What is brand identity and how do you build it?

What is brand identity and how do you build it?

Some might think that their logo and color palette are the brand identity. But these are simply one of many ways you can visually present your brand. They're not, in fact, your brand identity.

What is Brand Identity?

Brand identity is the combination of your company’s values, principles, and vision – think of brand identity as the spirit of your company or your brand. Brand identity is expressed and communicated through the visual elements of your brand, like your logo design, color palette, fonts, and icons, as well as your messaging and brand voice.

There are several key elements of brand identity:

  • Company mission
  • Company or brand values
  • Founder and executive values (these often contribute to company values)
  • Brand personality
  • Brand positioning and how you differentiate yourself from your competitors
  • Your brand voice and communication style

Your brand identity is intangible, so it takes time and effort to establish a strong one and develop a corporate identity that’s the right fit for your organization. But it’s worth the investment. A strong brand builds brand recognition and sets you apart from your competitors. Here’s a guide to help you develop a recognizable identity for your company.

Why is Brand Identity important?

A strong brand identity helps everyone in your business feel connected to the brand and your company’s mission. It can also become a real differentiator for your business, essential for building brand awareness and recognition within your target market.

A Strong Brand Identity Helps Increase Consistency

Brand consistency is important for making your company appear professional and trustworthy. It also helps to increase recognition of your brand, products, and company.

A clearly defined visual identity makes it easier to create consistent, on-brand assets and messaging across multiple communication and marketing channels because everyone in the organization can recognize the core visual elements of your brand.

Consistent design and messaging help establish trust in your company, but inconsistencies can quickly erode that trust. Our State of Brand Ownership Report found that “too much deviation from the core brand colors, typography, brand voice, general brand behavior, or logo sizing (even slight deviation) and the brand identity can quickly begin to diverge across channels and look unprofessional.”

A Strong Brand Identity Helps Increase Brand Equity

A strong brand identity helps to establish brand equity, which is “the value that customers assign to a business based on their perceptions of its quality.” This is why you’re more likely to pay more for a product from a brand name you recognize on Amazon, as compared to a dozen look-alike products from unfamiliar competitors.

Brand equity is closely linked to brand recognition. A good brand can help you stand out in a crowded market and stick in the consumer’s mind. Clutch surveyed more than 500 people who’d clicked on a paid search advert in the month before the survey and found that 26% of respondents clicked on a paid ad because it mentioned a brand they were familiar with – and on YouTube and Amazon, brand familiarity was the primary reason they clicked on a paid advert.

Learn more - Examples of Brand Equity

A Strong Brand Identity Helps Attract Top-Quality Employees

Having a strong, recognizable brand identity doesn’t just help to attract potential customers. It’s also important for attracting and engaging new employees because employees today look for companies with a clear purpose, mission, and values that align with their own.

In 2021, The Predictive Index surveyed almost 2,000 workers within the U.S. from more than 15 industries. They found that 48% of employees have thought about changing careers within the past 12 months. With concerns like burnout, lack of physical and psychological safety in the workplace, and stress levels on the rise, employees are increasingly looking for companies that are a good fit for them – not just in terms of their role but also on a personal level.

Gallup found that 36% of employees say the brand and reputation of a company are “very important” when they’re looking for a new job. Your brand identity can help potential employees form an emotional connection with the company and help them feel like they belong.

How to create Brand Identity

Establishing a strong brand identity requires you to understand who your customers are at a deep level. But if you don’t understand their interests and goals, you won’t be able to build an identity that resonates with them. And they certainly won’t connect with your brand or have an interest in supporting it.

You’ve probably already done market research to learn about your customer demographics. You can go a step further by talking to sales representatives and support agents to learn more about customer pain points. Once you have a solid understanding of who your customers are, you can pinpoint the elements of your brand that have the greatest impact on them, like your brand’s mission and values. And you can begin building your brand’s identity around those elements by establishing guidelines that help you maintain brand consistency.

Let’s imagine you own a small, organic grocery store that sources all of its produce from local farmers. Some of the primary reasons that your customers shop with you are because it makes it easy for them to eat healthily and support local agriculture. With this in mind, you might incorporate fresh vegetables into your logo to highlight the produce you carry. You could also represent customers’ values by adopting the tone of a friendly farmer on social media and sharing facts about things like how much water certain types of produce require.

Creating your brand’s identity might feel like a big task. But unless you’re preparing to launch a completely new business, you won’t have to start from scratch. As an existing brand, you already have many elements of your brand’s identity in place. And that means creating a brand identity is actually much easier than you think because all you have to do is discover and refine it.

Discover Your Brand Identity

Most companies already have some sort of identity, but they’ve never spent the time defining it properly. Here are some steps to follow to discover your brand identity for the first time.

1. Assess Your Current Position

Take some time to understand the current state of your brand identity. Look at the campaigns and marketing materials you’ve produced recently. Identify the common themes across each one in terms of style, tone, and visual design.

You should also look at your competitors in the market, so you can understand what differentiates your company from theirs – not the product features but based on your brand personality. Finally, you should look at your target audience to understand what brand style appeals to them.

2. Invite Internal Stakeholders to Share Their Opinions

If you asked 10 people in your business to describe your brand, you’d likely get 10 different answers. Every department will have different ideas about your brand based on how they experience it in their work. Bring representatives from each team into brand workshops or discussions about your brand identity. Inviting stakeholders from different departments will give you a broader foundation of ideas to work from and may give you insights about the brand that you hadn’t previously thought of.

3. Develop Your Brand Voice & Tone

What you say and how you say it is one way to express your brand identity. Do you want to sound formal or informal? Respectful or playful? Authoritative or like a peer? There are lots of exercises to help you develop your brand voice and answer these questions. Once you’ve identified the key traits of your brand voice, you need to document them. Tone of voice guidelines will help your team understand what your brand sounds like.

It may seem hard to evaluate your current brand. But defining your identity as it is now is the first step toward building a strong identity that sets you apart from your competitors. You need to understand your current position before you can develop it further, improve consistency, and build up brand recognition in the market.

Read More: 6 Steps to Discover, Develop, & Document Your Company Identity

Examples of strong Brand Identity

Your company’s identity should be an authentic representation of your brand. You shouldn't copy a particular style or tone just because other brands you admire are doing it. But there’s nothing wrong with learning how others created a strong identity or achieved brand consistency. Then bring those lessons into your internal conversations about developing your brand identity.

Consider your current challenges, and look for other brands that are shining examples of how to overcome that challenge. Here are three examples to inspire you.

A Brand That’s Great at Aligning Its Products with Its Mission: Nike

Nike is a great example of a company that produces products that align with its identity. Nike’s brand purpose is to “bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world” and states that “If you have a body, you are an athlete.” Since 2017, Nike has aligned its product range with its brand purpose by making more inclusive products. It has launched a plus-size women’s range, a maternity range, and started using parasport mannequins in its stores for the first time.

A Brand That’s Rebranded Effectively: Mailchimp

Some companies struggle when they rebrand because they’re used to a particular design palette or style of messaging. Mailchimp is a fantastic example of how to focus on internal education to empower your team and achieve brand consistency – even after a rebrand. When Mailchimp rebranded in 2018, it introduced a new brand identity and design system to help its team adopt the new brand. The design system “introduced a framework of core components, so that the elements existing inside of it can be as free and expressive as we want.”

A Brand That’s Achieved Consistency Across All Customer-Facing Channels: Headspace

Headspace has created a recognizable, consistent visual identity using a bright color palette and quirky illustrations. Whether you’re on its home page, in the app, on Twitter, or watching a video on its YouTube channel, Headspace uses the same visual style across each channel. Headspace is a great example of how you can use distinct design elements to build a strong visual brand identity – and then adapt your brand assets to suit each marketing channel.

Look at other companies to work out what they’re getting right with their brand, as well as things you’d do differently with your own brand. You can also see how companies use Frontify’s platform to improve their brand management, and strengthen their brand identity, for more inspiration.

Read More: 5 Strong Brand Identity Examples (& Tips to Uncover Your Own)

Document Your Brand Identity to Improve Consistency

Consistency is essential for building up brand recognition in your market. So once you’ve established your brand identity, you need to make sure all your employees communicate your brand externally – on sales calls, in marketing materials, and even in support tickets – in the same way.

You can help your team (and external contributors to your brand) achieve consistency by documenting your brand identity and providing guidance on using and describing your brand.

Brand Guidelines are a great way to provide written and visual information about your brand identity. Guidelines help educate your team on how to use your different brand elements and assets. They should include all your brand elements, such as logos, color palette, fonts, and taglines. They should also include guidance on how to use each element, with practical examples where possible. The more details you can provide in your Brand Guidelines, the better equipped your employees will be to use your brand assets confidently, without running everything past your brand manager.

For example, E.ON uses Frontify’s Brand Guidelines to document its various UI components, as well as images, logos, and color codes. Its Brand Guidelines are the home for all the different elements it uses to express and communicate its brand image to its customers.

Develop Your Brand Identity Over Time

Your brand identity isn’t developed overnight. It takes time to discover and document an authentic identity that feels right for your company. But even once you’ve done so, it’s not set in stone. Over time, your company will change, priorities will shift, and your brand identity will need to develop with it.

Set aside some time to revisit your brand identity every year to check that it still feels like a true representation of your company’s values and vision. As your company evolves, there are a couple of different ways to adapt and develop your brand identity.

Make Incremental Updates to Your Brand

There are two reasons you need to make regular updates to your brand. The first is to make sure your messaging and visuals are still an authentic representation of your brand identity. The second is to adapt your brand to changes in the market and to customer expectations.

Examples of updates you may need to make include:

  • Tweaking your brand’s tone of voice to better attract potential customers
  • Adding new logo variations as you discover new use cases, such as animated versions, single color, or black and white versions
  • Updating your company tagline as your product range expands
  • Adding new guidance about using brand assets or creating brand content for new social media channels

When you make small changes to your brand, remember to update your brand guidelines so that everyone in the company can use your updated assets. You can also share brand updates with the company to keep everyone up-to-date with these changes and help maintain brand consistency.

Carry Out a Major Rebrand

Companies often carry out a rebrand when they feel like their public-facing brand identity is no longer an authentic reflection of the organization’s vision and values. During a rebrand, you’ll revise your brand strategy and make bigger changes to your brand, such as:

  • Revising your mission statement, value proposition, and brand values
  • Changing your logo or company name
  • Changing your tagline
  • Reviewing your color palette
  • Adapting your brand voice
  • Updating your brand guidelines to document your new brand identity

On average, companies rebrand every 7-10 years, so this won’t be something you do often. In that time, you’ll have built up a lot of brand recognition in the market, but there will have been lots of changes, too. You’ll have new competitors in your space, your products will have changed, and your target audience will be different.

A rebrand often involves rethinking and redefining your brand identity. It’s a major project that will involve employees from all departments, so your new brand is an authentic representation of the whole company – not just your executive team or your marketing department.

Help Your Team Engage with Your Brand Identity

Many companies still think of brand-building as a job for their marketing team rather than a long-term project for the entire organization. But if you can help the whole team understand your brand identity (and why it’s important), you boost your chances of presenting a consistent, recognizable brand to the market and your customers.

Here are three practical ways to educate and update your team on brand-related topics.

1. Help New Employees Learn About Your Brand

It can be difficult for new team members to familiarize themselves with your brand without help. Run introductory training sessions during the onboarding process to help your new employees understand your brand identity.

Training should be in two sections: first, an overview of your identity, values, and brand principles; then a more practical session on using branded elements like your logo, colors, and taglines. This combination will help new employees understand your brand identity and how to apply your brand in their work.

2. Share Regular Updates About the Brand

Keep all your employees up-to-date with changes to your brand by sharing regular updates. Send updates when new brand assets are ready to use or when you make changes to the brand as part of a bigger rebranding project. Frequent communication about your brand makes it feel more “real” to your employees and makes it easier to understand how your brand is changing over time.

3. Create Templates for Commonly Used Brand Materials

An easy way to help employees feel engaged with your brand identity is to empower them to create branded documents and assets to use in their own work. If they can do so without having to go through your marketing or design team, it helps them feel a sense of ownership over their brand-related work.

Help team members create their own brand assets (without compromising on brand consistency) by creating templates for common brand materials like newsletters, social media graphics, and slide decks. For example, SRF uses Frontify’s digital templates to help its 200 social media content creators create on-brand assets for all its social channels without help from graphic designers.

Brand identity is owned and developed by everyone in the company. It can’t be developed by just one person or one team alone – not even the CEO.

Read More: How to Help Everyone in Your Organization Engage With Your Brand Identity

See How Frontify’s Rethinking Brand Identity Management

A professional brand management platform can help you develop, define, and document your brand identity by providing a home for everything related to your brand.

Frontify’s Brand Identity Canvas walks you through the process of discovering your authentic brand identity. It then provides the tools and a place to document that identity and helps you understand how to measure the performance and value of your brand over time.

The Brand Identity Canvas is part of our brand management platform, an all-in-one platform that brings together all of your brand-related tools and work in one place. From your Brand Guidelines and DAM to digital templates, Frontify is where you can develop and manage all aspects of your brand.

Ready to start developing your brand identity? Request a demo to learn more about the Frontify platform, or start your free trial to start documenting your brand today.

Oskar Duberg
Oskar Duberg
Senior Brand Content Specialist