The Anatomy of a Brand
The Who, What, and Why
A brand identity is made up of numerous parts, all working cohesively to be the face of a company. It’s much more than a logo, some coordinated colors, and a quick tagline. The brand should help define the business itself and resonate with its ideal customers. By building on emotions, you can develop a unique voice to connect with your audience. Oatly is a great example of a business that has a very quirky, tongue-in-cheek tone that feels easily recognizable and consistent. Their packaging copy sounds like a casual conversation with a friend, and they often point out the repetitiveness of advertising. There’s also been controversy over their odd 2020 Superbowl ad, which the Oatly team fully embraced by offering free t-shirts saying “I totally hated that Oatly commercial.” As a second example, one of Oatly’s products has the copy: “Another side of our packaging providing no reason at all why you should try it.” While their voice may not connect with everyone, I personally find it funny and enjoy looking for their products and supporting their business.
There are a few more starting points to cover when developing a new identity: the mission, the audience, and the offer. Why are you creating this business? Who are you targeting? What goods or services are you providing? While delving into these questions, it’s important to note that the answers should all come from the same reasoning.
“Because we stand for XYZ, we are offering XX to YY in order to ZZ.”
In other words, every action a business takes should align with the very core of what it represents. Doing so will aid in unifying the overall brand message, by repeatedly showing the audience how it follows through with its intentions. When a business’ words and actions begin to misalign, customers are quick to call it out and become distrustful. For example, when the Black Lives Matter movement rose again in 2020, many consumers pointed out empty or hypocritical statements made by companies who didn’t offer any real change.
The other major factor for bringing coherency to a brand is through visuals. Colors are a long and winding road, but finding the perfect combination can help summon just the right emotions from an audience using color psychology. It’s worth noting that new colors shouldn’t be thrown in for every fun opportunity. Many famous brands are easily identifiable with one color, such as Facebook’s blue or Coca-Cola’s red.
We like to develop a brand guide with specific use-cases, ensuring that your logos and collateral appear consistently no matter the application. Once a business starts introducing too many colors, it opens the path to being easily mistaken for more and more competitors, all while diluting the original brand.
On to shapes – an identity doesn’t need ten different logos. One primary logo with a couple orientations is a solid foundation. The submark, a secondary version, often takes from the original logo while simplifying the entire form. Facebook uses its letter “f” within a blue circle, as shown above. Below, we have an example of a brand we built from the ground up, Exalted Cannabis Co., where the submark pulls out features of the primary logo without being an exact copy or miniature. These submarks are commonly used as profile images, app icons, or within a footer. There are subtle ways to use your submark and primary logo repeatedly to help boost your identity without creating seven new symbols. Both should be able to stand on their own and be recognizable from five inches to five feet away. It’s a great indicator if your submark is easily identifiable in its tiny favicon form, found in your browser tab or bookmarks bar.
Overall, the visuals of a brand should build upon the voice, reasoning, and emotion a company is trying to convey.
The Quick and Temporary
Working with an agency, a designer, or trying to DIY your own brand is not a simple process. It may not be in your budget, and teaching yourself the design skills can take an excessive amount of time. Circling back to logo generators, I tried a few different ones to see their capabilities. Many of the programs walk you through a questionnaire to determine what styles you like and what iconography you are looking for. While some offer the ability to pick through their icon library, others simply pull a graphic vaguely-related to the questionnaire responses. There are a couple type and color adjustments you can make, but overall customization feels extremely limited. By generating a large list of possibilities, I assume the goal is for customers to find at least a few that speak to their aesthetic.
Here are a few generated logos from my search for something to represent iBec Creative. I specifically noted nautical themes and wanted to pull one as close to our current look as possible, as well as others that felt like a far miss. When comparing these three versions against our own, they all look like they stand for completely different companies.
To note, the original idea behind our current logo is a figure eight knot, representing the strength that can be found within collaboration and intertwining expertises. We aimed to push the idea of the infinite cycle of iBec giving our best to our clients in a way that suits their needs.
Reviewing the first generated logo, with a knot similar to our own, it feels light and whimsical, denoting a company that might be a toy store. The second logo, on its darker background, feels steadier and safer, a bit closer to our brand but with an irrelevant leaf mark. The third logo seems to resemble sand or waves and overall feels the boldest with its tall, narrow type and choice of color. My first thoughts went to a surf shop, and visually I feel it’s furthest from our own direction.
In general, these automatically generated marks don’t exemplify who we are in terms of mood, colors, icon, and type. Where they succeed in some cases, they fail in others, and any strategy becomes unclear in the end. While logo generators may feel like a quick and painless solution to an intimidating project, we want to emphasize the importance of designing with intent and creating that connection to your audience. Last but not least, using one of these programs means another business could end up using the EXACT same mark.
Here are a few ways to check whether your brand is holding its own:
- Can your customers define your brand?
- Can your employees or fellow coworkers define the brand?
- How does your brand stand out from nearby competitors?
- Does your brand represent who and where you are today?
Keep in mind that a company is continuously evolving and growing, and right along with it, so should its brand identity.