5 Keys to Creating Your Brand Identity

A toolkit to achieve a consistent brand
10 min read


January 1, 2021

5 Keys to Creating Your Brand Identity

A toolkit to achieve a consistent brand
10 min read


January 1, 2021
Recent branding client: Uncommon Grounds Coffee Roasters

When you hear “brand”, what do you think? Most of the time when I ask clients what a brand is, they reply that it is a logo. In this article I will go into depth about why brand identity is more than just a logo. It is a powerful way to establish trust through a cohesive and consistent visual system that imbues meaning and value.

If you already have a strong understanding of brand identity and its elements, then this article is for you. If you are just starting out, then be sure to define your brand’s values and goals so you can inform decisions on the distinct verbal and visual cues that appropriately form the foundation of your brand identity. For those with an aching need to dive into this for your brand right now, then feel free to scroll down to the Getting Started section and begin the Brand Identity Toolkit.

What is a Brand Identity?

A brand identity is the outward manifestation of the essence of an entity, be it a corporate brand, product brand, service brand, or branded environment. Collectively, the verbal and visual cues that form the basis for the “look and feel” of the brand.

The 5 Key Brand Identity Elements

To create a strong brand identity there are five essential categories to consider:

  1. Name
  2. Logo (symbol/wordmark)
  3. Color palette
  4. Typographic style
  5. Graphic style
Considering the Brand Tool Kit Essentials

Now that you’ve seen the key elements that create the totality of brand identity and how they are supposed to be used, here are general considerations for each category.

1. Choose the “Right” Business Name

Ideally, you want everyone to love your name, and just like humans we often get stuck with the name we are given at birth. In business, we often deal with a similar dilemma when the originally chosen name is not considered in context with an audience and their response. A renaming process can be tedious, but worth it at strategic points in a brand’s lifetime. Whether you do it yourself or hire a consultant like Two Hats here are three considerations to choosing a name:

  1. What is the name’s length and flow? Consider the number of syllables. Is it too long? How does it flow off the tongue? Does it get jumbled in the mouth?
  2. How does your name look visually? Think about the logo and visualize the letters; this is equally important as the sound. Extra credit: Palindromes are every designer’s dream.
  3. What does your name mean? What comes to mind when someone hears the name? Is it literal or abstract? Is it positive or negative? Ask your audience, stakeholders, friends, and community.

2. Four Types of Logos to Consider

Logos are the face of your brand. In my experience, the most common misconception is that everyone needs a combination of wordmark (an icon and wordmark), which has been established by large brands with resources and marketing, to pour meaning into that symbol. There are various types of logos, but here are the four most commonly used:

  • Icon Logo or Brand Mark
    Be it an abstract mark, a mascot, or a symbol, an icon logo can be more visually compelling, although alone it often takes a notable amount of resources to associate meaning and story with it. An icon logo is a wonderful choice for product brands. Notable examples are Nike and Apple.
  • Word or Lettermark
    A carefully chosen or designed typeface for the name or initials of the brand. I recommend it for long names that need to be perceived more concisely.
  • Combination Mark
    A combination mark joins an icon logo with a wordmark in defined configurations.
  • Emblem
    Also known and badges, seals, or crests. Emblems are a traditional approach that consists of a typeface and maybe other elements, inside a containing device.

Edward Köehn Co. came to us with a strong idea of icon logo, but instead chose a combination mark honoring the name of the 3rd generation owned company and letting the icon become a secondary cue of the logo.

3. Choose a Color Palette That Represents Your Values

Scientifically it has been said that color is the element that hits the senses first, often before form is even distinguished. In other words, color represents the soul of your brand. In brand identity, a color palette, or color system, creates the brand’s mood. Memorable brands can often be recognized by their color palettes. When choosing colors consider the context, culture, and/or industry, to understand the implications associated with its meaning. For instance, blue, the most commonly used color, can allude to water or the sky and evokes calm, cool, trust, serene, and more. Red can suggest the heart or blood, can evoke passion, heat, sweetness, power, and more. Choice in color will reinforce the emotional connection with your audience.

For Bay Psychiatric we chose an analogous color palette to allude to water and reinforce the icon and name of the brand.

4. Your Brand’s Tone and Tempo Through Typography

Consider your brand’s voice, its tone and tempo, and the chosen typographic style to illustrate it. Type is idealized writing and its normal function is to represent idealized speech. When you choose a typeface or font, it emulates the persona of your brand. Various classes of typefaces evoke historical and cultural context. The following, and oft-used, typefaces fall into three categories:

  1. Serifs: letters with brackets that can allude to classicism. Some serifs are built and strong in appearance, while others appear to have a human touch.
  2. Sans serifs: sanz is a French that means “without”. Sans serif refers to letterforms without brackets at the end. This typeface alludes to modernism and minimalism, while some offer nuance to evoke industrial or impassive style.
  3. Calligraphic: a typeface that references a hand written style that can be formal, whimsical, playful, and sometimes undeveloped.

Uncommon Grounds Coffee Roasters chose a grotesque sans serif that communicated a built and industrial feel. It was also chosen based on the range of styles within the typeface to offer utility in the typography driven brand identity.

5. Visual Expression Is Everything

Everywhere your brand identity is seen creates a visual context, environment, and experience for your brand. There are four main ways to express a brand’s graphic style: where it can live online, in print, on products, in stores, and at events.

  1. Photography – The most commonly used; often defined by subject matter, composition, and style that is in line with the brand.
  2. Illustration – A creative way to distinguish a brand is with a set illustration style. It can add a level of specificity that cannot always be captured in photos.
  3. Textures and patterns – Mindfully crafted patterns can also be paired with other graphic and identity elements to reinforce or compliment the brand story.
  4. Iconography – Icons or symbols that represent certain services, products, or features of a brand can offer a simple and engaging way to create an impression, while potentially extending an illustration or pattern style.

To differentiate and communicate Robust Network Solutions’ tailored offerings from other IT agencies, a custom pattern was created as the primary identity element. Here you’ll see the goal is to associate the name with the pattern by pairing the two whenever possible. This pattern sets the foundation style for supporting iconography and photography that doesn’t dominate the visual language.

Some brands use all four ways to express themselves, some choose one. Start with a single style, and as the brand evolves, take into consideration what the most appropriate styles are to convey your brand’s values.