Brand systems explained: why your business needs more than just a logo

It’s a new year and you’ve finally decided to tackle that business idea, side hustle or startup venture. You’re frantically searching google for helpful “how to start a business” articles, sourcing the best resources and staying up night after night creating your first budget and business plan. You’re praying for a quick name approval from the provincial naming registry so you can get to the next step on your business journey: creating a logo and showing off your amazing new idea to colleagues, family and friends.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. As a branding studio we often have entrepreneurs come to us with questions on where to start, what our process is for designing a logo and if we can work on a very short timeline to get things off the ground. It’s because of this perceived pressure we see a lot of businesses rush to get through their branding in the early stages, when it is the most critical time to be planning your brand’s foundation and really working through the creative process.

But I’m not creative” is probably what you’re thinking – we disagree. Any entrepreneur with the ability to dream up a new business concept has created something. It’s our job as the creative team to help you bring out that vision in a way that resonates with your audience. Assigning at least a month towards your marketing and design strategy will be the most valuable time you ever invested in your business.

Choosing your creative team is like entering any relationship – feeling at ease and listened to is key. The reality is you’ll be bombarded with endless options for designing your business’s logo from crowdsourcing and DIY options to agencies and freelancers. “How do I know which one to choose and that fits within my budget?” is what you’re likely asking next. One of our favourite adages in design (and business) is this: “Fast, good, cheap – pick two”. Any option claiming to be all three is too good to be true.

Understanding the difference between a logo designer and a brand specialist

When we ask business owners why they need a logo, we often get a puzzled look in return as though it was a simple and perhaps redundant question. Common responses include: “I need one for my store’s sign”, “I need to get business cards made”, “I need a logo for my website”. The problem with these answers is that they all address the what and not the why. This is the critical difference between a logo designer and a brand specialist. A logo designer would take the above responses and simply design a logo that looks pretty or solves your need for a rad business card. A brand specialist however, is looking at the bigger picture. A brand specialist is considering how your logo (just one small piece of your marketing arsenal) fits into your overall business and the best visual strategy to help you achieve them.

Your “brand” is more than just your logo. It is your promise, what makes you unique. It’s why you chose to quit your day job and share this amazing concept with the world. It’s the experience you offer to others. In practise, your branding is every step of the customer’s journey from start to finish. It’s how they are greeted by staff, how easy it is to navigate your website and how connected they feel when you post a photo on instagram. If your brand is the overall journey, your logo is the passport. It’s there each step of the way (on your website, your front door, your business cards) providing access, identity and consistency but it is not the only thing needed to reach a destination.

Where do I start?

Start by identifying your key audiences or target customers. Talk to them, take them out for coffee, or circulate a google survey to your network to get an idea first-hand who you’re trying to connect with. Once you understand who you’ll be speaking to, consider what is most important to them when making a purchase. Is it fast service? A personalized experience? Flexibility? What are their current pain points when dealing with your competitors? Mark out these ideal traits as a foundation for your company’s brand strategy.

Think of it as creating a real life spokesperson for your company. What personality traits will they possess? Once you have a solid base for your company’s persona, think about the visuals. How would they dress? How would others perceive them at face value? Personifying your brand is also a great way to start communicating to your creative team the overall feeling you’re after in the design phase.

What else should I be looking for, if not just a logo?

Brand voice, tagline development and key messaging

A good creative team will work with you to develop an overall tone of your brand’s communication outlets and copywriting, assist with the development of a strong tagline to accompany your logo and also help pull out some key messaging or pillars to help create your company’s mission, values and goals. Without these valuable statements, it would be like reading a recipe with beautiful pictures but no ingredients. Strategic language and messaging is key to any brand’s success.

Brand identity

Beyond your logo design, look to create a more comprehensive brand identity system to give your business additional resources, flexibility and longevity including items such as:

  • corporate colour palette (complete with colour codes for print and web)
  • company typography/fonts
  • custom visual textures and supporting graphic elements
  • stylesheets or full branding guidelines
  • styling samples to help guide future marketing materials

Consultation

If you’ve spent the money hiring a brand specialist, take advantage of their knowledge and expertise throughout the process. Ask your creative team for printing or other marketing referrals, how to apply your brand system to every day business practices, or simply bounce your trials and tribulations off of them for advice (hey, we’ve all been there!). In short, look at your time together as a collaboration instead of just an exchange of services – that’s where the real magic happens.