What’s the difference between a common horse and a unicorn?
If we look at the issue strictly from a technical aspect, we’d say that the only difference is a horn on the unicorn’s forehead that the horse lacks. Nevertheless, the unicorn has managed to gain a mythical and magical status in our collective imagination and has become associated with such seemingly random objects as rainbows.
Why is the perception of a unicorn different than the perception of a horse? Better branding!
Not that anyone sat down and “branded” the unicorn as such. But because the world seems to have always been fascinated with this horned horse-like creature, we’ve collectively created a strong visual image of something that may have never existed and then imbued that image with a set of powerful and identifiable features. And that is good branding.
As a new business owner entering the market, you also need to create good branding for your business. But don’t worry, when you know what you’re doing, branding is far easier than catching unicorns, or even horses for that matter.
If the idea of creating your own brand leaves you scratching your head wondering what exactly you should be doing, or if your idea of branding applies only to a simplistic choice of colors and a logo, then you need to keep reading!
The truth is that branding is an important aspect of every business, especially a new one. Branding is what will make your business become not just another business in your industry, but the business that offers something in a unique and memorable way.
Branding is what will make you stand out from the competition. Or, to put it in our unicorn terms, branding is what will take your horse and not simply tie a horn to it, but turn it into a true unicorn—magical abilities and all.
The Origins of Branding
The word “brand” comes from a proto-Germanic root meaning “to burn with hot iron.” The word first entered the English vocabulary in the 1400s as an identifying mark burnt on criminals. The word’s main use, however, developed around the 1580s when cowboys began burning identifying symbols on their cattle. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the word started to be applied to branded goods that received the mark of their maker. And the term “brand name” is less than 100 years old, having been coined in 1922.
Why all the historical talk? Not to bore you, but to point out one crucial point:
If the word brand can be associated with any one thing, that thing is identity. Having a brand—whether as a criminal, or as a cow on a farm, or as a bag made by a particular person—has always meant having an identity. And it still means that today.
The Evolution of “Brand” and Branding
You may have heard that the foundation of your brand is your logo. But unless you’re branding cows somewhere in the Wild West (where the logo on the cow really is the only thing that matters), please allow me to disagree.
Your logo is only the top of the iceberg of your brand. The visible tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot more happening beneath the surface that defines your brand, culminating at that logo—the job of which is to communicate the essence of everything that lies beneath.
The American Marketing Association defines the term brand as follows:
“Name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s goods or services as distinct from those of other sellers.”
Although not wrong, I would again beg to disagree on a point. A modern brand is a lot more than just a name, a design, or a symbol that identifies a seller’s goods.
A modern brand also includes powerful emotions or feelings that it transmits to the world. And it is on those emotions that the popularity and success of most brands hang.
Take for example the soda brands Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Every soda drinker in the word has a preference between the two brands, swearing that there’s a difference—a major difference—between the two tastes. Many soda drinkers, in fact, will order some other drink when they’re favorite brand of cola isn’t available. Yet, countless blindfold taste tests and even scientific studies have shown that the two drinks are essentially indistinguishable.
So why do people claim to have such a strong preference between two things that taste the same? Because when done right, branding evokes an identity that’s linked to powerful emotions: Coca-Cola: happiness; Pepsi: cool, the new generation. And these feelings and emotions affect the way we perceive the branded product.
In what follows, we’ll discuss the elements that make a modern brand (which are not limited to a simple logo) and explain how you can go about creating those elements for your brand.
For a more in-depth explanation of how you can find an underlying concept for your brand, check out the following tutorial and see how others have also created their brand concepts in the comments section:
The Elements of a Brand: From the Inside Out
Although we said that modern brands can be equated to “emotions evoked,” the truth is that saying a brand is an emotion doesn’t help you establish your own brand. So what are the practical elements of this “evoked emotion” that you need to develop in order to create your brand?
There are three main aspects to every modern brand: Visual branding, voice branding, and values:
- Visual branding includes the traditional features of a brand such as logo, colors, and typography. But as seen above, none of these constitutes the foundation of your brand, not even your logo.
- Similar to visual branding, but perhaps a little less well-known is voice branding which includes things like your brand’s tagline and the type of tone and language your brand uses when communicating to fans.
- Beneath these two elements, however, lies the third one that constitutes the true foundation of a brand: values. Brand values define the essence of the brand, as well as the rules that help guide and manage its development.
The Importance of Brand Values
Many small business owners skip the step of discovering their brand values because they consider that things like market analysis and product development are a lot more important. The omission, nevertheless, can be fatal to the longevity of your business. Without core values, a business lacks direction and the unifying power that will allow it to grow without losing its identity.
Take the following brands as an example:
Nike. We all know the brand. But do you know what the word means? It means “Victory.” Nike was the name of the Ancient Greek goddess of victory. She was the goddess of athletes and winners. And the swoosh logo that represents the brand? Not just a fancy design. It’s a simplification of one of the wings on which Nike flew down to earth from Mount Olympus to crown the winners. The values of “victory” and of “winning” have helped take Nike from a small athletic shoe company to an entire sports empire that still champions those same values.
Apple. No, apple wasn’t Steve Jobs’ favorite fruit. If you look at the design the fledgling company used as its logo in the first few months of its existence, you’ll see that “Apple” comes from Newton’s apple. It’s an apple that represents discovery, innovation, and forward thinking. All those are precisely the values that Apple has proved over the decades to embody.
Finding Your Values
It should be clear from the examples above that values define everything a brand is and isn’t. Just like the examples of two major brands that champion specific values, so does your brand needs to have clear values. Those values will form the core of your brand and will help guide it as it evolves alongside your growing business without ever losing its true identity.
So before you even think about what design you’d like as your brand logo, or how you’d like your brand to look, you need to determine what your brand should feel like. What values will it represent in the world?
- Nike feels like victory, like determination, like giving your best.
- Apple feels like innovation, like creativity, and like making progress.
- Gucci feels like money, like elegance, and like fashion.
Write down the emotions and ideas you’d like your brand to communication and the values you’d like to operate on. How do you want the customers of your brand, to feel when buying your products or services? Or, in other words, what’s important about the way you want to be doing business?
Tradition, innovation, creativity, color, subversiveness, energy, stability, trust, risk-taking, artistic expression, reliable methods, timeliness, winning, improvement, speed, steadiness, something else?
Start by writing as many of these as you can come up with and then work through them by elimination to find your 3-5 core values.
Learn more about how to define your core brand values:
Creating Your Brand's Visual Identity
Once you have your core values in place, you can then start building the other two elements of your brand that will communicate those values to the world: your visual branding and your voice branding.
The visual identity of your brand includes your logo, colors, and typography. These elements are important not only because they’re some of the most traditional elements of a brand, going back to the burning of a symbol on a cow, but also because they’re the first and primary point of contact with your customers.
What does your brand look like? Or rather what should it look like in order to communicate your core values accurately? What design communicates not only the name of your brand, but also it’s core values? Which colors show what your brand stands for? (For example, green can show environmentally friendly, while black can show something sophisticated or goth depending on how you use it, etc.)
We have a number of digital assets that can help you design your visual identity and extend your brand through print collateral and websites, such as:
- Fonts and Lettering
- Logos and Brand Marks
- Website Templates
- Business Cards
- Letterhead and Stationary
If you need more creative assets visit Envato Market to browse through the thousands of files talented graphic designers have made—and are ready to put to use in your business.
For a guide on how to create your own logo, check out the following tutorial:
Creating Your Visual Brand Guidelines
Once you decide on your logo, colors, and fonts, it’s also important to set rules and guidelines how to use them. Your visual brand guidelines will help you maintain a consistent and identifiable brand look that will make your brand easily recognizable and identifiable.
You can’t be using your logo today in green, tomorrow in red, and the next day in yellow because your customers will have a hard time identifying it as your logo. Similarly, you can’t use one font on your website, another in your newsletter, and even another one in your blogs or your audience won’t see any consistency and will have nothing to identify with your brand.
The best and easiest way to achieve this consistency is by setting and defining your brand guidelines from the beginning. This will not only allow you to create a strong and unified brand, but it will also ease collaboration as you’ll be able to hand these guidelines out to various collaborators you may have, like graphic and web designers, so they can create something that falls within your brand guidelines.
A brand manual is a document that you can use to reference all your brand guidelines, here is a template example:
Your brand manual should include brand guidelines for:
- A logo guide with examples of the correct and incorrect uses of your logo.
- A color guide that outlines how much color and which colors can be applied to your brand and how.
- A typeface guide defining your brand’s fonts with examples of proper use.
- A guide to graphics and photography to keep a consistent image all throughout your future campaigns and outreach materials.
To learn how you can create visual consistency for your brand, read our tutorials on developing your brand guidelines:
Finding Your Brand Voice
Although less known and not as often regarded, voice branding plays a major role in the creation of strong and long-lasting brands. Voice branding determines the language and tone that your brand will use to communicate your core message to your audience.
The strongest and most succinct expression of voice branding appears in your brand’s tagline.
- Just do it. The essence of Nike (victory, winning) in three words.
- Think different. Apple (and the innovation of Newton) in two words.
Though powerful, these examples shouldn’t be followed by new and developing brands that aren’t yet as well known as Nike or Apple. Why is that? Because they say nothing about what the company does, and depend on the company’s fame to provide the context of the tagline. In fact, both Nike and Apple switched to these taglines after they had already become famous brands.
Brands that aren’t quite as famous yet need to provide more context about what they do for their tagline to make sense to the audience.
A good tagline for a new brand should do two things:
- Explain what the brand does. This is the descriptive part. Are you in the photography, design, writing, or coding business?
- Communicate how they brand does it. The how can come through words, like “fast” “reliable,” “easy,” “no-stress,” etc. But it can also come through the tone of the language. Just do it, for example, is a strong and direct command that gives Nike the authoritative tone of winners. This isn’t the “try” brand; it’s the do it and win brand.
What one sentence could capture the essence of your brand?
Crafting Your Voice Branding
Your tagline is only the beginning (or better yet, the culmination) of your voice branding. There are other textual elements that you also need to define for your brand.
What sort of tone and voice will your brand use with your audience?
Friendly, authoritative, expert, questioning, exploratory, floruit, terse, “clean,” vulgar? You need to know so you can start developing a clear and unique communication style through your website, newsletters, and blog posts.
Think of one of the core messages you’d like to communicate with your audience and then write it out in as many different ways as you can think of. Which resonates more with you? Which do you think your audience would respond better to?
Analyze the features of that style and infuse those same elements in everything your write.
Follow this process for all your major messages, the descriptions of your major products and services, and your “communication taglines” such the greetings you use with your audience, the topics you discuss them, and your calls to action.
Capture all your catchphrases in a document with good examples of use to start creating your voice guidelines. As with your visual guidelines, your voice guidelines won’t only help remind and guide you on how to keep your messaging consistent, they will also help future collaborators, such as copywriters and campaign managers, know how your brand communicates with your audience.
What's Your Brand?
And there you have the three main elements of branding along with all the steps you need to take to create each one:
Core values. Visual Branding. Voice branding.
Always remember that it’s crucial to start from the inside (your core brand values) and then work your way outside (your visual and voice brand elements).
No aspect of your brand should be created “by chance” or just because it looks cute, or sounds cool without a deeper significance. If you follow this process and create a unified and consistent brand, the sum will end up shining far brighter than the individual parts, and will help you stand out in your industry.
Like a true, magical unicorn.
What’s are your core brand values and which visual and voice branding elements make up your brand? Let us know in the comments!
If you want to dig deeper into branding as it relates to your business website, then we have a learning guide that is All About Style Guides. It will help you extend your visual and brand messaging online. Here are a few tutorials to get started with:
- A Super-Quick Introduction to Style GuidesKezz Bracey09 Jun 2014
- How to Create Style Guides for a Specific AudienceJonathan Cutrell09 Jun 2014
- Using Guidelines to Mind Your ToneRobert Mills10 Jun 2014
Editorial Note: This content was originally published in February of 2016. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.