Why Your Brand Is More Than Just a Visual Identity

July 31, 2018

Editor's Note: This guest post is authored by Josh Ritchie, Cofounder of ColumnFive.

Much like beauty, a brand is in the eye of the beholder. But that doesn’t mean a brand is just about looks. One of the most common and pervasive myths of branding is that a “brand” is just a logo or a catchy ad campaign—basically, a visual identity.

Yes, a visual identity is the “face” of your brand. It helps you communicate your brand personality in everything from your logo to your landing pages. But it is not the single entity that identifies your brand.

If so, what is your brand?

Brand Vs. Visual Identity

As Marty Neumeier defines it in The Dictionary of Brand, a brand is ”a person’s perception of a product, service, experience or organization; a commercial reputation.”

It the sum of the parts, shaped by everything from your product and visual identity to your culture and customer service. Every aspect of your business contributes to your “brand,” but it is the emotional perception of your brand that matters most. What do people think about you? How do you make them feel?

This is a frustrating truth, because you can’t actually control that perception. The good news is, when it comes to communicating your brand, you can help influence it. How? With specific branding tools.

5 Branding Tools to Help You Influence Your Brand Perception

When you’re building a brand strategy, there are many elements to consider. Above all, you need to identify and include the tools that will help you create a better brand experience. Oftentimes when I see a client struggle, it’s because they are lacking one or all of the most crucial tools to effectively communicate.

You may have one, some, or half, but if you want to really succeed, you need these specific tools:

  • Core identity
  • Personas
  • Brand story
  • Visual identity
  • Content strategy

Whether they make brainstorming easier or help you communicate your value prop, each of these elements will make your brand stronger.

1) Core Identity

Every brand is built upon a core foundation: a reason the brand was created, a larger mission. Understanding your core identity is crucial if you want to successfully communicate who you are, what you do, and what you believe in—and, trust me, you do want to communicate these things. (According to the 2017 Cone Communications CSR Study, 87% of consumers stated they would purchase a product based on brand values.)

Distilled to its essence, your core identity includes your:

  • Purpose: Why do we exist?
  • Vision: What future do we want to help create?
  • Mission: How do we create that future?
  • Values: Who are we? How do we work?

When you know who you are and what you stand for, you can look for opportunities to share that information through content, helping to attract like-minded people who will form an emotional attachment to your brand.

For ideas on how to do this, find out how to write your origin story and check out these 10 brands that put their beliefs front and center.

2) Personas

Strong brand communication is about providing value to the people you’re trying to build a relationship with. Whether it’s through education, entertainment, or inspiration, the content your create should be meaningful and serve a purpose in some way.

This is great in theory, but it’s something many brands forget in practice. When you’re brainstorming ideas, it’s easy to lose sight of this, especially if you’re chasing some new content trend. That’s when you need your personas most.

Personas are an important tool to help you vet your ideas and ensure that everything you create is relevant and interesting to the people you’re trying to reach. (If you’re not familiar with them, personas are simply an amalgamation of the character traits, attributes, and psychographic information that represent your target customer.)  

Luckily, personas are easier to create than you might think. You can even create them during your lunch break.

3) Brand Story

Your brand story is communicated through many things, but content is one of the most important conduits. Everything you create tells some part of your story, whether it’s reinforcing your messaging or promoting your values. Knowing the key elements of your brand story is crucial to help you do this well, which is why a well-crafted messaging architecture is important. This includes:

  • Positioning: What makes your brand different.
  • Value prop: The functional and emotional benefits of your brand.
  • Tagline: A one line summation of your brand position.
  • Storylines: The supporting reasons someone should choose your brand.

4) Visual Identity

As mentioned previously, a strong visual identity is an important part of branding. A cohesive look and on-brand design language reflects and enhances your brand story. Unfortunately, it’s easy to end up with a splintered identity when you A) work with a number of content creators or B) don’t have well-crafted guidelines.

To keep everyone on the same page (and all your content consistent), find out how to create a style guide that people will actually use.

5) Content Strategy

Content is, obviously, the most important vehicle to communicate. But not all content is created equal. Too many brands have fallen into the trap of quantity vs. quality, churning out content that doesn’t connect and, therefore, doesn’t help your brand perception.

This is often due to a lack of strategy. A good content strategy not only helps you create better content, it helps you do it more efficiently, saving time, money, and energy. However, many marketers are too busy to take the time to actually craft the strategy. Or, if they have one, they don’t have it documented. And if it’s not documented, it might as well not exist.

To make sure you’re making the most effective content, try this 2-step process to get your content strategy on paper.

Above All, Remember That Content Isn’t Everything

While communication tools are important, remember that your brand perception isn’t just influenced by what you say; it’s what you do. Creating a healthy culture, providing a quality product or service, and contributing to your community says as much (if not more) than a sales brochure, mission statement, or e-book.

While content is a fantastic way to pull back the curtain and spotlight these actions, it takes a genuine commitment to your brand to create the a truly great brand experience—at every touchpoint.

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