Countdown to Branding Eminence

Episode 3

6 Core Components of Comprehensive Corporate Identity

Corporate Identity (CI) is defined as the manner in which a corporation, firm or business enterprise presents itself to the public (such as customers and investors as well as employees) (ref.) Corporate identity is commonly characterized by visual assets and brand design, and such outward appearance certainly forms the majority of CI, but it would be a mistake to limit it to that. 

I might describe things like this: there are ways in which we as individuals identify ourselves, whether in terms of professions, culture groups, belief systems, political leanings, fashion preferences, and on it goes. You can say these things make up part of who we are. But outwardly, who and what we are is perceived by our appearance, our dress, our activities, and the ways in which we communicate. As such, a corporate executive would generally not have dreadlocks, wear torn jeans, and use street slang. Conversely, artsy types tend to have their own identifiable style of dress and communication style. The same goes for musicians of various genres, and people from all walks of life, really.

As an organization, whether a charity, a business startup, an educational institution, etc., you should consider how you want to be perceived, and establish a visual identity that supports that perception. Furthermore you should establish your core messages and style of communication in order to further reinforce your desired image. 

What I am getting to is that the first step to developing a corporate identity is to articulate who and what you are, what your values are, and how you want to be perceived. From there you can “dress up” your organization with the visual assets that compliment your actual identity. 

Assuming you have established your corporate persona, and determined how you want to position yourself, here are the core components that are needed to develop your corporate identity.

1. The Brand Name: Short, unique, meaningful, universal and easy to pronounce

First of all your brand name says a lot about you. It is a hugely important but sometimes neglected aspect of corporate identity. This is why I cover the aspect of brand names at depth in many of my posts, in particular the post “8 Dos and Don’ts for Developing Dope Global Brands”.

The Ultimise Team takes great pride in the naming projects we have conducted. For me, it is a favorite part of branding and marketing, because I find it hugely challenging, and thus immensely satisfying when we get it right. 

A big part of the challenge lies in the fact that aggressive commercialization has happened for quite some time now, so the options for powerful, iconic and especially original brand names have become much more limited. 

Despite the challenges, I am of the firm belief that you should not settle for a typical, generic brand name. You should aspire to create something that can stand tall and proud next to the great, yes, billion dollar brands out there. 

Some powerful examples of great names are:

Spotify. This successful tech startup from Sweden created a unique 3 syllable word that is easily read and pronounced universally. According to its founder, coming up with the name Spotify was somewhat accidental. Keeping it was not, however, because the name is unique and memorable. It employs a good naming process of combining existing words to form a new unique word, in this case merging “spot” and “identify”. 

Honda is a great example of a universal brand. Although it is of Japanese origin, named after its founder Soichiro Honda, its use of simple vowels and its brevity makes it very easy to pronounce anywhere in the world, a distinction that many Japanese brands possess (Yamaha, Toyota, Toshiba, etc.)

The Ultimise Team developed a brand for a seaside real estate development and resort – Sandasy. This unique name comes from combining the words “sand and sea”, giving a sense of coastal magic and charm. In the development of the logo we sought to bring out and reinforce these two elements intertwined in an attractive way, with the subtle reference to an eye adding an additional layer of meaning relating to the visual splendour of the location as well as “sightseeing” combined with the play on words of “sand and see”. We rounded out the brand with the tagline “Haven of Harmony” to further reinforce the desired imagery.

2. The Logo: Original, simple, clean, meaningful, adaptable, has a social icon

I jumped ahead a bit there to the subject of the logo – the next component that needs to be developed. 

Preferred logo design has evolved a fair bit over time, and presumably this will continue. So in branding, you want to come up with a brand name that is timeless and unchanging, as much as possible, but the visual representation of the logo can change at varied levels in tune with current graphic design trends. 

There are some huge winners like Coke and Nike whose logos have hardly changed at all over the years. Other logos, like that of Apple, have gone through subtle changes. Still others have undergone large changes. 

The general trends have been that early brands were hand designed, and tended to be rather intricate and detailed. WIth the advent of color media, many brands chose to make their logos colorful. Once computer graphics evolved with higher definition displays, you started to see more complex graphic effects employed, like gradients and 3D effects. Since then, the trend has been towards minimal and simple “flat” design. I presume that this is partly due to the fact that so much is vying for our attention in today’s highly connected world bringing a need for very characteristic and easily identifiable logos that will catch people’s attention, or at the very least get noticed. The variety of usage scenarios and the application of diverse media (print media, billboards, online, on mobile, in social media, on TV, etc.) also lends itself to simplicity in logo design. Some predict that we will soon be moving away from minimalist design styles towards effect-heavy ones, and you see this trend developing at a limited level. However, by and large, minimal design is still the most popular. 

Twitter employs strong branding principles across the board, with a simple, yet unique name, color use and the iconic bird icon which is easily identified and remembered (i much prefer this bird icon to the “t” symbol that has been used somewhat, which I find rather generic and common.)

I personally love the Target logo, that I would say was ahead of its time in design. The distinctive and very simple target symbol that has been around for decades could easily have been designed for the smartphone screen-focused world of today. It is a ready-made social icon that is easily identified on signage from miles away.

The Ultimise Team developed a brand for a mobile banking app launched in Laos. The client was ST Bank, and they were looking for a single-syllable English name for the app. We proposed the name “ST Hub” due to its double meaning. “Hub” is a suitable name for an application that serves as a hub for financial services in the palm of your hand. The meaning in Lao is where the magic comes in, however, because “hub” means “to receive”. We sought to communicate a warm feeling of receiving money transfers, receiving convenience, receiving safe transactions, etc. The name was reinforced in the slogan sing dee dee tee hub smer which means “the good things one receives”, with of course the nifty double meaning of “the good things in the ST Hub app”. 

For the logo we developed a visually memorable and smartphone-friendly logo and icon combining the symbolism of a hub with the letter “H”. This competes ably among all of the icons on phone screens, and in fact is more prominent than many. Note the logo variants we developed. 

A modern logo should have as many of the following variants as possible: vertical, horizontal, icon only, dark on light, light on dark, grayscale, and flat (if you have gradients or 3D effects in the logo).

3. The Colors: Should have a palette of no more than two main colors + supporting colors

In developing your corporate identity package, another important aspect is the color palette. While certain brands choose a colorful approach, sort of a rainbow effect, the rule of thumb is that in most cases two main colors are sufficient. A clearly defined set of color codes helps your branding to be memorable and distinctive. Too many colors and shades dilute the brand (again, unless colorful is the identity concept).

A typical color palette will have the main color, various defined shades of that color, and contrast or accent colors. Additionally, you should determine your grayscale colors for any black and white media.

4. The Fonts: Should generally be limited to no more than two fonts - for headings and text across all platforms

A common mistake with branding and design is to go crazy with fonts. You can find some beautiful fonts out there, but the purpose of typeface in your marketing materials is to compliment your message, so a major criterion for font use is readability – that is readability in a wide range of media both print and signage, as well as digital media. As such, very elaborate, handwriting or cursive fonts can often be problematic. As pretty as they look, the message or actual brand name is sacrificed.

In your actual brand/logo, you may employ an adapted or even newly created text style. This is in many cases advisable for the uniqueness of your brand and to avoid copyright issues. For your corporate identity font family, however, you should pick standard fonts to ensure their usability in all situations – online and in print. It is important that the font has the versatility to be employed effectively across platforms according to diverse needs. 

The goto font option for many these days is Google Fonts which are free to use and work well in websites. There is a wide and growing range of fonts available there that will meet the needs of most situations. I use Google fonts in my work almost exclusively. 

As part of your corporate identity, you should establish Headings, Sub-Headings and Body Text fonts. Often these can all be variants of the same font – bold, regular, all caps, italic, etc. according to what best suits the identity you want to put forth. 

5. The Message: Your Vision, Mission, Values, Voice (style of communicating)

Now we move away from visual attributes of your corporate identity to literary communication – your core messages. 

I admit that I have at times minimized the importance of these seemingly intangible elements of branding and identity. I guess it just seemed kind of obvious and self-evident. I also secretly wondered if corporate messaging was superfluous and unnecessary since it seemed concrete use for it is limited. I have since learned that delineating your collective values and “Mission Statement” is in fact very important, because it is the purpose, motivation and starting point for basically all that you do. 

Strong leaders emphasize the need to articulate an organization’s messaging because they consistently draw their teams back to those core principles, and ensure that they are the central focus in all of the activities and efforts of the organization. As a blueprint for your whole identity – truly what you are – you want to get it right, because otherwise all of what you do can go astray and get off track. 

Aspects of your corporate message and communication include:

  • Your Vision. This sums up in one sentence what your organization seeks to accomplish. It has been said that the “Vision” is the long-term goal – the overarching objective of your organization. A strong corporate vision should be something you go back to constantly. It should define all that you do both internally and externally. So it is damn important to get it right, don’t you think?
  • You Mission. Outline the areas in which you plan to act in order to achieve your Vision. Fulfilling your Mission should be a day-to-day reality. If each action and initiative is not working towards your Mission, then either those actions, or elements of the Mission need to change. 
  • Your Core Values. These are intangible qualities that you aspire to, that motivate you, that define your character. The Core Values of your organization should be embraced by all. They should shape your culture. A Values Statement typically states one-word or single phrase attributes, combined with a brief explanation. 
  • Your Tone of Voice is your organization’s communication style, and this is an important part of your corporate identity, because communication style helps to define and reinforce how you position yourself. Are you formal or more laid back? Are you youthful or mature? Are you hip and modern, or established and traditional? Your stated Tone of Voice should include some examples of preferred terminology and style alongside the wrong ways of stating things. For example, Microsoft offers detailed examples of preferred style of brand communication, versus the wrong way to say things. Articulating things in that way, makes your Tone of Voice better understood. 

I find that a great way to articulate your core messaging is through taglines. Taglines in no way replace the above elements, but they sum up in powerful and effective ways what you are and what you are offering. Taglines are important enough to warrant a whole new article in this series (stay posted), but here are some examples to whet your appetite.

Arguably the greatest tagline of all is Nike’s Just Do It. Rather than describing how cool their shoes and apparel are, Nike communicates to their values and how they identify the driving force behind the company and its customers. The tagline is so great that it has been adopted widely in popular culture. 

Likewise McDonald’s communicated emotionally the experience they offer and how they want to be perceived in the tagline “I’m Lovin’ It”. 

The Ultimise Team developed a tagline for ST Bank in Laos of “Bank On Strong”. The core message presented is to count on, to “bank on” the strength of stability and services ST Bank offers, and multiple meanings are there, including to continue on, to “bank on” in strength with STB. An added bonus is that the tagline also contains the letters of STB in reverse, which further helps to reinforce the branding. I will say unashamedly that we are pretty proud of that one.

6. The Brand Book: Your Brand Bible with usage guidelines and rules

Once you have established all of the aspects of your corporate identity, you want to outline all of them in an official document, often called a Brand Book, or Brand Guide, or Branding Guidelines. 

Your Brand Book simply includes all of the elements mentioned above along with brand usage rules, and dos and don’ts. The Brand Book should include:

  1. Brand Typography/Font Family
  2. Color Palette
  3. Logo Variants
  4. Brand/Corporate Message and Tone of Voice
  5. Brand Treatment Rules

There are many great examples of good Brand Guidelines available out there. Some are very long, like the Boy Scouts of America Brand Guidelines. Others are very short, like that of the American Red Cross that managed to fit the whole guide on a single page. Some branding guidelines are interactive online, like Cisco’s and Starbucks’; others are available for download. In many cases, the Brand Book is an internal document, only available to staff. In other cases it is publicly available, especially in cases where the brand is heavily interacted with through API’s or reposting, imbedding etc.

Thanks for sticking with me through this post. I hope it has been helpful and informative. You may feel overwhelmed, however. With all that is involved in getting a startup off the ground, all of this about branding might seem rather excessive. Well looking to the future, i can tell you that the effort is not wasted. 

If you feel the need for advice or support in your brand development, or any aspect of marketing, media and communications, the Ultimise Team is ready to support and deliver excellence as we have many times before. 

Contact us today.

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