Last year, I was talking to a man at a networking event. He asked what I did for work and I told him, "I work with rebels. Rebels are the startups challenging the status quo. I help them gain more confidence through branding and design."
He paused. "Ok, how would you help me?"
I told him that a brand is a person's gut feeling or perception of a business. The art of branding is using the business's personality, image, and beliefs to foster that gut feeling. This creates trust and an emotional attachment between the customer and the business.
He told me he had named his company Best ______. He said that his industry wasn't exciting, his business couldn't have a personality and that the only actionable "branding" route for him to take was calling himself "the best." His next sentence was what shocked me the most though:
"If I was to build a brand, I'd have to lie."
"You'd have to lie?" I questioned.
He believed that creating a brand would mean that he'd have to create a false personality for his company. I kept talking with him, asked him what he liked to do in his spare time, and what he valued.
Turns out, he builds full-scale medieval catapults in his spare time. He loved comedy. Diving deeper, his greatest desire was that his team would show up to after-work team-building events.
I looked at his logo, the name of his company, their colors, and the way they presented themselves online. Nothing about those elements aligned with who this man is. The brand was stoic, staid, and lacked any character.
What he had built was a brand that others would expect of him. He was putting on his business face, trying with everything that he could to be something he isn't.
If that's not a lie, I don't know what is.
Branding is not covering up who you are in the hopes of appealing to somebody. It's the direct opposite, it's showcasing who you really are and going all-in on it. That is what creates an emotional connection with someone else.
A buddy of mine and I have started looking for apartments to rent. Scammers have been rampant, so we're extra cautious.
One realtor had sent my friend an application, his license number, and lease agreements. My buddy sent them to me asking, "is this legit?"
I could see where he was suspicious. The design of the application was shotty and it made his ears perk up. It was a lot of small things like misaligned typography, no consistency in colors, no logo for the company, no footer. Not only from a design perspective, but things like not have a dedicated domain for this company and instead using a Gmail address made this entire experience feel scammy.
Despite the fact that he did indeed have a license number, his brand and legitimacy were being put to death by a thousand tiny cuts. Small wounds that bled his company of its worth and value.
Point being, the small interactions are where you get a chance to prove yourself as something legit and unique. Never underestimate them.
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!