I attended a networking event not too long ago that discussed, among other things, what branding actually means. The answers ranged from, “How you present yourself” to “What people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Throughout history, branding has also meant everything from cattle brands to the more contemporary logos and more widespread uses today.
So What IS Branding?
For our purposes, I agree with all of the more contemporary answers provided at the event. Branding IS the way your company/brand/etc “feels” to other people.
Naturally, as a graphic designer, my mind tends toward the visual elements. And yes, if you’re thinking logos, that is a part of it. But by itself, a logo doesn’t make up an entire brand.
Your brand is your logo, your color scheme, and your fonts. Your brand is also the combination of those elements, along with the images you use, and the voice you choose to communicate with your clients. It really is your reputation, but not all of those elements are easy to capture on paper.
For the elements that are tangible enough to document, branding guides are immensely helpful. In its simplest form, this should include fonts and colors, with enough color information that web and print elements for a company can maintain consistency.
I like to include links for my clients to download the fonts, since they’re not always standard system fonts.
Branding guides can also include imagery, including graphics or patterns. Anything that is intended for reuse throughout company design.
For my own branding, I use the same linen background and stylized swirls as a header for my website and all my social media profiles
Sometimes the branding process stretches out from logo conception all the way to website creation and setting up social media. It can also start with with just a logo and business cards. Either way, the end result should be a set of materials with a consistent look that appeals to your target market.
The Intangible Elements
These are all the things that I, as a graphic designer, can’t necessarily do for you. Basically, you’ll want the way your brand sounds and communicates to be in harmony with the way it looks. If you’ve already defined your target market, this is the time to really think about what approach will appeal to them.
Is your audience tech-savvy or will you need to be careful with technical jargon? Does your target market prefer a formal or informal approach? Think about not only what your message to your clients will be but how you will say it. What kind of wording will you use? Will you focus on emotional aspects or a logical approach?
I personally found it a struggle to define my “voice.” Having run a personal blog for the last 3 years, it was difficult to find the balance between personal and professionalism. For me, it ended up being a place where I don’t hesitate to say “I” or share my personal experiences but I also tone down some of vulgarity I might use in an informal setting. For you, the balance could be anywhere on the spectrum! Maybe your clients don’t mind colorful language, or maybe they prefer strict professionalism.
The best balance is one that will be comfortable for both you and your clients. Customers can tell when you’re not being genuine so don’t think you need to be something you’re not! Your ideal customer is out there – you just need to figure out how to find them and speak to them.