8 Essential Elements to a Comprehensive Brand Identity

April 1, 2010 | Branding

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Updated August 2016. This post is one of our most popular, as web design has evolved we’ve continued to update this article.

Does your company have a brand identity that is more than just a logo? While a logo is a good place to start, you should consider building your “visual position” to be something larger. Building a system for your brand allows you to meet the demands of different media, while still presenting a cohesive identity.

The more elements you can establish as your basic look and feel will mean that variations from that scheme won’t make your brand identity disintegrate.

1. Logo or wordmark

A logo is a graphic symbol, whereas a wordmark or logotype is just the words of your company or product name set in a specific, fixed way. Your logo or logotype is the core of your brand identity.

It can be a difficult to determine whether or not you need a symbol (a traditional logo) or just a logotype. Some organizations choose a only wordmark because they are simpler design projects that generally cost less. Another factor is whether or not a memorable symbol can be designed that will show how your business is unique. A well-crafted wordmark can convey a sense of professionalism without trying to visualize your brand. There are many examples of brands with strong wordmarks include: Coca-Cola, CNN, Mobil, and FedEx.

The words that make up the name should be professionally designed and typeset—this is true if they are stand alone or beside a symbol that is part of the logo.


Branding IQ

2. Different logo “lockups”

While your logo should always be rendered consistently, you will need variations based on placement and usage. For example, you may need color and black and white variations, you may need versions for horizontal and square applications. But they all should have the same essential qualities.

It used to be that designers were thinking about newspaper ads when they made sure that a logo rendered well in black and white. Nowadays, it’s probably more critical that your brand shines through as your social media profile graphic. Generally, these avatars are square in proportion, so a square or circular logo easily works. If your logo doesn’t start that way, make sure it can be cropped or sized well.

By contrast, you’ll probably also run into a case where you need a horizontal version of your logo. We’ve run into this frequently when trying to place logos into web site or software, or onto promotional items such as pens.

3. Key colors

A corporate color palette is usually defined by the colors in a logo. Often these are one or two colors only, although some are more complex.

When your designer hands over your logo files, make sure you are told the Pantone colors, CMYK and RGB or web colors for your logo.

4. Additional color palette options.

In addition to the colors in your logo, what other colors complement them?

This can be loosely defined such as: bright and bold, pastel, or cool colors. Or, they may handpicked from a color swatch book. These additional colors are often what really brings together (or makes a disconnect) from one point of contact to the next.

To ensure consistency, pick out a palette or core and secondary colors and find the values of these as Pantone, CMYK and RGB so that everyone who touches your brand can quickly and easily make good choices.

5. Corporate typefaces

Choose just a handful of fonts to be used in printed materials. Often these typefaces come from the logo design. However, the styles of your logo may be too decorative for letters or proposals. Finding complementary type faces to use throughout marketing materials will created a unified brand identity. Whenever you work with an outside designer or marketing firm, make sure they know your corporate typefaces and have access to them.

Additionally, figure out how to make your corporate typefaces available on all the computers that will create key documents such as PowerPoint presentations and proposals. An electronic version of your letterhead will ensure consistency. Remember, not all fonts are available in both Mac and PC version, so if multiple employees will be creating important documents make sure that your designer is choosing compatible fonts.

6. Standard typographic treatments

Your typographic identity should include ways of handling key types of text, especially your tagline (if you have one) or your web address.

This begins to move outside the box of design and into editorial standards. Developing a consistent way of writing and styling headlines or pull-out text really begins to create a distinct voice for your brand. Work to make these similar from one application to the next. Pay attention to the way you write your URLS, or the way you capitalize your headlines.

7. Consistent style for images

You don’t need to use the same photos over and over again, but all imagery should have a consistent look and feel.

Maybe the photos are brightly lit and the subject is looking right into the camera. Or, the photos have a subtle color palette and the people never look at the camera but are engaged in their activity. Photos could be close-ups, soft focus, or crisply detailed. You don’t need to use photos! You can use line art, illustrations or just charts and graphs.

Whatever you choose, use a consistent style in all materials, whether printed or online.

8. Have a full library of graphic elements

These are all the small details that really build a branding system. It could be a handmade texture, a line style treatment, a use of white space or color blocks. It’s really how the seven items listed above come together into a unified and recognizable brand identity.

This is usually when do-it-yourself solutions start to suffer. When you are relying on pre-made templates and free images from your web site provider, you usually don’t have the rights to use the imagery across all channels. Additionally, you may lack both the design sense and the tools to do this all yourself. A professional graphic designer can pull together a cohesive look for you and set you up with style guides and libraries to create a distinct look for your brand.

When you have a comprehensive and broadly built graphic identity, it creates a foundation for a rock solid brand identity.

The truth is, that once you start making things, your identity standards are going to be tested.

For example, item #5 (choose a corporate typeface) is not going to be possible in all applications. On many mobile phones there are only limited font choices, so your mobile optimized or responsive web site may not showcase the corporate font. But if you have seven other branding elements that are strongly apparent in the web design, the site will still be able to promote your recognizable brand. If on the other hand, those other graphics are not well-defined and well-used, each application you create dilutes rather than builds a comprehensive brand identity.

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19 comments

  1. Natalie Remien | April 1, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    Hi Emily,
    Love the newsletter and your website. Great information!

    Let us know any of your clients need help on the legal side while branding/ incorporating or re-branding.
    Cheers to the great weather … finally!
    Take care,
    Tali

  2. Emily Brackett | April 8, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    Natalie, Thanks for checking in.

    Chicago folks, Check out Natalie’s Law firm if you need IP help!

  3. Tad Dobbs | April 8, 2010 at 11:52 am

    I’ve been putting together style guides for 3 different companies tackling these very topics. One thing I’ve had to reiterate to all of my clients is that it’s important to look at these as a style guide rather than a brand standards guide to keep the brand feeling fresh. This has especially been necessary when tackling accent color palettes and font selection. A lot of clients have a tendency to think that your web safe font need to be used for print, and that you’re main colors are the only colors to use. My next white paper offering is specifically on the topic of brand flexibility and fatigue.

    Thanks for the great post.

  4. Emily Brackett | April 8, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    Tad, great points. I like those terms: brand flexibility and fatigue. It can be hard to find that line between being too rigid and not having any consistency.

  5. Logo Design Portfolio | May 13, 2010 at 8:08 am

    I think that Logo is the identity of any company which reflects the name and its services. So I must put weight on logo as an essential part of beginning of any business. Anyway, I enjoyed your articles and thanks for sharing valuable thought on Brand Identity. 🙂

  6. Jyoti Panda | December 16, 2014 at 6:27 am

    For me the logo represents the face of the company and it needs to be designed accordingly.

  7. logo design company in London | February 11, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    Typography in logos are often an overlooked aspect. Most designers, often new ones, tend to ignore the importance of right typography in logos. In my opinion, a logo should use a custom typography to make it look distinct.

  8. Ratko Ivanović | July 28, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    I really like your post. Love the mentions of a lot of aspects that people forget.

    Also, there are a lot of mentions of logo in the comments. Having a great logo isn’t branding. It’s the start of branding, more so, branding needs to be implemented. A visual identity doesn’t stop at the logo, but starts there.

    As the author mentioned – different logos for different placements. We’ve had more than a few situations where a company had one logo, which was squared – try fitting a squared logo on a narrow navigation bar.

    Further, colours are really important – an additional palette of colours is a huge bonus as well – one that people tend to forget. (and an additional palette means you can do freshen up a few different colours but still have the branding consistent)

    A common use case – people get a logo out of fiverr and then want to do their website, a landing page, business cards, presentation, flyers, banner ads, etc. And let’s say they use 3 different designers for them. A huge chance is they won’t be consistent in branding. And maybe you won’t see it in an easy way, but it hurts the overall brand.

    I’d like to note as well – when you do branding, try to figure out who your audience is in detail + what you’re offering/selling, what your company’s story is, etc. The more you figure out, the easier it will be to apply that in branding. And that alone will make you unique.

  9. John | May 20, 2016 at 10:24 am

    Thanks for the consistent list, really helpful!

  10. Jae-Alexander | September 25, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    Your brand is so much more than your logo and/or corporate colours. In fact, I would go so far as to say that your logo, colours and website are not your brand. Instead, these are tools that communicate your brand. But they are not your brand in or of themselves.

    Your brand is that which distinguishes your apart from your competitors. It is the essence of your business, what it stands for, and the unique value that you bring to the marketplace.

    This is an important distinction that your article seems to miss out.

  11. Emily Brackett | September 26, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    @Jae-Alexander, Thanks for your comment. You may like to read these 2 blogs as they get to the heart of the distinction between brand and brand identity. Logo, Brand Identity, Brand: What Is Branding? Explains the different terms that people use. And, Branding Is A Buddhist Koan talks a lot about your point here.

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