Building a brand identity is more than simply designing a logo. Making strategic design choices across every facet of your visual brand can mean the difference between blending in and popping out from the competition.
A strong and consistent visual representation of your brand is something you want no matter what business you’re in—whether that’s starting a personal brand, monetizing your YouTube audience, or launching an online store. But what if hiring a designer is outside your budget?
Luckily, there are several free and low-cost tools and resources to help you build your brand identity—even if you have no design skills or budget. If you’re not ready to invest in hiring a designer, you can still achieve professional results with a DIY approach.
Whether you’re working on a new look and feel of an existing business or launching a whole new brand, this guide will help you understand the fundamentals of strong brand identity, from typography to logo design to choosing a brand name. Throughout, we’ll point to examples of brands doing it right.
What is brand identity
Brand identity is a holistic package of assets, visual elements, and design decisions that represent a brand’s image. The combination of these elements is what makes a brand unique, helps it stand out from competition, and earns it brand recognition among customers.
Brand identity is composed of a number of creative decisions that define your brand personality visually. These are some of the elements of brand identity:
- Color palette
- Photographic treatments and style
- Brand name
- Brand tagline
The choices you make will become part of your brand guidelines, informing visual decisions you make when building your website, creating marketing materials or business cards, and curating content for social media feeds.
Why is brand identity important?
Brand identity gives your brand a visual anchor and helps you create consistency at every customer touchpoint. A tagline, a unique logo, or a distinct palette can stick in customers’ minds, helping you build brand recognition.
Over time, consistent visuals and branding design decisions will help you build brand loyalty and trust—customers will know to expect the same high-quality content or products they’re used to from you.
In crowded markets a strong brand identity can also help you stand apart from your competitors. When customers choose one white t-shirt over another, much of that decision comes down to brand. Taking a strong position with your overall brand—including a brand identity that resonates with your target audience—can give your small business an edge.
Companies with strong visual brands have a leg up on the competition, because most of the time you can recognize an ad or a post from them without even seeing their logo.
Setting the foundation for your brand identity
It’s important to note here that brand identity differs from “brand.” Your brand encompasses more than just visuals. It also includes your brand values, value proposition, brand voice, mission statement, and more.
It will be challenging to get started on brand identity without putting in the foundational work first. This includes market research to understand how to cater your brand to your target audience, capturing a compelling brand story, and understanding the competitive landscape. Building a brand identity is just one part of your overall branding exercise—and it should happen last.
📚 Read more:
- How to Build Your Own Brand From Scratch in 7 Steps
- The 5 Elements of a Strong Brand Strategy
- Brand Values: A Competitive Advantage for Your Business
- Selling Through Storytelling: How to Craft a Compelling Brand Story
Creating a recognizable brand image
Once you’ve nailed your brand strategy and answered basic questions about your target customer, what you stand for, and your value proposition, it’s time to get creative. A good brand strategy includes clear guidelines about how a brand will show up creatively. Let’s get started.
Choosing a brand name
There are a number of factors to consider when choosing a company name. Ask yourself what you want the name to say about you. Is it connected to you as a person? Is it important that people know exactly what you’re about from your name alone? Do you want to be playful and unique, creating something entirely new?
A brand name could be as simple as the following:
- Is the brand connected to you as a person? Use your own name, like Betsey Johnson.
- Is it important that people know exactly what you’re about from your name alone? Try a descriptive phrase, like The Container Store.
- Do you want to be playful and unique, creating something entirely new? A portmanteau—two words mashed together, like Netflix—or a completely made-up or derivative word like Volvo will work here.
You should always run a name check to see if another brand (especially in your industry) is already using the name or if it’s already trademarked. The availability of a suitable domain name and social media handles will also factor into your decision.
A business name generator can be a great place to start—plug in a few details about your business and get a list to choose from. These may also inspire something entirely new.
In the following two examples, these businesses approached naming their brands differently. Brooklyn Brew Shop chose a literal description of its location and product (this is helpful for SEO or targeting a location), while Alaffia chose a word with a personal meaning to its founders and the origin of the company (it’s a common greeting from central Togo, Benin, and Nigeria).
📚 Read more:
- 7 Tips To Choose the Best Domain Name—Without Breaking the Bank
- Need a Catchy Online Store Name? Find Ideas With These Tips and Free Name Generators
Creating a logo
Designing a logo can feel daunting when you don’t know where to start. A few simple rules can help you create a logo that represents your brand:
- Keep it simple. A simple logo will be the most versatile, allowing it to work on everything from a website favicon to a billboard ad.
- Create variations. A wordmark or an icon? Why not create both? Variations will help your logo fit into different applications.
- Consider context. If using recognizable symbols or objects in your logos, consider what message those symbols mean in various contexts and cultures.
Home décor brand Schoolhouse uses different versions of its logo across various applications, from a wordmark on its website and products to a stylized initial-based logo for social and a simple “S” in its favicon:
Now that you have a few basic rules down, it’s time to get designing. Depending on your level of experience and eye for design, there are a number of tools you can choose from:
- Hatchful is a free tool that takes the guesswork out of logo design for you. Simply tell the app a few details about your company, and it will suggest pre-made logos that you can use as is or tweak to your liking.
- Canva is one such tool that is excellent for beginners and skilled designers alike, with a number of templates and a pro subscription level that gives you access to a huge library of assets.
- Adobe Creative products are the high end and are good options for those with more advanced design skills.
- There are a number of other logo generators, both free and paid, that can help you create a logo either from scratch or based on a template.
Want to learn more about creating a logo from scratch? 🎨 Dive into our comprehensive guide with step-by-step instructions to designing a killer logo. Read the article
Building a typeface library and a brand color scheme
Your brand kit is a collection of style decisions and assets that make it easy to assemble ads and webpages or collaborate with other brands. Your brand kit will include a suite of fonts (also called typefaces) that you typically use, as well as rules for how to use them. You can choose “fun” fonts for headings and social graphics and a complementary simple font for body text.
Color and font choices can communicate different brand attributes. For example, green says “fresh” and a bubbly sans serif font says “playful.” This would be an excellent combo for a bubble tea brand or an organic cotton kidswear line, for example.
Chocolate brand Kyoot uses a specific color palette and bubbly text across its branding—everywhere from product packaging to its Instagram feed. The deliberate bold color choices speak to Kyoot’s fun, fresh brand and resonate with its younger extremely online customer:
Honing in on a photographic style
When you shoot new collections, a digital lookbook, or lifestyle images for social, you will want to have a consistent visual identity and brand feel. This can be achieved with a set of guidelines for photographers (or for choosing stock photos) that covers everything from composition to saturation.
A brand color palette can help to dictate some of this. You can also use the same photo filter for social media images. Choices of model, set, location, and lighting should also be consistent with other brand and visual identity decisions.
Vegan footwear brand KOI is consistent when creating their lookbooks. But by using the same color, eclectic styling, and retro elements it is signaling to its audience its strong (fun) visual brand identity:
📚 Read more:
- 40+ Tools and Resources For Creating Beautiful DIY Product Photography
- How to Take Professional Product Photos With a Smartphone
- 41 Best Free Stock Photos Sites to Get Free Images
Building a brand style guide
A brand style guide can help you keep track of all the creative decisions you’ve made about your brand. This is the visual language of your brand. That way, everytime you create something—an ad, a post, an email—you have a set of specific guidelines to help keep it consistent.
A style guide can also be helpful if you’re delegating design tasks to a virtual assistant, a branding agency, or in-house staff as you grow your business.
Branding design made easy 🖌 Learn from a seasoned design pro and get tips on everything from working with a designer to doing it yourself. Read the article
3 ways to put your brand identity into action
1. Brand your online store
At some point in your project, you’ll probably want to build your own branded website. Sometimes it’s the first step, sometimes it’s the last, but having a place to call your own (versus selling on a marketplace or third-party channel) gives you full creative control.
Pet product company Wild One has a very simple type based logo, but its visual identity shows up in other ways. Color palette is key to this brand’s collection and those choices are apparent across the website’s theme and photography:
You have more visual flexibility on your own website than on any other platform, but you’ll still need to adhere to your brand guidelines to ensure your brand identity is consistent. Here, you’ll apply those guidelines to a number of places:
- Store theme. Your theme is a website template that forms the skeleton of your site. Pick one that already aligns with your brand identity, and simply edit it to plug in your own fonts, colors, and images. Start with the Shopify Themes Store and sort themes based on industry, style, price, and more.
- Photos and graphics. As with anywhere photos represent your brand, these should be consistent with your photographic style. Some themes have existing graphic elements (boxes or colorblocked sections)—be sure these work with your brand when you choose your theme.
- Fonts. Most themes allow you to pick your fonts within the editor. If your fonts are not available, you may require some coding or advanced knowledge to load these fonts. Consult a Shopify Expert for help, if needed.
- Logo variation and placement. Choose the right logo variant for each use case on your site. Your favicon will use your simplest logo, while your homepage might include a larger version of your main logo.
- Color palette. When you establish your color scheme in your initial branding design exercise, you should have hexadecimal codes for each color. These are handy codes recognized across software (like Photoshop or Canva) and the internet. Within your theme, you can set your brand colors using these codes.
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2. Surface your brand identity on products and packaging
Your brand choices can show up everywhere from on the product itself (say a t-shirt label) to packaging (a chocolate wrapper) to the outer shipping packaging (a custom poly mailer).
When working with an experienced printer or using a self-serve online printing service, the onus is on you to be sure that the files you produce have the correct colors (compatible for print) and sizes to accommodate the printing application.
The more places you can have your logo or other branding elements show up, the better chances you will have to cement your brand in your customer’s minds. Use the appropriate logo variant for each application.
Blackstock & Weber uses its full wordmark logo on its website and a compact version embossed on the insoles of its shoes:
3. Show up on-brand in marketing and customer communication
Your social media pages don’t need to be plastered with big versions of your logo over and over—and in fact, they shouldn’t. Your social feeds should be more organic and aspirational, and show products in a lifestyle context. Your logo can pop up in subtle ways on packaging, but your brand identity can be successfully communicated through photographic and color choices across your grid or playlists.
Haus’ signature high-contrast and vintage-toned flash photography style is consistent across its website and social profiles. Here, the brand’s logo and other identifiers are sparse (and when it does appear, it’s on packaging within lifestyle shots). But the images are unmistakably Haus:
Have your brand identity show up consistently across all of your communications channels, including everything from shipping notification emails to checkout. Using the appropriate logo variant and size is important for each use case.
Your brand should leave a lasting impression
Some of the world’s most successful brands—Apple, Nike, McDonald’s—are widely recognizable by their most simplified logo. Often you’ll even know the brand by the tone of an ad, font choices, or photography style—before the brand is even mentioned. That’s because great brands have trained customers through consistent brand identity design.
With a few simple guidelines and some free user-friendly tools, it’s possible to achieve the same. You now have everything in your toolbox to create a visual brand identity that captures the spirit of your brand’s mission, attracts the right potential customers, and keeps them coming back.
Brand identity FAQ
What is a brand identity?
Brand identity is a holistic package of brand assets, visual elements, and design decisions that represent a brand’s image. The combination of these elements is what makes a brand unique, helps it stand out from competition, and earns it brand recognition among customers.
Why is brand identity important?
Brand identity is important because it gives your brand a visual anchor, helping you create consistency at every customer touchpoint. A catchy tagline, a unique logo, or a distinct palette can stick in customers’ minds, helping you build brand recognition. In crowded markets a strong brand identity can also help you stand apart from your competitors. Taking a strong position with your overall brand—including a brand identity that resonates with your target audience—can give your business an edge.
What should a brand identity include?
Brand identity should include a number of creative decisions that define your brand personality visually. These are some of the elements of brand identity:
- Color palette
- Photographic treatments and style
- Brand name
- Brand tagline
Can you create a brand identity on your own?
Yes! While hiring a graphic designer is an excellent option, many new businesses don’t have the budget to do so. Simple free and low-cost resources like logo makers, business name generators, and DIY design tools can help you work from an existing template or start your own brand identity from scratch—even with no design skills.