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What is Brand Identity Design?

Brand identity is what makes a company noticeable. Learn how to develop a top brand identity design for your startup or business.

The Two Facets of Brand Identity

Like a person, a brand’s identity can be defined through internal characteristics, or features that describe the sort of “person” a brand is on the inside, and external characteristics, or visual features that describe how the brand looks and presents itself to the world.

What Defines a Brand’s Internal Identity?

A brand’s internal identity can be defined by many of the same characteristics we define individual identity by. This is because a brand identity is intended to accomplish the same thing. By defining a brand identity we’re attempting to tell the world what it is that makes the brand unique. We’re trying to create a robust image in people’s minds of what the business is all about. What they do, how they do it, and WHY they do it. What they feel about what they do.

The best way to think about a brand identity is to imagine the brand as a person and then consider how that person would express themselves.

Brand Personality

When customers interact with a brand, “who” are they interacting with? If the brand were a person, what sort of person would it be? Excited and friendly or sophisticated and reserved? The personality of a brand relates directly to the sort of person your brand is trying to cater to, and the sort of person they expect the brand to be. A luxury car brand would have a very different personality than a late-night cookie delivery service. That’s because they’re catering to different people with different preferences, and these markets have certain expectations for the types of “people” these brands should be.

Brand Voice

Related to a brand’s personality is its voice. If it were a person, given its personality, what sort of things might it say? This is extremely important for marketing purposes, where the goal is to communicate clearly and consistently with consumers. Just like a character in a movie, the things a brand says in its ads, on its website, and anywhere else it shares messages, its voice needs to be consistent. No one would believe the authenticity of a character that seemed to flip between voices throughout scenes, saying things that are inconsistent with things it said in the past. Likewise, a brand’s voice needs to feel appropriate to its personality and remain constant over time. Otherwise, consumers will have a difficult time believing it and connecting with it.

Brand Values

Like a person, a company can stand for things. It can value certain ideals. These company values translate directly to brand values and contribute to a brand identity. According to Harvard Business Review, 64% of people that say they have a relationship with a given brand give shared values as the main driver of the relationship. People want to know that the companies they give money to use that money in ways they would support, so defining your brand values is an important part of brand identity.

Nike values by mrmanwich

Brand Mission

A brand’s mission is related to its values. What a company does is fairly obvious to the consumer. Why it chooses to do this isn’t. A brand’s mission gives the consumer context for the products and services it offers. It helps them fit the brand into its competitive landscape and gives them reasons why they should support it over some other brand. This is why you see a lot of companies today wrapping social awareness into their brand identities. It’s important to them that consumers understand they aren’t just doing what they do for the money but also because they want to affect some sort of good in the world. A brand’s mission “humanizes” them.

Brand Positioning

This characteristic is, in some ways, a summation of all the other internal characteristics we’ve discussed. It’s trying to communicate what makes the brand unique. However, it does this from the perspective of the competition. Instead of being purely descriptive, a brand’s unique positioning is also comparative. It looks at the competition — their identities and offerings and then contrasts the brand against these. Whereas everything before has simply said, “this is who were are”, brand positioning discusses this but also talks more about the competition, and then reflects on their undesirable characteristics the brand doesn’t share.

Brand positioning graph by Hubspot

What Defines a Brand’s External Identity?

Ultimately a brand’s external identity, or visual identity, is defined by its internal identity. The visual cues a brand uses to create its visual identity should be formulated with care to communicate the core of the brand’s internal identity quickly and clearly, as these visual cues are the most obvious facet of the brand’s identity. It’s the visual identity, paired with the brand’s voice, that people come into contact with before anything else, so it’s important that they complement each other.

Brand Logo

A brand’s logo is a single visual symbol tasked with communicating as much as possible about the brand’s internal identity. Designing a great logo is no easy task. It involves distilling a brand’s identity down to its essence in order to create a single visual statement that immediately conveys the intended message.

volusion brand identity design
Volusion logo by Ramotion
brand identity design agency
OpenColony visual identity iconography guide

It’s critical that designers give careful, reasoned, and extended thought to a brand’s logo design.

The following factors should always be included in logo discussions, and in discussions for any complementary collateral, as these are the features that create the subtext for a brand’s visual identity.

Icons from Slack marketing website
Netflix tech startup logo
Color code by Netflix

In Your Customer’s Eyes Your Brand Identity is You

How you convey who you are is critical, because if your customers get mixed messages, or misread the message entirely you’ll have a much harder time in the marketplace. Just like with individual identities, people are friends with people they like. People they understand. Authentic people whose inner identities match what they show the world. If you get brand identity right you’ll find it much easier to grab customers. But it’s a process, so get started!



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