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.
Logos are tricky and inherently subjective. Not only that, but with a slew of vendors like Fiverr, Upwork, 99Designs, and friends/family who do design work as a side hustle, it's hard to figure out navigating a new identity for your startup. So, here are the top five things all startups should consider when deciding whether or not it is time for a new logo.
Is your logo descriptive of what your startup does?
Descriptive logos detail what services/products a startup provides. For example, if you owned a computer hardware startup and your logo was a monitor screen, that is a descriptive logo. The issue with descriptive logos is that they focus on what you do rather than why you do it.
Logos should be somewhat representative of the fundamental purpose behind your startup and the emotional resonance of your brand (more on this later). Furthermore, descriptive logos are a terrible solution in the long-term, especially if they are focused on a particular technology. Reason being, we don't know how long any particular products or services will be around.
Does your logo look like all of your competitors?
Everyone loves to chalk up Apple as one of the greatest brands of all time. While the logo is the tip of their branding iceberg, it successfully demonstrates the need to stand out. Here is an example of what I mean:
You see, it would have been easy for Apple to create a blue logotype just like their successful competitors, but they would not have been identifiable at all. They would have been pegged as a copycat. The goal of a logo is to be an easily identified mark that helps people recognize your startup. If your logo looks just like all of your competitors, then your logo isn't doing its job.
Did you receive all of the proper formats of your logo when you first got it?
We're diving into the weeds here, but this is an important part of logo design. The downside to sites like Fiverr, Upwork, and 99Designs is that they do not guide users through the proper ways your logo should be distributed. For example, the logo on your website should be in an SVG (scalable vector graphic) format, not a PNG or JPEG. It's not your job as a startup to know this, but you should be informed by the designer which one to use. They also do not develop variants for specific applications like social media, favicons, or different lockups for different applications. In short, if you find yourself scrambling to make your logo work in different contexts, it is obvious that the logo was not built with those applications in mind.
Is it legible and memorable?
Effective logos are simple. The reason for this is so that they can be easily recognized in a crowded market and distinguished from other marks. Simplicity, in the context of logos, could be distilled into two key components:
Legibility (how easy it is to read)
Memorability (how well you, your team, and your customers remember it).
Your logo is not a place to get fancy with grandiose illustrations or granular details. It needs to be just as clear at .5 inches tall as it would be on a billboard.
A simple test to check for these qualifiers is to try and draw your logo from memory. Ask your team and some of your loyal customers to do the same. Are they completely off? If they are, it's time to change.
Has the brand of your startup changed?
Your logo is not your brand, the brand is the gut feeling someone has toward your startup. This feeling is hard to pinpoint without walking through a formalized brand strategy process, but it is found and felt over time.
While logos are not meant for communicating everything about the company, a good logo will be appropriate for the brand. For example, Metallica's logo would not suite a company like Gerber Baby Food because the emotional qualities are at ends with each other. Gerber wants people to feel happy and cared for, while Metallica wants you to feel the wrath of heavy metal.
The first step is understanding what the feeling you want someone to have toward your startup is. Once you can define that, you can see how your logo matches up. If they are in contention with each other, it's time to change.
How does your startup's logo stack up against these questions?
I want you to imagine a drum kit. Now imagine someone sits on a stool behind it and persistently pounds the snare, the toms, and cymbals violently, repeatedly, and without rest. The resulting bash of noise is nothing you would expect from a top performer or something you'd want to hear on a record. It sucks.
Now think about someone else who tactfully and precisely plays each piece of the kit with rhythm and technique. They create a series of harmonious tones that entice your ears. They don't hit every piece at the exact same time, they let them breathe and give each its due space in the spotlight. They rest between notes.
Same principle applies to design. If you try to play all the pieces of your kit (a call to action, a tagline, your logo, information, graphs, charts, etc) at once, you will create noise.
Rest between notes.