It’s been longer than I intended since the last ‘Behind The Screen’ post so I apologise. Ironically this one of all so far should be have been the quickest and easiest to write as I’ve already spoken on this stuff at two events. It’s also something I feel really strongly about and constantly sigh as I see so many people get it really wrong. Obviously some of it is down to taste but there are some banding basics that need to be considered across the board when you’re creating an identity for your business. Whether it’s your blog, a full time business or selling things on the side of your job, branding is so important and really can make or break your business. Does that sound a bit extreme? I’ll explain why it’s not and this is all coming from someone who got it so wrong so many times before, trust me.
Even though you may not have put any thought into branding your blog or business, I’m afraid to break the uncomfortable news that you have created a brand, like it or not. Everything has an identity with the images used, the logo, the font, the voice and tone etc etc. The idea of ‘unbranded’ is a total myth. Even so called, ‘unbranded products like Tesco Value still have recognisable packaging that’s consistent across the whole range. You could probably recall what they look like in your head and you associate that with ‘cheap’. So if everything is branded then surely we need to be very deliberate about the process, in order to send out the right message, communicate the right story and create the right feel. Branding is the packaging to your product. Done well, it cleverly draws the audience / buyer in so they want to read further, listen longer or purchase.
So if it’s important to get your branding right then what kinds of things should you consider…
To start with you need to get clear in your head what type of blog or business you are. What’s your goals? What’s your focus? What’s your content about? This sounds so obvious and straight forward but often people miss this stage as they’ve already seen an idea they like but without the bare bones pinned down there’s nothing to build on and definitely no focus for what it should all look like. It’s important that your branding is clear and doesn’t confuse people so you want to have what you’re about or what you aspire to be, clear in your own head first. Your aim is for people instantly get a sense of those things in the first few seconds of viewing your website, blog, packaging, business card etc. Obviously they won’t get a full sense of everything your about but your aiming for them to get a general sense very quickly, without them having to do much work themselves. If someone arrives on your site and has to do a lot of digging and clicking links and scrolling to a bio before they have a clue what you even do or who your aiming at then somethings gone a bit wrong. You also don’t want to communicate the wrong message for your business. For instance it may be a bit misleading to have a very slick, monochrome and minimal look if you’re setting up a website for kid’s resources. You’d be a bit baffled if you landed on that page, right?
A great way to do this is to use Pinterest. Give yourself some time to build up a collection of things you like but don’t just pin a load of branding from other blogs or companies, instead pin interiors, colour palettes, typography, photo styling, packaging etc. That way you won’t end up ripping off someone else and instead will build up a look and feel. I say do this over time because it’s great to do it quite unconsciously. See something and pin it and then come back to that board a while later and flick through. It might be quite revealing as to whether you love neutral tones, hand crafted lettering or a moody aesthetic. You may find a conflict between certain images you’ve pinned and then that’s a good opportunity to decide which direction you prefer. Give it a go! I always ask my clients for their Pinterest board of ideas when we start out on a project.
Recognisability is Crucial
The mark of great branding really is recognisability. You want people to instantly know that it’s from you, whether that’s a font, colour, pattern or just a general vibe. All the biggest brands like CocaCola, Nike, Apple, Cadbury’s etc have developed that recognisablitiy factor, building it up over the years, so much so that if something in their branding changes people instantly notice. I love getting comments like ‘I knew that photo was yours’ or ‘you’re wearing The Lovely Drawer colours’, when I’m in a coral dress. Those throw away comments tell me I’m doing something right in the recognisability stakes, all be it on a much smaller scale than those super power brands.
Your branding should translate from anything digital to any physical surface and still easily be pinned down as yours for any one who vaguely follow what you do. That could be on a website, a pinterest image, a business card, a promo pack or even just the way you package up your orders. All of it counts and helps in improving recognisability. That’s why having an abundance of colours to your brand is probably shooting yourself in the foot. Having one or two colours creates an instant and strong association.
Simplicity is Superior
Believe it of not, simplicity is a hard skill to learn and isn’t something that comes naturally to most people, including myself. I’ve always ‘oooed’ and ‘aaahed’ over simple designs but it’s taken me a good long while to see my work go that way. A lot of non creatives can look at simplicity and think it’s so basic that even they could do it but the real skill comes in a learning what to leave out, rather than what to put in. That takes a certain confidence and is so important for branding your work.
There is a place for detail, like in a piece of art, a textile piece, an illustration…but branding is not the place for it. Your goal is to strip back to as little as possible, whilst still communicating that message we talked about before. If your blog / website / product is the body of writing telling the full story then your branding is like the summery statement. All the most important bits are in there but highly condensed. It’s punchy, not long winded and grabs attention instantly because there isn’t all the fluff fighting for that attention.
My first few branding look was such a mess of colours and textures layered all over the place! It was a melting pot of ideas, a trap I find a lot of my clients can fall into now.
Room to breathe
You may think that me being an advocate for plenty of white space throughout your branding and particularly your website, is down to personal taste but I believe there’s a good reason why this formula has become so popular. Your branding should support your content rather than detract from it, after all it’s the content that you’ve poured your heart, soul and time into so far and that’s what you want people to focus on. Plenty of white space gives everything else room to breathe and shows off what’s important, particularly if photos are a big focus for boosting your brand / is your business. An art gallery is a good example of how the eye is drawn to what’s important. There’s nearly always a ton of white space which in turn makes the paintings sing. That way people aren’t getting distracted by the patterned sofa in the corner, rather the environment supports the art. Black space may well suit your look a lot better than white and I’d say that’s fair enough but if you’re going to start adding coloured backgrounds, be careful how you do it. It’s important for everything to stay looking clean and supporting rather than detracting.
Consistency across the board
Consistency is huge!! I’m not sure I could emphasise this enough. To start with, branding is all encompassing so it really isn’t just a logo, contrary to what a lot of people think. Branding is everything you create that’s linked with your business and therefore should be a seamless projection throughout.No exceptions. This crosses over into fonts, colour, type spacing, photo aesthetic and even the voice that you write with. For instance my images are always light and bright, using a lot of negative space. I started off producing those kind of images and have continued with in the same vein, consistently. Now that’s the sort of thing I’m known for. You guys would probably be pretty shocked if I suddenly started posting really rustic, dark and moody photos on my blog. Much as I absolutely love those kind of images, I’ve made a conscious decision to say ‘light and bright is what I do’ and stick with it. This follows through to my instagram which means sometimes I take photos that I really like but they don’t always make the cut to my feed if they don’t continue the light and airy theme. Am I sounding a little anal? I can see you nodding but I think you kind of have to be to create a solid brand. Consistency across the board also helps boost your recogisabilty and makes what your doing look well thought through and deliberate rather than simply what you fancy for the mood you’re in. That particularly makes customers feel safe and more able to trust you, to part with their money.
Quality is key
This one may sound obvious but nothing says ‘I mean business’ more than high quality branding throughout. It’s something I think we all become increasingly sharpened to over time and I really believe it’s helped by comparison. Even though too much direct comparison can be paralysing, some general comparison on the quality side of things can be really helpful in see where your short falls are and where polishing is needed. It’s good to have a level of excellence to aspire to.
Lack of quality, unfortunately does communicate a lack of professionalism. Even if it’s a hobby, it’s good to show you take it seriously. You may be taking your business very seriously on the other hand, but people wouldn’t realise that from looking at your website. High quality branding endorses a higher quality product and helps people to feel as if it’s worth the money. A high quality look and feel in a blogging sense will make it a more enjoyable experience for your readers and encourage them to keep on coming back. It will also generally help you to win the trust of bigger brands which could make for some exciting collaborations.
One of my biggest bug bears is when people have lovely ideas, a really engaging writing style or a genius product but have terrible images! If a photo is worth a thousand words then it’s worth taking them seriously. Have a practise with some tutorials or if you’re not confident then it’s probably worth paying someone else to photograph you or you products from time to time. If I land on a website or blog that has dodgy looking images then I’m out of there, never to return in about 3 seconds. Sounds cut throat, but that’s the digital, visual age we live in. There are so many people out there doing those things well that readers don’t have to put yourself through orange lit, blurry images through lack of options. Another simple thing that can ruin even great images is when they’re slightly pixelated. Make sure you’re uploading the right size files for your template, in the right resolution. I actually upload my blog photos double the resolution and double the feed width and use a plug in that resizes it to the correct width. This just means there’s more pixel information in the image to start off with which creates a sharper image when shrunk. I particularly notice the difference on text overlays. Being aware of image sizes also means that if you find a nice product photo you want to use in a round up but notice it’s very small and only shows up blurry on your feed…don’t use it! Be discerning and find another product or email the supplier to see if they have any high res images.
Don’t be a commitmentphobe
I confess, this was me (cue head hung in shame). I’m a recovering branding commitmentphobe. Please, please don’t make my mistakes and make sure you carefully consider what you want as your branding and then fully and whole heartedly commit! Re-branding over and over is so destructive and waters down that recogisability and consistency I’ve mentioned. I hate to admit it but since I started The Lovely Drawer in 2012, I’ve rebranded 4 times. That’s 5 different brand indentities, eek! Oh the shame! I changed my mind all the time and as a designer myself and with a web designer husband, it was all too easy to act on every whim that floated my boat. Much as it makes me cringe to my tip toes, I’ve included each progression for you to see. Looking at them now I can see it was a journey of simplification, which was unfortunately done for all to see rather than in the initial process. Wow, that first logo makes me feel physically sick! My husband told me my rebranding HAD to stop and I eventually agreed. The last time I rebranded was literally just as I went into full time freelance and The Lovely Drawer became more of a business. I’ve thankfully managed to stick since then ( a whole year and a half) and I’m not even vaguely bored of my existing look yet. I think that has a lot to do with the fact it’s so stripped back and wasn’t based on current trends at the time. If you use trends to dictate your look then it could look dated very quickly.
My advise is it’s necessary to tweak and refresh every now and again, to clean things up and tighten the overall look and functionality but don’t fall into serial style overhaul! Take the time to think through all the previous pointers and then run with it. I’m in the process of redoing my website and there’s definitely tweaking going on but no logo change and no font or colour changes. The same look and feel flows through from new to old which makes me think I may just be cured!
So I hope that all helps give you a better idea of how to think about branding and gives you some pointers to guide you through, along with what not to do. I’ve learnt a lot over the years and now I could harp on about all things branding all day long.