A brand identity is the elements that make up a brand's manifestation in the tangible world; things we can see, touch, smell, taste, and hear. It's commonly limited to a logo, and while a logo is an essential piece, it's the tip of the iceberg. What lies beneath the surface is what gives it the ability to rise above the surface.
Defining the brand
The entire purpose of brand identity is to have tangible manifestations of the gut feeling you intend people to have about your business. So, you must first define it. This is done through a brand discovery. If done right, these collaborative sessions between a branding expert and client unearth the business' values, story, voice and tone, purpose, and how they are different from their competitors.
Auditing the brand
Upon defining the brand, the branding expert and client will go through the current branding efforts of the business and check for alignment. This involves everything from marketing collateral, stationery, social media posts, email newsletters, the name of the company, even the services and pricing are on the table. The key is that regardless of the touchpoint, all elements must point to the defined brand. Anything misaligned is put up for redesign.
Brand Identity Design
This is where the foundation of the brand's look is laid. It involves the creation of a name (if needed), a logo, color palette, typography, photo styling, illustration and pattern examples, and iconography.
With the core elements of the brand identity laid out, marketing collateral, a website, and other touchpoints can be created without looking scattered.
Here's where this goes wrong: when you try to build the top of the iceberg without giving it the support it needs.
My mom is a sales rep who works with pet store retailers. Some small and some large. She told me recently that a store she visits has over 6400 items on sale. 6400!
But that means they sell a lot of stuff, right? They probably need all of those items. Still, my curiosity wasn't satisfied. I asked, "why sell so many?"
Apparently people are more picky about their dog's food being gluten-free, paleo, with/without certain ingredients than most people are with their own nutrition. In short, they are trying to please everyone by having all of those needs met. No matter what pet you have, no matter what its needs are, they are trying to sell it.
I can't know for certain, but I'd imagine 80% of their sales comes from 20% (or less) of those 6400 products.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the first thing he did was strip away 70% of Apple's products and got them focusing on what really mattered. Surprisingly, despite getting rid of a bunch of products, Apple turned its first quarterly profit the following January (see timeline for comparison). Apple didn't even have 50 products and they still struggled to keep their head above water. Can you imagine the crippling weight of 6400 products?
In-N-Out, the most successful burger chain on the west coast, sells cheeseburgers (with varying amounts of meat/cheese), french fries, shakes, and soft drinks. Each store does about $4.5M in annual sales and they have over 300 across the country. When people come to In-N-Out asking for a change to a menu item, they say "sorry, this isn't for you."
By turning away some people, they have a streamlined business offering and they become known for it. It exudes confidence and even people who can't or won't eat a cheeseburger respect that. The same could be said of Apple and people who want to change their offerings.
In the words of Seth Godin, have the courage to say, "this is not for you, but it is for someone who believes this."
Yesterday, I wrote about how good logos do not make more money. The essential premise was that a good logo is not meant to earn people more money, but counters the cost of having a bad logo. Such as having to reprint collateral when a good logo finally emerges, losing equity in an image that changed, negative impressions, or having to repurpose/reconstruct the logo for various applications (social icons, favicons, app icons, small scale, etc.).
It got me thinking though, isn't all design about mitigating risk or cutting cost? Some would argue that design can earn more money, like going through a rebrand to appeal to a more affluent market, designing an ad meant to drive revenue, or building a streamlined website to increase conversion. But, I'm not convinced this means design's core function is to earn more money.
When you're rebranding to appear to a more affluent market, what you're really doing is mitigating the risk of appearing cheap or scammy.
When designing an ad to increase revenue, what you're really doing is mitigating the risk of being off brand or having a Peleton faux pas.
When you're building a streamlined website, what you're really doing is mitigating the risk of user confusion and discomfort.
Focusing on how you can make more money is great, but that doesn't seem to be design's core capacity. Design is meant to mitigate risk.
The risk of appearing unprofessional.
The risk of having a rigid, difficult identity system.
The risk of looking dysfunctional.
The risk of making a user's experience negative.
Whatever it may be, good design is about mitigating risk.