Branding: Phase 2. Brand Identity

In this phase, you turn your brand into something tangible. Your brand identity includes many of the most visible elements of a brand, including:

  • Your name
  • Your logo
  • Tagline
  • Color palette
  • Imagery
  • Writing style (voice)
  • Business cards
  • Stationery suite
  • Business collateral

As part of a branding process, you are likely to develop (or in the case of a rebranding program, refresh) some or all of these elements. Your brand identity is an opportunity to take the spirit of your positioning and turn it into something that people can see and experience — including a distinctive personality and voice. It is a chance to add a point of differentiation to your brand and set your firm apart visually from your competitors.

Unfortunately, most firms are content to play it safe and embrace what’s familiar. That’s why the color blue (especially dark blue) is so prevalent in every industry. That’s why you see cookie-cutter imagery on so many websites. And that’s one reason most professional services brands are so forgettable. Your brand identity is a rare opportunity to make a bold statement and pop out from a bland, homogenous crowd. For those firms with the courage to stand out, their brand identity can make a real difference.

Brand Style and Voice Guidelines

Keeping a brand identity intact and consistent over time can be challenging. To combat these problems, many firms create brand style guidelines that define how the brand is put together and explain what’s allowed and what isn’t. These guidelines can be comprehensive — dictating how the brand is applied in every situation — or they can be kept simple, with room for variety and exploration.

In the same vein, some firms develop a separate set of guidelines that describe their “voice” — the way the words they use express a personality or attitude. Firms use brand voice guidelines to ensure that their written materials read as if they came from the same person. They might, for instance, recommend against using overly technical language. These guidelines might also discuss sentence structure, as well as what type of vocabulary a writer should use. Is humor allowed? If so, voice guidelines should describe when and how.

Some firms go even further and produce detailed usage guidelines for writers that address subjective points of grammar, spelling, punctuation and more.

The Creative Brief

Before you dive into your brand identity you would do well to write up a creative brief that spells out some of your assumptions and preferences. If your brand was intended to express personality, for example, try to describe what that means. How do convey your brand in color, imagery, typography?

You should develop the creative brief only after discussing your brand identity internally. It should represent a consensus view. If you are working with an agency, they may lead the discussion and develop the brief for you.

The creative brief should address each piece of your brand identity (alternatively, you can develop a separate brief for each). If you are developing a new name, for example, the brief should capture your firm’s expectations and any parameters that the naming team needs to know to avoid taking wrong turns and wandering into blind alleys.