John Amy is a graphic designer with over 25 years experience in the design industry. His company Promo Design is based in South London in the UK. For the past ten years he has worked on a diverse range of print and new media projects for both multinationals and small
John holds degrees in both graphic design and typographic design and has previously been employed in several London design studios. He is also a member of a handful of business networks and is happy to share his knowledge with anyone who seeks it.
"My aim is to bring real impact to your brand, your website, your printed material, and most importantly, your business".
A Simple Guide to Brands, Corporate Identity and Logos by
The first use of a brand was just that – "a brand", a mark of ownership on cattle. Later, trademarks were used to define individual products. The red triangle of BASS, the first trademark registered in England, was designed to help the illiterate drinker recognize Mr William Bass’s Fine India Pale Ale from other inferior products available at the time.
Over the years branding has come to mean something slightly different though. Wally Olins, a leading authority on branding, defines it as an organization’s ‘personality’.
So what is corporate identity?
McDonalds all over the planet selling chips that look the same perhaps. Doesn’t apply to me I hear you say, contains the word ‘corporate’, and I’m just a small business.
Let’s call it business identity instead then. But, before we go any further, let’s be clear on the difference between brand and business identity. The identity is the look of the business, the way it integrates, how it is organized and its ethics. The brand is more about emotions, the trust and confidence people have in it.
Your business identity is a means of identifying and distinguishing your products or services from millions of other businesses, and most importantly, your competitors. It can address individuality, quality, intention and focus.
Once your identity is established and recognized it becomes your brand. With a strong brand, business also gets much easier as an emotional connection is created between the company name and the customer.
Let’s look at a typical company on a day-to-day basis. It doesn’t matter whether you are a multi-national or work from home alone. Some questions to ask yourself.
What type of company is it? Are there other companies offering the same services? Do your employees understand what the company does and where the company is going? Simple things... what does the company’s Statements look like, how do company representatives dress, how do different people within the company answer the phone? How often is your website updated? etc etc.
Look at each and every area of your business and it soon becomes apparent how important branding is. Now get someone else to do it to discover all the things you take for granted. An experienced graphic designer can help you here.
The first thing most people associate with identity is the logo. There is much criticism about the amount of money spent by some companies on having a logo designed. What value would you put on the icon which represents, co-ordinates and helps your company sell its products? You’ll probably spend thousands on marketing and advertising, don’t you think you ought to have something good in the first place?
Many people start a business, think up a name and even get it registered, then have a logo designed. Nowadays it’s vital to have a name which ties up with web availability. A good name can be one of the most important factors in creating an identity so it can be very useful to consult a design house before setting up a business.
What are the main criteria in designing a logo? Focus. What makes the company tick? Who are you trying to reach? What about competitors? What about the future? And flexibility. The logo has to “work” in all sorts of situations depending on the business. A good graphic designer has been trained to take you through these steps and help identify your company’s uniqueness and to filter it down to its essence.
Contrary to popular belief, the logo does not have to explain what the company does. In the case of a bank for example, you don’t need banknotes flying out of a window, you just need a trustworthy and authoritative mark. Google is a good example, iconic and subtle. Color and a simple typeface presented in a playful and soft way to connect with people online.
And then we need to think about how the logo will be used. Many people approach me and say they want their logo to look corporate. It’s not the logo that makes them corporate, it’s the way the logo is applied. Larger companies make sure a set of guidelines are followed wherever the logo and supporting devices are used. Color palettes, typefaces, strap lines, page layouts etc. In fact anything to ensure visual continuity. A manual is generally produced so that employees, outside agencies and freelancers can adhere to them. In fact many companies have an online version. Here are some examples:
These guidelines must be followed, yet at the same time be regularly reviewed. For smaller businesses a set of guidelines could be something fairly easy to create and adhere to.
The logo is just the tip of the iceberg though. It exists in an ever-changing environment and needs to build, maintain and reinforce the overall identity of the company. Remember, you’re aiming to build a positive mental image of your business in people’s minds, so overlook nothing. If the identity is not doing its job it may need to be updated, re-focused or changed completely.
The Conservative Party have just changed their logo, probably deciding that the tough-no nonsense party image is something they want to get away from. They've opted for a greener, softer friendly logo design. You'll see their overall identity follow suit over the coming year. Whether this will work for them is yet to be seen, they still have the Right Wing Tory brand to deal with. Old logo. The new logo application can be seen here. I like the way the Welsh and Scottish have progressively darker trees!
For a small business changing the identity can be very easy. In fact it is usually a very positive move. Your regular customers welcome change believing you are becoming more successful and efficient. The longer you leave the change the more costly it's generally going to be. Large corporates often change identities due to flagging profits. Abbey National changed its brand twice in two years. The second change because of its takeover by the Spanish Banco Santander. See Logos Past and Present
Another good example is the Tate Galleries. In 1999 they had 4 million visitors. After rebranding, this figure had almost doubled.
This is an interesting site, Logos RIP showing logos which are no longer with us.
So where do I go from here?
Enlist the services of a professional graphic designer. He or she should be able to provide an insight into problem areas and positive features which need nurturing. Remember, it’s difficult to see how your business appears to the outside world because you’re too wrapped up in it. Once you understand the process you can focus on growing your brand a little at a time.
What about the costs?
If you want your business to succeed it is imperative that you put budget adequately. As your identity becomes more focused and integrated, so will the efficiency of your business. Less decisions to make, buy supplies in bulk, staff employed and trained with the same criteria and above all, consistency.
Much of the work involved though will just be common sense. Start with a firm direction of where you want your business to go and don’t be afraid of changing directions. Build on your identity, overlook nothing, and discover that the total will be more than the sum of its parts.