How to Create a Brand Identity Framework: 7 Essential Steps

Branding

A woman looking at brand identities on a laptop screen and writing something down

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17 min read

Every successful company, regardless of the sector or location, will have utilised a brand identity framework to help position themselves at the top.

And that’s a fact.

While they haven’t said this directly, we know they have based on how recognisable the brand identity is, how unique it is to those particular companies, and how consistent they are across all touchpoints.

Like the title suggests, in this post we are going to be showing you how to outline, execute, and run with an effective brand identity framework – a framework that should help bring you closer to any and all goals.

You see, brand is the glue that holds everything together.

Before we get started, let’s make something perfectly clear:

Your brand identity is more than just what people see with their eyes. It’s how people feel about you, and what they say about you when you’re not in the room, as Jeff Bezos famously once said.

In simpler terms, your brand identity is more than just a logo – despite your logo being an important part of your identity in its own right.

This will all be made clear as you read on, for now, though, let’s identify what a brand identity framework is before looking at the steps.

What is a Brand Identity Framework?

A brand identity framework is one of the simplest ways of working out who you are as a brand. Think of it as a sort of deep dive into what you represent, what you do differently to your competitors, and how you communicate with your audience and others.

It all sounds so heavy when we put it like that, and that’s because it is.

Trying to understand who you are as a brand is one of the hardest things you’ll do in business. Much harder than, say, coming up with a comprehensive brand strategy, or performing a company-wide audit.

It’s difficult because you’re, essentially, laying the foundations of your brand, and brand underpins practically everything you do as a company.

So, yeah, no pressure.

“Identity is cause; brand is effect, and the strength of the former influences the strength of the latter.”
– Larry Ackerman, author of ‘Identity is Destiny’ and ‘The Identity Code’

A lot of the time, brands (typically the smaller ones) will cave and outright copy their identity from other established companies.

If you care about lasting success, don’t do this.

Sure, you might find early success by riding the trend train, but doing so will only get you so far. Eventually, you’ll need to branch out in order for the company to continue growing, and at that point, you might be fresh out of original ideas.

No, the best way to do it is by yourself.

By all means take elements from the brands you like, but make sure that it’s repurposed in line with your own brand, and that it’s actually relevant.

In short:

This type of framework helps you build your own brand identity in a clear and concise way.

Nexwork Brand Identity Design

7 Essential Brand Identity Framework Steps

To help you create your own brand identity framework, we’ve isolated seven essential steps; each step is as different as the last in terms of what they entail, although the first three are strictly research based.

We’ve tried to make this framework as simple as possible to grasp to make life a little easier for you.

It’s like we said, creating your brand’s identity is one of the hardest things you’ll do in business, so anything we can do to help take the edge off is important in our book.

Now, let’s get into it.

Step 1: Research Your Audience

The first step in this multi-stage framework is an obvious one, which is to research your target audience.

Researching your audience is step one in almost every aspect of business when in the planning stage. However, knowing what to look for when mapping out your brand’s identity is easier said than done.

Our advice would be to look at their pain points, current customer trends in the market, and anything else you feel could be helpful. The goal is to be as relatable as possible, or offer something of value that speaks directly to who you’re appealing to.

For example, let’s say you’re in the vegan dog food market, like one of our previous clients in McKinna Plant Labs.

Knowing that your audience is a lot more compassionate and caring, you could then shape your identity around that, choosing to emphasise evergreen language and bright colours to create a feeling of optimism and happiness.

Be warned.

Not researching your audience fully, or deciding to go in an opposite direction, might alienate your prospective customers, which could encourage them to seek one of your competitors.

Step 2: Research Your Value Proposition

Another important part of your research, that sort of carries on from researching your audience, to be honest, is to work out your value proposition – or brand proposition, as some might call it.

For those not in the know, your value proposition is basically a statement about your company that demonstrates to your consumers the benefits of engaging with your brand in whatever way.

Researching it is very important, as it serves as a clear separation between your brand and the various competitors circling the same market.

If you’re stuck, simply ask yourself the following questions:

  • What makes your business unique in your particular industry?
  • What can you offer your customers that others can’t?

Try to avoid giving basic answers to these questions.

Saying something like “we offer great customer service with emphasis on their satisfaction” is far too broad. Try to be as specific as possible to gain a greater understanding of how unique your brand is.

A better response might be to say “we offer fast and reliable customer service through our automated systems, ensuring that every customer has a memorable experience when interacting with us.”

There are no limits to the number of differentiators your brand can have, so go wild. Just remember to be honest with yourself.

Lying about what your brand brings to the table will only limit its relatability when others find out you weren’t telling the truth.

two people looking at a brochure

Step 3: Look at Your Competition

Notice how we said ‘look’ at your competition and not ‘copy’ your competition? Again, it’s incredibly important that you look at yourself as a completely different entity to your competition.

We get it, they’re already established and proven themselves successful. But that’s still no excuse to imitate them completely.

What you’re researching here is different. Take notice of how they carry themselves, what sort of language they’re using, is the logo presented differently on social media; things like that.

You can learn quite a lot from your competitors, including what not to do. Identifying what not to do is a great way of filling in the blanks when performing certain parts of a SWOT analysis on your own brand.

If you notice that a competitor isn’t capitalising on certain trends, or isn’t following through with its brand identity, then that leaves you with an opportunity to truly shine; opportunity being one of the main aspects of this analysis method.

Step 4: Design the Logo

You should have enough to go on to begin working on the visual elements tied to your brand identity – the most important being:

Your logo.

We know we said that your brand identity isn’t your entire brand identity, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of the first things people will think of when they’re thinking about your company.

It’s also one of the most recognisable parts of your brand, period. And it features practically everywhere; from your website, to business cards, to online advertising.

Understand that your logo is featured practically everywhere, so try to find something flexible that can flit between your touchpoints with ease.

Look at the Nike logo for the perfect example of a flexible logo.

This little swish transitions seamlessly from shoeboxes to physical marketing materials, making it look way too easy.

What’s great about the Nike logo is how easy it adjusts in line with certain marketing campaigns and collaborations.

For example, the brand recently collaborated with Sacai to create an exclusive line of trainers. Sacai is a progressive Japanese fashion label, known for its forward-thinking approach to fashion.

The result of this collaboration is a series of shoes that show the Nike logo in a completely new light.

Unlike other Nike trainers, the tick here is altered to create a sort of hologram effect.

Our point is, while the logo has been altered, the original shape and meaning is still intact.

Not everyone is Nike, and we get that.

But there’s a lot you can learn from following their lead in the logo department.

In-House or With an Agency?

Creating a quality logo that is a true reflection of your brand yourself can be tough. It’s tough because marketers, or whomever else is involved in establishing your brand identity, don’t look at your company with complete objectivity.

In other words, they base ideas on what they personally like, not what their research, or their audience tells them.

This stifles the potential of your logo, thus affecting the memorability and trustworthiness of your brand overall.

We should mention that some in-house teams are more than qualified to handle logo design. Just remember that these companies more than likely have an established design team dedicated to creating assets and whatnot.

Startups and SMEs don’t always have the same access to these individuals internally. Which is why they often seek the help of a creative agency, like Canny, to take care of it.

To recap, when it comes to designing your brand logo, you have one of two options to consider:

  1. Design it in-house
  2. Go with a creative agency

Going with an agency is a stress-free option if you’re looking for a true reflection of your company. Also, it’s not like you don’t get a say in what they create for you.

Designing your logo is a highly collaborative process, one with a lot of back and forth based on your own specifications and opinions.

Put it this way, we would never leave you with a logo that you weren’t happy with.

If you’d like to check out some of our previous logo designs, head to our portfolio page. My personal favourites are TLR Global and Health Matters.

  • Want more logo design content from us? Check out our post on the difference between cheap logo design and expensive logo design.

various fridge magnets of letters on a pink and blue background

Step 5: Integrate Brand Language

So you have the face (logo), now it’s time to begin thinking about brand language, and how you’ll incorporate it into other aspects of your company.

The language you decide on now should match the personality of your brand. If your brand identity is relaxed and care-free, use informal language and slang. If your brand identity is very high-end, use professional language and be formal.

Tone of voice is an incredibly important part of your brand identity framework.

It’s important for a few reasons:

  • Everyone on the same page: Having a clear tone of voice gives everyone in your team guidelines to follow when promoting the brand and explaining what you do to others.
  • Emotion is a great tool: Forming a connection with your audience through the language used is a great way of engaging your audience. A strong brand identity has the power to do that.
  • Applies to all touchpoints: It’s a lot less confusing marketing your business online, for example, when you have an established tone of voice. This is really helpful when running brand awareness campaigns.

If you’re going to come up with brand language, make sure that you and others in your team stick with what you’ve outlined.

Consistency is king, and will help you grow as a brand.

Inconsistencies will only make it harder for you to connect with your customers (more on maintaining brand consistency in just a moment).

Step 6: Understand What to Avoid

To ensure that you follow up these brand identity framework steps effectively, you need to keep a list of what to avoid. This is something you can make clear in your brand guidelines.

By putting them in your brand guidelines, and then sharing these guidelines with other members of your team, you ensure that everyone is on the same page, and that there are fewer inconsistencies as far as your brand identity is concerned.

One of the main things to avoid is a lack of consistency between your online and offline touchpoints.

For example, if you notice that your print marketing materials are using a different colour compared to the one used on your website, then this is a problem. Everything you do needs to follow your identity for it to resonate with your audience.

This is but one of the things to avoid, let’s look at some other examples.

Don’t Copy Your Competition

We know, we know.

We’ve already made this point above, but we wouldn’t repeat ourselves if it wasn’t worth mentioning.

Imitating your favourite brands will do you no favours at all, and won’t help you framework and run with a strong brand identity. Consumers are a lot smarter these days. They can tell when a brand isn’t genuine, or is simply parroting the same stuff of other popular brands.

Originality sells.

Remember that.

Scale with Confidence

Scaling with confidence is one of the more underrated considerations when working through your brand identity framework.

Most believe that they have to completely reinvent themselves when approaching new channels, or putting out new products. It’s easy to follow on from the latest trends – especially if most of your competitors are already doing the same.

Our advice would be to stick with your guns. Trust in that the brand identity you’ve created is more than capable of carrying your company forward.

Of course, changing parts of your identity will be required as you grow. Brands shed their skin all the time for a variety of different reasons, and manage to do just fine as far as retaining the interest of their customer base.

And you can too, as long as you don’t rip up everything you’ve created already. If you are going to alter your brand identity, ensure that you iterate off your original guidelines.

A complete brand 180 is a big risk, one that could cost your company a lot of customers.

Avoid Giving your Customers Mixed Messages

By all means, experiment with new strategies and visuals. Just be wary of doing it too much as you could end up sending your customers mixed messages. And mixed signals is how you end up losing interest from your audience.

Another thing this does is it encourages your audience to misinterpret your brand and its intent. This type of disconnect should be avoided at all costs, for obvious reasons.

The lesson here is you need to stick to your brand identity and your brand guidelines as closely as possible; they’re there for a reason.

Remember, consistency is king, and we have the stat to prove it. According to Lucidpress, consistent presentation of a brand has seen to increase revenue by 33%.

If that doesn’t stress the importance of avoiding mixed messaging, nothing will.

Step 7: Maintain Brand Consistency

We’ll keep this last step short and sweet.

At this point you should have everything set up and in motion. All you need to do now is maintain a level of consistency moving forward.

This applies to every touchpoint, from your social media tone of voice, all the way to how you integrate new staff into the company through your onboarding process.

It needs to be airtight to ensure that you, your team, and your audience are all on the same page. Deviating from what you’ve already organised will only confuse everyone, and could negatively impact how much your target audience trusts you.

“Define what your brand stands for, its core values and tone of voice, and then communicate consistently in those terms.”
– Simon Mainwaring, author of ‘We First: How Brands and Consumers Use Social Media’

We’d recommend keeping tabs on key performance metrics to track how your brand is doing to gain a better understanding of how people talk about and interact with you.

Use things like customer surveys, Google Analytics, and social media as your direct line to monitor this in real time.

If you feel like things are heading off course, do something about it.

Kapferer Brand Identity Prism

What is a blog about brand identity frameworks without Kapferer’s brand identity prism?

This infamous concept is another way for you to framework your brand identity, only this way is a lot more uniform in comparison to the steps we’ve outlined above.

Kapferer’s identity framework, otherwise known as Kapferer’s identity prism, was first introduced back in 1986, and is a way to describe a brand’s identity through its characteristics.

What’s useful about this prism is how it blends all characteristics together, thus giving marketers a better understanding of how cohesive their brand identity is overall.

If you look at the brand identity prism included above, you’ll notice that there are six main elements included; each set in a specific section of the shape. Where they land in the shape determines how relevant they are to the elements on the outside of the shape.

The top elements of the prism represent the role of the marketer, with the bottom representing the consumer. On the left you’ll see externalisation, and, finally, on the right, internalisation.

Let’s quickly look at the six brand elements shown within the shape.

The Physical

The physical relates to tangible physical characteristics of a brand, which includes things like logos, colours, shapes, and other assets that are linked with your brand in the minds of your consumers.

Brand Personality

Brand personality is all about the character and personality traits of your brand overall. An example of this would be terms such as ‘fun-loving’ or ‘honest.’ Buzzwords that others might use to describe your brand when talking to others.

Culture

A company’s internal culture is an integral part of a brand’s identity, and therefore an important part of this prism. Google, Tesla, and Starbucks are all hailed for their workplace cultures just as much as their products and services.

Relationship

Relationship refers to the connection a brand has with its audience or its consumers. With this section, you should be asking yourself what does my customer expect to get from a brand other than the tangibles.

Customer Reflection

Your ideal buyer, what do they look like? Most brands have a few different buyer personas, but there’s usually one that’s a stand-out. Asking yourself which is the most important is key.

Customer Self-Image

The customer self-image flips the previous section on customer reflection on its head. Instead of looking at your ideal customer, put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself what are their aspirations, goals, and how they see themselves getting there.

How the Kapferer Brand Identity Prism Can Help

The purpose of this brand identity framework is to help you answer a series of questions that you might have otherwise missed.

When you work through each section of the Kapferer brand identity prism, you slowly begin piecing together who you are, what matters, and other important considerations relating to your identity.

It’s an identity check, and one of the most effective ways of linking every aspect of your brand to ensure that it’s consistent across the board.

Once you’ve completed the prism, be sure to keep a copy of how you’ve filled it in. Like brand guidelines, Kapferer’s brand identity prism can be looked at again and again should you find yourself in need of a refresher.

How to Create a Brand Identity Framework: 7 Essential Steps

Whether you choose to run through our brand identity framework, or use Kapferer’s prism, the result is still the same. Following these frameworks to the wire will help you create a strong brand identity, providing you with a base to build on top of.

The stronger the base, the easier you’ll find it is to plan and execute other parts of your company; be it onboarding new customers, marketing your brand on social media, or scaling the brand as it grows.

One more time for good measure:

Ensure that you keep up a level of consistency with anything you do, keeping everything in line with your brand identity.

Oh, and don’t forget to stay clear of copying your competitors beat for beat. By all means repurpose what they do to make it better, just avoid ripping off their identity completely.

If you find yourself stuck and in need of some branding-based assistance, then it might be time to reach out to us here at Canny.

Our expertise goes well beyond logo design (although we can help you with that too). We consider ourselves a branding agency, meaning we help you with everything from your identity to your brand strategy.

We help connect the dots so that you don’t have to. And don’t worry about not having a say during this process either. As mentioned, we work in constant collaboration with you and your team to ensure only results.

Get in touch today to find out more.