The 7 Key Elements of a Brand

Photo of Jordan Jacobs

Jordan Jacobs

Senior Vice President

I have worked with dozens of companies, large and small, to help develop their brands. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that branding is personal – to you and to your target audiences. You want to build a brand that represents your core values and service offerings, and one that resonates with your target audience.

To do that, here is a quick checklist to ensure your brand has the right focus.

1. Name

Your company name is your brand’s foundation – it will be conveyed day in and day out through every touch point. A strong name will not be tied to a passing trend, hard to pronounce, or difficult to remember. It must have the ability to grow with your business, be available and protectable, convey only positive connotations and lend itself to visual representation.

The majority of names can be classified into six categories

  • Founder: named after an individual influential in the company’s development. (Ex: Tory Burch)
  • Descriptive: communicates the purpose of the company. (Ex: Toys “R” Us)
  • Fabricated: a made up name. (Ex: Pinterest)
  • Metaphor: alludes to a quality of the company. (Ex: Nike)
  • Acronym: (Ex: AARP)
  • Magic Spell: uses an altered spelling of an existing word. (Ex: Netflix)

2. Tagline

A tagline captures the brand essence of a company’s personality in a concise phrase. Taglines require consistent use and essentially become shorthand for what a brand stands for and delivers. While there is a variety of criteria used for creating a powerful tagline, the following provide a quick snapshot: short, different from competitors, easy to say and remember, no negative connotation, looks good in a small font, can be protected and trademarked and evokes an emotional response.

The majority of taglines use a variation of one of five formats, including:

  • Imperative, commands action (ex: Coca-Cola: Open happiness)
  • Descriptive, describes the service, product or brand promise (ex: Toms Shoes: One for One)
  • Superlative, positions the company as best in class (ex: Budweiser: King of beers)
  • Provocative, thought-provoking, frequently a question (ex: Dairy Council: Got Milk)
  • Specific, reveals the business category (ex: HSBC: the world’s local bank)

3. Messaging/Voice

Brand messages should distill the essence of the product or service and grow with repetition to differentiate the brand. They should be brief, clear and precise. It’s also important to determine your brand’s tone of voice – essentially, how your brand says what it says. The best brands speak with one distinctive voice, regardless of the platform and, do not change based on the target audience or what platform. Think about the brands that are so clear in their voice, you can almost hear their key messages when you say their name. As an example, what words would you use to describe that voice you hear when you think of Mail Chimp? You may say fun, clever, informal and helpful. How about for the Boy Scouts? Perhaps it’s trustworthy, adventurous, patriotic and faithful.

4. Logo

Logos are a powerful vessel to help people understand what your business stands for as they are the most visible and frequent brand reminder. As a company's major graphical representation, a logo anchors a company's brand and becomes the single most visible manifestation of the company within the target market. For this reason, a well-designed logo is an essential part of any company's overall marketing strategy.

Logo identities fall into one of five categories, including:

  • Word marks (IKEA)
  • Letterforms (Univision)
  • Emblems (Crocs)
  • Pictorial marks (Twitter)
  • Abstract/symbolic marks (Sprint)

The best logos stand for something – they have a meaning and a backstory, whether it’s a big idea or a brand promise. Have you ever noticed the arrow in the FedEx logo, which connotes forward direction, speed and precision? Doesn’t the MD Anderson Cancer Institute (with Cancer scratched through) tell you the very reason the institute exists?

5. Color Palate

Color is used to express personality and evoke emotion, and using colors in a consistent manner reinforces brand integrity. For example: you see a small box in a distinct robin’s egg blue and immediately know it’s from Tiffany & Co. Likewise, you pick up a red cola can feeling confident it is a Coca-Cola. Individual colors have meaning and together, a color palette can symbolize the brand’s promise. For example, Feeding America’s color palette utilizes orange – the color of hunger – and green – signified rebirth, regeneration and growth; the Starbucks logo evolved from the literal brown of coffee to green, implying freshness, growth, and prosperity as the company grew. However, beyond the psychology behind them, colors should also be tested for effectiveness. When selecting the color scheme for your brand, consider the following: How do the colors differ from that of your competitors? Does the color present a technical challenge? Will it work on signage? Once you’ve selected the colors that best represent your brand, stick to them for consistency.

6. Imagery

Photography, graphics and illustrations play an important role in the look and feel of a brand. We live in such a visually rich world and naturally gravitate toward genuine, authentic visuals, whether on social media, advertisements or websites. Photography can make or break the success of a branding campaign, yet it’s often the last consideration in the brand development process. While high end stock photography can do the trick, consider capturing original photography. Graphics, infographics and illustrations can also provide strong visual support.

7. Brand Guidelines

Brand guidelines are needed to manage the consistency and integrity of a brand identity system. The guidelines should be easily accessible to internal and external audiences who will be communicating about, and representing, your brand. Maintaining a brand is a shared responsibility of each and every employee and partner. Sticking to the guidelines will ultimately save money, time, frustration, while building the brand. Brand guidelines help audiences use the brand’s visual identity easily and accurately by outlining logo usage, color palette, typography, printing recommendations, image direction and example executions.

Armed with these brand ingredients, your business will be ready to stand out in a densely crowded marketplace. But, it’s important to remember that brands are built over time. Much like a parent, your job is never done. Your brand will constantly evolve as you foster its growth. Periodically, you’ll find your brand is in need of some new life. It’s then that you may decide a rebrand is in order. A rebrand can range from a small tweak to a logo or messaging to a full redesign of materials and resources. Companies employ rebranding strategies for many reasons, including company expansion, releasing of a new product line or in response to negative public perception.

By setting your sights on the horizon, keeping track of market trends, staying on top of the needs of your customers, and following the tips in this guide, you’ll be poised to take advantage of opportunities to grow your brand to become increasingly relevant to your target audience.

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