Consider the situation: you need a new watch. Would you rather buy a Rolex from the official retailer or get a cheap Chinese knockoff on the subway?
Of course, you have more trust for the world-known brand. The quality of the original watch is out of question. Plus, at the official store, you will get excellent service, even if the watch itself costs you a pretty penny.
Similarly, your product/service should inspire trust and leave no doubts about its quality. The question is, how to do that? How do you become the Rolex of your industry? To compete with the behemoths in your market, you need a strong startup brand identity.
In this article, we will share some insights and best practices on how to build a strong brand. Let’s first start with the corporate identity definition.
What is corporate identity?
Cambridge Dictionary offers a clear corporate identity definition: “the qualities of a company that make it different from other companies.” These qualities can be communicated visually (logo, color palette, fonts, and slogan) or through any other means.
A good example is the red color associated with Coca-Cola or Nike’s famous slogan “Just Do It.” Even the outstanding customer service offered by Zappos can be a part of the corporate identity.
Yet, smaller companies and startups can just as well establish a memorable corporate identity and make their brands easily recognizable and familiar. In fact, they need to do so, and there are many reasons for that.
Why is corporate identity so important for startups?
The importance of corporate identity and branding for startups is often underrated. Yet, it is one of the factors that can help a startup one-up the industry leaders.
Here are some more reasons a startup should invest in its brand identity:
- Your corporate brand identity represents the voice and personality of your company.
- It reinforces your credibility, helps you build trust and loyalty with your customers.
- Having a strong brand identity makes you stand out from the crowd.
- It helps you keep your business message consistent across all teams and channels.
- Establishing a solid startup brand identity can help you win over investors, draw the attention of the target audience as well as attract top talent.
As you can see, there are obvious advantages to having a strong brand. But how do you build one? To start with, you need your own corporate identity kit.
Often referred to as “a corporate identity style guide” or “a brand book”, it is a complete set of brand-specific elements, including the rules for their usage. It is a guide on how to present a brand to the customers, partners, employees, etc.
Basically, it’s a recipe (the guide itself) and ingredients (branded assets that go with it) to establish a consistent and memorable brand experience regardless of the platform or means of presentation.
Before we move on to see what the main corporate identity elements are, we’d like to point out some important aspects of building a strong brand impression.
Namely, there are 3 main rules for creating a corporate identity:
- Keep it consistent across all channels.
Be it an email you send to your customer or your physical business location, it should be easily associated with your brand.
- Make sure to stand out from the competition.
Your startup brand identity should be one of the differentiating factors that clearly and precisely communicate your unique value as a business.
- Be relevant to your market and audience.
Large B2B companies rarely have witty slogans or playful logos. Similarly, if you are targeting millennials, projecting an overly serious image in your marketing efforts is not the best strategy.
Now, let’s see how these rules apply to the main components of a corporate identity kit.
What are the elements of corporate identity?
Your logo is the cornerstone of the corporate visual identity. It is a visual representation of your business purpose, so every other basic element of corporate identity will follow its style and message.
A good logo should be memorable yet simple, unique and yet self-explanatory. Most logos are centered around the company name, refer to the type of service/product offered by the company, or combine both approaches.
As for the corporate identity kit, it has to define the following details about your logo:
- an exclusion zone that denotes the minimum space around the logo so it won’t be damaged when cropped
- horizontal and vertical logo placement options
- the black-and-white logo version
- invalid usage options
Colors can help you make a strong impression with your brand. Thus, you should understand the basics of color psychology when choosing your corporate palette. In this regard, it is important to clearly state your primary and secondary color palettes with color breakdowns for their usage in print or on screen.
The typeface you choose won’t be as closely associated with your brand as a logo. However, it will also play an important part in creating a holistic and integral brand identity. The brand book should contain:
- corporate fonts
- details of the font family
- default fonts for web use
Patterns and iconography
Many companies include brand-specific patterns into their brand style guides. A pattern can be used on product packaging, on the business cards, merchandise, or other advertising materials to amplify your brand image and make your company stand out.
There are more corporate identity elements that can be designed as a part of the style guide for internal use and references, e.g., business cards, letterhead, email signature, etc.
There are many examples of outstanding corporate brand identities, presented by both large corporations and startups.
Below are some of the examples you could use for inspiration:
- A comprehensive visual identity framework Uber and how it was used in its major redesign.
- Vivid brand identity presentation by Netflix.
- A showcase of the brand evolution at Medium.
- Exhaustive visual assets guidelines from Google.
- A brand manual from Tesla Motors.
While there is no unified approach to the corporate identity development process, following certain guidelines can help you avoid the most common mistakes and build a solid brand image.
Namely, there is a 4-step guide for creating your corporate identity:
1. Get to know the market you are targeting.
It is preferred to start with a thorough brand audit and a competitor analysis. This will help you identify your unique value proposition and understand how to amplify it with your branding. You should also get to know your target audience – their age, profession, and interests.
As a result, you can put your findings into words with a slogan, tagline, or mission statement.
2. Translate your brand message into visual concepts.
With the information you collect about your market and audience, you can now move on to the design. Start by creating the logo and choosing the colors that will best convey your mission statement and appeal to the specific audience you are targeting.
Establishing strong associations through visual elements and colors is a good way to build a memorable and distinctive brand image. As soon as you have the logo and color palette, you can design the secondary elements of your corporate identity – typeface, pattern, business cards, and signatures.
3. Gather feedback and refine your brand identity.
The way your customers interact with your brand can say a lot about the success of your corporate identity strategy. Very few companies can establish the right branding model from the start. The chances are, you will need to test out several options before you go all in with one of them.
By presenting your brand identity to small focus groups, you can collect valuable insights and improve it.
4. Keep your corporate identity up to date.
As your business grows, your values, your philosophy, or mission statement may change, which should also be reflected in your brand identity. Additionally, design standards may simply change.
Take for example, the influence of material design. Many brands recreated their logos and, as a result, their corporate identity, after adopting the new design standards.
That is why it is important to keep an eye on contemporary design standards and to review and update your corporate identity regularly.
Your brand identity is much more than just a logo. It’s how your customers, partners, even competitors see you. It’s what makes them trust you. It’s what makes you, well, you!
Having a strong, consistent brand identity is a vital part of your company’s success. It can help you stand out from the competition as well as take on the industry leaders by building a loyal community of brand followers.
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