P + S = R
The (P) problem when combined with a this (S) solution drives these (R) results.
Plain and simple.
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Can you write a one-liner?
I was chatting with my friend Brian yesterday about his startup. He asked, "what did you think of our branding?"
I asked, "it depends, who are you trying to talk to and what do you want them to feel?"
He wasn't sure. It sounded like there were multiple target markets he was trying to reach with his product and he wasn't sure how he could build a brand that would reach all of them.
Here's the thing:
You cannot build a brand for everyone. In fact, it's smart to build a brand for one person. Since the brand is an emotion, an already vaporous concept, you make it far less tangible with the more people you try to affect. The best brands are constructed for one person. This allows you to focus entirely on making something that somebody will love. Fortunately, there is always spill-over and, because humans are so complex, chances are that we all have a piece of that one persona within us. You have to accept the fact that your brand cannot win over everyone. Even Nike and apple have their haters.
Marketing your brand, however, can be done to multiple people. I gave Brian the analogy of seasoned salt. Seasoned salt is like the brand, it's essence, flavor, and makes whatever meat it's combined with taste like seasoned salt. You can put it on fish, chicken, steak, pork, whatever, it's hasn't changed. Same thing with applying your brand to your marketing efforts. You might have a very specific message or offering for different target markets, but you make sure it's still contains the essence of the brand.
In short, you build the brand for one person, but you can market it to many.
You found an identity to steal. A theme that you can dive deep into and extract a visual story from. Now, your goal is to use these elements coherently. So much so, that even if your company's logo is absent from a piece of collateral, an ad, or website, it should still be recognized as something from you. Note, every design deliverable is different and the medium you are building within can have a major impact on how you will apply the visual identity. That being said, these are the top things to be aware of for cohesion:
I cannot overstate the value of a unified color palette, especially if you've selected on unique to your market. Keeping your colors intact and uniform makes your company appear more organized and it helps establish a subconscious connection between you and the selected color. When cigarette advertising became prohibited, Marlboro paid bars to paint entire walls of their spaces Marlboro red. Their sales increased as a result. That's just from establishing a brand color. Or think about Tiffany Blue and the associations of prestige that come along with it. Color has major impact.
Of all the visual elements startups get wrong, this is most common. Type is both science and art, hell, some people dedicate their entire lives to the study and creation of beautiful letterforms. Point being, it ain't easy. But there are some overarching principles one should consider. Firstly, limit yourself. Pick two typefaces max and stick to them. Secondly, choose typefaces that are legible and timeless. No curly q's or any of that Microsoft WordArt shit that sends you back to 2nd grade. If you follow those two steps, your visual prowess will be 50% ahead of anyone not doing so.
Layout is the arrangement of elements on a design deliverable. Here is what you need to decide: does your brand reflect order and cleanliness or chaos and creativity? Both are good, but you need to pick one side. By establishing a game plan for how you will layout design elements, you can create templates for websites, presentations, ads, etc and they will all bear the same amount of order. If you bounce back and forth between hyper-create and hyper-structured you lose cohesion.
Subsequent Design Elements
This is where your stolen identity comes into play the most. Brand identities need spice, transcendent elements that make them unique. Let's say you decided to steal your visual identity from a Brooklyn pizza parlor. You know, a real-deal shop with red and white table cloths, twine-wrapped wine bottles, boisterous families talking across the table, Italian flags everywhere, and old-time, sepia-toned photos of the city. That is a treasure trove. You've got patterns (tablecloth), illustrations (of cool stuff like twine-wrapped wine bottles), voice and tone (boisterous families), photo styling (sepia-tone photos) all from one unified source. The same would apply to motion graphics (maybe a pizza being tossed in the air), icons, or any other element.
If you refuse to use the clichè icons, illustrations, and photos present within your industry and replace them with something out of context, you can make something impactful. You can tell a better story. It's all in your stolen identity. Unlock that treasure trove and create something awesome!