We live in a world populated by elite brands. Brands like Nike, Apple and Nintendo define and shape their industries—all because they’ve got the power of top-tier branding on their side. But branding isn’t just something only the elite like Apple and Nike can access. In fact, one of VistaPrint’s design services, 99designs by Vista, conducted a survey that showed the majority of small business owners (86%) believe visual branding is important to their overall success, with 78% revealing that visual branding significantly contributes to revenue growth1. Branding is for everybody, and it’s something anybody with a mission, platform or product should be doing. So you need to know how to build your brand, one step at a time.
Before you can do branding, you need to define your brand. And to define your brand, you need to work out the answers to questions about who you are as a brand, what you’re offering and who you exist to serve. Think of it as an exercise in self-reflection… only instead of reflecting on yourself, you’re reflecting on your brand.
1. Who am I?
Literally, imagine your brand is a person. Who are they?
It can be a strange thought experiment, we know, but it’s a great way to really get into your brand’s mindset and see the world from its perspective.
Are they a serious person? A funny one? Are they wise and established, or are they still learning the ropes? When you imagine all the pieces that make your “brand person” unique, you’re crafting your brand persona. Your brand persona is the guideline you’ll follow when you build your brand identity.
Take a look at Goya, for example. Who are they? From their blocky, sans serif font and big, vibrant photos of food all over their website, we can say they’d be a warm, gregarious person who’s a great host. They back this brand persona up by offering helpful videos like how to seal an empanada. Goya feels welcoming and for many consumers, their first introduction to Latin American food is through Goya. So Goya’s role is part host, part ambassador and part chef.
Where do they live?
Some brands build their hometowns into their mission and brand stories. Others don’t. For the sake of this thought experiment, think about how your brand’s hometown shaped its values and offerings.
Did starting out as a single brick-and-mortar location in a small suburb give your brand a local, community-oriented feel? Did launching in a city where you were the first to offer your product push you into an ambassador-like role, educating people about the product and possibly offering localized variations to suit their tastes better?
Much like Goya, Jollibee plays an ambassador-like role in many of the markets where they operate. For consumers outside the Philippines, Jollibee is where they tried Filipino fried chicken and spaghetti for the first time—so as a brand, Jollibee needs to be warm, engaging and lean into some common fast food branding conventions, like bright red as their main color and a friendly cartoon mascot, so consumers don’t feel alienated by the new brand in town.
What are their values?
Values are a key part of your brand identity. They play a significant role in attracting buyers with similar interests to your brand and keeping those buyers engaged.
So ask yourself this: what does my brand care about? Whatever it’s doing differently from competitors, why is it doing that differently?
Values are things like sustainability, affordability, prestige, connectivity, cleanliness and accessibility. You can signal these values through design choices like the shapes and colors you use in your branding.
What are their goals?
Your brand’s goals fit in with its values. Why do you make the business choices you make? Why do you hold the values you hold?
Your brand’s goals, whether that’s to introduce cuisine from your home country to a whole new audience abroad, to dramatically change what people expect from an app-based laundry service, or to make ethically sourced coffee accessible to all segments of the population, to name a few, shape branding choices like your copy voice, your logo and the imagery you use in your materials.
What makes them laugh?
Is your brand into snarky or edgy humor, or is it more wholesome?
A person’s sense of humor says a lot about their personality. The same is true of your brand. Even if your branding and advertising aren’t humorous in the least, knowing what your brand would theoretically find humorous can be a helpful step in developing your brand’s look, feel and voice.
What pains them?
You’ve probably spent some time thinking about your audience’s pain points, but what about your brand’s pain points? What are the challenges you face and need to solve in your business?
Knowing your brand’s pain points could lead to focusing your branding on its strong points or incorporating them into your branding. For example, maybe one of your crypto app’s pain points is that certain would-be investor populations don’t have reliable internet access. You might work this into your brand’s mission by advocating for these populations and promoting grassroots campaigns to make the Internet more accessible.
What are they contributing to the world?
Perhaps one of the most important points about your brand is what it’s actually doing.
Why does your brand exist? What are you contributing to your market niche and more broadly, to the world?
There might be more than one answer. That’s perfectly fine. And keep in mind that when you’re designing brand identity pieces, you might communicate brand values abstractly, rather than literally. In other words, a neighborhood auto parts store might opt for a square logo to symbolize how they’re a foundation of the local economy, rather than a literal image of an auto parts store as a logo.
Greenpeace is upfront about its mission and lists its values on its website clearly. This fits their brand of non-sensational, nonviolent action toward a more peaceful, sustainable world. You can see their logo in the top left corner: a simple green wordmark that states the organization’s name and nothing more.
2. Who is my target audience?
Next up, ask yourself a similar set of questions—only this time, you’re answering from your target audience’s perspective, not your brand’s.
Where do they live?
This question is multifaceted.
First, there’s the broad question of where they live. Are they all over the world, only in one country, or primarily in one region? This will help you determine aspects of your branding like:
- Cultural imagery to use/avoid
- How (and whether to) localize your website and other assets
- Whether global branding is a concern (and whether it’s worthwhile) for you
Getting a little more focused, determine where they live in relation to your brand. If your brand only serves one city or region, your branding can include more Easter eggs and local inside jokes than a brand that serves people nationwide. Similarly, whether your audience interacts with your brand online versus at a physical location—and whether that physical location is an everyday errand or a once-in-a-while destination—matters when you’re developing your branding strategy.
How old are they?
Next, determine your target audience’s approximate age range. This doesn’t have to be your entire audience—but if the bulk of the people following you are between, say, 40 and 55, you’ll want to craft your branding to connect with people in this age range. That goes beyond avoiding trendy slang and involves communicating that you fit this buyer’s values.
Generally, people in this age range have more discretionary income to spend than younger individuals, so they’re more likely to spend more to get a quality, long-lasting product. You might express that you fit the bill with design choices like serif fonts and neutral colors.
And remember, your target audience is the people buying your product, not necessarily the people using it. For example, babies don’t buy baby clothes. Parents buy baby clothes, so your branding should appeal to them.
What are their values?
This is a big one. You identified your brand’s values—now you need to identify your target audience’s values. If they don’t match, you’ll have a very difficult time staying relevant.
So now that you have a sketch of your target customer, think about that person’s values. What do they care about? What do they think about when they make buying decisions? What kinds of values do they tend to live by? You can speak to these values in your branding, like choosing bright colors to appeal to people seeking affordable products and using green and other natural tones to communicate that just like your buyer, your brand cares about the environment.
What are their pain points?
What problems exist in your buyers’ lives? This goes back to the part of the exercise where you zeroed in on how your brand uniquely positions itself as a solution to buyers’ problems. You can’t do this if you don’t know what those problems are… and if you aren’t closely familiar with how your buyers perceive these problems.
What brings them joy?
Just like you want to show that your values match your buyers’ values, you want to show that you can bring them joy. After all, people like buying from companies that they like personally. Appeal to your target audience with branding that sparks joy
Which other brands are they engaging with?
Take a look at which other brands your buyers are engaging with. What makes these brands appealing? What aren’t they doing that you could be doing to snag some of their market share? Take note of the good, bad and neutral coming from competitors so you can craft smarter, savvier branding.
3. What do I look like?
Now, we’re getting into how to actually build your brand identity. Your brand identity is the collection of (mostly) visual assets that compose the brand’s look and feel. These assets include:
Think of your logo as your brand’s face. It’s the first piece of branding most people will see, and it’s the only piece of branding some will ever see.
When you’re developing a brand identity, a logo is the most crucial part. Depending on the kind of business you have, you might be able to get away with launching without social media pages or branded packaging. You can’t (or at least, shouldn’t) launch without a logo. Your logo is where all the design choices you made, like your color palette, shapes, fonts and imagery, all come together as your brand’s calling card.
In today’s world, a website is pretty close to mandatory for a lot of businesses—and for some businesses, it is mandatory if you want to be successful. As you build your brand, incorporate the design choices you’ve made into your website’s design.
Your website is where most of the people looking for information about your brand will find it, so your website will likely be one of the most comprehensive pieces of your brand identity.
Think of your social media pages as adjacent to your website—people will likely use one to get to the other, so they should have a similar look and feel. Similar doesn’t mean identical, though, and your social media pages might need a different design direction from your main website.
In branding, graphics are everywhere. They’re on your website, they’re in your ads, they’re in hero images and cover photos and pieces of content and if you’re doing any kind of email marketing, they’re there too.
As you develop graphics, think about all the design considerations we’ve covered so far. Think about your brand’s color palette, the shapes that best communicate your values and the kinds of imagery that speak to your brand and its audience.
With video, the same design principles apply—but the processes are a bit different. You might not even do video branding, but if you do, think about how you can translate your brand persona into fluid movement, cuts and overlays and engaging video topics. You might use video in:
- Social media
- Content marketing
- Product pages
Video via AirBnB
Take this AirBnB video, for example. It perfectly exemplifies the brand’s spirit of creative DIY wanderlust in a video that drives the viewer through scenes like castles and treehouses rendered as a diorama. It feels handcrafted and homey, just like Airbnb itself.
Packaging, like video, is a brand asset only certain businesses use. If you’re offering any kind of tangible product, take advantage of the canvas packaging provides to showcase your unique brand:
Branded packaging is eye-catching, which can help your product stand out on store shelves. It also engages buyers from the moment it arrives, enhancing the unboxing experience.
4. How can I cultivate that look and feel?
We’ve shown you a bunch of ways you can visually communicate your brand’s persona through design choices. Now, you’re probably wondering how to get the process started.
Broadly, there are two routes you can take:
- Work with a professional designer
- Do it yourself
If you aren’t a skilled designer—or even if you are and you just don’t have the time to design your brand assets yourself—working with a professional designer is a great way to go. There are a few different ways you can do this:
- Work with an agency
- Hire a freelancer
- Host a contest
An agency is the way to go when you:
- Have a sizable budget
- Need multiple projects done
- Want a boutique experience—in other words, you’re willing to pay more to get a comprehensive, full-service package that gives you a hands-off experience
Agencies vary in size, offerings and quality, but generally speaking, they’re more expensive than working with a freelancer directly because they offer more and have more overhead to support those offers. If your needs start with ideation and involve multiple asset designs, go for the agency experience.
Some small businesses, especially those that are just starting out, can’t afford to work with agencies. Even if budget isn’t your concern, you might not need to take advantage of everything an agency provides. This might be because you only need a logo designed or you’ve got your brand worked out and just need someone to create your website. When this is the case, you can save money and often get the job done faster by working with a designer directly. If you do want professional design help, check out all your logo design options through VistaPrint.
And then there’s the DIY route. If you already have a good idea of what your brand needs, going this way can save you time and money on design. And even if you aren’t an amazing designer, there are programs and platforms that can help you with the design process.
For web design, try out the templates for platforms like Wix and Squarespace. There are no coding skills necessary; just customize your website’s template the same way you might customize a character or environment in a video game.
If you want to create your own logo, there are a lot of great logo generators on the internet you can use. Some of these leave the creating completely up to you while others use the information you provide, like your industry and brand persona, to generate suggested logos you can use or customize. Check our Logomaker—it’s super easy (and free!) to use.
For graphics, you’ve got a ton of online options. Check out Genially, a platform built for creating interactive content like infographics and video guides. Another great option is Canva, which provides a ton of free (and even more if you buy premium membership) graphics and templates for all kinds of projects.
We love empowering business owners to create the best brands possible, so we’ve curated a few helpful software and tutorial roundups for you:
- The best web design software to use in 2022
- The 8 best website builders for blogs in 2022
- The best illustration tools for your budding illustration career
- The top 9 infographic makers of 2022
- 9 top mockup websites: the best sites & software to make mockups
Whether you work with a professional or do your own design, keep your long-term brand goals in mind. Think about whether you might want to expand into new markets and have to localize accordingly or if you might need to adapt your branding later to reflect new products and offerings.
Design the perfect brand for your biz
Your brand is your business’ unique fingerprint. A generic brand is forgettable, and a brand that doesn’t fit the business’ offerings and target audience’s wants and needs is unlikely to be successful. So before you launch your business, take the time to build your brand slowly and thoroughly: a consistent brand identity makes all the difference.
1. Data collected via online research firm Corus in June 2022 from 1,061 decision makers from small businesses with no more than 100 employees across North America, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.↩
Author: Lindsay Kramer
This article was originally published in 2022. It has been updated with new examples and information.