The Anatomy of a Brand
Author: Isabella Cheung | circa 12 minute read
The evolution of ‘Brand and Branding’
The word brand is defined by Oxford Languages as ‘a type of product made by a particular company and sold under a particular name’, but brand and branding can have a whole range of meanings. From our perspective, your brand is much more than your product or a name, and is the feeling that people have when they see and interact with you. Our friends over at RH&Co. describe brand as ‘culture, values and public perception’, whilst Forbes defines a brand as ‘what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name’. It is about the associations conjured up for your audience, and the resulting image that they have which influences their decision making and impression of you.
The word brand originates from the Old English for fire, flame or burning wood. In the 1550s the meaning of a ‘mark made by a hot iron’ emerged, as a way to identify the maker, and this meaning broadened by the 1800s to include ‘a particular make of goods’. Due to its origin, it is easy to misinterpret a brand now as simply equating to a stamp of creation or ownership – your logo. But, there is a whole lot more to a brand than just a brand mark and name. Yes, it is about design and colour, but it is also about how the whole brand image shapes your audience’s perception, makes them feel, and separates you from your competitors. Used right, your brand becomes a powerful tool to evoke the right feelings in your customers and build loyalty.
So how do you design and use your brand to connect on a human level with your audience? A brand, just like a person, is not just its surface level appearance. There are a whole number of elements that make up a fully formed brand and visual identity, some more essential than others, but all of which strengthen your brand and ensure it is perceived in the way you intend. And, a strong, impactful brand is particularly crucial for purpose led businesses wanting to make a difference in the world, influence positive change and get the right message across.
Here’s our breakdown of all the various parts of a complete brand, right from the strategy, name and logo down to iconography, illustration, image treatment, brand activation and motion. And if you’re thinking ‘I don’t even know what those things are, let alone whether I need them’, read on to find out all the ways you can use your brand to fulfil your potential, shape your reputation and build meaningful relationships with your customers.
Successful brands are underpinned by a strong brand strategy. This means that rather than just creating a visual identity that looks aesthetically appealing to the eye, each decision regarding design, language, recruitment and customer acquisition is made with your business goals in mind.
As Neil Parker, co-founder of Brand Mag, puts it, ‘brand strategy is the considered intent for the positive role a company wants to play in the lives of the people it serves and the communities around it’; it is about planning for success, and giving thought to how you want to be perceived. Brand strategy helps you define your purpose, mission, vision, goals and customer profiles, so that you can ensure consistency between who you are and what you present to the world. Getting this strategic thinking right gives you the base you need to build a strong and consistent brand identity. Think of brand strategy as the essential foundations that hold and link all the other branding elements together.
Brand voice and logo activation for award winning copywriting agency RH&Co.
Language, brand voice & personality
What do you use to describe your brand, business or charity? First and foremost it is words. Language and brand voice are a crucial part of your brand, and one that might sometimes be overlooked when engaging with a design agency in favour of getting started on the logo and colour combinations. But a killer brand image won’t pack the same punch if your accompanying tone of voice, copy and straplines are an afterthought.
You can use your strategy to anchor your brand voice and delve into how your business speaks and writes. Imagine your brand as a person – how do you want them to sound? Formal or friendly, professional or casual, caring or authoritative? What channels is your brand communicating through, is it social media, emails or in-person pitches? Think about your friends; what they say and how they say it plays a key role in shaping the view you have of them. And, it’s important that the way they speak actually matches up to what they do and how they act, otherwise they seem inauthentic.
Once your brand strategy and language is nailed down it’s time to start thinking about your visual identity, and this is where things really start to get exciting
Adaptive logo design for digital marketing agency Solvi Digital
Logos and adaptive branding
A logo is often the first thing you think of when you say branding. It is the face of the brand and often one of the first elements that your customer comes into contact with. Although a brand is a lot more than just the logo, the logo can embody and represent everything the business stands for. Think of big brands like Nike and Apple; you see that small image and immediately know the business it represents through the thoughts, feelings and experiences you associate with it.
We are strong advocates of adaptive branding at The Discourse as it enables you to future proof your logo and maximise the time and resources you invest in creating it. An adaptive logo is made up of a brand mark (the visual image or symbol), a word mark (your written name), your strapline and combinations of all three, or a ‘lock-up’. Designed well, lock-ups find a way for these three elements to interact with each other and exist in harmony. With the variety of different print media and digital platforms that your brand will be channelled through, it is important to remember that just having one logo design will not cut it. What if your logo is square but needs to fit into a circular profile picture frame? What about the difference between mobile and desktop devices?
With adaptive branding, you can use inline or stacked lock-ups, or pick between individual brand or workmarks depending on what is best for the situation – this will ensure your brand flows seamlessly between the different contexts.
Primary and secondary typefaces for digital marketing agency Solvi Digital
Type designers, studios and foundries are the unsung heroes of the branding world. Take the Fedex logo for example; Landor Associates are the team and brains behind the iconic design, but the fonts and letterforms used (apparently Univers 67 Bold Condensed and Futura Bold) were created by Linotype who have been designing typefaces used all over the world for well over a decade. No prizes for guessing where the lion’s share of the budget goes either!
The typography you choose for your brand is another core element that defines the style and feel of your business. It is the way that your brand voice will be visualised through the written word. And the typeface and fonts you choose for your wordmark, website and marketing materials will contribute to the recognisable image of the brand.
For clarification (WARNING, GEEKOUT INCOMING), a typeface is a family of fonts, each with different weights and sizes. For example, Helvetica is a typeface, and Helvetica Regular in a particular size is a font. It is good practice to pick a clearly legible font for accessibility purposes, although you can be more creative with your use of the typeface in different situations. It’s also useful to have a primary and secondary typeface in your arsenal, one for headers and titles and one for body copy. This means you can make the most of a bold, characterful display typefaces for large titles, but can use a cleaner sans serif for blocks of text so as not to compromise legibility. Script typefaces can also be incorporated and used sparingly to give your marketing material a human touch.
Brand colour board for impact investors BBRC
Colour is another essential brand element that needs to be carefully considered. In a similar way to type, it can be useful to have a primary and secondary palette for different situations.
Colour theory is the ‘collection of rules and guidelines which designers use to communicate with users’ and can be informed by ‘knowledge about human optical ability, psychology, culture and more’. For example, red often makes us think of danger, so it might not be the best colour to pick for your ‘buy now’ buttons, and there are a whole range of symbolic and associative meanings behind certain colours. Make sure to pick a palette which aligns with the type of brand you want to be perceived as, whether that be luxury, playful or corporate.
Over time different colours have come to take on associated meanings and become symbols of status or feeling which can vary across cultures. For example, blue pigment, made from a semi precious stone called lapis lazuli, was historically very precious and expensive, contributing to its association with wealth and richness, whilst the colour white connotes purity, cleanliness and minimalism. Use this to your advantage, and pick colours which conjure up desirable emotions for your audience, or makes them remember you thinking differently. Are you using green to represent sustainability? Yes it works, but it’s also been done by everyone else before.
Bespoke iconography for digital marketing agency Solvi Digital
Not to be mistaken for religious or spiritual iconography, which uses imagery to represent religious concepts or figures, iconography in design is the visual representation of an object or subject. Whilst a symbol can represent something abstract such as a concept or an idea in a less literal way, an icon will depict the subject literally in its most simplified form. They are used as a visual shorthand to guide and inform, and we use them consciously and unconsciously every day, from reading road signs to navigating the internet.
Icons need to be direct and universally easy to understand at a glance, with little room for misinterpretation. Iconography can form an important part of your brand and be used on your website to categorise services, represent your values or mark out customer segments, all whilst aiding navigation and increasing accessibility.
Access Audit illustration for accessibility and inclusivity consultants Disability.Inc.
Illustration, from our perspective, sits in the sweet spot where art and commerce collide, and is a fantastic way to bring your brand to life through storytelling. By using illustrations with a cohesive style that clarifies your message and visualises your writing, you can really stand out from the crowd in a competitive market. And for purpose driven brands with an important story to tell, illustration is a powerful tool to communicate the origin of your brand, your mission for a better future and the situation of the people you’re trying to help.
Illustration is also an ideal tool for communicating complex ideas and making complicated information more accessible and digestible. Not only that, but illustration means you can depict a brighter future, which is particularly important within the context of inclusivity and climate conversations. Whilst this may not initially be considered an essential pillar of your brand, illustration can make all the difference in shaping a brand that truly represents your long term ambitions and one that your customers will relate to and choose over your competitors.
Image treatment and OOH advertising material for impact investors BBRC
Brand activation & image treatment
Brand activation is a way to reinforce your brand message and elevate your website and marketing material, whether that be through repeated motifs, campaign messaging or taglines. Brand activation can be defined as the ‘process of making your brand known to people, increasing awareness and engagement through some kind of brand experience’. For us, brand activation combines your language and visuals and provides an opportunity to reinforce your mission and values. From increasing your brand visibility, engagement and awareness to communicating your purpose in innovative and creative ways, brand activation can be key to growing your business and reaching your goals.
To activate your brand, you could begin by highlighting associated words that extend from your name or tagline, or repeat a small part of your logo across company documents and marketing materials to reinforce your brand identity.
Image treatment is a form of brand activation where parts of the logo or other brand assets are used to make photography more personable. For brands using stock photography, this can be a brilliant way to take ownership and add another brand touchpoint.
Animated explainer video for the green tech scale-up Land App
Brand in motion and animation
Motion graphics and animation are so powerful in getting the attention of your audience. Hubspot reports that ‘including a video on a landing page is capable of increasing conversion rates by over 80%’, and in a digital world saturated by visuals, getting your brand and adverts moving is a fantastic way to raise visibility. Explainer videos using your illustrations can clarify your message in an accessible and concise way, whilst animated icons can make your website even more engaging. There is so much potential with motion, from dynamic logos to increasing interaction with animated call to actions.
Design with movement in mind, and your screens will thank you for it!
Brand guidelines for impact investors BBRC
Brand and tone of voice guidelines
Finally, your brand and tone of voice guidelines are a way to wrap up every element of your brand in a clear and concise way, both in terms of how you speak and how you look. These documents can be used by both internal and external teams to ensure consistency across all of your brand touchpoints and make sure your brand is being used and experienced in the right way across the board.
Think of it like a rule book, with best of practice examples for anyone that speaks or designs on behalf of the business to use for reference. To stay authentic to your brand and build trust with your audience, it’s crucial to make sure that what you’re actually doing and saying aligns to your purpose and values. Brand guidelines can be beautifully designed documents or just written on a piece of paper, but either way, when there are multiple people involved in your business or charity, they are what keeps your brand on track, now and into the future.
So, there you have it. The anatomy of a brand, all the way from the foundations of brand strategy to the creative elements needed to make a positive and lasting impression. There are a lot of elements to consider, but don’t feel like you need every single one by defult, especially if you are just starting out. What is important is getting the core elements absolutely nailed and building from there.
As RH&Co. state, ‘brand is often intangible but its effects are concrete’ – so don’t underestimate the power of your branding in really making an impact on your audience.
At The Discourse, we have been designing incredible brand identities, websites and content marketing campaigns for well over 5 years. We’ve proven that organisations that embrace brand, the web and content are more successful over the long term. Our clients typically spend from £5k to £20k on brand strategy and design, website projects range from £5k to £20k depending on size and functionality.
If you’re ready to take your brand to the next level then please get in contact today via our contact page or by emailing us at [email protected], so we can help you to define the way the words sees you.