t run entirely contrary to the business may help you stand out.
One of the hardest things to do is to wrangle typefaces, but it’s one of the strongest weapons you have to make your marketing materials clean and easy to digest. You should define what those are, for both print and web (unfortunately they can’t be the same as they’re not widely available on both platforms)
Pro Tip: One of the easiest ways for a pro to spot amateur work is too many fonts in a document. Keep it clean and simple – and stay tuned for our upcoming typeface blog for more insight.
6. Logo Usage Guidelines
This typically shows how much clear space should be around a logo, any approved versions (vertical and horizontal), and how they are allowed to be applied (over photos, color blocks, etc)
This gets a bit advanced, but it’s a good idea to also write down what you think your voice should sound like. Not the timber of your brand’s spoken voice (although it would certainly come to life that way if you have a spokesperson on a commercial – think of Motel 6’s Tom Bodett, for example).
By “voice” we mean: what grade level of writing do you speak in? You’ll notice that elite-type brands tend to use elevated words, more eloquently spoken, whereas more daily brands keep it simpler. And, is your tone one of protection and strength? Light hearted and silly? Love and caring? Aspirational or friendly/approachable?
Pro Tip: Try doing the above while describing the type of person your brand would be, if it were an actual person. That helps to keep your tone true throughout all messaging.
8. Brand Standards Manual
A good Brand Standards Manual simply rolls all of the seven items above into one document. It should be provided to everyone doing office tasks (for example, even producing intra-business signage) because the better you follow it through ALL communication – both internal and external – the more your business will look organized and highly professional.
Pro Tip: This document is not written in stone. Much like the dictionary, it evolves slowly, carefully, thoughtfully, over time, and is documented.
- A great example of what NOT to do: you are faced with needing to fit more text than your space allows, so you decide to use a narrower typeface to cram it all in. That’s not a good reason to abandon your designated font families.
- What to do instead: edit your copy to be shorter (which will please your reader).
- Sample reasons you may want to evolve the manual: as your business grows or changes you may need a small logo tweak, or perhaps a new division or endeavor requires a sub-palette of colors (or a complete rework).
Happy branding, and shoot us an email if we can help!