Building a formidable brand isn’t an opt-in part of running a modern business. You don’t just tack it on as a nice addition if you have time, otherwise leaving it aside. It’s crucial. This isn’t how things were in times gone by, of course. Branding has always mattered, yes, but it used to be possible to get business without it. You could secure a prime store or office location, most vitally, and get ahead through sheer convenience — and you didn’t need to worry about social media.
But now that operating exclusively online is both a temporary requirement and a likely long-term reality for so many businesses, those times are long gone. Your company is one of countless abstract entities jostling for position in an attention-grabbing contest that spans the globe. If it can’t get people looking and prove at least somewhat memorable, it’ll struggle to compete.
And when you’re trying to get people looking, you need to be thinking about visuals. You’ll know why if you’ve ever spent time casually scrolling through your Twitter feed. All the text blurs together into mush, but one quick glimpse of some recognizable imagery prompts a pause. Adding to this, consider the power of a symbol: how many items of clothing has Nike’s classic swoosh sold in its decades of service? Not bad for a $35 investment (around $226 today).
What if your brand doesn’t yet have any visuals, though? In this post, we’re going to set out some tips for building your branding visuals from scratch. It isn’t the easiest process, but it’s extremely important that you get it right. Let’s get started.
Decide how much you’ll do yourself
The very first thing you need to do is make a decision about which elements you’re going to handle in-house. This will depend on various things: how extensive your design skills are, how much you’re willing to spend on the project, how quickly you want results, etc. On one hand, it can be fun to take ownership of a creative endeavor. On the other, it’s hugely important, and you’ll ultimately regret it if you use substandard brand visuals just because you made them.
A big advantage of working with a design agency is that the work can carry over to the use of the resulting brand visuals, whether you need appealing client proposals or high-quality infographics. Knowing your brand well, that company will need less time to get up to speed: the result will be superior work, lower costs, and enhanced efficiency.
An even bigger advantage will be the production of professional-grade graphics. Unless you happen to have extensive training in graphic design, you’re not going to have the skills to create branding visuals that can measure up to the best in your industry. And if the visuals associated with your brand come across as mediocre, how will people take your company seriously?
In the end, the best option might be to engage in some creative ideation with the goal of passing it to your chosen design agency. It might have little impact on the eventual designs, of course, but you shouldn’t be too concerned about that. It’ll carry across vital information about your desired tone and aesthetic, and that will make things marked easier.
Choose a well-rounded color palette
Every brand needs a selection of colors associated with its materials — particularly its marketing materials. It should be obvious when someone lands on one of your blog posts that they’re reading your work. Admittedly, that should carry through in the style of your writing, but the key point here is that visual consistency — even for minor elements — is crucial.
A good brand color palette will consist of maybe four or five colors that are broadly complementary. Whenever you produce something visual, you can mix and match them to come up with something that meets your style but adds a fun twist on it. So how do you choose your colors? Well, here are some handy tips:
- Think about what’s thematically appropriate. Certain colors are associated with certain things, whether emotional states or topics, and you should keep this in mind as you decide which colors suit your brand. If you’re running a service with the intent of treating customers like royalty, for instance, you could run with a deep purple — after all, purple is often associated with royal matters.
- Use good websites and templates for inspiration. Websites tend to demonstrate full color palettes, so it’s worth spending some time checking out your favorite brands. It’s also useful to look at site templates to see how they handle contrast: using a visually-impressive platform like Squarespace, you can create a test site and toggle through versions to form a rough idea of how well some colors might work together.
- Play around with a palette generator. There are plenty of tools around that can generate color palettes for you. They’re far from perfect, and aren’t exactly intelligent, but they’re fast and convenient. I suggest trying Coolors: you can easily lock in some colors that you definitely want to keep, then use them as seeds to come up with a full range of shades. Just a few clicks could get you some great results.
Choose some suitable fonts
When you’re creating content, you get to define the font, but you can also do that (to some extent) when other people (largely freelancers) write for your brand. The key is to have a preferred font that you identify in your brand guidelines. Whenever you outsource a task, you can pass those guidelines along and know that visual consistency will be maintained.
There are plenty of fonts available for free, and many more available for modest fees. You can create a custom font if you deem it necessary, but it’s an extravagant step given the mild difference between similar fonts. Look through resources like Google Fonts to see what gels with your business plans. Do you want something simple or elaborate? Bold or light?
You can choose several fonts, but delineate them by page element. You can have a heading font, for instance, and a paragraph font. It can’t be too complicated or it’ll slow things down. Ensure that you achieve decent readability, then tack on stylistic elements (but stop before they threaten to damage that readability). Vitally, don’t overthink things. Go with your gut.
Nail your logo (and logo variations)
The corporate logo is such a small thing, yet it carries such grand significance through its intended ubiquity. Your logo will appear on so many materials associated with you — internal documents, emails, PR releases, landing pages, etc. — that it really needs to be good. So what makes a good logo? Above all else, simplicity. The easier it is to draw your logo, the better.
This is because logos tend to be small, and complex images don’t work well when you shrink them down. They become muddied and difficult to discern. Of course, another issue that can prevent them from standing out as they should is a lack of contrast. This can be a big problem for brands that don’t bother with logo variations.
If your main logo is black, for instance, it’ll look great against light backgrounds — but what about when it appears on a dark background? It’ll fade away, and perhaps even go completely unnoticed. You could get around that problem by giving the logo itself a white backdrop, but that might not look great. This is where logo variations come in.
Everyone has a different idea of what you need (Samantha Madeo, for instance). At a minimum, you should have a light-background logo, a dark-background logo, and a version of your logo with your brand name attached (to the side of it, perhaps, or above it). You can have as many variations as you want, though. Provided the fundamental design stays in place, it won’t matter too much: people will still associate them with you.
In the end, the core of your branding visuals is really this simple: picking some colors, some fonts, and some logo variations. For most brands, that’s all they need to start generating resources. So if you’re ready to start investing in your brand, run through this process first to get ready for full-blown marketing.