What your organisation should consider when developing a brand identity—examples included.
Brand elements are the building blocks of strong brand identities. Without them, competing against other brands becomes a more challenging task.
Yet, most B2B brands today are lost in the ‘sea of sameness’. According to B2B International, business-to-business professionals are struggling to differentiate their brand.
This article shares guidelines on what to consider when choosing brand elements.
Why are brand elements important?
To fully answer this question, we must first talk about brand equity.
Brand equity refers to the commercial value (or ‘worth’) of a brand in and of itself. Organisations with strong brand equity have a clear sustainable competitive advantage (SCA). This is because brands can’t be easily copied, unlike most types of products.
According to Kevin Lane Keller’s widely-used equity pyramid, there are four steps to achieving a strong brand:
- Raise brand awareness
- Communicate your brand’s meaning
- Encouraging positive brand responses
- Strive for brand resonance
Brand elements play a vital role in this process (but especially for step 1). Without them, prospects won’t be able to remember your brand and you’ll find it difficult to encourage brand loyalty among your existing customers. This inevitably will have a knock-on negative effect on your customer churn rate.
When used properly and consistently, brand elements can also help you achieve several strategic branding objectives like shaping your positioning strategy, identifying your brand personality, and more.
What makes a good brand element?
It’s worth remembering that the main goal of a B2B brand is to build long-term relationships with customers. After all, B2B products and services tend to improve the work of the buyers’ internal stakeholders—long after the initial purchase is made.
Because of this, trust is a crucial part of B2B branding. A strong brand element will emphasise your organisation’s expertise in resolving the day-to-day challenges that your target personas face.
They should also meet the following criteria:
One of the most important conditions that a single brand element should meet is that it must be memorable. This means it should grab the attention of the viewer and be simple enough to facilitate instant recall or recognition.
At the very least, a brand element should convey something about your offering, whether it’s a product or service—or simply your organisation in general. In these cases, meaning can be descriptive (as is the case for brand names) or persuasive (i.e. taglines or slogans).
Likability refers to how well a brand element is written or designed (in the eyes of the target persona). If it’s a visual element, does it make aesthetic sense? If it’s written, does it ‘roll off the tongue’?
Customer needs change over time, which means that the market you’re in will also change. For this reason, brand elements should always be adaptable and flexible in case you must update them—no matter the asset.
Brand elements should be protectable. From a legal standpoint, marketers should formally register them with the relevant legal bodies whenever possible—especially when it comes to logos. From a competitive standpoint, they should choose brand elements that can’t be easily imitated.
What are the guidelines for each type of brand element?
Brand names are arguably the most important element of a brand because it captures the key ‘essence’ of your offering in an extremely concise way. Whereas a blog post or eGuide is a thousand words or so (as is the case for most B2B content), prospects can read or hear your brand name and register it in their memory instantly.
For this to happen, your brand name must be easy to pronounce and spell. Simplicity greatly reduces the time and effort needed to remember a name. It also encourages online and offline word-of-mouth; people may not be comfortable speaking about your brand if they don’t know how to pronounce it in the first place.
Another factor to consider is how familiar and meaningful the brand name is. Many names are based on existing nouns and adjectives, which means that prospects can spend less time trying to understand what they mean. However, you can still create meaningful names out of made-up words—as long as it has unambiguous connotations.
One tactic to improve the pronounceability and memorability of a brand name is to use linguistic features to your advantage. A study conducted on sound patterns in top brand names suggests that marketers should consider using brand names that contain plosives such as ‘p’, ‘b’ and ‘t’, as well as sibilants like ‘s’ and soft ‘c’s.
Salesforce is a strong brand name for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s a combination of two existing words, which makes it easy to recall and pronounce. This is enhanced even further by the use of sibilants (‘s’ and ‘c’).
Secondly, the name is suggestive of its product category and benefit; B2B prospects can easily guess that Salesforce is a tool that helps your organisation sell better.
Lastly, the words ‘sales’ and ‘force’ are timeless in its meaning. Brand names that are based on trends (such as slang) face an uphill battle because constantly changing it confuses customers.
Every brand needs a logo. Even though brand names are the most important, logos also play an essential role in building your brand equity.
Most of the time, the first interaction that someone has with your brand happens when they see your logo. What’s more, every asset your brand owns has your logo on it: your business cards, your website, your social media pages, and so on. Therefore, your organisation must get it right the first time.
Logos come in all shapes and styles, from literal to pictorial to abstract. No style is inherently better than others, but the way your logo is designed should be in line with your brand values.
The key here is simplicity. A common mistake that organisations make is not recognising the difference between logos and illustrations. Illustrations tend to have intricate shapes and details, whereas logos are more minimal and recognisable from a distance.
Because of this, your logo must be legible and scalable at any size. To achieve scalability, your logo should be designed and saved as a vector file.
Hubspot’s logo is effective because its symbol (which resembles a hub and spoke model) implies a sense of centrality. This is in line with their value proposition, which is all about synchronising different departments and systems with the use of a single platform.
Colour is a key component of any brand identity (some companies have even trademarked their signature colours!).
Colours influence how your brand is perceived by all stakeholders (internal and external). To choose the right palette, you must take colour psychology into account. Because the idea of trust is so important within a B2B context, most B2B brands use blue to convey a sense of reliability and stability. Think IBM, Cisco, Salesforce, et cetera.
There is, of course, a downside to using the same colours that many B2B brands use. Standing out can become more challenging, especially when it comes to logos.
One way to overcome this is to pick shades and tints that your direct competitors aren’t using, and experiment with different saturations. Tools like Adobe Color can help you explore colour combinations and test if they’re visually accessible for all.
Accounting software company QuickBooks uses green as its primary brand colour, which connotes profit and positive cash flows. Even though blue is generally the most common choice, the company’s use of green demonstrates a clear understanding of the sector they’re in.
Taglines are short, punchy statements that summarise what your brand is about. Unlike slogans (which are short-term phrases used for specific products or campaigns), they’re usually more holistic and long-term.
Not every B2B company has a tagline. However, they serve an extremely useful purpose: they can be used to communicate your offering’s unique selling point (USP). If your tagline emotionally resonates with your target personas, then they’re much more likely to enter the sales funnel—lowering your customer acquisition costs (CAC) in the process.
Always keep brevity in mind. One way your marketing team can get started is to write a paragraph that explains what your organisation is and what it does, then trim it down later.
Workflow automation software company Zapier aptly summarises its USP in its tagline ‘The Easiest Way to Automate Your Work’. With time (or lack thereof) being a major pain point for most B2B businesses, this tagline is effective as it allows the reader to instantly but subconsciously position Zapier at the top of their ranked list of similar products.
People make subconscious judgements and assumptions about your brand simply by looking at the fonts you use. If chosen well, fonts can influence prospects to learn more about your B2B product. But if chosen poorly, they can repel viewers entirely.
There are two main types of font categories you should know about: serif and sans-serif. Serif fonts are perceived to be more stable and practical than sans-serif fonts; however, the latter are much more legible digitally. And because most B2B brands wish to establish a strong online presence, sans-serif fonts tend to be more popular overall.
Make sure your fonts match your target personas. If you’re not sure, analysing the websites of the organisations you want to target can give you an initial idea.
To get started, use websites like Google Web Fonts Directory and Fontpair to explore different font combinations. When choosing a typeface, always check that multiple font weights are available (i.e. light, regular, semibold, and bold). These are extremely important for building a clear text hierarchy. After all, having different fonts for different website headings can greatly improve the readability and scanability of your site.
Project management and note-taking software companies often make simplicity and ease of use a core part of their brand positioning. For Notion, this is effectively conveyed through their use of modern and clean typography. Sticking to only two fonts prevents their website from looking too busy.
First impressions are hard to change. Once people formed an initial impression of your organisation, it can be very difficult and costly to rebrand. Because of this, getting your brand elements right the first time is crucial. However, what’s just as important is consistency—by establishing strict brand guidelines and sticking to them, you can begin to build brand equity and become more visible within your market.