Branding: where do I start?

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When you have a new business, branding can seem like an overwhelming and scary task. You might be unsure of where to begin, what you need, and where to go to find it. The question of how your branding should look and feel, to communicate what you're about, is a big one.

In my experience, that's the question that can make branding your business feel intimidating. Many people delay and procrastinate, sometimes unconsciously, doing other 'urgent' startup tasks instead because the fear of this unknown process, and of getting your branding 'wrong', is kind of bubbling away back there, paralysing decisions.

So let me demystify some of what branding is about, and offer some fundamentals to hopefully make you feel more confident about where to start.

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Branding isn't mysterious

Ok, so I do believe there's a little magic involved in the branding process. There's definitely magic in the relationship with the client, and the moment when a logo design goes 'ping! perfect' for example. But there are steps to the process, and knowledge you can arm yourself with so that you can feel more confident about getting your brand stand-out and spot-on.

 

The ingredients of a brand identity

A full brand identity consists of:

- a logo

- colour palette

- typography / fonts

- photography style

- patterns or textures 

- brand icon

- illustrations / icons.

Of course, there are also things like tone of voice, writing style and customer service approach that also go into your brand, but we're primarily dealing with visual elements here.

If you're just starting out, and your budget is tight, you can start with a logo, colours and fonts first, and build the other brand elements around it later on.

 

Logo

The logo is central to your brand, it's the cornerstone if you like, but it's not the whole brand (see Your Logo is Not Your Brand, here). A logo should be clean, clear, simple and beautiful. Don't be tempted to cram in multiple messages or styles, or it'll look messy and lose impact. Keep it simple, and use the other elements of your brand identity to build around it. Patterns and textures add depth, colours create emotion, and so on.

Image courtesy of Rowanmade from Pinterest

Image courtesy of Rowanmade from Pinterest

The example above illustrates what I mean. The logo (at the top) and brand icon (bottom) are clean and simple, but the brand is broadened by the colours and photography, which tell more of the story.

Keeping it simple also ensures your logo will have longevity. You want your logo to stay relevant and impactful for years to come. Other brand elements can be refreshed every few years if need be, but a logo needs to become established. Don't use trendy calligraphy fonts or the latest hipster styles, because they'll date.

 

Colours

A colour palette gives you a consistent look everywhere your brand appears. Colour communicates emotions, so it's important to consider what you want people to feel about your business, and it isn't just about what colours you personally like.

You might paint your bedroom walls in Farrow & Ball Pitch Blue, but that won't necessarily be right for your business brand. 

This is where the discovery phase is really important - by identifying what makes up your business' story, all the elements of its uniqueness, you can start to work out what colours will speak for it best. You'll more than likely need a designer's eye to put a palette together, ensuring the tones all work and complement each other, but you can do some fun experimenting yourself, for sure. Grab some paint chips from the local DIY centre and play around creating a palette, or browse Pinterest for some inspiration. 

The colour palette I designed for Aligned Design Co. gave me Mad Men vibes.

The colour palette I designed for Aligned Design Co. gave me Mad Men vibes.

 

Typography

Choosing one or two font styles as your 'brand fonts' is really important. As with colours, the fonts will become a recognised part of your visual identity. I always come to this step after the logo design is finalised, because the fonts need to sit well alongside it. There are no hard and fast rules about selecting fonts, except that a font you've used in your logo shouldn't appear anywhere else (otherwise the logo's strength is diluted). It's a good idea to have a header font, and one for body text. Use two different sizes or weights of the same font, or choose two contrasting fonts for more personality.

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Try to make sure there's a contrast in style or weight between your fonts. For example, use a bold and a light style, or pair a serif with a sans serif. If you have the makings of a typography geek, like me, take a look at myfonts.com for thousands of inspiring font designs.

 

Brand collateral

Once you have your brand elements and a lovely new style guide, you can create the collateral to put your visual identity out to the world. Here are some things you might need:

- social media header and profile images

- instagram post templates

- business cards

- printed postcards / brochures / flyers

- a website

- email template (e.g. Mailchimp)

- stickers

- headed stationery

- signage.

If you're design-inclined, you can have a go at creating some items, such as social media images, yourself using Canva or similar programs. Steer clear of Word as it really doesn't make it easy to create good design. You'll need your logo and brand elements in print and web formats from your designer (high resolution CMYK for print, low resolution RGB for web). 

 

In conclusion

Now you know some fundamentals about branding I hope it doesn't seem as daunting to get started. A good designer will of course be able to help you make the right choices for your brand design and guide you through the process, but I think it helps to have some knowledge yourself and get involved with the creative process.

If you'd like to receive more practical advice on developing your brand, please do subscribe to my newsletter, where I share more tips and inspiration every month. In the meantime, good luck with your brand explorations and feel free to ask me your questions in the comments below.

The life-changing magic of moving towns

I've been a little quiet on the blog lately as I have just moved house from Worcestershire to south west London. The move was in the works for a while and last month my husband and I finally packed up the contents of our little terraced house on the side of the Malvern Hills, squashed it into a van far too small for the purpose, and moved it into a bright ground floor flat near the river in Twickenham.

I'd been wanting to move for a while - after 10 years in the same town my inspiration reserves were running low and I was feeling a bit stifled. Trips to Birmingham and London were giving me occasional injections of city life but my heart would sink when I got back home to my sleepy street again.

So here we are, and I've got the buzz back. Twickenham is a lovely part of London, leafy and pretty with lots of open spaces, but 20 minutes from the centre of the city and all the many, many things there are to explore. I have to admit I felt a bit overwhelmed at first and spent the first week racing around trying to see and do EVERYTHING, then the following week doing nothing at all, to recover.

Now I'm enjoying London's infinite variety at a nice calm pace, and I have a list of what I want to do next:

- go here, which seems to be a posh darts pub with pizza

- see An American in Paris

- spend a day at the Design Museum

- kayak on the River Thames

That's for starters.

Next month's blog will be back to the topic of design and branding!

Choosing a business name

One of the questions I'm often asked by people setting up new businesses is 'how do we choose a name?'.

Naming your business can feel like a challenge because it's a long-term commitment. You can change your website, colours and logo during the life of your business without too much hassle (although I don't recommend doing so too often), but changing its name would be a huge decision. So there's a pressure to get it right from the start.

Key questions to ask

There are actually lots of ways to come up with a name, and none are right or wrong. But there are a few key things to consider when making the decision:

- Is it memorable?
- What emotional responses or images does it conjure up?
- Will it look good in type?
- Is it meaningful to a broad range of people or just to you? It can be tempting to use something personal as your inspiration, but make sure the meaning won't be lost on your audience.
- Is it clear and easy to pronounce? A great name loses effectiveness if people struggle to say it.
- Is the www domain name available? 

choosing a business name

A helpful process

A process that I recommend when trying to find a brilliant business name is to do some relaxed, creative thinking. You can do this alone, or with someone who knows your business idea well, and bounce suggestions around together. Take a piece of paper and write down the first words that come to mind about your company. These could be words around what you do, how you do it, what your client experience feels like or what personality traits you bring to the business. As you get into it, you can start to free-associate and write more words that come to mind. When you have 20-30 words or phrases, sit back and see which ones jump out at you. Would a word or phrase make a good name by itself, or in combination with another? 

It's actually a really great exercise to do at the start of the brand journey anyway, as it helps clarify some key words around your business and how it might look and feel.

Why Aligned Design Co.?

I used the above exercise to explore ideas when I was selecting a name for my own business. I spent an afternoon thinking and word-associating and ended up with a good A4 sheet covered in words and scribbles. But nothing was quite hitting the mark, so I decided to take a break and went for a swim at my local pool. As I was about to get into the water I had a thought about why I had started as a freelance designer in the first place - because of my belief that when head, heart and passion are aligned then a business is ready to succeed, and my role within that is to create the brand that lets it shine. And the word 'aligned' is also a design term. I knew instantly I had it - Aligned Design Co.

Test and repeat

Once you have come up with a good name or a few different ideas, test them on other people. You don't have to agree with every piece of feedback you get, but it's great to get a broad picture of how your name lands with potential customers. It's definitely worth putting the time and thought into the best name you can possibly come up with, so it not only works for your business in the immediate future but will also proudly speak for it in years to come.

What's your why?

brand advice

I love this quote from Simon Sinek: 'People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it.' (You can watch his TEDTalk here.) It's a really key point when I'm creating brands for clients.

The why is a powerful part of your story, and people like stories. They want to engage with the reason you're in business, the vision or mission you bring to the world, and if it resonates with them then they'll feel like a part of your tribe.

Innocent is a good example of a business whose why is a fundamental part of the brand. The founders believe in creating drinks using simple, fresh fruit with social and environmental responsibility. This vision is clear on all their packaging and publicity and shines through the visual branding. The brand identity communicates that it's a company for people who care about healthy food, and those people flock to buy the products.

So when Simon Sinek says 'start with why', it's good advice for your business brand. Why are you in business, what is it that you want to bring or change? What's the bright idea or burning ambition behind what you've chosen to do? That's the sweet spot - let that shine through your brand and your tribe will soon follow.

To find out more about how Aligned Design Co. works with businesses to create brand identities, drop me a line at nancy@aligned-design.co

Your logo is not your brand

Logos are important. They're like a badge for your business, an identifier that is instantly recognisable through colour, type and design. But a logo is only a part of a brand.

A brand is made up of lots of different elements, some visual, some not. It's the overall perception of your business so includes your logo, yes, but also includes the photography style on your website, the way you answer the telephone or your customer service style, for example.

Think of Anthropologie

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The company has a clean, simple logo that communicates some of what it is about via the typeface and design, but to fully get Anthropologie as a brand, you need to interact with more than just its logo.

You might see an advertisement in the press or online, or visit a store. You'll experience the products, the way they are photographed, the shop layout, your interaction with the sales assistant and so on. These are all brand touchpoints that build a picture of what the company is about.

Anthropologie sells fashion, home accessories and art that feel like they've been curated from all over the world, they're unusual, colourful and authentic and with a sense of adventure and travel.

The logo by itself cannot communicate all of this. (Those that try, will almost certainly fail).

When thinking about your brand and your business, you need to think about all of the ways in which your customers experience what you do. What do those things say about you?

And for logos, my approach is always that a beautifully-designed yet simple logo will be far more powerful than something that tries to say too much.

5 fears when starting a business

Since I started as a freelancer I've met a lot of people starting out, planning or in the early years of their business adventures and in conversations with them I've discovered many of us share similar fears.

Here are some common themes; maybe some will resonate with you:

1. I'm an imposter

Nothing like diving straight in with a big one.

"I really want to do this, but I'm scared I'm no good at it, and people will find out."

I think the first thing with this fear is actually to know that Imposter Syndrome is a thing. Lots of people have it, from top-level CEOs to famous actors. Fearing you're actually no good at the thing you say you're good at, and everyone's going to find you out, is a human problem.

The brilliant coach Jess Heading explained this really well for me: 'It's the mind's f***ed up way of dealing with the uncertainty of being out of our comfort zone.' We're exploring new territory and going beyond the boundaries of what we've done before; our mind is trying to keep us safe. But we don't have to pay attention to it. Maybe just give it a wave hello and go back to what we were doing. It'll keep coming up each time we bravely take ourselves to a new place in our business, like a slightly annoying friend. It's okay, carry on anyway, and the voice will quieten.

2. If I'm myself, I'll fail

Some of us *might* still be working through this one...

When starting a new venture, especially one that's as personal as our own business, there's a tendency to look around at what everyone else is doing and think we have to try to emulate it to achieve success. However, I'm starting to see how many of the people and businesses I admire are confidently doing their own thing, and the reason people love them is precisely the thing that makes them weird / unique / different. It's that essence of me-ness, the ingredients of our unique business and what we bring to it, that attracts the customers that we're completely right for. As Lissa Rankin advocates, 'Let your freak flag fly.'

And of course, this is also what will make your brand fly.

Stay tuned for part 2.

Guest blog: The importance of a consistent brand

Sonja Leason of fantastic business growth consultancy Love Mondays Ltd shares her top tips for a brilliant brand strategy.

What is a brand?

When you think about your brand, you really want to think about your entire customer experience. This isn’t just about your logo, it also includes how you answer the phone, your website, your social media and even how your customers experience your staff. Overall, a brand is the way your customer perceives you. With repetition comes recognition and this is what sets you apart from the competition.

In order to have a good brand, you need a strategy. Your brand needs to speak to your target market. It needs to portray your values.

So, where do we start?

The first thing to do is consider what your business’s brand values (or strengths) are. You can start by thinking about:

What are you good at?

What does your business believe in?

It could be that you offer great customer service and you are a friendly person to deal with. Do you value good client communication? Do you have many years of experience and expertise in getting jobs done? Do you offer outstanding value for money?

It’s important that you ALWAYS deliver your brand values and ensure that your brand values are going to match your customer’s buying needs.

Your target market

Let’s take a second to look at Coca Cola, more specifically, Diet Coke and Coke Zero. Diet Coke has been a leading sugar-free soft drink since it was first released in 1982, however, when Coca Cola discovered that young males identified Diet Coke as a ‘woman’s drink’, the company introduced the black shiny can.

It’s essentially the same product, however, it’s marketed very differently. Men wouldn’t buy a drink that’s advertised with by a half naked man taking a Diet Coke break outside women in the office. Coke Zero was born.

Your USP

Your Unique Selling Point. What makes you stand out from your competitors? Summarise what you do and how you do it better or differently than your competitors. How does working with you, or using your service benefit your customers?

Again, let’s take a look at a few examples:

Gillette: The best a man can get. USP - Quality.
British Airways: The world’s favourite airline. USP - Popularity.
Tesco: Every little helps. USP - Price.
Polo: The mint with the hole. USP - Being unique.

What is your USP? Can these words be used as a strapline?

Using a brand

Will it carry across each media platform? Your strapline will work on a radio advert where your logo can’t. Your typeface and logo will emphasize your brand where colour can’t be used. A good designer will take this into account.

Will it look good this time next year? You need to build trust and be easily remembered. A good graphic designer will able to take an existing logo, evolve and adapt it for today’s customers while keeping your brand values intact!

Monitor your competitor’s brand strategies. How do you compare?

We hope this helps!

The Love Mondays Team x

What do your brand colours say about you?

I love talking about colour! Colour is one of the most powerful elements in your brand design. That's because it has an immediate emotional impact on the person looking at it. I'm not just talking about the basic red = danger, green = go, obvious ones, but all the subtle reactions we have to all the thousands of nuanced shades in the spectrum.

Have a look at the colour palette below. How do you feel when you look at it? Is it calming or energising, powerful or soft? What does it conjure up for you?

Now have a look at this palette. How does it compare? If these were two different brands, what impressions would you get of each of them?

There are no right or wrong answers, it's just interesting to notice how you respond to the different colours. For me, the first palette suggests something soft, approachable, calming and quiet. The second one is more energetic, creative and exciting.

I'll be exploring colour and branding a lot more in coming blog posts, but for now, why not keep your eyes open for colours you see in advertising, shop signs, on the internet, etc and what you think they're communicating? And if you have a logo or brand, what are those colours saying about your business?

 

The Aligned Design Co. launch

Aligned Design Co. has been several months in the planning, and that's not counting the many weeks when I'd had the idea, and just held it very close to me, excited but not quite ready to make it real.

I have been designing freelance for two years. At the start of this year, with the help of the wonderful business coach, Lucy Barkas, I began to turn the thing I love doing best into Aligned Design Co., a brand styling and design service for inspired businesses.

It's been a fantastic journey for me so far and I'm so excited to share it with you now.