How to use your Brand Identity effectively
A one-stop-shop guide to show you how you can effectively utilise your brand identity.
You’ve spent the money, you’re all excited about it, you want to show it to the world, but how do you actually make use of your Brand Identity effectively and what are the next steps?
I was asked this by a recent client, you know who you are if you’re reading this as it's a great question to have asked. So when the Brand Identity you have developed (also known as your ‘Branding’) goes beyond a logo and some colours, I can see how this becomes a foreign language to try and interpret.
It’s no different to me hiring an architect to design my house. If they gave me plans, I might think it looks good but without the experience of what to do with those plans, I’d have no idea where to begin when building the house, apart from turning to someone who does. This is why you still have people like me on hand to help when the rubber meets the road. So why I hope this article, while quite lengthy, can be a resource you can refer back to when needed, to interpret what you have and put it into practice for you, your team and consumers to benefit from.
Because investing in a Brand Identity might have even had you questioning its worth without knowing how it can make a broad impact on your business. Or if you’re tossing up whether to go ahead with a brand identity, I can appreciate it is a head-scratcher. Especially as we mainly place a lot of weight on what the brand looks like, rather than what it sounds like or is at its core internally.
Where its value lies comes down to consistency and usage. If you use your identity in as many places as possible constantly with consistency, your business is going to become known for something and for more than just what it sells.
Let’s start by outlining some of the brand elements you’ll likely have as a result of working with me or other brand consultants since developing your brand identity:
- Brand Purpose
- Brand Values
- (Possibly) Brand Mission and/or Vision
- Brand Personality
- Brand Messaging (incl. tone of voice, story, tagline, slogans, other brand language)
- Visual Identity (incl. colours, fonts, logo, icons, illustrations, photos, etc)
- (Possibly) Sonic branding (incl. sonic logo eg. Netflix’s startup sound, jingles, theme music, voices, etc)
To add a bit more clarity to these elements, separate them into two groups. From 1–4 these form your internal identity. From 5–7 they are your external identity.
The difference between the two is that you don’t need to necessarily and explicitly share your internal identity with your consumers — they either won’t care about them as you do or they won’t wanna know how they’re being sold to. While your external identity is the part your consumers are typically exposed to when you communicate with them visually, verbally or through other senses like touch, smell, taste and sound via various touchpoints that form your brand experience.
In addition to this, my hope is that you’ll have also worked on where your brand is positioned in the market. Which includes what you’re going to be most known for, your target market of consumers, who you’re competing against and the goals/objectives you are working towards achieving in the short or long term if you’ve done Brand Strategy in the way I describe it (which you can find in a previous article here).
But if you’re even luckier, having worked with me, above all this will be a unifying theme to make it easy for everyone in your business from the CEO all the way to the receptionist to understand what the brand is there to do so everyone is on board with it and on-brand. This is effectively known as one-word (or phrase) positioning that if you were to envisage it, it would be placed at the core of your brand so that it branches out to all other aspects of your identity and even how you market the business. So let’s call it your Brand Core. To visualise it, see my example below and the layers that radiate out from the core part of your brand identity which is a bit like a spider web — a “Brand Web” if you will.
I’ll add that you don’t need to have a Brand Core, but for ease and use so that everyone can take that concept and run with it, it can greatly influence the proceeding parts of your identity as each step trickles down to the proceeding part of your identity. This is why I start from the inside out so that it presents as a unified identity everyone can understand and connect with. Both your team and your consumers.
THE INTERNAL IDENTITY
So let’s dive into the first item on the list within your internal identity, which is Brand Purpose. How can you effectively use it? For starters, it’s why your business exists beyond making money. It’s the grand idea that gets everyone out of bed to offer something to your consumers that might be different from the rest but ultimately makes an impact in whatever shape or forms it’s offered. So here’s how you make use of it in 3 ways.
- When you hire people or even seek out investment from investors and they need to know what your business does beyond the utility, price, placement and offering. Your brand purpose is there to give a reason for why you’re showing up each day to achieve the outcome that is baked into your identity.
- The same goes for developing a new product, service or some kind of new value offering to your consumers. You can measure it against your purpose to check if it’s on-brand. Because you know when you see a brand doing something that feels far removed from what you know them for, as they’ve gone off-brand and it doesn’t feel right? Eg. KFC scented candles, Lamborghini vodka or Virgin making wedding dresses — amazingly these were all made and totally off-brand from the core purpose of each brand.
- You can use your purpose to guide initiatives beyond your core business offering. This blurs the lines of what your brand Mission & Vision can be used for to clarify that ambition you have to help and connect with people other than consumers in addition to your Purpose. This is why I’m not so keen to add a Mission & Vision into the mix as it only gives you another 1–2 statements to need to remember.
Next is your Brand Values. If you have any more than three, focus on the three that will have the most impact day-to-day and it will help you not only remember them but make use of them. Here’s how you can make use of them:
- Team culture is tied to your internal brand identity and it can start with Brand Values. If you have a team that can embrace 1–3 values that can influence operations, productivity and engagement with one another and consumers, they’re going to be most effective. Like I mentioned with your Brand Purpose, you can assess if new recruits or existing team members align with the Brand Values to enhance the team culture and the output that is created as a result of a cohesive team that is on the same page.
- If they’re a little too tacky, lofty or vague, develop a sentence with that value to make them contextual and useful for your brand so that everyone understands how they can be used so that they can be applied to as many facets of your brand as possible, if not all.
- Additionally, if they have been developed with your consumers in mind and you’re a brand that relies upon shared beliefs between your brand and consumers. Your values can help create a connection with your consumers. This works because you become a brand with a personality that makes it easier for consumers to connect with you. As you become known for more than what it is you sell, the more you humanise your brand. I said you don’t necessarily need to share your internal identity with consumers, but Brand Values can be a good one to share if you do so that consumers can get a sense of the kind of people they are buying from.
The Brand Mission’s I’ve come across are typically pretty wishy-washy. Even Brand Purpose’s too for that matter. Especially if you can’t live up to it or you end up contradicting it in a way that consumers call you out for not living up to the expectations you stood for in the first place. Essentially you use it as a statement that shares a higher purpose to help create change. I only like using a mission if it’s something that the brand does to help give back in ways other than selling what they offer. Or as a way to internally define value/selling propositions (USP/UVP) so that you internally understand what unique benefit you bring to the table that isn’t about making money.
A Brand Vision again is a bit wishy-washy. But this is the future world you hope to see as a result of your brand’s impact on the industry or the impact your industry can have if your collective influence creates change. What the world looks like as a result of you and others like you being in it. This can also be a long-term goal the brand is working towards but that makes it less useful on the day-to-day, or more importantly as your team grows and changes and there’s less buy-in if they’re not going to be around for that vision to become reality.
My client Michelle from Kunty Kards (KK) has a greeting card business here in Australia that sells elegant greeting cards with swear words on them — they’re amazing. An example of a Mission and Vision that I did end up developing with her to be useful on the day-to-day was made to go beyond the KK Brand Purpose “to create a fucking memorable reaction that brightens someone’s day” and branch off from it to articulate additional initiatives that she bakes into the brand experience that become more than what it is she sells:
- The KK Brand Mission is “to give to those who fucking need it” which plays out in the efforts Michelle takes to donate part of her profits from every sale to one of three charities. As well as to encourage others to do the same for others, not just by donating to charity but to brighten someone’s day with a business card sized note she includes for her customers to give to a random person they see who might be struggling. So that they know they are loved and seen, even by a stranger.
- The KK Brand Vision is “to celebrate with those who give a fuck”. Sounds lofty but for Michelle, internally it’s the backbone for KK to collaborate with others (eg. Other brands who value the same things but offer it in different ways) who also want to make people happy and create even greater reactions that are more engaging and memorable.
The last part on the list of internal Brand Identity elements is the Brand Personality. I typically include this as part of my client’s Brand Messaging as it helps to create the tone of voice and subsequent messaging, visual identity and other aspects of their brand thereafter. So in essence it’s a statement you have that might be based on a handful of attributes your brand embodies, shows up with and sets out to be remembered for. So that it encapsulates the personality and attitude of the brand as a point of reference for the proceeding elements of your Brand Identity. So here are some examples of how to use it effectively:
- When you develop new ways to communicate with your consumers, refer back to the Brand Personality you hope to convey to see if it hits the mark. You’ll then be able to see if you’re showing up externally with a consistent personality that doesn’t make your consumers feel like you have a disjointed split personality.
- Additionally, your Brand Personality is a unified part of the Brand Identity that could either be based on the founder’s personality that made the brand what it is. Or it is formed as a collective identity that pulls a little bit from different team members.
However, you need to be mindful that what you’re working with is a separate identity from who you all are as individuals and it can be tricky to employ that personality into how you and each of your team shows up. So my suggestion is not to forcibly change the personality of your team members but when it comes to external communication, encourage them to show up as an ambassador for the brand and accentuate your presence to include aspects of what your brand embodies, nearly as if you are an actor in a movie.
An example of this is what I do as the figurehead of my own business. I show up as Frank with the personality that I want my business to be known for. To suit the offering I deliver to my clients and to attract the kind of clients I hope to engage with. Away from my business, I’m often told I’m not quite the same person by friends and family. The way I see it is that in the branding space, I’m in my element of interest and desire to connect with people who want to engage with it. So I bring an extra 10% to the personality that I normally am, to make it my business's brand personality I show up with. So if you hire a team with that same desire to embrace the Brand Personality or already embody those personality traits, it will help add to the experience your consumers have when engaging with them and enhance the internal identity your team collectively has.
As an end-note to your internal identity, none of it needs to be groundbreaking. The simpler the better is a great rule of thumb so that it allows your brand to be flexible and adaptable for each of your team to interpret it in unique ways that might open the door for new ideas to connect with your consumers. So just remember that even the little things can make a difference here, but it just needs buy-in from everyone internally to be most effective.
THE EXTERNAL IDENTITY
Let’s start with Brand Messaging. If I can, this is always the middle step of developing a Brand Identity with my clients after we’ve laid out their internal identity. But before I dive in, let me say that you can use most parts of your Brand Messaging less prescriptively. In other words, you don’t need to use what you have word-for-word from what you have written down. As different contexts can allow you to adapt the message to fit where it appears and for whom. So I’ll note where you can do this below.
So how about we whizz through each of the aspects and where they’re going to be helpful/when do you use them? Great, let’s go:
- Tone of voice: this is how you’re going to externally communicate your message but in a way that reflects the personality of the brand. So if it’s to be blunt, speak in a tone that is straight to the point. If it is inspirational, use language that paints a picture of where consumers can envisage where they hope to be in life. This might also include certain vernacular used that is contextual to your country, to your industry or to your target market. Use this as a rough guide for all communication so you can be less prescriptive in certain contexts.
- Tagline: keep this as is and don’t deviate from it. It’s not something you need to include in your marketing and touchpoints necessarily, as it’s typically used as a piece of messaging that coincides with the reveal of your logo if a marketing campaign slogan isn’t used. For most cases, having it on your business card, email signature and social media bio will suffice.
- Slogans: if you’re given them, use them as inspiration if you don’t know how to use them on the day-to-day for those times when you’re looking to market a new/existing offering or put out a campaign to drive brand awareness so that it gives them a message they can remember you for.
- USP/UVP statement: these kinds of statements I develop with my clients so that they basically have an elevator pitch to sell what they uniquely have to offer in a way that’s on-brand for them and would connect with their consumers to actually pay attention. But again, these kinds of statements can change over time as your offering evolves or if your target market shifts. So no need to be 100% prescriptive about them.
- Brand Story: this could be a book in its own right depending on the brand but use this like your Brand Values as a way to humanise your brand and show your consumers who you are as a team and where you came from. Be it an underdog story, a cheerleading story for your consumers or an emotional story that caused the inception of your brand. The stories we tell give us the opportunity to let our consumers in and give them more to align with and love than only what it is you offer. So tell it in places like your online content from time to time, in your website ‘About Us’ section or even talk about it in interviews in magazines, newspapers, podcasts and other PR avenues.
- CTAs: Use these simple Call-To-Action (CTA) statements as a way to sign-off on a piece of content, a campaign brochure or a section of your website to encourage consumers to proceed to the next step of where you want to funnel them to next. Eg. Book a call with you, shop your new range of products, subscribe to your email lists.
- Additional Brand Language: This borders on you needing a copywriter but essentially this kind of language if you have it to refer back to is the most non-prescriptive part of your Brand Messaging. I typically create language my clients can use for things like “Why choose us”, “How do we do it differently”, “Who do we work with/Who is this made for” and it’s made as a guide to massage into more contextual uses or pick bits from it while keeping the general gist of what they have as a base to work within these bits of Brand Messaging.
Some call this part only, your Brand Identity. But like our own identities as a person, would you be defined only by the way you look? Everything preceding your Visual Identity and the Visual Identity itself is your Brand Identity to me. That aside, this is the part of your identity that most consumers are going to identify with when they think of you or recognise you. How you use it can differ from brand to brand as your visual identity can apply to different touchpoints. So where a product business typically has packaging, a service-based business would in most cases not have those touchpoints for a visual identity to be applied to.
To give you a universal guide on using your Visual Identity effectively, remember that the main goal of using your visual identity is being consistent in your brand’s appearance to increase the chances of being seen and seen first:
- Colour: stick to 1–3 colours, plain and simple. If you do have a multitude of colours that form the primary appearance, use them all together at all times (because a rainbow never appears without Indigo and Orange to be known as a rainbow). But for most brands try to use one colour if you can stand out in your category for it. Or two colours in combination to be recognised among others. Just make sure you use the colour values you are given for RGB (Digital use) and CMYK/Pantone (Print use). Because colour is one of the first things consumers will recognise you by in the context of where they typically find you. The best part is, that if you’ve done your job well by using your colour(s) like they’re going out of fashion, consumers will think of you when they see your colours used in other brands or other instances in life.
- Type/Fonts: The same goes for any fonts you use — use the same ones consistently. The same goes for your typography — use the same heading and body text styles and hierarchies of font sizes. Typography is a discipline in and of itself when it comes to design, so you’re not going to be marked down for not getting it right all the time. Follow your guidelines so that your consumers basically read the important parts first that are big and bold and sequentially move down the hierarchy of size, boldness and length of text to easily take in your communications.
- Logo: Your logo needs to be adapted to different contexts. If it’s going to be shown at tiny sizes, utilise a minimal version of your logo (hopefully your designer has done this for you). If it’s going to be displayed larger and can afford to use a more detailed version, make sure it’s still identifiable from a distance so the detail doesn’t get lost. Don’t be squishing it, editing bits in it or changing the colours unless it’s to one colour to match a charitable cause.
- Other elements: no matter if it’s illustrations, icons, photos or other graphic elements, these may change over time, but when they are utilised at any point in your brand, make sure they are consistent across every touchpoint your consumers engage with. So that when they navigate from your Linkedin company profile, to then see your Instagram posts, your flyers, your ads and your website, they’re greeted with consistent visuals they can easily associate with you, even if those moments are weeks apart. As it can take up to 7 times for a consumer to recognise and remember your brand before they buy.
One thing I will say about your visual identity that many might overlook is putting it into the context of how your team appears or how your shop appears and I’ll give you two examples. Brand colours can be utilised in decor like plant pots or wall colours. The clothing style your team wears can be part of your visual identity, of which I’m not saying you all need to wear the same brand colour. Rather if it’s a certain colour combination or clothing style that you can become synonymous for, without it being a uniform necessarily.
The final part on the list was Sonic Branding. Not many brands utilise this element to form part of their Brand Identity and personally, I’m actually yet to develop this as part of an identity for my clients and my own business. It’s an under-utilised asset when it comes to Brand Identity design as it can add to the sensory experience consumers can come to identify you by without even seeing you. But much like the Visual Identity, if you do have Sonic Branding make sure you utilise it with consistency and at any opportunity, it’s possible to do.
The one thing I’d say about Sonic Branding (and even your Brand Messaging to an extent) is that if you’re a young brand (1–3 years out of the blocks) it may feel too early to have this be set in stone or even explore it when first developing your Brand Identity. Which for me is the reason why I’ve been hesitant to employ it into my G’day Frank Brand Identity.
HOW DO YOU REMEMBER ALL OF THIS?
Now don’t get me wrong, I can’t remember all aspects of my own Brand Identity off the top of my head. Nor do I expect my clients to do so either. This is why I typically suggest that their team focuses on 3 things they can lean into that they believe will create the most impact on the day-to-day internally and 3 things their consumers can remember them for externally. It is also a great reason for developing a Brand Core concept to make it easy to apply it to all parts of the Brand Identity and subsequent touchpoints touch that form part of your consumer's brand experience as it leaves you with only one thing to really remember to stay on-brand and refer back to.
Speaking of referring back to something, the final part of developing a Brand Identity for my clients is to provide them with a Brand Guidelines document. I’ve seen this come in many forms and functions, with most only guiding how your logo should look and what your colours and fonts need to be. That to me is a Style Guide if anything. Whereas a Brand Guidelines document should at least include the first 7 Brand Identity elements in that list at the start of the article, for you to refer back to on paper or digitally.
Your Brand Guidelines is there for your team internally to refer to. However, these documents can be quite long and tedious for most people in your team that don’t necessarily need to make use of the Brand Messaging or Visual Identity in the capacity of their role. So a simple Cheat Sheet or small employee handbook of the key aspects of your Brand Identity can be helpful and easy to refer back to. But with any aspect of your business, having leadership in your team to drive the identity forward in this case, is how you’re going to get successful buy-in from your team.
Additionally, if you work with marketing or advertising agencies, they’re gonna love you if you have this kind of document to provide as it will give them the insight they need to understand what makes your Brand Identity what is and how it then needs to be communicated. Which also saves money when agencies need to fill in the gaps that you’ve not fully developed — which is typically messaging and personality.
WHERE TO NEXT?
To reiterate what I said at the start of this article, you’ve spent the money, you’re all excited about it, you want to show it to the world, you now know how to use each part of your identity. But what do you then do with it to connect with your consumers?
The answer is unfortunately, it depends of course. As every brand is different and it comes down to your industry and customer type.
However, I’ve got your back with the typical things you can apply your Brand Identity to:
- Business Cards
- Social media & article content (like this blog post)
- Product design
- Advertisements (audio, video or static)
- Brand Ambassadors (eg. celebrities, mascots, team members)
- Personal appearance (body, makeup, nails, tattoos, hairstyle, jewellery, piercings, etc)
To put it this way, like Mufasa says to Simba in The Lion King, “Everything the light touches, is our Kingdom”, if you put that into the context of your brand, “Everything we put out there, can have our branding on it”.
This was a long one, but as I said at the start of the article, I hope this can be a resource you can refer back to in the future, just the same as you would your Brand Guidelines. But if in doubt, always get in touch with your brand consultant or say g’day today to me if needed.
This article first appeared on my blog where you can find more about me and other content about branding.
I’m Reagan ‘Frank’ Mackrill, a brand identity designer from the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, Australia.
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