Creating a brand from scratch feels overwhelming. Particularly when you’re just starting out and have no money, marketing, or graphic design experience.
I had the same problem. I went to college to be a software engineer, not a graphic designer. I knew I wanted to start blogging and that branding my website, YouTube channel, and software products would be vital to my success. But, I had no clue where to begin. I felt lost and overwhelmed.
This post aims to simplify the process for beginners looking to build a brand but don’t know how.
What is a Brand Exactly?
When you read the word “Red,” what do you think about? If you’re like most people, you eventually will start thinking of things you associate with the color red. Maybe a barn, a firetruck, blood, Valentine’s Day. You name it.
Human-beings are associative learners. We form these weird connections in our brain where all subjects relate to all other subjects. Valentine’s day, apples, firetrucks, and blood don’t have much in common. Yet, they pop into our heads when we think about the color red.
That, in a nutshell, is what branding aims to accomplish. You’re trying to associate your business with positive thoughts and feelings through repetition.
It’s weirdly powerful. There’s no real difference between a Dr. Pepper and a Dr. Thunder. And yet, there are people out there that will freak out if you try to sell them off-brand stuff.
Branding is powerful stuff. But how do you evoke those feelings of loyalty in people?
What’s Your Story? What are you Creating and Why?
In the beginning, you just need to understand what it is your business aims to do. Create a story or mission statement. Who are you trying to help, and why?
“Shameless cash grab” isn’t a terrific story (although if you sold it with enough gusto it might be charming). I know that’s how many of us start out, and we shouldn’t feel guilty about capitalism. But, businesses need to have some other reasons for existing too. Focus on that part. What are you doing for other people?
With Failure Mountain, I wanted to help other people that were sick of their 9-5’s start digital businesses. I’m hoping everyone can learn from the mountain of mistakes I’d made in my journey and get there 10x faster.
Have your story be your North Star when designing your brand in all future steps. I know that’s wishy-washy language and not hyper-specific. But, feelings are wishy-washy too. They’re hard to craft with logic.
The easiest way to form connections directly into someone’s brain is to leverage their senses. Sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch are what’s most brand-able.
But, tastes, smells, and touch are pretty much off the table if you’re an Internet business. And if you don’t have a YouTube channel or Podcast, then audio is off the table as well. For most digital businesses you’re going to hone in on the visual aspects of branding.
Common visuals you’ll want to customize include.
- Word Associations
Leverage Other Brands
You never want to copy other brands; you want to be your own unique brand (and please don’t violate their copyright). That said, as you go through this post, you’re going to recognize that most industries will all gravitate to similar color schemes and fonts. Take jewelry, for example.
The fonts and colors are all different, but c’mon, who are we kidding? They didn’t all come up with such a similar style independent of one another, did they?
It’s easier to see this once you start checking out other industries and see if they’re doing the same thing. Let’s take toys for example.
Companies will use remarkably similar fonts, logos, and colors across their industry. Why?
They do it because their customers are associative learners. Once you have it in your head what the jewelry company’s logo looks like, you’ll have a pretty hard time buying a $10,000 engagement ring from the toy company’s logo.
The point to take away from this is if you’re stuck on what fonts, colors, or designs to use, start by checking out similar companies in your niche. Don’t blatantly copy them, but understand it may be extremely beneficial to not be completely unique as well.
As you saw with jewelry stores, not all logos have color on them. In fact, you’re going to want grayscale versions of your logo so that you can post them on any background that’s thrown at you.
Colors are one of the easiest ways to associate your designs with various feelings. So it is a very easy win to simply add some color to your design. However, you don’t need a lot of different colors. In fact, I recommend sticking to a monochromatic color scheme. You simply pick one color and use tints or shades of that color if you ever need more colors to work with.
Once you settle on a color or two or three, I recommend writing down the hex code somewhere. This will make future color choices when you’re designing something simple. If you pay for something like Canva, it’s very easy to import colors, fonts, and logos into your brand kit. From there, you can drag and drop them into your future designs.
Remember when using colors in your designs that less is more. Meaning the less color you use, the more that it stands out. Start with grayscale and slowly add color to the pieces that you want to stand out the most.
2) Choosing a Font
Choosing a font can seem daunting. There are so many choices that it’s difficult to decide which to choose.
But, if you’re a digital content business, it’s not that hard. You just need to define a font for your long-form text, headings, and Logo.
For long blocks of text like a blog, you’re going to want to choose something readable like Roboto, and not something cursive-y that will get tiring to read.
If you want to stand out, the best way to do so is to search for fonts beyond the browser defaults. You can search for fonts over on Google fonts that fewer companies use. Or, if you really want to stand out, you can purchase a font over at MyFonts.com for a reasonable price that very few other people are using.
I wouldn’t overthink this. Just remember to pick something readable for long text and headings.
Consider not straying too far from the fonts others in your industry are using. Remember that not all fonts you purchase over at MyFonts will have a license for promotional materials. You may want to avoid them if you plan to use them commercially.
Icons are useful for branding content without taking up a lot of space. It’s something you might use as your favicon, or place on images to show authorship without taking up too much space. To see what I mean, check out Failure Mountain’s icon.
The thing to understand about icons is that it’s best if they are designed with simple shapes. So a circle, triangle, or squares. Big rectangular designs will become small and busy compared to simple shapes that fit in the space provided.
Your icon must stand out for your digital business. If you’re building an app, you’ll need something that grabs your user’s attention. If you want to stand out in the Google SERP, that favicon can be the difference in getting the click and not getting it.
If you’re new, loading up Adobe Illustrator (or Affinity designer / Assembly for iPad) and designing your own logo will probably feel like a pretty daunting task. I recommend just outsourcing this and your logo design to 48HoursLogo.
Are you likely to get a perfect logo from a service like this? Probably not. But, for about $100 or so, you can probably get a pretty good starting place and go from there. When your business earns more cash, go ahead and hire a more reputable designer to work on your logo and icons.
4) Word Associations
This is really marketing 101. Figure out how your customers talk. And then use that language when you speak to them over and over again.
This is like if you live in an area that calls a submarine sandwich a Hoagie. Hoagie-ville, Hoagie-hour, words like that will fly a lot better in that area than a Subway will.
If you have a YouTube channel or something, playing the same sounds repeatedly will become very brand-able over time. For example, check out the first 20 seconds of my YouTube video. When you start hearing that intro music in video after video, you begin associating my business with those sounds.
If you’re just getting started with a brand new digital business and don’t have a lot of money, don’t overthink your brand. The most important concept right now is that you look similar to the type of company you’re trying to be.
Define what you want to be, check out the competition, and design something unique that gets close to that.