Branding 101: Learning the Basics

This week marks one year since I launched my website. When I launched, I had freshly designed my brand identity (though it wasn’t 100% complete), I kind of knew who my ideal audience was, and I had a vague idea of what I wanted my site and blog to accomplish. If you’re thinking I didn’t sound very prepared, you’d be right!

I chose to launch before I was really ready and really confident that everything was “perfect” (newsflash: there’s no such thing as perfect). Looking back on the last 12 months, I'm amazed at how much I’ve learned and refined. Even though I'm well acquainted with building brands for others, I feel like my understanding and grasp of my personal brand has grown, and, in turn, it’s helped my brand identity evolve and mature as well. With those year-long lessons fresh in my mind, I want to share these branding basics that every business owner should know, including six elements that help shape your brand and six elements that help shape your brand identity.



What is a brand?

Before we dig into uncovering the key pieces that shape your brand, I want to make sure you have a really firm grasp on exactly what your brand is. Seth Godin says it best,

“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer's decision to choose one product or service over another.”

In short, your brand is the heart and soul of your business.

6 elements that shape your brand:

At the very heart of your business are the core values you believe in and operate by. These are reflected in your business practices, your mission statement, and even how you interact with your business community. 

Everyone knows that having a great reputation is priceless. When people read your blog where you’re freely sharing knowledge, you say something uplifting to a competitor, or you consistently produce high quality work, all those things go toward building a positive reputation. 

Your website is the online storefront for your business. When you look at it that way, you’re going to want to ensure your visitors can easily find out who you are, what you do, and feel comfortable navigating through all the content on your site. Make it easy for people to find information by keeping the design clean and avoiding dead-ends on pages.

When your clients give great feedback on how wonderful your products are services are, it’s very effective in reinforcing the reputation you have and strengthening the brand you’re building. It's one thing to say that you offer great services and that your clients can get great results, but it's much more valuable to have someone who's invested in you to speak from their personal experience.

The way you interact with your clients and handle the process of different projects also speak to your brand. Some people are very straightforward and no-nonsense, while others people try to build deep and meaningful working relationships with their clients. Whatever your approach, you’ll attract the types of clients who prefer a certain working style, and your testimonials and copywriting will help communicate that.

The way you write, whether it’s in emails or blog posts, can speak volumes about your brand. The tone you write with will convey a certain image to your readers, so make sure it’s the image you want. Do you want to be super friendly and helpful? Do you want to be sarcastic and sassy? Do you want to be very analytical and to-the-point? How do you feel about including stronger language, and how do you think your ideal audience will react to it? Copywriting is a powerful tool, so make sure you’re using it in a way that will strengthen and work well with the other components within your brand.



What is a brand identity?

If a brand is the soul of your business, then think of the brand identity as the body. The brand, or visual, identity is the physical, exterior look of your business, which should work to complement the brand you’ve built for your business. Your brand identity is going to draw people in and give them visual cues about your brand, and it’s typically going to be the first impression someone has of your business. Your brand identity also acts as a trigger for people's associations, experiences, memories, stories, etc. that they have with your business's brand.

6 elements that shape a brand identity:

Your logo is your identifying mark, and it’s the foundation the rest of your brand identity is built off of. When people have an experience with your business, they’ll see your logo and it’ll conjure up memories, stories, and different feelings that they associate with your brand.

Having a consistent color palette to use across the width and breadth of your brand identity will work to solidify your image in people’s minds. Color is also a powerful tool that can be used to convey different moods, so be sure to select colors that work well together and reflect the personality and attitude you want your business to embody.

The font choice for your brand identity can have a stronger impact than you may think a bunch of letters in different forms would. Each font has it’s own personality and gives off a certain impression. Choose fonts for your brand identity that complement your brand and the type of business you’re running. By keeping these consistent, it’ll work with other branding elements, like the color palette and imagery, to become a visual indicator of your business.

Photographs, icons, and patterns are all very handy tools to use in creating a full and cohesive brand identity. The way photos are edited (high-key with pops of color or low-key and moody), the ways icons are designed, and the use of pattern all work as elements that strengthen your visual identity and give it your special mark. By having a variety of imagery within your brand identity arsenal, the more versatility you have and the more creative you can get.

When creating a cohesive and recognizable brand identity, you need to make sure the pieces you’re producing fit within all the parameters you’ve set up. Blog post graphics are a great example of how your colors, fonts, and imagery all come together in a way that is a good representation of your brand. You want to remain consistent, so that when people see it floating in an ocean of pins on Pinterest they're able to recognize it as yours. Get creative with how you combine your typography with your color palette and patterns or icons or photographs.

Your social media profiles provide a great opportunity to build and reinforce your brand identity. By keeping your branding in the back of your mind at all times, you’ll be more particular about the quality of things you post and how it’ll tie in with the experience you’re building for people who come in contact with your business.


How do your brand and brand identity work together?

Your brand and brand identity work together to create a full image of your business.

If I were to ask you to describe your best friend to me, you might say she’s hard-working and kind (this would be similar to describing a brand) and that she’s blonde and has hazel eyes (this is like describing a brand identity). By describing your friend’s character and some defining physical characteristics, I get a better idea of who your friend is and what she looks like. A brand and a brand identity work together in the same way to give people a better idea of your business. 

In the world of branding your business, the two descriptions should mesh well for the sake of reflecting a clear and consistent message. When your brand and your brand identity don’t line up, it can be confusing. I’ll give you and example (and if you’re a Harry Potter fan, I think you’ll appreciate it).

Are you familiar with the character Dolores Umbridge? She looks sweet, lovely, and so very prim. However, what you find on the inside of this character is quite the opposite. In other words, she’s icky and enjoys being icky. The conflict of her appearance and her actual attitude is what makes her one of the more unsettling villains of the series. Please understand that your business will not come across as evil if your brand and brand identity don’t correspond well! This is just an extreme example of how things can clash and cause confusion for people just getting acquainted with your business. 

Ultimately, you want the message you’re sending to be clear and concise. If your brand and visual identity don't work well together to create a thorough image of your business, it could be hurting your ability to attract your ideal audience and how effectively you can communicate you services.

So, go ahead and take a close look at your brand, the heart and soul of your business, and run through the different elements that make up a brand to make sure they all line up. Next, take that impression of your business and see how it fits the brand identity you currently have. Does it mesh well, or are there conflicting elements? Are they things you can easily fix like using a consistent color palette or editing your photos to all have a similar look? Or do you need a new brand identity designed? If that ends up being the case, I'd love to chat!