The Style tier addresses how your brand is seen in the world. I like to refer to it as the hair, makeup, and wardrobe of branding. If you know who you are and what you want, then you should know how to dress for success.
The same goes for your company, and your third tier is focused on making sure your brand looks the part. Doing that requires adopting and maintaining a consistent style.
Earlier we discussed the difference between a motto and a tagline. As a reminder:
- A motto is an internal employee mantra
- A tagline (or slogan) is an external marketing tool that helps people connect to your brand
A tagline is a snapshot of your brand experience—what people can expect when they choose you.
Your tagline should also encapsulate your company spirit defined in your Personality tier.
If you’re a playful brand, your tagline should be playful. If you’re sentimental, be sentimental. If you’re serious, be serious. But whatever you do, aim at evoking positive emotion. How people feel about your tagline directly impacts how they feel about your brand, so be careful about going dark with your language.
As you consider potential taglines, it’s good to note that taglines are rarely an actual sentence. More often they are a catchy phrase that creates the promise of a desirable customer experience. Some taglines examples from large companies include:
Toyota: Let’s go places
Coca-Cola: Open happiness
Dr. Pepper: Always one of a kind
Each tagline transports you into the brand’s world for just a moment. With Mazda, you’re joyfully speeding; with Toyota, you’re on an adventure; with Coca-Cola, you’re happy; and with Dr. Pepper you’re special.
Earlier we discussed how in a taste test 50% of participants chose Pepsi for flavor, but 75% of participants said they would still buy Coke. Why is that? Well, I’ll go out on a limb and say that this seemingly irrational dynamic may be created in part by Pepsi’s inability to create a brand personality that can be expressed in a memorable and compelling tagline.
Out of curiosity, can you think of Pepsi’s current slogan off the top of your head?
Unless you’re a diehard, you probably can’t. And even if you can recall their current slogan, you may be confused by the fact that you have multiple current options to choose from. This multiplicity of taglines muddies the branding waters and leaves people uncertain of what a product stands for. And when people are uncertain about your tagline, they are uncertain about your brand in general.
Unfortunately, Pepsi is a perfect example of a company running multiple vague campaigns rather than one compelling campaign. But I would bet you money that if they finally hit their sweet spot with a slogan their sales would jump.
Successful taglines are as recognizable as a company’s logo. For example, reading the words JUST DO IT almost certainly brings a company name and logo into your mind without you even having to stop to think about it. Someone says “JUST DO IT” and you say “Nike.” Someone says “Nike” and you say “JUST DO IT.” Someone shows you their swoosh logo and you say “Nike—JUST DO IT.”
That’s impeccably strong branding. It’s highly improbable that you’re reading this book because you anticipate overtaking Nike in brand recognition, but you don’t need to. All you need to do is attract your target demographic by briefly taking them into your world and letting them know there is room for them there.
Based on their taglines alone, which company is most likely to have a product or service you want to experience?
Have it your way—Burger King
What happens here, stays here—Las Vegas
There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s Mastercard—Mastercard
Mmm Mmm good—Campbell’s Soup
Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen—Ritz-Carlton
Double your pleasure, double your fun—Wrigley’s Doublemint
Are you in good hands?—Allstate
Which of these taglines appeals to you the most? How does it make you feel? And if you recall that slogan the next time you see the product in the store, do you think the positive emotion it brings to mind may impact your willingness to give the brand a try? Most people do.
No matter how small you are, a strong brand tagline has merit. It tells people how to feel about you, and when they know how to feel about you, they know if they like you. If you can take them to places they want to share with others, then you have just created a brand ambassador through the use of a few words, and every company needs that.
Take a few moments to identify unique experiences you provide and the emotions that may result. If your brand is a cleaning solution, you’re not selling a bottle of liquid. You’re selling the sensation of living in a pristine environment. If your company makes golf balls, you’re not selling a ball. You’re selling the victory of a perfect shot.
What experience are you bringing to your customer, and what feelings do you invite into their world?
Don’t try to come up with a perfect tagline out of the gate. Just start writing things down. Get it all down and refine later. Give yourself permission to be messy.
Your Company Name
When you were born, your parents gave you a name. Throughout your life, you have developed a reputation for that name. Now, when others hear your name, their experiences with you jump to mind and create their impression of who you are. Are you punctual? Do you smell good? Are you wise? Do you have a great smile?
Answers to these questions are your (often unspoken) social brand.
Celebrities take personal branding to a whole new level by creating reputations that either attract or repel consumers based on the experience they create. Celebrities are not famous because everybody loves them. They are famous because everyone knows what to expect from them.
Pay attention to how you feel as you read the following names: Ellen Degeneres, Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, Bruce Lee, Muhatma Gandhi, Justin Bieber, Oprah Winfrey, Princess Diana, Tyler Perry, Angelina Jolie, Maya Angelou.
Each of the names you recognize on this list should create an emotional response in you. The important difference to note between a celebrity name and an everyday name, however, is that the way you feel about celebrity names is no accident. The reputation and experiences surrounding each celebrity name is carefully projected out into the public by people who know they don’t have to please everyone. They just need to please people who want the brand experience. As a business, you will create similar intentional impressions using your business name. The experiences people have with your brand name should be conscious, strategic, and—above all—predictable. People don’t visit a business or buy a product because they want to be surprised. They dish out the money to get exactly what they want. Your brand name should communicate the quality and value your customers can expect, but also their experience.
Choose Your Baggage Carefully
Like a celebrity, your brand might be your legal name. It might also be a nom de plume or a more conventional business name. Whatever you choose, it’s important to note the baggage that comes along with the words or names you choose.
For example, choosing to rebrand the name Hitler isn’t wise because it’s very unlikely that you will do anything more impactful than the Hitler who made the name (in)famous. This is an extreme example of a general principle: Names and words have histories and hues to them. Use these histories and hues to your advantage and make changes where needed.
If your name is Vlad Dommer and you want to be the next Nicholas Sparks, you have a name problem. If you want to be the next Martha Stewart and your name is Vickie Hooker, you have a name problem. And if you are a weight-loss coach who has named your business Sweet Success, you have a name problem.
Creating a brand means that you don’t have to make your given name work. You can choose a name and put it to work. So be objective. Use words and names to your benefit. Don’t fight or try to redefine them.
When a shock rocker by the name of Brian Hugh Warner decided to go big with his industrial metal band, he chose to define himself using the juxtaposition of two very different iconic names: Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson.
The first is the name of a silver screen icon, and the second is one of the most dangerously charismatic cult leaders of the twentieth century.
At first, the name is confusing and uncomfortable as you subconsciously put Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson in the same headspace. Your brain doesn’t like that, so you feel compelled to search out who the real Marilyn Manson is. And when you see Marilyn Manson, he pretty much fits the disconcerting mental image you were seeking to banish from your mind. It’s a guy named Marilyn wearing clown-levels of eerie makeup and singing music you might expect to hear at a cult-like gathering.
You take one glance at Marilyn Manson’s carefully crafted look and say, “Yep. That’s about what I was expecting.” And from that moment on you know who Marilyn Manson is. Whether you listen to his music or not, once you see him you can pick him out of a rocker lineup without hesitation.
But would you remember Brian Hugh Warner? No. You wouldn’t. In fact, you probably already forgot about him. From beginning to end, Marilyn Manson works as a brand name because it puts existing names to work in an unforgettable way.
Marilyn Manson is a memorable name, and your name should be too. But maybe your parents didn’t give you a memorable name, or maybe someone famous is already using your name. Maybe your name is laden with unfortunate innuendo or flat-out hard to say. These are all branding concerns.
There is a fun trick you can use when choosing brand names, logos, and taglines. Present people with options and ask them what their favorites are. Then come back to those people three days later and see if they can remember which name they chose.
Can they? And if not, can they remember any of the other options?
In the end, the options people remember should get double votes—maybe even triple votes. Liking something is nice and all, but think about how many things you like online in a given day. Can you recall even half of them 24 hours later?
In the end, you’re not looking for your brand to be something nice or cute or likeable. You need your brand to be memorable. So if people who love you can’t remember things they’ve claimed to like, a stranger definitely isn’t going to remember them.
Aim for memorable with all your choices.
Your Name, Brand Name, or Nom de Plume?
There’s no standard right or wrong answer as to what you should name your business. There’s only the answer you want to live with day in and day out. Each option has pros and cons.
|Creates built-in advertising
|You cannot pick & choose personal experiences people associate with your brand.
|Nom de plume
|Provides increased privacy while still seeming personal
|People have a hard enough time remembering one name, not to mention your second name.
|Increases professional appearance
|Consumers have expectations of formal companies which will require a greater investment in a professional image.
If you look around you will find compelling arguments for each naming option. People are happy to share what has worked for them. It is for you to decide which approach is the best fit for you.
You see style guides at work all day, every day. Whether you consciously know what a style guide is or not, chances are that you can fill in some of the basics on popular brands.
Style guides create visual cues using colors, fonts, layouts, and other details to let you know who you’re dealing with at a glance. Large brands use the same colors, fonts, and logo placement on their products and marketing to an obsessive degree.
Before we discuss elements in your style guide, see how well you can recognize style elements of well-known companies.
Complete each of the following activities to show how visual cues in advertisements reinforce branding and brand recognition. Following are three screen grabs from advertisements for three competing shipping companies: UPS, FedEx, and DHL. Without seeing the logo, can you identify which ad belongs to which brand?
(Note: Those of you who are viewing this on a full-color e-reader have an advantage of seeing colors here, but even if you are seeing the images in black and white, still give this exercise a stab by looking for other style guide elements that cue you into which company is which.)
Can you spot which ad is UPS, which is FedEx, and which is DHL at a glance?
The images may be generic, but when a color scheme is applied to them, your mind quickly connects the dots, saving you the effort of reading through content to learn who and what the ad is about. Colors do a lot of heavy lifting in the branding game. If you doubt it, go to a sports game and observe the role and power of colors.
Wherever there is competition, colors matter. So take care when you choose your colors. Be strategic, and then be consistent. Use the same colors every time. Because every time you change the hue in the slightest, people have to relearn how to spot you in the fray, and there’s no guarantee they’re going to do you that service.
You need to do it for them with your style guide.
What Style Guides Accomplish
Style guides help customers and competition recognize you by sight. The more consistent you are, the more recognizable you are.
Creating a style guide includes defining things like the exact shades of colors that will be used in everything the public sees. It means selecting what fonts you will use as well as when and where each font is used. It means matching your business cards to your website so your customer doesn’t need to do any additional mental processing to conclude that they’re at the right website once they’ve arrived.
It means creating the most predictable visual experience possible for your customer.
When you create a style guide, you will probably get a bit of a headache and feel like there is just too much to process. If you experience this, my advice is to stop and feel the mental frustration you’re experience and think, Filtering unbranded materials down to branded materials is a lot of mental work, which I am currently requiring my visitors to do for me. But once I define a style and implement it, neither me nor my customers will every have to think about it again, which means we can all think about other things.
Large companies are very nitpicky about style guides because they understand that a flicker of frustration in a customer can result in the loss of a sale. They know that the mind sees in pictures, not it words. And when the pictures and the details—even details as small as font type sizing, space ratios, and element locations—need to be reprocessed with each new exposure, there is a good chance potential customers will decide to eject and go somewhere else that requires less work.
This is why strong brands obsess over where design elements are placed, the exact colors used, the transparency applied, the size and font of text elements, the spatial relationships between elements, and every other seemingly obsessive detail.
Imagine the care with which a Kardashian checks herself in the mirror before leaving for a red carpet event, and you’ll have a sense of the scrutiny ads and packaging go through in a large company. Although the end result might look effortless, it is anything but.
Branding is about creating predictable experiences on every level—including a visual level. To accomplish that, you need clearly define standards that are not only recognizable from across the room, but also across mediums.
Doing so starts with little things as small as a font.
Fonts are a little-talked-about secret weapon in branding. When a font is off, most people can’t put their finger on it. Going back to the metaphor of your brand style being like its hair, makeup, and wardrobe, when an established font suddenly goes off brand, it’s like seeing a woman who forgot to put on mascara or who borrowed a different shade of lipstick. Something is off and everyone sees it, but unless you’re tuned in to cosmetics, you may not be able to pinpoint what is different.
The same goes for fonts. Unless you’re working in a field that requires and eye for typesetting, you may not realize how tuned in you actually are to the proportions, weights, and spacing of fonts. You may not know what serif and san serif mean, but the second someone points out the difference (This is a serif font. This is a san serif font.), you’ll clearly see what you’ve been seeing all along.
When I point out that research shows that san serif is easier to read on screens, you’ll suddenly notice how nearly ever website you visit has san serif fonts, like Arial or Calibri. And when I point out that, for some reason, serif fonts are easier to read on printed materials, like pages of a book, you’ll suddenly notice that nearly every book you pick up uses a serif font, like Times New Roman or Book Antiqua.
Serif on a book page; san serif on a web page.
Your eyes expect to see both all the time, which means you only really notice a website or book’s font when they break the best practice. When this happens, there is even the chance that the wrong font in the wrong place will bother you enough to make you distrust the information or its source. Your brain knows something is off, but only someone with trained eyes will be thinking, This guy is trying to stand out by putting serif text on his website, which adds weight to the letters and makes my eyes work harder and read slower. Because of the increased difficulty of reading serif font on a screen, I have less mental energy to dedicate to processing the information he’s giving me which makes me want to stop reading and move on even though this is actually good information.
Most of us are not that self-aware of our motives when we find a font agitating or out of place. All we know is that something is different and we don’t like it.
This is just one of many reasons why most businesses apply a font style guide to all their public materials. Consistent fonts help create a consistent experience, even on a serif/san serif level.
Using only the fonts as a cue, can you correctly match each advertising message to Nike, Reebok, or Adidas?
Can you tell which ad belongs to which company?
Nike Reebok Adidas
Nike Reebok Adidas
Nike Reebok Adidas
Use your gut to choose which font belongs to which brand, then check to see if you’re right. I’m betting you are.
(Answers: 1=Reebok, 2=Nike, 3=Adidas)
To reinforce your branding efforts, consciously choose a font style guide for each of the following content categories, and stick with them:
Tagline text: You don’t need a custom font or anything special. You can stick the usual fonts you see every day or variations of them. The goal here is not to be glaringly different. The goal is to be consistent and keep the typeface, proportions, and sizes the same so that mental pictures line up in your customer’s mind.
Choosing Your Color Palette
Just like Superman and Batman identify with a specific color palette, so should you.
Few things are so universal across time as people identifying with color palettes. Whether that is in the form of a coat of arms, a flag, a military uniform, royalty, religion, education, or sports teams doesn’t matter. For as long as we have a documented history, colors matter.
This means the colors you choose for your brand matter and should stay as constant as the colors of your favorite school or sports team.
Your company’s colors can identify you at a glance, even from a distance. Your mind doesn’t have to work too hard to tell whether that’s the Hulk, Iron Man, or Captain America on the screen during an Avengers movie, and that’s because of the style guides applied to each character—not the least of which is their distinct color palette.
Captain America and Iron Man may both have red in their costumes, but it’s a different red. Thor and the Hulk may both have big muscles, but you could definitely tell them apart from a hundred yards away based on color alone.
It should be just as easy to distinguish you from your competitors, and color is one of the style tools you can use to stand apart from the competitor standing next to you.
Do some research on colors to make sure you are using shades and colors that reinforce your values and messaging by researching color meanings and the history of colors.
Color Palettes Branded businesses have official color palettes that must be used in all branded materials. View some well-known examples below, and notice how they vary from very simple to more elaborate. Either approach is fine, but it is important that the direction is constant and unchanging.
It’s time to choose your brand colors. You’ll need:
- Neutral tones
- Identifying colors
- Accent colors
Once you choose colors, you’ll need to document the exact shade and/or code for that color. There are several options to do this for free online by googling: color palette maker. Most of the people I work with like to use the free online color wheel from Adobe, but choose whichever tools work best for you.
At minimum, you will need to define the following colors (RGB, CMYK, Hex, PMS, Pantone):
Neutral Color #1: Probably black—used for text, etc.
Neutral Color #2: Possibly a shade of gray used for subtle visual offsetting
Neutral Color #3: Usually white (background)
Brand Color #1: If you were a sports team, what color would your jersey be?
Brand Color #2: What is a secondary color on your team’s jersey?
Brand Color #3: (optional): Is there a third prominent color that would be visible on your jersey?
Accent Color #1: What is your call to action color (e.g., Buy button color)?
Pick colors you like then wait 72 hours and see if you still like them. Then test the colors on others to see their reactions. Third-party input is important, because if you do things right, loyal customers will wear your colors—but only if they like them. If they hate the colors, they’ll wear your branded material next time they have to paint a wall.
So do both you and your customer a favor and choose colors you both want to wear in public.
Creating Comfort with Layouts
Predictability builds trust, and trust builds a brand. This means everything related to your brand should be as predictable as possible—the placement of your logo, the format of your prices, the display of your offerings.
We see the layouts of large brands so often that they eventually become cultural visual staples. It’s like how you are reading the words in this book from left-to-right, line-by-line without thinking about it. At one point you painstakingly learned how to read, but now reading is intuitive. It’s a learned cultural skill that helps you navigate the world more easily.
In many cases, we interact with brands on this same familiar level. When we have repetitive exposures to their layouts and style guides, our minds accept the pattern as “natural,” and we look for it—like we would look for spots on a leopard or feathers on a peacock.
The predictable placements of logos in marketing and packaging is something your mind takes for granted until someone switches things up.
- Imagine consumer reactions if Apple started putting its logo on the top-left corner of products.
- Imagine if Visa put their logo only on the back of a credit card.
- Imagine if Amazon moved its Buy button to the bottom of every page and made you scroll down anytime you wanted to make a purchase.
Each of these choices would cause confusion and probably even outrage, which is why they won’t happen. Each of these companies has firm style guides and they’re sticking to them.
Your customers should have similar predictability when working with you. They should expect to see your branding, and they should know exactly where they should expect to see it.
In short, they should be able to recognize you as easily as they can recognize a leopard or peacock.
Just like you know where to look for a Starbucks logo on a coffee cup, your customers should know where and when your logo will make an appearance and be correct 100% of the time. This consistent predictability creates trust. To this end, you need firm instructions for where and when your logo is used, and where visual elements and messaging belong on any item. Your customer shouldn’t have to work to find you. You need to do the work for them so they can identify you at a glance.
As you establish your style guide, you will need to think about where and how you want to use your logo. Remember, this is the face of your business, so if you are creating a customer experience, you want your logo in sight.
Create a style guide for when and how your logo should be used. Where does it go on:
- Printed material
- Your website
- Your business cards
- Anything else your customer sees
Map out acceptable placements of your logo in diagrams you can share with anyone so that the decisions are pre-made and consistent. Because if you don’t have to think about where to put your logo, your customers don’t have to think about where to find it.
The branding elements in your Style tier are the tools you use to stand out in a crowd. It’s the difference between Spider-man and the Green Lantern. It’s the difference between Lex Luthor and the Joker. It’s the difference between Netflix and Hulu.
- Your name gives people an immediate taste for your business. Choose it with care.
- Your tagline projects your personality into the marketplace. Keep it authentic.
- Your fonts create subtle consistency while giving people a hint of a personality. Keep them consistent.
- Your colors give a sense of your spirit. Choose colors you and your customers can proudly wear in public.
- Your layouts determine how quickly and easily people identify your brand. Help people identify you at a glance 100% of the time through your consistency.
Every element of Your Style tier is visible to the world at large, so choose these brand details in advance and stay true to your style guide. And if the day comes when you need to make a change, do it holistically, boldly, and carry nothing over. No cross pollinating the old and the new. Rebranding is like a nose job. You can’t keep the old and have the new at the same time. You have to choose and make the leap.
Once you’ve chosen each of these elements, your brand foundation, personality, and style will be established, and you’ll be ready to run full speed ahead into designing the face of your company.