Branding has become a hot marketing buzzword over the last decade, but despite the amount of attention paid to branding, it’s still a very misunderstood concept. A brand is not just one element. It is an entire compilation of values that make a company stand out among its competitors which is why brand strategy is such an important focus.
How Does Graphic Design Fit Into Branding?
Graphic design is just one element of branding. Your brand will express everything you provide to your customers. It should communicate the customer experience, your products and services, your values, and your unique personality. How your brand is perceived by consumers has a direct impact on your success. Your brand should be communicated clearly at every customer touchpoint in order to create consistency and to establish who you are in the marketplace.
Graphic design uses visual devices – illustrations, packaging, logos, fonts, etc. to create an identity. These devices are usually created with a set of guidelines that dictate how a company’s identity can be applied through different mediums. They outline approved color pallets, fonts, use of taglines, image sizes, and more. These guidelines will ensure that the corporate identity is cohesive, creating a recognizable brand.
How Branding Strategy Influences Your Graphic Design Process
Bringing brand strategy into graphic design is no easy task, but it’s one every business needs to achieve if they want to do branding right.
But first, we need to clear up a few things.
Companies are inundated with so many marketing buzzwords these days, they’re starting to confuse concepts with one another. Take branding, for instance. According to Entrepreneur.com, branding is “the marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.”
That seems straightforward enough. But then what’s a brand? This definition says it’s a symbol. So, is it your logo? It also says it’s a design. So, is your brand your overall design?
A brand is not any individual element. It’s the entirety of your perceived corporate image. Sure, it includes your logo. Think of the iconic M for McDonalds. It’s instantly recognizable.
Your brand also includes your design elements, such as which colors represent your company. Think of the red and white motif for Coca Cola. But your brand is much more than that. Your brand also encompasses your company’s values, the emotional connections you have with clients and the services you provide.
Perhaps it’s just easy to confuse graphic design with brand strategy. What many people refer to when they confuse the two is called “brand identity.”
According to Investopedia, “A company’s brand identity is how that business wants to be perceived by consumers. The components of the brand (name, logo, tone, tagline, typeface) are created by the business to reflect the value the company is trying to bring to the market and to appeal to its customers.”
Here’s an easy way to look at it. Your brand is how people see your entire company, i.e. brand image. It encompasses your brand identity, the visual aspects your brand uses to stand out. Your brand identity includes your logo, which is just a single aspect of your brand identity but one that really needs to be memorable.
Now that we’ve cleared all that up, you may still be wondering: Why is it important for my company to understand these things?
You Need Strategic Branding Design
It’s crucial for you to understand the differences between these concepts because you don’t want to mess up branding. For instance, you don’t want to hire a graphic designer who doesn’t take your brand identity and values into account and doesn’t tell you what they need to know to successfully do so.
You wouldn’t want to hire sales or customer service reps who don’t exemplify your brand values at every customer touchpoint. You don’t want your image to be inconsistent across audiences. You need a solid brand image that communicates your products and/or services, your USPs and your values in an instant.
To make a long story short, it’s crucial for you to understand the differences between these concepts because you’ll be spending a lot of money on branding, and you don’t want to waste the investment.
Let’s take a look at one of the earliest and most important stages of branding: figuring out the brand graphic design from scratch.
Graphic design uses visual devices. Illustrations, packaging, logos, fonts — basically everything visual that allows you to create a profile you can then own for your brand. The goal is that, when people see this color palette or that certain font style, their immediate brand recollection is your company.
Preferably, their emotional connection should be positive. This is more heavily influenced by the products, services and customer experience you provide. But the impressions your graphic design can give also make a difference.
Your brand identity should be developed with a set of design and branding strategy guidelines that dictate how your company’s identity should be used anywhere. For instance, there are guidelines on approved color palettes and fonts to use, when and where to use your company tagline, how big image sizes should be, etc.
The typical graphic design strategy of a brand identity includes:
- Marketing collateral
- Print advertisements
- All visual representations of the business
Each of these elements contributes to your brand identity. The logo is arguably the most important element. After all, it’s the single symbol people should instantly recognize and connect to your brand. It’s the singular identifiable marker of your business.
Since we’re talking about logos, let’s delve into how such elements play a role in your graphic design branding and identity online.
What Do Logos Do?
A logo is your corporate signature. It does not sell the company or its products, nor does it necessarily describe your business. The purpose of a logo is identification. We don’t identify humans by our hair color, age, or the type of clothes we wear. Our names are our identifiers. Logos work the same way. They are not a literal representation of a business, but they identify the business in a way that is memorable and easily recognizable. Most people don’t have to see the word “Pepsi” on a bottle of soda pop to identify the brand. If all they catch is the blue label and the swirling logo, they know precisely what type of soda are looking at. The logo identifies that product.
What’s in a Logo?
A logo is just a single graphic meant to represent your brand in a way that sets you apart from other companies. It’s essentially a corporate signature. Logos are meant to instantly identify the brand behind a product or service.
Logos don’t necessarily sell companies or products directly, and they do not describe your business in any useful manner. But a logo is important because it communicates all of these things indirectly.
Going back to our earlier examples: When you see the bright yellow M on a mobile ad, you immediately know it’s McDonald’s. The logo doesn’t tell you to crave a burger and fries. Nor does it remind you directly of that time when the cashier was really friendly and helpful.
You do all of that yourself through association. You see the logo, you identify the brand, and this evokes your overall image of the brand. In our example, this would, hopefully, be a decent burger and fries value meal with good service.
Now, none of that is by any means a direct contribution to the design or the colors of that logo. But it would honestly affect your impression of the fast food chain if their logo was just outright bad or distasteful, wouldn’t it?
And for companies just starting up, first impressions are important. The colors you use, the fonts you employ in your marketing materials and your logo all communicate with customers.
Let’s use simple analogies to better explain the concept.
You normally wouldn’t use red in a logo for a company that helps customers save money because red and green correspond to debit and credit in finance. You wouldn’t use purple or blue in a logo for a food company because usually, things that are blue or purple are non-edible, rotten or poisonous.
Of course, exceptions exist, such as the iconic red of financial services company HSBC. But that’s because HSBC started in China, where red is actually considered lucky.
Evidently, graphic design is a critical element in your branding. It’s important to have a strong understanding of your corporate identity and how you want to present yourself to your target customers before you even begin engaging in logo design and other graphic representations of your brand.
So How Exactly Does Brand Strategy Influence Graphic Design?
Let’s say you’ve already worked on everything you want your brand to be and you already have a cohesive idea of your brand identity. You just need a professional graphic design firm to work their magic and translate your ideas into reality.
This is the biggest question that shows how your brand strategy influences the application of graphic design: Is this consistent with our brand?
That question should always be asked for every graphic element to be designed and considered for inclusion in your brand guide, your set of instructions and guidelines for branding. You’ll be working on designing many different materials and considering several different shapes, sizes, colors, fonts, etc.
Every single one of these should be developed against that singular one-question test. They should be refined continuously until they not only communicate but also complement and even empower your brand message.
What this means for graphic designers is a lot of back-and-forth between them and the client, a lot of focused development. Many would find it difficult to practice restraint. After all, it’s not their brand, not their idea.
They can throw as many design ideas as they’d like until something sticks. The best designers know that while they should have a mountain of ideas to choose from, they need to pick the best ones from the pile and communicate with the client how they see that option as the best one.
A Word on Communication Between Parties
Seeing how important it is for a company and its graphic design agency to work together to actually translate ideas into brand identity, we would be remiss not to emphasize the importance of a great working relationship between the two. This means that by default, there should be a lot of communication between you as the brand and your graphic design partner as the party that brings that brand to life through visuals.
You aren’t a graphic artist. So, you don’t understand where a graphic designer will be coming from, nor will you understand how their designs will enable your brand to communicate its message.
Your graphic designer doesn’t run your business. So, they won’t necessarily understand how your business model works or how you deliver your product or service. Each party’s job is to make sure they understand each other so the graphic designer’s ideas translate well under your execution.
Only the best and most professional designers with the right experience can get you where you want to be.
Hiring the Right Professional Designer
A good designer can talk to you about color palettes and matching, font kerning, use of white space and a bunch of other technical design aspects — and maybe even get you to understand them. A great designer can tell you why they’ve chosen those particular technical design aspects to better communicate your brand message. Obviously, you should shoot for the latter.
But there are more dimensions to consider. Here’s a list of some of the benefits of using a professional designer who will take branding into consideration.
- The right professional designer gives you great feedback and suggestions. When you say you want a logo, the designer asks, “Do you already have a brand identity and brand guidelines that can shape how the logo is developed?” When you say you don’t need a brand identity, the professional designer is ready to smack you over the head to set you straight, albeit gently and courteously.
- The right professional designer can understand what you’re trying to convey and what you’re trying to get them to do. Obviously, if you’re not great with words, then anyone might have a problem understanding you. But a great designer knows how to get to the crux of what you mean and apply your thoughts and ideas to the design. If your designer actually digs deep into what you need, they’re already exhibiting excellent communication skills.
- With the right experience, a professional designer would know what to ask and what they need to know from you to properly execute your vision.
- With enough experience in the same industry or with similar clients, a professional designer can actually provide valuable and actionable feedback that can improve the graphic design and branding strategy.
- The right professional designer isn’t afraid to push back on some of your ideas. Like we said earlier, you’re not a graphic designer. You know your business, but not necessarily what it takes to communicate your brand visually to your target customers.
Now, a lot of entrepreneurs have ideas. And many of those ideas are terrible when you ask a professional designer. The right professional designer lets you know when one of your ideas is just plain terrible and why, instead of letting you pay them to execute it anyway.
These are just some of the benefits and characteristics of the right professional designer for your brand identity. You can already get a glimpse of what sort of working relationship you should have with your professional designer given the example interactions stated above.
Remember, you don’t want to waste your investment in creating a brand identity. You’ll be establishing the rest of your marketing materials around the guidelines that will be established in this phase of your brand’s development. You don’t want to commit to a flawed brand design strategy only to need to hit the reset button and lose all the brand recall of your existing one.
And that’s how branding strategy influences your graphic design process and how using a professional designer not only gives you a few potential benefits, but also saves you from wasted investment and even more expenses playing catch up. It might seem like such a big expense so early in the life cycle of your brand, but it’s an investment that will give you meaningful returns. Your graphic design is inevitably tied to your brand image, after all.
Take the Next Step for Your Design and Branding Strategy
Graphic design is a critical element of branding, and it is important to have a strong understanding of your corporate brand before you begin engaging in logo design and graphic representations of your company. If you are looking for graphic design that will be true to your brand messaging, contact The NetMen Corp today.
About The Author: Ignacio Galarraga is CEO of The Netmen Corp.