Brand identity is a broad term to describe all of the elements of branding in your business. But because it has so many diverse elements, it can be complex and difficult to understand. After describing the basics, we’ll dive into all of the major facets of a brand identity.
What is Brand Identity vs Brand Image?
To define brand identity, let’s start by defining some of the things that it is not. A brand image is how the public perceives the company. For example, the public perception of Apple may be minimalist design, high-tech, and elite status. These associations may be a part of the brand identity, but the brand image itself is not the whole picture. Meanwhile, branding is the marketing efforts that shape those public perceptions, but they are also not necessarily the same thing as a brand identity. All of these concepts are intertwined, but they are not interchangeable.
What a brand identity truly is, is the visible and tangible components of your brand. This includes the logo, the color palette, the tone of voice, and other observable elements that remain consistent throughout the branding of a company.
Before You Build a Brand Identity
Before you can build your brand identity, you need to understand what your brand stands for. It’s hard to develop appropriate and consistent colors, shapes, and other elements otherwise. Be sure you have your what’s and your why’s down. Why did you start your business, what do you produce, how do you differentiate from your competition, who is the ideal customer, and where can a customer expect to find your products or services?
The answers to these questions may help you decide on certain aspects of your brand identity. For example, in an industry where other brands are serious, is there room for your brand to be more whimsical? Does your competition all have a similar color palette? If so, determine if there is a psychological reason for those brand colors in your industry. Or on other end of the spectrum, if you should choose a different color in order to stand out.
How to Build a Brand Identity
Since the bulk of brand identity is visual, getting the colors and shapes nailed down early can help you create a consistent and unified look. Some of the most recognizable brands identified a strong visual direction and kept up with it.
There is a lot to love about Apple’s brand identity. At the time that they launched, their branding was fresh and young. Even the name and the use of fruit as their logo bring to mind ideas of freshness, and such a basic symbol is loaded with deeper meaning. Their white-and-grey color scheme exemplifies cleanliness and minimalism, which matches how they want their products to be perceived. This is a great example of the product reflecting what the brand identity evokes.
The brand identity is flexible enough that they can enter any consumer tech sector without it seeming disingenuous. The simple and clean ethos can be applied to any technology. And regardless of whether Apple’s solution is truly more straightforward than the competition, the brand suggests that it is! And of course, who can forget the “i” monicker in front of most of their devices? This consistent naming has made Apple devices instantly recognizable even by someone who has never interacted with the device.
Choosing your brand colors is one of the most important parts of the brand identity, and should happen early in the process. The colors you choose can have emotional associations and may guide your tone of voice and your logo. We have an entire post dedicated to choosing your brand colors, so we won’t go too in-depth here.
Every color has different emotions and reactions associated with it. And you can get even more granular by combining colors. Just think of how a brand whose colors are green and brown are distinctly different than a brand whose colors are multiple shades of blue. The green and brown color scheme probably made you think of an outdoor-focused company, while the blue color scheme probably made you think of a tech company or a bank. There’s a reason these types of brands choose these colors! We define each color in the post linked above, so be sure to check that out for a full breakdown.
Most brands choose a base color, and accent color, and a neutral tone. YouTube chose a prominent attention-grabbing red as its base color, black as its accent color, and a white-grey neutral color to serve as a background. Snickers candy bars have a dark chocolate-like brown as their accent color, with a red, white, and blue logo on top. Blue is the primary color, with red as an accent, and white as an additional color to create contrast and make the combination of blue and red easier on the eyes.
Shapes are the precursors to designing your logo, but they also can inform the design of your products, packaging, and marketing materials. There are two main choices here:
- Round shapes: Shapes with rounded edges feel comfortable, safe, and non-confrontational. They’re about positive emotions and togetherness.
- Straight-edged shapes: Shapes with sharp corners and straight lines feel strong, logical, and serious. While round shapes evoke positive emotions, straight shapes do not necessarily bring to mind negative emotions – it can sometimes be a lack of emotion, focusing more on logic.
To contrast the two, we can consider Apple’s logo and design philosophy is full of rounded shapes that reassure users who may be intimidated by technology. Meanwhile, Microsoft uses square shapes in its logo and its design, which shows users that its products are reliable and functional even if they don’t look as pretty as Apple’s offerings.
Also notice that the chosen shapes for these two brands extends beyond the logo and into the products themselves. Even down to tiny comparisons! Programs in MacOS have rounded corners while programs in Windows have 90-degree angles.
Your brand’s font choices say a lot, because different kinds of fonts have vastly different associations. An old-school serif font (the ones with little feet on the ends of characters) can make a brand appear classic and trustworthy. Meanwhile a script font can feel luxury or whimsical depending on how you use it. Sans serif fonts are modern and sleek, and your brand will be perceived as such if you use them.
The font must match the tone of voice and the overall look and feel of the brand. The soap brand Dr. Squatch utilizes a combination of script, serif, and sans serif fonts to evoke feelings of a national park sign. Using all of these different kinds of fonts is totally fine, as each serves its purpose. The script font feels like a cozy “Welcome” message on a park sign, and is perfect for the company logo. Then the product name is emblazoned with a thick, strong, and stylistic serif font. The details about the type of product are the least interesting part of the packaging but are necessary for communicating information. So Dr. Squatch uses a sans serif font in order to make these details readable while not drawing the eye to them before the logo or product name.
Case Study: Fortnite
Fortnite took the video game world by storm a few years ago, and its branding had a lot to do with it. The creators, Epic Games, set out with one goal: to make a video game that everyone wants to play.
At its core, Fortnite is a shooter video game, where you fight with guns to be the last player standing. That’s a popular format among gamers. But Fortnite’s distinct branding helped it stand out from the other games that were trying to do the same thing. It’s competing with games normally associated with boys and young men, where violence, gore, and a healthy dose of challenge are high on the wishlist for new games.
First of all, Fortnite’s distinct cartoon style and bright colors contrast with the realistic and desaturated looks of other shooters that wanted to feel as mature as possible. This immediately branded Fortnite as unique in the space.
Secondly is the logo and typography. The written Fortnite logo uses a blocky and thick font that initially comes across as serious. Thatis, until you realize how off-kilter all of the letters are from each other. This gives it a whimsical feel and tells you that while there are serious elements, the game also knows how to be silly. But despite the whimsy, it doesn’t come across as overly childish (maybe just a little).
The gameplay itself accentuates the unique brand. Amidst all the shooting, Fortnite is full of silly dances, ridiculous challenges, and has captured the hearts of boys and girls, young and old. With a brand like this, Fortnite managed to create a video game brand that can appeal to everyone, not just the “violence-obsessed teenage boys” that are often associated with shooter games like Call of Duty, Halo, and Doom. They did this by making the core of their brand all about “fun” rather than necessarily about violence – despite violence being a core part of the game.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with the branding of those violent video games, but they appeal to a more specific audience. Fortnite spoke to the world in a language that everyone could understand. They made a promise of fun for all, no matter how you prefer to have fun. This is reflected in their non-violent modes like social spaces, timed races, and party games. All of these things add up to creating a brand that is appealing to kids, teens, and adults. At least enough to make Fortnite the most-played game of all time.
Conclusion: Brand Identity
Brand identity encompasses all aspects of a brand’s personality. It’s the logo, the tagline, the voice, and so much more. It can be seamlessly expanded to cover new products, new experiences, and customer service interactions. When designing your brand, make sure it is versatile and adaptable. It’s a major endeavor. But when it’s ready and in place, it should flow naturally into all of your business efforts.