Mar 08, 2016
How to define your brand the right way Part 2
The previous article in this series defined a brand as a combination of elements, some visual and some not, that represents your business to your target audience.
For your brand to work, it must evoke a feeling from your target audience, which is why defining your audience is crucial to understanding your brand.
In this article, let’s look at the individual elements that make up your brand on the web:
- Photos and imagery
The intent is to understand how each of these elements contributes to your brand.
What’s your brand personality?
If your brand or business were a person, how would you describe her or him? More importantly, how do you want your brand perceived by your target audience?
Your answer to this question affects your brand choices. It’s worth spending time to consider it. For example, you may want your brand to be viewed as:
- Stable and trustworthy (TD Bank, Citibank)
- Sophisticated and luxurious (Kate Spade, Burberry)
- Witty and fun (MailChimp, JetBlue Airways)
- Cheeky and irreverent (Virgin Airlines, Anne Taintor)
My charity client wants to be recognized as heartwarming. That is an important trait for this all-volunteer charity. Therefore, the brand choices that we make should support that perception.
In your own business, can you describe your brand in one or two adjectives? Knowing how you want your brand perceived narrows down your choices to make the process of branding easier for you.
What comes to mind when you see a script font like the one below?
Perhaps you think that the font is soft and feminine or elegant and sophisticated. Is this a font that Harley Davidson would use? Probably not. Harley Davidson is a brand that appeals to a predominantly male audience. A script font like this doesn’t work well with their masculine brand.
When choosing one or two fonts for your website, consider the impression or feeling you get from the font and to whom you want to appeal.
Fonts are said to have their own personalities. Because all fonts belong to a category, start with a category and then narrow down your choice of font. Here are the most common font categories: serif, sans serif, script, and display.
Serif fonts like Times New Roman and Baskerville are generally considered more traditional. You might expect serif fonts in use by a law firm or financial institution. Serif fonts are also classic, respectable, or even reliable. The Kate Spade logo, for instance, uses a serif font (Baskerville).
Sans serif fonts like Helvetica and Arial, on the other hand, are usually described as modern, clean, neutral, or even progressive. Both the Crate & Barrel logo and the American Airlines logo use Helvetica.
Script fonts, as we saw earlier, may be elegant and sophisticated, but this category has many variations. Script fonts may be formal or informal, modern or traditional. The Cadillac logo uses a script font, which suits their luxury car brand.
The display font category is a large and diverse one. What sets display fonts apart is their unconventional characteristics, such as unique letter shapes. Fonts in this category are friendly, expressive, or distinctive. The Disney logo uses a display font.
With so many fonts to choose from, it helps to know what feeling you want to impart to your target audience. Often times, website owners choose a font that they like, but that doesn’t necessarily represent their brand.
My charity client chose a handwritten font for their logo. Because this charity cares primarily for children and wants to appeal to those who give to children’s charities, the handwritten font suits them well.
A handwritten font is sometimes a more casual version of a script font. What it lacks in sophistication, it makes up for in friendliness. The charity’s handwritten font is both playful and heartfelt.
Do you find a brown banana as appealing as a bright yellow banana? If not, then you understand the influence of color on perception.
Colors can evoke certain feelings and impressions. A combination of black and white often suggests sophistication and luxury. Blue is a color that we often see associated with corporations to convey stability and reliability. Green is a color frequently used on organic or health food packaging.
When choosing colors for your website, consider how those colors make you feel when you see them. Here are a few common colors and the feelings or impressions that we most often associate with them.
- Red: Loving, passionate, or exciting, but may also be perceived as aggressive
- Orange: Cheerful, energizing, or enthusiastic
- Yellow: Refreshing, bright, or happy, but may also be associated with frustration
- Green: Natural, healthy, or tranquil, but is also associated with jealousy and envy
- Blue: Calm, masculine, or stable, but may also be perceived as sad as in the expression “feeling blue”
- Purple: Royal or exotic, but may also be perceived as soothing (lavender) or expensive
- Pink: Romantic, feminine, or compassionate; may also be perceived as childish (light pink) or vibrant (dark pink)
- White: Clean, innocent, or minimal, but may also be perceived as sterile and cold
- Black: Fashionable or confident, but may also be perceived as aggressive or menacing
- Brown: Earthy and comforting, but may be perceived as dull or dirty
An important color for my charity client is red. The color shows the passion and dedication that the organization has for its cause and for those it serves.
I used the red in the logo with the handwritten font. Paired together, the casual, but childlike font prevents the red from appearing aggressive.
Photographs and other imagery
Have you ever noticed that many of the food photos on MarthaStewart.com are taken from a top down angle? In other words, the photos show exactly what you would see if you were standing over the table looking down at the meal.
In many of her food photos, the food sits on a table surrounded by everyday items, such as utensils, napkins, and glasses. The food is purposefully staged to look like a casual family meal. MarthaStewart.com food photos share even more commonalities:
- Close cropped to show the central dish and a limited area around it
- Bright images with little to no shadows
- Soft, even lighting
- Small pops of color
These qualities are consistent with the Martha Stewart brand—tasteful, but not unattainable.
When you look at your website photos, do they convey the feeling that you want them to send to your target audience? Here are a few things to consider:
- Borders. Do you use borders around your photos? All photos or only certain photos? Are the borders the same or are some different?
- Text. Do you overlay text on your photos? If so, are you using the same font for all text?
- Filters. If you use filters on your photos to create certain effects, do you use the filters consistently? Are the filters that you’re using reflective of your brand? For example, a vintage brand may have sepia photos. A luxury brand may use black and white filter.
- Staging. If you stage your photos, then do you use the same lighting each time? The same props or backdrops?
- Subject. What are the subjects of your photos? Do the subjects reflect your target audience? For example, if you target 30-something mothers, do your photos show women or mothers around that age?
Do the illustrations and icons on your website, including your social media icons, look the same? If your illustrations and icons are mismatched—and not intentionally—then your audience may perceive your brand as careless or lacking in attention to details.
How you communicate to your audience says a lot about your brand. Your brand voice reveals your brand personality. The voice is made up of three features:
- Tone. What sort of tone do you take when speaking to your audience? Are you authoritative, conversational, academic, wry, or something else?
- Word choice. Do you use adverbs and rely on adjectives often? Do you like alliteration? Do you use slang?
- Sentence style. Do you write in third person, first person, or second person? Do you write long, complex sentences or short, simple ones?
There are no right or wrong answers to any of these questions. For your brand voice to be effective, you need to know your audience and how to speak to them.
When my charity client communicates to its audience, it emphasizes that all donations are tax-deductible. If you recall from Part 1 of this series, my charity client’s audience skews older and affluent. For that audience, a tax deduction is important, especially at the end of the year.
If the charity targets a younger audience, then they may want to speak instead about the value of volunteering. The charity might also choose to spend more time on social media to reach a younger audience.
Let’s look at an example of content reflective of the brand. Apple is known for its simple to use, but beautifully designed products. They apply the same principles to their copywriting. Start on almost any product page, and you find the following:
- Tone: Confident, but conversational; Apple’s tone is never arrogant or alienating.
- Word choice: There are almost no slang terms and few adverbs, such as “very”; they do, however, use inspiring adjectives such as “amazing”, “delightful,” and “beautiful.”
- Sentence style: Most sentences are short and simple; Apple prefers imperative sentences (“Track your daily activity.”); and sentence fragments (“Anytime you want.”), which tend to quicken the pace.
Your brand voice must be consistent throughout all your public writing—landing pages, blog posts, and newsletters. Consistency not only builds audience, but also builds trust.
Nearly all your brand choices hinge on the first question posed in this article: how do you want your brand to be perceived? When you have a definitive answer, decisions about fonts, colors, images, and content may be easier.
In the last article of this series, I’ll show how minor changes to a website can change your perception of the brand.