One of the reasons we create visual guidelines (logo, colors, fonts, etc.) is to ensure that any marketing and visual communication we put out there is always aligned to our brand. We want everything to be consistent. If you have well-crafted brand guidelines and a design system, you’re in a good place. And this may not be a concern for you. But if you’re still trying to figure out your branding, you might struggle a bit trying to keep the cohesive and consistent look and feel.
You know, your brand doesn’t wait for you to build it. It starts building itself the moment you start representing your business and interacting with people. And there are few tips you want to be aware of in order to avoid inconsistency and misleading branding.
Before you have a stellar design system for your brand, you can still affect your brand look and feel — big time. If you know me, you know that I encourage people to keep moving forward whether they have a fully fleshed out branding or not.
Your brand is not your logo
Number one thing I want people to understand is: your brand is not one single thing but an experience. This includes your customers’ interactions with you. This includes the impression they get when they come across your marketing. This includes the vibe you give out in your Facebook lives or Instagram stories. This includes what people talk about your business. And yes, this also includes your logo, colors, fonts, and how well those are used together. Your brand is the experience your customers get when they come across with anything related to your business.
This might sound overwhelming, but it’s actually good news. One of the most common complaint I get from solopreneurs who are just starting is: I can’t move forward with my plans because I don’t have a logo. And by this they typically mean a professionally designed logo. But the good news is: your logo is just one small piece of your branding.
Yes, you will need to have a logo. But no, it doesn’t necessarily have to be an expensive investment. Have you ever heard anyone say “I bought this service or product because the. company had such a great logo. I don’t know anything else about them, but the logo sure was great?”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a designer, I love nothing more than beautifully designed business identity. But I would never want someone to feel stuck because one piece of their branding is not perfect. If this gets you excited and ready to move forward with your logo design, I have a quick logo creation guide that you can use to design something for yourself. You can get it here. And I’ve created a check list to help you decide whether your logo is ready to be published.
Brand personality & keywords
The second thing I’d like people without fully fleshed brand guidelines and design system to do is to define 1-3 brand personality keywords to help them make decisions related to their branding.
You brand personality is all the adjectives and characteristics you want people to associate with your branding. For some people, this is super clear and they immediately have a couple of characteristics in their mind. For others, it’s tough to grasp this concept. So, let me help you figure this one out because I have a fun exercise for my clients to help them figure out the brand personality.
What often helps with brand personality is to try to imagine who your brand was if they were a person. A living and breathing person. And then you start describing this person. Are they a man or a woman? How old are they? Where do they live? In what kind of house? What kind of music do they listen to? What kind of clothes do they wear? What is their personal style? How are they as a person (social, introverted, deep, cheerful, etc.)? Are they married? Do they have kids? Do they have pets? If they do, what kind of pets? Who do they hang out with? And who is their best friend? So, you build an image in your head about what kind of person your brand would be if they were a person.
You might think that “how many descriptions of people you need to create” because maybe you’re just done describing you ideal customer avatar (your target audience). But you should not mix your brand personality with the personality of your ideal customer. They are not the same. Your brand as a person should be your ideal customer’s best friend or someone they admire and aspire to be. Let me explain a bit further.
If your ideal customer is a shy introvert who you want to coach to make their dreams come true, it wouldn’t help if your brand as a person was also shy and introverted. Now, would it? So, one more time, your brand as a person should be your ideal customer’s best friend or someone they admire and aspire to be. They should be someone your ideal customer feels drawn to, someone they can relate to or look up to.
It often helps to understand how this will affect your branding to first visualize that person. Find imagery of a person you imagine your brand would be as a person. Find images of the house they’d live in and the clothes they are wearing. Are you building an image of a person who wears colorful dresses and flower reefs or a serious business man who always wears the best-fitting expensive tailored suits?
When you have a good idea how your brand would be if it were a person, list 1-3 keywords or adjectives that describe that person. The more specific these words are, the better guidance you’ll get for your branding. For example, if your keyword is simply “happy,” it is too broad to bring up a certain look and feel. And you’d be better off trying to either define more accurately what you mean by happy. Or at least, add two more specific keywords to go with it.
But let’s say your keywords are cheerful, easily approachable, and light-hearted. That will already give you an idea what kind of language, imagery, or colors you’d associate with those keywords.
When you have your keywords down, start using them with everything you do in regards your branding until you have a fully fleshed design system for your brand. And in many ways, after that, too.
When you’re choosing what photos to use on your website or on your Instagram feed, you’d ask yourself “are these photos cheerful, easily approachable, and light-hearted” (or insert whatever keywords you’d be using). And same you’d ask for your messaging and tone of voice, how you’d present yourself during a live performance, what kind of colors you’d choose for your color library, etc.
Is it necessary to always include all your keywords? Not always, but the more you include all of them the more consistent your branding will be.
Color has a big impact
After you’ve nailed down your personality keywords, you can use them to help you define your initial color library. What colors communicate and represent the keywords you’ve chosen? You can use a photo to help you further refine your color library. I’ve collected some examples of color libraries built with the help of a single image here.
Colors have a strong impact on our experiences and memory of things. So, one powerful trick to keep the brand feeling consistent is to always use the brand colors consistently. Colors also help to catch attention and communicate your brand personality.
I’ve written about the impact of brand colors more in detail in the blogpost Color me branded: How to choose the right colors for your brand.
Branding can feel overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. And you don’t have to wait until you have everything figured out. Many entrepreneurs will create a “starter brand” which is less specific because they are still figuring out who their customer is and what their offering will be. This starter brand doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy, but it does have to be professional to evoke trust.
And many will end up re-branding few years into their business journey when all the details are clear. Once you have those amazing brand guidelines and design system established, you’ll start using those components and instructions to always have 100% consistent look and feel. But until then follow the advice in this post to make sure your brand won’t be all over the place.
P.S. If you haven’t already done so, come check out my free Facebook group DIY Brand Design & Strategy for Soulpreneurs where I teach soulpreneurs like you to build their own branding and create their own designs.