8 Essential Elements to a Comprehensive Brand Identity

April 1, 2010 | Branding

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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.

For example, web site design only allows a limited number of font choices, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a corporate typeface for printed marketing materials. In fact 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. These elements should be professionally designed and set.
  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.
  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.
  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.
  5. Corporate typefaces. Choose just a handful of fonts to be used whenever there is printed materials. Make sure these are available on all the computers that will create these documents.
  6. Standard typographic treatments. Your typographic identity should include ways of handling key types of text, perhaps a consistent way of styling headlines or pull-out text. Work to make these similar from one application to the next. It may be 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 background texture, a line style treatment, a use of white space or color blocks. These are the areas where do-it-yourself-ers start to suffer, and where a professional graphic designer can pull together a cohesive look for you.

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 fully applicable on your web site (unless you’re Ikea and choose Verdana for everything). 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.

17 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!

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