What are the essential branding elements that every business needs in order to grow sustainably? I’m glad you asked. In this guide, I’m breaking down the top 9 elements of a strong and cohesive brand identity. This guide covers both the strategic and visual aspects of branding. (P.S. Check out this post if you’re unfamiliar with the difference between brand strategy and brand design).
1. Mission statement
Your mission statement is the backbone of your brand. It informs every decision and direction your brand takes. In a nutshell, an effective mission statement states in 1-2 sentences what your brand does, who it serves, and why. Strong mission statements are reinforced by strong values. It’s a great reminder that there is a purpose in what your brand does.
When I started my design business, I didn’t have a niche. And I know I’m not alone in this–many new freelancers and entrepreneurs struggle to zone in on one area of their industry to serve. It feels limiting. If you’re nodding your head right now, know this: having a clearly defined niche can only help your business grow.
Here are a few ways to find your niche:
- If you’re in a creative field, specialize in a certain style (i.e. minimalist, bold, playful, refined, etc.)
- Serve a particular industry that you love (i.e. weddings, tech startups, spirituality, health, etc.)
- Work with individuals at a certain stage of their business (i.e. new coaches, mid-level designers, 6-figure business owners, etc.)
Still struggling? Check out this post to discover a simple formula you can use to define your niche.
3. Client avatars
If you only choose to work on one of these branding elements, let it be this one. Understanding your ideal clients is crucial to growing your brand. If you try to serve everyone, you’ll end up serving no one. Take it from me! As you build your brand and create new messaging and offers, you should always come back to your client avatars and ask yourself, “Is this something they need?”
You don’t need any fancy paperwork or software to create your ideal client avatars. Start by listing out some basic demographics, like age, gender, income, education, and marital status. Then, give your avatars some personality and interests. What are their hobbies? Favorite TV shows? Books? Cuisines? Life goals? Dreams and aspirations? Oh, and don’t forget to give them a name. Now that you know everything about your ideal clients, you can brainstorm what kind of problems they’re facing and come up with a specially tailored, irresistible solution.
Related post: How to target your ideal customers
4. Brand personality
I like to think of brands as people. They have unique characteristics, traits, and yes, even personalities. Is your brand playful and lighthearted? Innovative and cutting edge? Elegant and sophisticated? You get to decide. Think about what kind of personality your ideal clients are drawn to and infuse that personality through your brand’s content, imagery, and visual identity.
The most compelling brands have a story to tell. Not only that, they tell it in a way that resonates with their customer base and shows that there’s a greater purpose behind their services or products. Effective messaging neatly ties together all the other branding elements we just covered–mission, niche, ideal clients, and personality. Clear, relatable, and mission-driven messaging will take your brand a long way.
As we move into the visual branding elements in this guide, I hope it’s clear by now that a logo in and of itself is not a brand. Logos are important, but without strategy and intention behind their design, they’re just graphics. Logos come in many shapes and styles, but in general, the best logos are simple, legible, and memorable. Just look at major brands like Nike, Apple, or Coca-Cola for proof. As a brand designer, I always create multiple logo variations for my clients in order to create a brand that’s adaptable and cohesive across all print and digital collateral.
Related post: How many logo variations do you need?
7. Color palette
Having a set color palette helps your brand look cohesive across different platforms. In general, I recommend using no more than 5 main colors for your brand for optimal cohesiveness. Color choice matters too. Different colors convey different meanings. When picking color scheme for your brand, aim to reflect the personality you defined earlier. For instance, a calm and sophisticated brand brings to mind neutral tones and deep blue and purple hues. A fun and playful brand could incorporate vibrant shades like yellow, pink, and orange. Do a little research on color psychology to better understand the relationship between colors and feelings; then, feel free to head over to this Pinterest board for loads of beautiful color palette inspiration!
Related post: 10 sophisticated color palettes for upscale brands
8. Font system
Font systems are another visual branding element that helps your brand look consistent. Each brand should have a system of 2-3 fonts that are used exclusively across all platforms and collateral. In general, you’ll have one font for your headings, one for body text, and optionally, a third for accents. To use my own brand as an example, I use the serif typeface Playfair Display for headings, Open Sans for body text, and occasionally, I use Open Sans in bold and all caps as a lower level heading. It’s important to use fonts for your brand that pair well together and create a pleasant visual hierarchy that’s easy to read and follow along with.
Related post: 5 elegant font pairings for modern brands
9. Brand style guide
Last but not least, the 9th branding element your business needs is a style guide. A brand style guide, also referred to as a brand board, is a document that pulls together all the visual elements of your brand in one place. It serves as a quick reference guide for whenever you or your designer are creating new assets for your brand. At minimum, the brand style guide should include the primary logo and its variations, the color palette, a preview of the font system, and a few reference images that help portray the brand’s look and feel.
Depending on the scope of your project, your brand designer may also provide you with more in-depth brand guidelines, which are typically multiple pages long and include instructional info on how to use your various brand assets.
Which branding elements are you missing?
Sign up for my free mini branding course if you need helping laying out a strategic foundation for your brand. Need help with the visuals? Creating intentional brand identities for entrepreneurs is what I do best. Submit an inquiry if you’re ready to bring your brand vision to life.