There's a reason why so many small business owners feel confused about where to start with creating their brand design (logo, typography, colour palette). There's no rule book for setting up a business, because every business is completely different and will need tread a different path.
The answer is to be slow and mindful when branding your business. You do not need to move at a glacial pace, but you do need to give yourself time to work through some thoughtful groundwork before diving into building out your brand design.
Don't be afraid to take the time to really think. Set aside the time.
What is a brand strategy?
The groundwork you need to work through before creating your brand design is called Brand Strategy. Don't let that phrase scare you, it really just means getting clear on and writing down some of the things you probably already know about your brand and forming them into a sort of plan.
Your Brand Strategy is your blueprint for how you'll show your brand (business) to the world.
It will keep you consistent - when you have a strategy everything you do will be cohesive and will effectively communicate the essence of what you have to offer.
Nowadays, being successful in business is almost always bolstered by how you've presented yourself online. I'm sorry - it just is. Unprofessional or disjointed information and imagery can be detrimental to how your business is viewed by your audience. Even worse would be to not be represented online at all.
Your brand strategy is all about highlighting what makes you different from other businesses with similar offerings and working out how you can effectively communicate that through your visuals.
Strategy before brand design
It's important to have this groundwork in place before creating a logo or colour palette because those things should be designed with your brand strategy in mind.
Your logo should not merely be imagery and typography that you personally like. That doesn't help your business at all.
You need to draw on the information in your strategy to help you choose which type of logo and which colours will resonate with your audience and help your business stand out.
You might not like this, but the design of your logo and your colour palette is MORE about your audience and who you're trying to attract than it is about what you personally like.
In my brand identity design service I try to bridge the gap between what you like and what's right for your business, but it's not the easiest of tasks.
It really helps to get an outside perspective from people who aren't as 'close' to your business as you are - it's fine to talk to others and discuss your brand, they might be able to see something in your biz that you didn't see yourself, or they may be able to put something into words that you couldn't previously articulate.
Your logo and brand identity should be strategic and full of symbolic meaning that goes beyond what words alone can express. Your visual identity sets the tone for everything else that is to come, it's the first thing that your customers take in and needs to be recognisable and relatable.
It's also important to note that your brand strategy doesn't need to be set in stone once you've got it down on paper. Many people pivot, start to offer other complimentary products or services, or even cut some things out of their business within the first year or couple of years.
Work through my simplified brand strategy framework below again and realign yourself with the right path for you.
There's even a Canva template you can purchase at the end so you can put all your hard work into a nice, easy to follow format that can be updated and refined as needed.
The 4-part Brand Strategy framework
There are 4 elements to your brand and so there are 4 parts to work through for your brand strategy.
The vision part of your brand strategy encompasses why you exist, the reasons you're in business, and how you want to help people. It's the bigger picture and the overarching story that drives everything you do - it's the backbone of your brand.
It's so important to have some kind a narrative behind your brand and you need to be crystal clear on what your narrative is and make sure it runs through everything you do.
Think about the following things to pull together your brand vision.
Your why - Why do own a business, what is the driving force behind what you do?
What is your brand story? - What led you up to this point, how does your story feed into your why?
Who is your audience? - Who are your people and what matters to them? You need to think about both demographics and psychographics and pull everything together into a succinct customer profile. You can also talk a little about your muses background or story as this might well be relevant to the reason they buy from you.
Click through to the blog post below for help with defining your audience
Related blog post: 4 steps to identify your ideal customer
What's the bigger picture? - What do you offer over and above your physical product or tangible deliverables. What future do you want to help create for your audience, how do you make their lives better?
Click through to the blog post below for more help with this
Related blog post: How clarifying your business vision can help guide your business
Who is your competition and how to you differ? - What magic do you bring to the table? This could be about your personality, the way you create your products, where you source your materials from, your work experience, it might even be your brand story that's really unique. Anything that could set you apart from a business that delivers something similar.
What could your tagline be? - Your tagline is a short but powerful statement that conveys the essence of your brand. Write down a few short sentences that come to mind now, but you may come back to this later once you've worked through everything else.
My tagline is 'Thoughtful brand styling'. This explains what I do in the shortest amount of words possible, but still gives a feel for the type of work I'm best at.
Your brand values can be guiding principles for your business, they are the defining beliefs that support the way your business works.
In your clients eyes, your values represent a promise you make to them about how your business will conduct itself and they'll help you stand out and differentiate yourself from your competition.
Your brand values should be built on authenticity. They should be principles and genuine beliefs that you already hold as a person and should not just be chosen based on what is trendy at the time. Your customer will be able to see right through it if you choose values that aren't based on authenticity.
You'll want to pick 4 to 8 words that really resonate with you. Expand some of your words into a full sentence for each. Consider how you can be specific within your industry and think about what kind of experience you want your customer to have with your business.
Click through to the blog post below for help with defining your brand values.
Related blog post: Why your Brand Values are important and how to define them.
In this section you should also make sure you're aware of what your audience values. Create a diagram like the example below so you can visualise where your values overlap with your audiences values. It can be a great visual reminder to have to hand and refer back to to keep you on track.
Both your Voice and your Visuals are influenced by your vision and values, so we should never think about them before we've gone through the first two Vs.
Your brand voice is your writing style and tone; it should be consistent and display your brand personality. You need to write in the same tone across all your brand touchpoints, from social media, through to your website. An effective brand voice will ensure your messaging is both meaningful and memorable.
Click through to this blog post by Charlotte Ferris to learn more about defining your brand voice: 5 steps for finding your brand voice
Create a brand thesaurus of words and phrases that feel authentic to your brand. This list can contain your brand values but can also contain some emotive, evocative, and visual words.
You'll also need this list when you come to work on your brand visuals.
Think about how you would write about certain things but also think about how you wouldn't describe them too.
You don't need to go wild with this, but after working through the first two steps you should have an idea of the kind of things you'll talk about throughout your brand messaging - choose a standardised list of words and phrases that you can refer back to and weave into your copy.
Would your brand describe something as joyful or happy. Both words have a similar meaning, but joyful is more evocative and happy sounds more informal. One might be more right that the other for your brand.
Arguably the most fun part, finally you'll define what your brand should look like, so this incorporates your logo, colour palette, typography, photography - anything visual that represents your brand.
Your brand visuals should ring true to the vision and values that you've already defined, but your audience also needs to be able to see themselves in your visuals.
Instead of looking for inspiration from other businesses in the same industry as you, look to the other things and places that your ideal clients love. When you draw inspiration from these places that they already know and love your ideal clients will feel like you ‘get them’ and it will be an easy choice for them to choose you over someone else whose vibe is totally different.
Use your brand thesaurus, brand values and any other visual or evocative keywords you've identified for your brand. Try searching for these keywords or variations around the themes of these keywords on Pinterest, or free stock photo sites like unsplash.com.
Look through magazines or collect things that remind you of your words and phrases when you’re out and about. Take pictures on your travels when you see inspiration that you identify with.
Put these things together in a collage on paper or make a digital mood board on Pinterest. Keep editing and distilling down, you don’t need to keep all the imagery you gather and it might take you a while to settle on something that feels right.
Make a note of colours or design styles that feature in lots of your imagery. The idea is that you’ll begin to get a feel for what your brand should look like visually and you or a designer you hire will have a fantastic foundation to build your brand identity on.
Take your time with it and most importantly, have fun!
Keep all the information and imagery you've gathered for your brand strategy all in one place, let it guide you in with everything you do. The only way to build a strong brand is through consistency and the only route to consistency is through keeping your strategy in the back of your mind.
If you would like some help putting your brand strategy into an easy to read and digestible format I'd love to hear from you!
If you would like me to bring your brand strategy to life and build out a beautiful and meaningful brand identity for you, please get in touch.