What Is Brand Identity?
When someone mentions brand identity, global retail brands like Nike, Apple, and Coca Cola are likely to spring to mind. When we see any type of branding from one of these companies, it’s almost universally recognizable. Yet, brand identity isn’t unique to these industry giants. The reality is that every business can leverage its brand identity to gain more name recognition and consumer loyalty.
Truthfully, every business already has a brand. It’s the impression they make on (and the value they provide to) their customers. Successful brand identities innately understand and emphasize the value and differentiators of the company and the product. Your brand identity is basically the story your business is trying to tell about itself.
In simple terms, brand identity contains all the elements specific to your brand, including brand identity design and visuals, brand voice, and brand story.
Of course, growth and success in any industry are never simple.
A strong brand identity that will drive people to connect with and ultimately invest in your brand requires all these different elements to converge in just the right way.
Key “Brand Identity” Puzzle Pieces
When you’re looking to build a winning brand identity, consistency is key. Having a documented brand identity is just the first step. It must be executed over and over with reach piece of content. This is called building brand equity. It’s about consistency just as much as it is about the brand itself.
Here’s a breakdown of a few of the main considerations when establishing your brand identity.
If your brand was a celebrity, who would it sound like and act like? Who would your customers listen to?
Your brand voice makes customers feel like they’re in a direct conversation with you, whether that conversation takes place at the tactical or strategic level, on social media or in a whitepaper, on a billing statement or a newsletter.
Your brand voice should align to the foundational elements of your brand:
- Mission, Vision, & Values
- Brand Positioning
- Value Proposition
- Brand Personality
- Voice & Tone Guide
- Headlines, Boilerplate, & Taglines
- Targeted Statements
- Product Naming & Messaging
Having a strong brand voice is a great start, but what’s needed for that voice to connect with your audience is a story to inspire them.
Great storytelling doesn’t just express a set of facts. The goal should be to engage your target audience’s emotions and forge a connection between them and what your brand represents at its core.
Pro tip: A brand story represents much more than just how and why you formed your brand.
Your origin story may form the prologue, but your brand story contains many more chapters than stem from that beginning. It’s how your brand makes people feel. It’s how you mold the experience of your brand into a cohesive narrative.
When building your brand strategy, what story do you want to tell about the values and intentions your brand represents, the price, quality, and buyer’s experience with your products or services, the experience of visiting a physical business location, or the online shopping experience? What will people say after they interact with your brand or buy your product? How will they add to your story?
Once you establish a voice and have a good understanding of what you want your brand story to be, you can tie these together to inform all the elements of your visual branding.
Some key visual brand elements include:
- Logo Design
- Color Palette
- Style Guide
- Brand Kit
- Social Templates
- Print, Sales, & Webinar Assets
- Product Branding
A brand identity example of voice and story expressed in visual branding choices could be a company that sells eco-friendly lawn care products. This company might use soft natural tones in their color palette and a simple design approach for graphics and advertising featuring elements of nature for their branding and assets. They would likely use elements in customer-facing visuals and marketing designs that will appeal to their key marketing personas, who are motivated by concern for the environment and share the brand’s core values.
Your visual identity also ties into brand messaging, or how you express your unique value proposition to your audience.
Brand messaging is a framework that lets you build a unique and consistent brand identity across assets and communications.
For your brand messaging to be as effective as possible, it’s helpful to always use your core values and vision as a starting point. Focus on your goals and progress, why it matters, and to whom it matters. What problems do they have that your brand is uniquely positioned to help them with?
Brand messaging should inform all visual and written brand content, from your logo and tag lines to the tone of your copy. How you choose to express your brand’s personality through messaging lets your audience know who you are—serious and driven, a subject matter expert seeking to inform, creative and passionate, playful and fun.
All these elements come together to show the world exactly who your brand is, what you represent, and why it matters to them—in other words, your brand identity.
Visual and Voice Identity
When it comes to brand identity, the words you choose to put on the page directly influence how an audience perceives your brand. These words should resonate with people, with a concise message that is easy to repeat. Remember, word of mouth is not just digital.
Some main elements used to construct your brand voice include:
- Goals, principles, and intent
- Point of View (POV)
- Grammar and mechanics
Check out these examples of how the voice of industry-leading global companies and institutions helps reinforce their brand identity:
Nike – Nike’s brand voice is instantly recognizable even without the trademark swoosh logo. The voice is energetic and powerful, and it gives us the sense that sports and athletic competition are something sacred. Nike’s voice (think of the iconic “Just Do It” tagline) urges people to show up and give their all, no matter what that context might be.
MailChimp – MailChimp famously offers its Content Style Guide publicly. MailChimp has set specific goals that a piece of content should accomplish, and how the writing, on a sentence level, can support those goals. While Nike’s brand is the perfect coach, MailChimp’s brand is the perfect guide.
Canada Post – Canada Post, the primary postal carrier in Canada, also offers its style guide publicly. Canada Post shows that all types of organizations understand the importance of brand identity and the “verbal” component of that identity. The Voice and Tone section particularly shows how grammar, POV, etc. supports the personality of the brand. As a verbal identity, the brand is friendly, helpful, inclusive, comforting, and reliable. This ultimately creates the perception of the postal service as an active, permanent, dependable service that is easy to use.
University of Leeds – Aside from the big Ivy League schools, colleges have a hard time distinguishing themselves from one another. Leeds College in the U.K. has a style guide that shows how its values, voice, and goals all tie together. For a college founded nearly a century and a half ago, this style guide helps them speak in a modern, energetic way and positions Leeds as a haven for imagination and progress. Like MailChimp, it’s a great blueprint for anyone seeking to build a style guide of their own.
The Difference Between Voice Identity Versus Visual Identity
While your brand’s visual and voice identities influence each other, they form distinct parts of your overall brand strategy. Even though visual identity makes the most immediate impression, you have to start with the “why” when you are developing your strategy.
This is usually a three-pronged approach, which answers three basic questions about your brand:
“Why do we exist?”
“What do we do?”
“How do we do it?”
Note: Don’t confuse voice identity with your Mission, Vision, and Values. However, you need to understand the answers to these questions intuitively as well as the pain points of your audience.
Perhaps the most important question to answer is: “How can we make our audience’s lives better?”
Then you visualize it, which you can’t do without the message.
Keep in mind that “Voice” is not the same as verbal. Verbal is spoken, and who you are and what you offer is not just spoken word.
Voice can be read.
Effective content is often heavier on the voice side than it is on visual identity. This is because, while your visual branding may be the most immediate impression someone has of your brand, most of your audience will come to you because of your voice.
Developing a strong Tone of Voice (TOV) is key.
This speaks to messaging, but developing a brand tone of voice can be a significant undertaking.
It helps to first understand the purpose of creating a deliberate, consistent set of guidelines for TOV, and how that helps you connect with people.
A tone is developed when you string multiple words together that are informed by brand personality and the emotional connection you’re seeking to make with your audience. Think of your brand voice as the general feel and sound of your brand, and think of tone as more specific. It’s what you get when voice is applied to different contexts, such as formal versus informal.
Just like visual branding, TOV lives in the hearts and minds of your audience—and it’s up to you to put the puzzle pieces together.
TOV is all about instilling some emotion in the audience, to make them feel something that is intentional and not just happenstance.
Word choice is critical because buying is an emotional experience. We buy based on emotion, and we rationalize based on logic. But the emotion happens first. Then we justify our decisions on the back end.
For example, you may want to develop a set of words and phrases that help set the tone across marketing and communications materials, such as those that position your brand as helpful, friendly, serious, professional, welcoming, irreverent, creative, thoughtful, or anything else based on your core brand values and that is most likely to forge a connection with your target personas.
As you are developing a TOV, no matter the field or target audience, there will be elements based in emotion.
The goal is not to control your audience, but rather to influence behavior and inspire them to connect with your brand.
The Bottom Line for Brand Identity
Whether you’re developing voice or visual identity, this is not a one-time exercise, or all or nothing.
We don’t have to develop the entirety of your brand identity all at once. You can conduct various exercises internally to gauge in-house perceptions of the company’s values, etc. That can at least help you achieve internal alignment.
Example: If you need just message mapping to talk about pain points, it doesn’t mean you have to develop all other aspects at the same time.
On the macro level, vision and voice don’t have to happen at the same time, either. When it comes to voice, you can tackle a few aspects at once.
People are often deterred because they think it’s a big undertaking to come up with everything at once, but the process can be broken into parts.
At the end of the day, branding is a theory. But ultimately it’s all about applying that theory to your strategy in tactical, measurable steps that come together to make the brand.
Content Workshop is a group of talented marketing professionals dedicated to helping you successfully execute your growth goals. We help you build and execute a strategy for reaching goals through content creation and the development of a tactical, practical brand identity.