9 Building Blocks for Creating a Powerful Brand

Use these 9 key building blocks to create, strengthen and evolve your company or product brand. Each carry weight. Each add to the nuance and depth to your image as a whole. Consider each when building your brand. They should all support and add to your identity as a whole.

  1. Product or Service: At the core of your business brand is the product or service you offer.
  2. Name: A powerful brand has a memorable name. The best are typically short in length, have an interesting illiteration, are fun to say and/or inspire confidence in the company as a whole.
  3. Logo: When people think about brands they typically think about the company or product’s logo. A strong, memorable logo is important, and is usually the foundation for a brand, but it is just one element.
  4. Tagline: While the logo says who you are, the tagline says what you do, what sets you apart.
  5. Color Palette: Most brand palettes are built off the brand’s logo colors, but not always. Perhaps the logo merely inspires a palette of bright colors, or pastels, or jewel tones, utilizing the logo colors as the base. Alternatively, the palette might be a single color.
  6. Fonts: Limiting your fonts to 2-3 font families that are used consistently across all your media supports and strengthen your brand.
  7. Voice: Your voice is the tone set in your copy across all media. It can be friendly and casual, professional and direct, clever or funny, even raunchy or sarcastic. Whatever your brand, it’s voice should match in tone.
  8. Imagery: This can include graphic elements, photography, video, illustration, animation and icons. Imagery adds depth to your brand.  Whatever your brand, the imagery that supports it should be consistent across all media.
  9. Brand or Identity Vehicles: Where you promote your brand can be as important as the brand itself. Print, web, social media, radio, television – these are the vehicles that carry your brand.

I’m Stuck with a Bad Logo – Now What?

Way back when you started your business you didn’t have a lot of money, so you cut a few corners on your logo. Either you designed it yourself (and you’re not a designer) or you bought a pre-made logo from one of those $99 logo websites or possibly you hired your cousin’s sister-in-law’s kid ’cause she’s “good at art and stuff”.

What do you do?
Having a bad logo will definitely hold you back when you’re looking to take your business to the next level. You may not even realize you have a bad logo, but you find that you can’t seem to gain traction with your brand.

There are two approaches to changing your logo, each with their own merits and challenges.

The first is to toss the old one and start from scratch. The advantage to this approach is you get the strong, targeted logo you wanted right away (assuming you hired a good designer).

The problem with this is that maybe you have a lot of clients who won’t recognize you when they see that new, splashy, completely different logo from the one you had. With this approach, you’ll also need to launch a campaign to existing customers telling them all about your new look. And depending on what you offer, you may need to reassure them with copy like, “brand new look, same great service.”

Depending on how big your company is or if your reach is wide, this could be an expensive endeavor. You might need to send a printed direct mail piece in advance letting them know about the upcoming change, and follow up with a second after the launch. You’ll want to announce it in emails and on your website and on your Facebook page if you have one. You might even need to include new tv and radio spots, if you’ve advertised there in the past.

The second option is if you have a good idea, but a bad, or dated looking execution. You can evolve this type of logo over time, making small changes over the course of a year or several years. This solution doesn’t require the big announcement and expense of the first option, but it requires patience and an ongoing relationship with your designer.

When is a bad logo a good thing
Does your logo look dated and cheap? If you’re in the discount business, or sell cheap products, a bad, dated logo can actually help you. That’s because it’s conveying just how cheap you are, which is what we call a selling feature.

Ultimately, you don’t have to put up with a bad logo. The sooner you change it the sooner you can start building and positioning your brand exactly where you it.

Your Voice as your Corporate Identity

Your company’s ‘voice’ is an integral part of you company’s identity. Just as color or fonts give the viewer a feeling about who your company is, so does the writing of your copy.

If you’re a small company, particularly a sole proprietorship, you may be doing your own copy writing and your voice may well be your company’s voice.

On the other hand, if you’re a 50-year-old tax attorney launching a social networking site for tweens as a side business, you might not speak your target audience’s language. Hiring a professional copywriter is probably a good idea.

Whatever your business, your voice should align with your audience. A company with an older, more conservative target customer should ‘speak’ in proper English, triple checking grammar and punctuation.

A young, hip, urban company, on the other hand, might choose a casual, conversational tone peppered with current slang.

Design your voice, just as you design your imagery and align the two for a stronger, more memorable identity.

Set the Tone

When beginning the journey of developing a corporate identity, consider the tone you’ll be creating. I always like to visualize the voice of the company. Is it male or female? Young or old? Hip or stodgy? Traditional or edgy?

Once I can ‘hear’ that voice, everything spills out from it.

For example, if that voice is young, edgy and female, I might choose hot colors and modern fonts that speak to that ‘person’. The logo might have an icon in an ‘on trend’ illustration style. Marketing collateral (if there was any) might have a unique shape or format or use a funky paper stock. The website and online marketing would likely take center stage and extend these ideas. And so on.

A traditional company in turn might stick to subdued color and serif fonts. Classic formats for marketing materials would probably be retained. Etc.

Essentially, think of your company as a person, then dress him or her in the appropriate ‘outfit’. The person is your identity. The outfit is your look and feel.

Tag, you’re it!

You might be asking, ‘do I need a tagline?’ Well, that depends…

Does your company name say what you do? For example, if your business is called Pete’s Plumbing, it’s pretty clear what you do.

What about your logo? Does it say what you do? If you’re in residential real estate and your logo has a house in it, your logo is fairly representative of what you do, so you might not need a tagline.

On the other hand, if the name of your company doesn’t say what you do and your logo doesn’t say what you do, you probably need a tagline. Or, if you want to differentiate your company from the competition, a tagline is an excellent way to clearly do that.

Writing your tagline

A good tagline says what you do, or differentiates your business with just a few words. Selecting those few words is of course the challenge.

Start with your core message. What do you do? What services or products do you provide? Break that down to a single word. Hopefully you’ll find several that apply.

Next determine your secondary message. Your secondary message is most likely your differentiation. Break that down to a single word.

Now, marry those two words together. You may need to add a conjunction or verb to bring it together. Make a list of all the combinations and select the best.

Finally, check to see if your tagline is being used by someone else. You can google the phrase for a quick search. Also be sure to check whether or not it’s been trademarked by another company. Visit http://www.uspto.gov/ to search.

Creating a Killer Logo

Creating a killer logo may be the most difficult task in creating your identity. Just like your name it should be memorable. It should also be easy to read.

Start with a font.
Pick something easy to read. Classic fonts are always a safe bet: Helvetica, Garamond, Caslon, Futura, Trade Gothic, Franklin Gothic, Bodoni. If you’re business is something conservative or traditional, it’s probably best to use a serif font. If you’re in the trades, or you want a modern or contemporary feel, go with a sans serif font. Avoid highly decorative fonts, unless perhaps your business is selling Victorian wallpaper.

To bug or not to bug?
The bug is the little symbol that locks up with the type that’s your name. Using one is usually a matter of personal preference, but it should speak to your company name or what your company does. For example, Apple Computers uses an apple icon both with their name and without for their logo. Of course, their ‘bug’ has become so recognizable that you don’t need their name to know who they are. Whatever you do, avoid the overused swoosh.

Design in black and white, then add color.
You want to make sure you logo works on a fax cover sheet, your company checks or anything else that will be printing in a single color. So design it in black and white first to make sure it works across all media. Then, and only then, add color.

Avoid gradients.
It’s possible to design a great logo with a gradient, but you’ll find lots of media in which reproducing a gradient becomes prohibitively expensive. Avoid gradients and you’ll avoid cost challenges down the road.

Design your logo in Adobe Illustrator or other vector-based software.
By designing your logo as vector art it will be scaleable up or down to one inch to 100 feet with no loss of quality. If you design it in Adobe Photoshop or another pixel=based software, it won’t be scaleable. That means you’ll have to recreate it on a large scale when you need it for things like storefront or event signage, otherwise it’s going to, um, suck.

Make sure it works large and small.
It should be as legible at one inch as it is at 1 foot. The big boy companies often have slightly different versions of their logo for small and large uses so that type continues to be legible at small sizes but you don’t necessarily have to go that far.

Test your logo.
Finally, you might want to do a little market research. Before rolling out your shiny new logo, show it to customers or potential customers (or at the very least friends and family who can be impartial and who can give quality, honest feedback) to get their opinion. Does it say what you want it to? Is it appropriate to your market and/or targeted customer? If not, head back to the drawing board.