Building a startup from the ground up is an exciting prospect.
As the founder of a startup, it’s important to have a fleshed-out plan for growing your company, including how you will present yourself to the masses.
This is why establishing your brand identity is incredibly important. While a brand represents the face of a company, the brand identity is how a company wants to be perceived by its users. It speaks to what your company’s mission is, the quality of the product or service you’re offering to users, and the advantages that distinguish your company from competitors.
Photo Credit: Branding Strategy Insider
Essentially, brand identity is where the fundamentals of brand building become so important.
When I joined Ladder two years ago as our first design hire, I was also signing up to be the gatekeeper of our brand. It’s my job to not only provide our clients with landing pages, design assets, and anything else they needed, but also to help build on the foundations of Ladder’s brand as a whole.
This, of course, was a huge step for me. I suddenly found myself in the driver’s seat of Ladder’s appearance across the web. I became a design filter for every piece of branded content, every investor deck, and every letterhead. As overwhelming as it was at the time, the founders of Ladder had every confidence in my decisions and that I would uphold the image of the company as best as I knew how.
In this role, I had three big challenges to solve:
- How do I uphold the image of the company while evolving Ladder’s brand as a growing force in the marketing ecosystem?
- What design decisions can be taken to set Ladder apart from the rest?
- How do we want to articulate this in graphics and imagery across the web?
Below, I’ll unpack how I addressed them in detail. Hopefully, you as a potential brand-builder can take away some key lessons and start building your company’s brand identity.
What design decisions can be taken to set you apart from the rest?
Ladder’s co-founder and COO Michael Taylor recently shared an article with the team that says “the culture of your company is 80% of the founder’s personality.” From a design perspective, this also applies to the visions founders have of their company’s brand and this helped me guide Ladder’s branding strategy.
I knew that our founders believe that Ladder is a company with a unique opportunity to revolutionize the field of digital marketing, which brings me to the first challenge on my list:
What design decisions can be taken to set you apart from the rest?
When building a brand, every company has one thing in common: they want something unique. They want to make a distinct name, a memorable logo, and how they present their content different from anything else out there.
When I joined Ladder, the first thing I noticed that stood out to me were the bright colors on our logo against a sleek, dark background.
These bars symbolize the rungs that our company is built upon: Acquisition (Green), Conversion (Orange), and Retention (Fuchsia). It is a simple, sleek logotype that encompasses our values of shipping fearlessly.
I’ve made it a point to use these bright colors on every deck we create, they adorn the backs of our business cards, and they’re our staple on our social media pages.
If you are a founder or find yourself defining these brand guides in direct conjunction with the founder of a company, you should start with identifying what makes your company different and then developing a style that harmonizes with these concepts.
How do we want to articulate this in graphics and imagery across the web?
Once you understand the “Why” driving your company into the public eye, then you can start building your brand identity. Let’s start with your company’s logo.
Creating a Logomark and Logotype
You want your current and potential users to remember your company. Creating a distinct logo that is visually appealing and memorable is incredibly important, especially in a world where visuals reign supreme.
In Ladder’s case, we use two types of logos. The first is a logotype, which is a font-based logo that has some sort of modification to make the word distinct. We have two versions for use against dark and light backgrounds.
A logomark, on the other hand, is a symbol that does not contain any words and acts as a stand-alone marker of your business. For Ladder, we use the colorful Ladder Bars as a logomark in certain instances like our site favicon, on business cards, and on our presentation decks. This logomark is recognizable at any size and provides power in its simplicity. You can read more about these distinctions and choose which logo is right for your business here!
Another important piece of your brand identity is defining how your logo is displayed. If you look at any company’s style guide, they will almost always include the do’s and don’ts on how to properly use the logo properly in graphics and web/printed media. This can include how to scale the logo, how much white space is necessary to maintain its integrity, and also appropriate coloration in different situations. My personal favorite part of any brand guide is the “don’ts” of logos because it can range from disproportionate scaling to using off-brand colors.
Selecting a Color Scheme
A strong logo also calls to attention a brand’s color scheme. I highly recommend referencing this infographic on color psychology, which can give you a baseline of how colors can reflect your company’s values.
Usually, a color scheme will consist of the brand’s primary colors–usually the most intense colors used in your logo–as well as secondary or tertiary colors as alternates for backgrounds, text, and other branded elements.
These colors need to have designated hex codes in order to reproduce them as accurately as possible for both web and print. Hex codes are the six-digit, three-byte hexadecimal numbers used in HTML, CSS, SVG, and other computing applications to represent colors.
Having trouble stitching a scheme together? Fear not, for there are resources that can save you and also help compile colors that are both harmonious and eye-catching. For instance, Coolors is one of my all-time favorite color scheme sites. It helps you create beautiful color schemes that work really together and allows you to export schemes and provides the hex codes for you to get a head start on your brand. I also recommend ColorZilla, which is a collection of tools that’ll help you analyze a web page and inspect a palette of its colors.
Choosing Fonts and Typefaces
Choosing one or more fonts is essential for any company, since we digest most of our content in print and on the web. Your company’s logotype and font go hand-in-hand. Your fonts should also be aligned closely with the type of business you run.
In your company’s style guide, you should include a primary font, a secondary font, and tertiary web font. These fonts help establish uniform rules when it comes to your content, and also creates a visual hierarchy with web usage.
Your primary font should be used for all important headlines and when you want to grab a user’s attention. The secondary font should be used for body copy or large amounts of text, like block quotes, and the tertiary font should be used on online content, like blog posts.
For example, Ladder’s primary font, Bernino Sans Condensed, is a sleek, narrow font that draws on the parallels of modernity. It is accompanied by a secondary font, Corporate A, that is a serif font. Its elegance allows for easier readability with longer articles and offers the vibe of something more practiced and intelligent. Our tertiary web font, Roboto Condensed, is for ease of use across the web when our branded font is not available.
So how do you pick just three fonts from seemingly endless choices? Here are a few tips on how to select the right font for your company.
- Tip 1: Find a website that uses a font you like. Visit a company’s site that you admire and see what fonts they are using. You can also ask yourself why you like their site and imagery so much – almost all of it has to do with branding. Use a tool like ColorZilla or FontFaceNinja to crawl a website that uses a font you like and it’ll find the font’s name, style, and even the letter spacing for you.
- Tip 2: Check out Canva’s Learning Blog for helpful articles. One of my favorite articles on font harmony was done by Canva’s Learning blog. If you’re stumped on where to begin, Canva does an amazing job at giving a background into the different elements of a font, including the scary words like “serif” and defining what baseline is. This article is a great jumping off point into making better font-related choices.
- Tip 3: Look for free alternatives. Don’t have the money to drop on a font foundry? There are tons of free alternatives available with amazing fonts. For instance, Google Fonts is one of my favorites. Their fonts are free to download and implement across the web with little hassle.
Outlining Your Brand’s “Do’s and Don’ts”
So you’ve chosen a font, a sleek logo, and a captivating color scheme.
It’s time to put it all together and create your brand identity!
All of the elements of your brand’s identity should be outlined in an easily-accessible brand style guide. Aside from picking a font, color scheme, and logo, you should also include a “Do’s and Don’ts” section to set strict guidelines that designers and other marketers need to follow to maintain your brand identity.
If you look at more fleshed-out brand style guides, they will include examples of imagery they like to use and what tone their copy should reflect. They touch on core buzz-words that directly reflect the brand’s vision. I’ve found that if you want a more concise brand style guides, including this all in a simple “Do’s and Don’ts” section can give the viewer a better summary that’s more clean-cut.
You should also keep in mind that brand style guides are tremendously helpful for your designers, marketers, and contractors. Time and time again I’ve been working on client deliverables only to be met with something like “This isn’t on brand for us!” Whenever this happens, it’s usually because the client doesn’t have an established brand guide for me to reference.
Photo Credit: Creative Market
When you create the “Do’s and Don’ts” section, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Put in a few pages of what imagery is acceptable to use, including stock images, icon examples, and other inspiration points. They will give the user a better idea of how to represent your brand from a visual standpoint.
- In the same vein, include display imagery, buzzwords, and graphics that you don’t want to be used. Don’t like linear icons over flat UI design? Want to avoid using black and white photos? Make a note of it! These details will help carve out a unique space for your brand identity that can’t be misconstrued.
Don’t be afraid of change
However, one important caveat I haven’t mentioned yet: Just like a company’s mission can evolve, so can a brand. Rebrands happen all of the time in the startup world. While it’s important to adhere to style guidelines to maintain a uniform brand identity across all channels, founders and entrepreneurs shouldn’t be wary of when it’s time to give your brand a face-lift.
This is not an excuse to be lax with the branding you have now. If you commit to any sort of pivot on the operations side of your company, then your brand should follow.
Take Apple as an example. Remember their amazing technicolor Apple logo that symbolized diversity and innovation?
Photo Credit: Clarity Quest Marketing
They’ve since upgraded their signature logo with silver finish that embodies their “ahead of the curve” attitude while also invoking a calm, trusted feel. This brand change can be synonymous with Apple’s growing presence in our lives, and now, we can’t see them as anything less than the frontier of technological advancement–unless you’re an Android user.
Once you build out the cornerstones of your company’s identity, the rest will follow. Giving a brand the nurturing and guidelines it deserves will only ensure that you can sleep at night, especially when trusting a design team (internal or outsourced) with delivering imagery that resonates with the company’s culture and goals.
Hopefully, these branding tips can help you and your team make that impression count!