Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Branding and Brand Building

A friend asked me this week where to start with building a brand for a new business he is starting. I thought it opportune to write a note and send him the link in case the same information is helpful to someone else or someone else has an interesting comment to add.


What is referred to as a "brand" is often used as synonymous to a logo. Yes, this is partially true. A logo often becomes the symbol that represents everything a company or organization stands for. But like a typical iceberg, this is only the tip that is visible.


Regardless of many textbook explanations for a brand, it actually is simple. It is the image the public and consumers are left with after encountering anything related to your business. When we were little, our mother dressed us in our Sunday best for going out or going to church. We had to do her and the family proud because that was the image people had (in her mind) of who were were.

Of course, school was no different. We wore school uniforms and the school badge on our blazer was a symbol that was proudly upheld. Any public mischief would bring shame to the name of the school.

A brand is kind of the same - like the school badge, or like dressing according to the expectations that are out there of us. It is how the business looks, what it does, and the expectations and perceptions the consumer-public has of it.

It is often said that a brand is a promise from the business to the consumer. Think of brands: Mercedes, Nike, Ernst and Young, General Electric. You know them, they evoke images and feelings within you and when you have money in your pocket, you may even respond tot it. The brand you build for your business, is not different.

A brand includes:
  • Image and Messages

  • Product Quality

  • Service Qualtity


Contrary to common belief, it does not start with a graphic designer or advertising firm. It starts with you, the creator of your product or service. Decide (if you are the entrepreneur/business owner) or work with your relevant teams to decide what image to convey. Serious and conservatice, perhaps, if you are a bank or broker. Fun and playful if you are a band. The personality of a brand is like the personality of a person and often in small businesses, the brand is strongly influenced by the person at the top.


Once the thinking is done, it is time to enlist the creatives. This will vary a lot based on budget size. In its most simple form, find a graphic designer that will be able to create on paper a design that matches what you have in your head. Describe your brand personality in your creative brief to the designer and ask for design options.


If your business is tight, you may ask yourself this. Richard Branson gave birth to the Virgin brand by scribbling the word "Virgin" on a napkin - I was told, because he was a business virgin. And so the mighty brand was born. So, it has been done before.

However, from experience, I suggest that graphic design should be left to a professional designer to ensure you look as good on a faxed sheet as you look on a Jumbo Jet or a golf shirt. A logo is one element, but you also need a design style that will match your brand identity (colours, texture, etc.)


I think my friend that asked, has a small consulting-style business in mind, so I am tayloring this to what Leon may need.The first rule of branding is CONSISTENCY (of image, product quality and service).


A startup will need a logo designed in colour and monotone (usually black). Ask your designer to create a few options to select from and ask for copies of the final choice to be given to you in vector format. This will ensure you always have control of your identity when the designer leaves town. A vector format graphic can be scaled to different sizes without losing image quality.

When using your logo, use it consistently. Don't adjust the colours or perspective.


For Leon's small business, he may also need the following stationery:
  • Letterhead (and perhaps a second sheet if he created many multiple-page documents)
  • Envelope
  • Business card
  • Fax sheet
  • A report cover (for proposals etc) or press kit folder
  • Slide templates (PowerPoint etc.)
  • Signage - you may or may not need signs designed
Ask your designer to create electronic templates you can use in your word processor (Word etc.) when you want to create electronic documents (in pdf format).

In the final production of your materials, work with your designer to select paper stock, quality and also the kinds of varnishes that will be added to colour printing. Ask for examples if you are not sure.

Promotion and Advertising

Depending on the kind of marketing that will be done, the following items can also be useful:
  • Brochure or catalogue
  • One-sheet (that can be used to add marketing information)
  • Advertising templates in a few popular sizes for your kind of business. Have them created in colour and black and white.
  • Tradeshow booth panels. If your marketing will include trade shows, have a banner or multi-banner booth created.
The big guns will of course involve advertising agencies to create advertising campaigns. What I recommend here is for the small business owner during start-up.

For the Online World

A web site commonly becomes a key piece in branding because this is the way you will show up when the public comes to look for you online. However a search engine tells a bigger truth, so branding consistently in things like blogs, social network pages, online video and online images require great care.

Back to your designer: Decide on the structure of the web site you want to create and then work with your designer to create template designs for it. Again, design has to be consistent with the brand image.

To create a totally professional online image, the same designer can create the following useful items:
  • A background image for your Twitter account (make your contact information a part of the background image)

  • A template design for your blog

  • A design for your electronic newsletter. If you are going to use a service such as, ask if the template can be build for you in

  • A thumbnail image to be used for your various social marketing accounts - can be a version of your logo or a nicely photo-shopped and rejuvenated image of yourself.


Some startups work on a tight budget. Here are a few items of advice to consider:
  • Start by using stationery templates (well-designed) that you can print as you need it from your own computer. If you have a colour printer at your disposal, you can even pre-print small quantities of letterhead, envelopes or fax sheets.

  • In stead of a web site, start with a blog. Get professional advice and help on the design of it but you'll be able to keep the content up to date yourself at almost no cost.

  • In stead of a catalogue, post your high quality photos to a Flickr account with carefully written captions.

  • In stead of a brochure, design (professionally if possible) an electronic newsletter in a service such as or a Facebook Business Page and distribute or provide the link.

  • These online marketing tools are mostly free. However, spend the money on creating, managing and guarding your brand. Perception becomes reality!


Applecore Interactive is an interactive agency that does both traditional branding and design as well as digital branding and design. Their portfolio has lovely stationery design samples and their own online materials are also well branded. See their web site, blog, Twitter account, Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Written for my friend Leon and other professionals starting their businesses. If this is useful, please leave a comment or reach me through our web site.

Digital Daisy Inc.'s logo that shows our company's focus on technology (digital) and growth (daisy) or making technology ("Digital") a beautiful experience ("Daisy")!

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