Building Your Brand

Whether you work in a small business or a huge corporation, every time you send a letter or hand out a business card, your materials convey a marketing message. Your company’s visual identity or “brand” differentiates your business from others and identifies you to your customers.

The colors and designs you use in your marketing materials all become part of your brand. That’s why it’s important to consider these design decisions carefully. For example, when you think of UPS, you think “brown,” and when you think of IBM, you think “blue.” Target stores are associated with red and John Deere tractors are green. In each case, the color is closely associated with the company’s logo. Color triggers an emotional reaction, so it’s a powerful tool in branding.

Your branding also should be consistent with your industry. If your business is in a somewhat conservative field, such as accounting or financial planning, for example, your visual image should be businesslike and ooze professionalism. Would you trust your money to someone who gives you a florescent orange business card, filled with cheap clip art, and grunge fonts? Think about the impression your color, type and imagery might make on your audience because design choices can generate visceral reactions in people.

You should make your brand distinctive so it stands out from the crowd; however, your visual identity doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, many of the most recognizable logos are simple. Think about the “golden arches” of McDonald’s or the Nike “swoosh.” Neither is complicated, yet both get the message across and are versatile enough to work in situations ranging from TV animations to a simple black and white fax message.

Your logo design should relate to your business because you want your company to be instantly identifiable to your audience. For example, when you drive by a gas station sporting a big yellow clamshell sign, you immediately know that you’re at a Shell Oil station. The company hasn’t changed the basics of the logo because it’s clean, effective and instantly recognizable. It’s also worth noting that the last time Shell redesigned the logo, they actually simplified it.

Consistency is another key to effectively branding your company. Once you have come up with an identity that works, stick with it. Your company will be more memorable if all of your materials look similar. For example, if you go to IBM’s Web site, you’ll notice that blue is used throughout. Some of IBM’s products even include the word “blue” in the name to reinforce the message.

Over time, a company’s brand actually incorporates more than just a visual identity. The brand image also encompasses the way people perceive the company, which includes your credibility, customer service and reputation. For example, people associate Nordstrom not just with a logo or color, but also with great customer service. However, business branding has to start somewhere, so whether you are designing your first logo or your thousandth brochure, make sure that all of your materials consistently and effectively impart the image and professionalism you intend to communicate for the long haul.