Are you using your brand codes well?

image of two women usine their brand codes as they work on their branding

Are you using your brand codes well?

And by ‘well’, I mean ‘do your use your brand codes consistently?’  Every brand will have its own ‘codes’ and one of the best ways to build awareness and recognition for your brand is to use them with intention and purpose. 

‘All brands have codes; graphical and symbolic devices that are associated with the company or product. A logo is a code. But a well-run brand has more than just its logo. It might also have a colour. A pattern. An additional motif…’

Mark Ritson

I recently did a talk at a networking meeting for small business owners about brand codes, because once you’ve branded or rebranded your business, your work is not done. In fact, it’s just beginning, so, as you can imagine, we had an interesting conversation.

Mental availability

In marketing jargon there’s a phrase – ‘mental availability’. In a nutshell, it demonstrates why consistent use of your brand codes matters, because your potential clients will often use mental shortcuts instead of logic and analysis to decide between brands. These mental short cuts come into play whether they’re buying toothpaste or your valuable services.

Basically, your client will save mental time and effort in choosing between products and services if they have something to latch onto – perhaps an image or perception. Behavioural economists call this ‘The Availability Heuristic’.

So, when it comes to a choice between brands, the chances are that your client will prefer to buy the one that comes to mind most easily.

And this is when your brand codes and using them consistently really matters because they help your target clients to remember and recognise your brand.

Your brand codes help to establish your brand distinctiveness and could be a combination of tangibles and intangibles, such as:

  • Logo
  • Icon
  • Colours
  • Fonts
  • Tone of Voice
  • Patterns
  • Imagery
  • Sound

Let’s explore your key brand codes

Brand logo

Your logo is a visual representation of your brand. It’s a shorthand way to recall everything that your brand stands for – hence the adage – ‘your brand is more than your logo’, which is true!

Your brand logo is usually made up of 2 or 3 component parts. Each of these – font, colour and icon – play a meaningful role in conveying the who of your brand which is why you must pay close attention to all of them.

image of brand code logo and component parts of font colour and icon

Your brand logo checklistyour logo must:

      • Align with your brand values and personality
      • Appeal to your target clients
      • Have impact and standout
      • Scale – so it is easy to read when small, as when large

Fonts

You need a brand font family to maintain your brand consistency, provide a coherent visual style and make your brand codes easy to implement. You can choose from 3 types of font – and may use a combination.

As a broad guide, serif fonts tend to have a classic, elegant look and are used for readable text in printed books; san serif fonts are seen as approachable and modern; whilst script fonts have a handwritten feel, yet can sometimes be hard to read.

image shows 3 types of font against a background of fonts

Font family checklist: ensure your fonts

    • Are readable and look good together
    • Include a digital font to use across website, Canva and email apps
    • Have complementary document fonts for Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook
    • Are used consistently with guidelines e.g. use your script font for quotes or always use capitals for titles and headers

Icon

It’s not mandatory to have a brand icon, although they  help make it easier to remember your brand – when they’re used consistently over time.

The best brand icons bring the brand to mind even when used alone. Examples include the Dulux dog, the Andrex puppy, McDonald’s ‘M’ golden arches, Nike swoosh, Hallmark crown and the Lloyds Bank black horse.

image showing two icon brand codes - the dog for Dulux paint and the golden arches for McDonalds

Brand icon checklist: make sure your icon

    • Is simple
    • Meaningful
    • Easy to understand
    • Can be used alone or as part of the logo

Colours

Be intentional in choosing your brand colours because every colour carries meaning and emotional power. This could be based on some or all of the following influences, demonstrated by green (You can read more about green in this blog):

  • Psychological properties e.g. green is the colour of nature and the eco colour, hence its use by Greenpeace
  • Cultural symbolism e.g. green is the colour of money, so it makes sense for Lloyds Bank
  • Personal association e.g. green is my favourite colour 
  • Physiological impact e.g. green is calm and relaxing
  • Spiritual qualities e.g. the colour of the heart chakra
green grass image and green Greepeace logo and green dollar bill and green Lloyds bank logo

Brand colours checklist: be clear

    • On your core brand colours and how to use them
    • Consider using a signature colour – both Tiffany and Selfridges have black logos – yet their signature colours of blue and yellow create instant awareness and memorability
    • Remember that every colour has upsides and downsides, e.g. green is also the colour of jealousy, poison and putrefaction…
images of signature colours - Tiffany blue box with white ribbon and Selfridges yellow bag

Pattern

Another brand code is pattern. You can see how Louis Vuitton combines their brand icon with their signature colours to create a memorable pattern which signifies quality and durability. Burberry check is another example of a distinctive brand pattern which has evolved over time.

You can also use these principles to create an effective pattern brand code for a service-based business.

image of Louis Vuitton distinctive brand pattern

Pattern checklist: consider

    • Using one or two colours strongly associated with your brand personality
    • Bringing your icon or meaningful symbols into your brand pattern
    • Keeping your pattern easily repeatable

Imagery

Your choice of visual imagery is vital for building brand recognition and memorability. Be inspired by strong brands who develop coherent imagery that constantly reinforces brand personality and values. You’ll want to be clear about what you want your images to convey and what connects together all the images you choose – whether your own photography or royalty-free. Is it about light, nature or people? Or do you want to feature abstract images or metaphors? 

image of two sheep and image of a child planting a tree sapling

Imagery checklist: choose carefully

    • Create a meaningful and intentional list of the type of images that best represent your brand
    • Add a list of the type of images that you don’t want to use
    • When choosing images, consider lighting, time of day, mood and emotion, and if the colours in the images echo your brand colour palette

Tone of voice

Having a consistent brand tone of voice is just as important to your brand recognition as your brand colours and visual imagery (in my opinion). Your brand voice will evolve over time, so it’s a good idea to keep track of changes in nuance.

Research from the Nielsen group defines 4 core dimensions of tone of voice:

  • Formal to casual
  • Serious to funny
  • Respectful to irreverent
  • Matter-of-fact to enthusiastic
Image of woman using mobile phone with the chart of the 4 dimensions of brand tone of voice

Tone of voice checklist: craft your voice with intention

    • Use the 4 core dimensions as a framework and start point for your brand voice
    • Double check that your tone of voice is aligned with your brand values
    • Stay consistent and evolve your voice with intention

Bring your brand codes together in your Style Guide

Now you know how your brand codes contribute to the ‘mental availability’ of your business, make sure to record – and update them – in your Brand Style Guide.

If you don’t have a Style Guide, you can download the framework for a simple version here – and receive a series of email tips to complete it.

You’ll be subscribed to my email list, and can unsubscribe at any time.

image of woman with teh cover of a Brand Style Guide to reference brand codes

When you use your brand codes consistently, over time you’ll:

⭐ Create a distinctive and memorable brand identity that helps clients recognise and remember your business

⭐ Save time and energy in creating consistent content – and look professional

⭐ Strengthen brand affinity with your clients

Remember that consistency is key.

Repeat, repeat, repeat for brand standout, awareness and memorability.

‘It’s about whether your brand stands out to the customer, whether it looks like itself, whether it comes to mind. This is the big job.’

Mark Ritson

Building your powerful brand

If you’d like to read more about your core brand intangibles, take a look at these blogs on brand values and brand personality.

I’ve also written about brand colours Brown, Orange, Yellow and Green. 

I’d love to stay in touch – so do sign up here for my irregular emails – Branding Matters – for tips on building your standout brand. Or book a call with me here to talk about your brand.

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Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. I hope you've enjoyed it and found it useful. I work with coaches, consultants, creatives, therapists and experts, often ex-corporate. Together we get to the heart of what makes your brand distinctive and different, so we can communicate your value proposition effectively. You'll have a standout brand you love and your clients adore, with a brand personality and image that makes you feel proud of your work, and gives you the confidence and focus to accelerate your business growth.
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