When I first ventured in to freelancing I didn’t anticipate that the most daunting challenge I would face was creating a brand identity for myself. Although I have experience helping small businesses with their branding, it’s somehow a different ball game altogether when it’s you in the spotlight, particularly when you are the face of your brand.
Why is having a brand identity important?
Your brand identity is the outward face of your business that you project to the world. Your customers will make snap judgements about who you are, the products and services that you offer and what you’re like to work with based on this – and sometimes this alone. Do you really want them to make incorrect assumptions about your business just because you rushed together a quick logo that will “do for now”, with inappropriate brand colours and hastily purchased stock images? Nope, me neither.
If you’re a professional law firm hoping to project a serious image, you wouldn’t choose to use baby pink as your brand colour because the connotations are all wrong; similarly, if you’re a dynamic, up-and-coming tech startup you don’t want your logo to scream “1998” and look like it was designed in Paint.
It’s also likely that you’ve got a fair bit of competition, so a good personal brand will help you to stand out, be memorable and ultimately attract more business.
With that in mind I thought I’d share a few nuggets of advice to help you to navigate through the potential minefield that is branding.
Step One – Brainstorm.
Get comfortable. Make a cup of tea, hell, make a whole pot, and throw in some biscuits too. That’s Step One done! Ha, sorry but no – now to the task at hand. Let’s go through a few questions and jot down whatever springs to mind when you think about your business:
- Pick a handful of adjectives (aim for 5-10) that sum up you and your business, for example: “professional, corporate and straight-talking” or “fun, informal and approachable”. This will help you to define your brand voice.
- What image of yourself and your business do you want to project? I wanted to project an image of myself as capable, confident and knowledgeable (which I think I am, most days), but with a sense of humour and a bit of originality.
- What are your company values? Maybe it’s “working together” or “listening to our customers”. Defining your business’ vision or mission statement is a task for another day, but it’s useful to jot down some rough ideas for this project.
- Now, what are your strengths? Do you have shit-hot customer service, or maybe you’re breaking the mould with your product or service? Great – write it down.
- What are your competitors up to? Pick your 5 top competitors and Google ’em – what are their websites like, what are their brand colours, how do they come across? How do you differ from them?
Step Two – Explore.
By now you should have gained a good sense of your company’s personality and now it’s time to think about how you want to convey this.
Here’s a simple exercise to get you started: browse image curation sites, like Pinterest, on a regular basis, and save anything you come across which visually appeals to you. If you prefer to do this “old school”, you could print out the images you come across and pin them to a physical wall somewhere – whatever works.
Once you have a decent-sized collection of images, sit back and look for trends. I quickly noticed I was drawn to abstract patterns found in nature, to black and white contrasting images and textures, rich colours and bold forms. You might notice an attraction to florals and forms found in nature, or modern, edgy, urban styles. This process can be a useful (and pretty fun) starting point and also quite revealing – useful for the next steps.
Step Three – Visual Identity.
Your visual identity should instantly give your customers a sense of who you are and what you stand for. It consists of your logo, your colour scheme, typefaces (i.e fonts) and all the individual elements that make up your brand. You want this to be consistent across all customer touchpoints; from email signatures to social media profiles, business cards, and of course, your website. This is the stage of the project when you may want to turn to an expert to turn your notes from Steps One & Two in to a visual identity for your business.
These are the three key elements of your brand identity:
Arguably the most important aspect of your brand; this is the visual embodiment of your business. This is one area where you should really employ expert help (hi!). Although stock logos are available to purchase as editable files online, why would you risk ending up with the same design as someone else? This is a short-sighted approach which catches out many young companies – don’t make the same mistake.
Choosing a colour scheme that is unique, complementary and encapsulates your business is an art in itself – see the references at the bottom of this page for some useful links.
One way of defining a colour scheme is to collect a series of images with colours that leap out at you. Upload the image in to a tool such as Adobe Kuler which will pinpoint the colours in use in the image. You can then play around with the colour scales and find harmonising shades and tones. See the references section for more handy links – but again, a professional eye really comes in handy here.
Again this can be quite a daunting task and you’ll probably want to leave it in the hands of a designer again. There’s a lot of fonts out there – some well designed, some poor, some vastly overused, some vastly overpriced. You’ll also need something print and web-friendly. A good way to break it down is to decide whether you prefer serif or sans-serif, classic or modern, handwritten etc. Pick something that is legible at most common sizes (about 7pt and up) and that isn’t too trendy and therefore at risk of looking dated in a year or so – see Comic Sans. A typeface with a range of weights is also great so you have plenty of options for different uses such as headings, pull-out quotes and so on. More on typography in the links at the bottom, if you’re interested and want to go it alone.
Step Four – Wrap it up
Those are the three core elements that make up your brand identity, but it could also include other visual elements such as icons and characters (see Mailchimp). It’s also useful to think about if and how you plan to use imagery, for example: will you purchase corporate-looking stock imagery, or will you use images of your actual team (Flywheel do this really well) for a more authentic look? These are all things that need considering if you want a brand identity that runs through everything you do like a stick of Brighton Rock.
Once you’ve got these elements defined, it’s useful to put together brand guidelines for your own reference and to use when working with suppliers, such as website designers. There’s a free template you can use here.
Still struggling to define your personal brand, or does this all sound a bit overwhelming?
Let’s work through the process together – contact me today to find out how:
- Logo design 101: http://www.creativebloq.com/logo-design/get-started-7112864
- The psychology behind colour in branding: https://www.helpscout.net/blog/psychology-of-color/T
- The importance of Typography: http://www.creativebloq.com/branding/ways-typography-can-boost-your-branding-71515840
- Choosing the right font for your business: https://www.shutterstock.com/blog/3-tips-for-picking-the-right-font-for-your-business