5 steps to building a lasting brand identity

Creating a timeless brand is not easy. But there are some proven steps for building a lasting identity, says Siegel+Gale's Anne Swan.

Anne Swan

Brand identity encompasses all of the visual components that brands use to differentiate from others in their market. With today's increased connectivity and infinite customer touchpoints, any change or update in the brand identity is felt and noticed instantly.

For this reason, it is more important than ever for companies to create a brand identity that endures. The top brands have an identity that not only communicates where the company stands at this moment in a contemporary style, but also incorporates the brand's past and future, and is able to remain relatively consistent for decades to come.

A visual identity for a brand – and the logo design is just the start – should feel fully integrated into the company. It does not feel radically new or drastically different, but rather as if it has always been there.

Apple is a frequently cited example for all things branding, and closely evidences the strength of building a lasting brand identity. Details of the iconic once-bitten-apple have been updated to reflect changing trends and consumer preferences, but the core of the design (pun fully intended) has remained consistent since The Lisa was announced in the early 80s. By building a brand identity that has lasted decades, Apple has made it very clear to consumers who they are and that remain true to their brand.

The Lisa apple computer

Apple designed The Lisa personal computer in the early 80s. Image © mac-history.net

Creating something timeless is easier said than done. However, there are some proven considerations and steps for building an enduring brand identity:

01. Know the business

The most important and first step of an identity engagement is developing a complete understanding of the company. You can't begin to divine the future without first looking at the past. Do your research.

Set up meetings with and talk to employees across a wide range of departments in order to start to understand the company's true personality. This will help you understand the company's voice and be able to represent it.

02. Understand how brand identity impacts the bottom line

Brand identity isn't just about what looks the prettiest. It should have a direct link back to business strategy. People all have their personal tastes as to what looks best visually, but what is most important is how the visual design will drive the business forward. Is the larger goal of the company to come across as strong and stable? Intelligent and nimble? Creative and pioneering? Those attributes are all reflected in very different visual representations, and your identity should reflect that.

03. Tell a story

The brand identity should evoke a feeling in your customers, speak for the brand, and tell a story about where the company is going. Your customers should immediately understand something about the brand just by seeing its visual identity. Amazon is a great example, with its subtle, arrow-based smile signifying the fulfilling feeling of elation that customers get from the no-stress shopping experience on the site.

04. Design for adaptability

Your brand identity is not just one stagnant image. It needs to be able to change and adapt based on the medium. It goes without saying that social media is a vital component to today's brands. When designing a brand identity, you must take into consideration all the different mediums across which the brand will exist, and design something that is flexible enough to remain identifiable across all channels.

05. Don't launch a new identity in isolation

When launching a new brand identity, it is most strategic to launch alongside another piece of company news or a new initiative. The unavoidable fact is that people don't like change and no matter how wonderful the design, some percentage of your customer base will not like it. By aligning the brand identity with a corresponding announcement, you can support the change beyond just aesthetics and prove to customers why it is needed.

Gap logo

Gap reverted to its original logo (left) just six days after presenting its new one (right) to the world

In 2010, The Gap famously released a new logo. Panned by customers and critics for the design itself, the logo didn't say anything new about the clothing brand. The logo was not introduced to drive anything larger or transitional about the brand, and ultimately meant there was no reason to keep it around after the strong backlash, and the old logo was reintroduced quickly.

Building a strong brand identity is both an art and a science. But, by mixing research, data and creativity, you can create an end product that resonates with customers and drives the whole company forward.

Words: Anne Swan

Anne Swan is Global Creative Director for consumer brands for Siegel+Gale in New York.

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