This article originally appeared on the Prime Design Solutions website.

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If you’ve got a business, you’ve got a brand. Most people think of branding as your logo – but it’s much more than that. Words like branding, marketing, and identity can seem interchangeable. But strong, consistent branding can lead to better results from sales and promotion initiatives, and an improved perception of your company. Whether your brand is an asset or a liability depends on how you’re framing your customers’ view of you, and how well you’re executing the brand.

Branding is the entire image you project to your customers, and the feel of your company and all the content you produce. Branding is communicated through text, colors, visuals, and everything produced by your company. It reflects the type of business you have and the kind of customers you want. For example, the branding you’ll see from a bank will be much more conservative than from a skateboard company. The logo is the first part of how you communicate your brand, but your branding also includes things such as:

  • Fonts used in ads, correspondence and collateral
  • Colors
  • Design motifs/patterns
  • Attitude of your company and your company culture
  • The tone of your writing

What does your company’s branding affect? Basically, everything! Your branding includes all things that are associated with your company and help communicate what you do, including:

  • Logo
  • Ads
  • Emails
  • Signage
  • Stationery
  • Trade show materials
  • Product packaging
  • Even internal usage, including:
    • Internal office communications (memos, handbooks, etc.)
    • Signage within your office
    • Proposals and other documents

Consistency is key, which can be challenging when multiple employees work on projects that reflect your branding. This is why developing branding standards and guidelines is such a good idea. These guidelines help ensure that everything communicates the same, consistent brand. When you redesign your logo, for example, that means you need to be sure you’re prepared to replace it everywhere – not just, say, on the sides of your delivery trucks. That’s not to say you can’t change your brand, just that you have to do it very thoughtfully.

Developing your brand

To communicate and develop your brand, think about what your company does at a high level. Of course, the first part of your brand is what you do. But more importantly, how do you want people – your customers and potential customers – to think about you? What qualities do you want to convey?

An office supply company, Poppin, has been making waves in the social media world and has become very popular. They didn’t approach their branding from the very basic premise, “we make office supplies” — that isn’t a compelling sales statement, and doesn’t provide much to go on in terms of branding. Instead, Poppin’s branding premise is, “we liven up workspaces and make your office a happier place to be,” which conveys an attitude that affects everything. Their tagline is, “Work happy.” The logo, colors, fonts and everything they do and say helps communicate that brand. Even Poppin’s products are in the same seven colors, so everything on your desk can match, and their ads and other collateral is done in these colors. As a result, the company can command a little better value and charge a little more for their products.

Your logo is a good starting point – consider its colors and the attitude it conveys, and whether that suits your brand message. Color psychology is an important consideration. For example, McDonald’s is red and yellow, because yellow conveys excitement and movement, while red conveys fast. Consider what fonts and colors communicate your brand message. Banks, for example, will generally use a sturdy, serif font to convey stability. Other fonts might convey speed, which would be more appropriate for a shipping company.

Talking to a branding expert

Getting professional assistance with branding is an excellent way to ensure your branding is executed well. A design firm will talk with your company to understand your brand, refine and even redesign your logo and collateral accordingly, and develop a style guide that defines how your brand is communicated. This guide will be distributed to everyone who helps support your brand, including:

  • Employees. Employees responsible for design, communications, or social media will probably be referencing the guide more than everyone else, but all employees need to be familiar with the guide.
  • Marketing & design firms. Generally speaking, it helps to get as much of your collateral as possible from the same source.
  • Printers. Any printer that produces materials for your business (screen printers, trade show display producers, etc.) should have a copy of your style guide.

Does a style guide restrict what you can do? Your style guide is just that – a guide, not restrictions. It allows people producing content for your company to create what they want and still have it keep the tone and look of your brand. Something that totally departs from your usual brand and style guide could potentially be overlooked as not “official” or not from your company at all. Although the average person may not be able to specify why a design seems unprofessional or “off”, they can tell. But that doesn’t mean you can’t, say, send a fun holiday e-mail. You should just make sure that it is professional and keeps in line with your branding.

Updating or changing a brand

If you find your brand has become dated or isn’t communicating well, it’s a good idea to re-evaluate. Consider having yearly meetings to decide what you want to do with the brand for the year. Is it time for a new website? Is that stylized logo beginning to look a little dated? Do you need to refresh your trade show booth? You may decide to refine your branding — much in the way that a brand like Pepsi has periodically updated their brand with tweaks to their logo, font choices and so on. Companies evolve, and their strengths evolve, so it’s only natural that your branding will too. You may also decide that it’s time for a whole new look, in which case you might want to consult an expert.