Some time ago I did a little poll on my Instagram stories and asked what topics people would like me to cover on my blog, and I was quite surprised to see how often branding & visual identity were mentioned. Before we get started, bear in mind that figuring out your brand requires a fair bit of time, research and deep thinking, and that it won’t happen overnight. You might even be wondering whether you need to be thinking about branding at all! But I really believe that in the long term it’ll be hugely beneficial to you and your creative venture, so here are a few tips and tools to help you get started.

Brand identity is a lot more than just a fancy logo, pretty colour palettes and a neat style guide. It’s the way your brand looks, feels and speaks to your audience, not just visually, but also in the way you communicate. It’s how you present yourself to, interact with and want to be perceived by your audience and/or your customers.

Honestly? For the longest time, I didn’t think I needed any of this. I’m a photographer, so the only thing I really need is for my photos to be consistent, right?! Besides, who am I to think of myself as a brand? I’m just one person with a camera. Here’s the thing though: in order to stand out among the sea of small businesses and creatives who put out similar content, services and products, you need to cultivate emotional connection, and people are more likely to trust and be loyal to brands who appear to know who they are. Good branding won’t make people magically appear and buy into what you have to say or sell, and it won’t replace networking, pitching or putting yourself out there, but it’ll help you get recognised and remembered.

Besides… putting aside all thoughts about marketing, engagement and ideal customer, I’ve found it incredibly helpful to have a clear vision for what I do and a good idea of what my brand identity is, because like many people I’m prone to self-doubt, impostor syndrome, feeling like I’m never going to be good enough, wondering whether I should just pack it in and get a 9-5. But having done all the hard work and worked out why I do what I do and who I do it for, every time I feel those negative, nagging, nasty thoughts creep in, I can go “Hang on a minute. No. This is really important to me and I’m not letting it go”, which helps see things more objectively and work through them.

So… where do we start?

Brand Story
1. Know Your Why

Your brand story isn’t literally the story of how you started your business, but why your brand exists and how people relate to it. It’s the way you speak about you and your brand, what you believe in and why you do what you do.

Literally, I became a photographer somewhat by accident because I got in a relationship with (and eventually married ;)) a producer & musician. Photography was a hobby of mine and I started out by taking photos for his band. One thing led to another, my name got around and I started working with awesome local artists until realised I actually really enjoyed it. My brand story, on the other hand, is that I believe in storytelling and in the impact of good photography to help artists and creative entrepreneurs show up confidently, share their work and lead the life they want.

Here are a few questions that can help you get some clarity and define your business:

  • Why did you want to start your own business?
  • What is your purpose?
  • What are your core values?
  • Who is your ideal client/customer?
  • What do you want to be known for?
  • What makes you different than others in your industry?
  • What big goals and dreams do you have for your business?

At this point I bet you’re thinking “oh but I probably don’t need a brand story, I just like to play guitar and write songs” or “I just make pretty cards and drawings”. First, when it comes to what we’re passionate about, let’s ban “just” from our vocabulary. You wouldn’t talk about your partner’s or your relative’s business and say “yeah, she just builds furniture” or “he just makes homewares”, right? So why say that about yourself?

Secondly… branding is important even if you don’t feel like what you do warrants it. You don’t have to share any of this anywhere or tell the whole world about it, but knowing what drives you and putting it into words that you can refer back to once is a while is extremely valuable.

And anyway… What harm can it do for you to do this work? Worst case scenario, you’ll have spent some time reflecting on where you’re at, where to want to be, why you’re doing what you’re doing, and how you want to communicate it to the world.

2. Know Your Audience

I find it hard to think about why I do what I do without thinking of who I do it for. When you can identify your ideal client or audience, it becomes a whole lot easier to communicate what you have to offer.

First, think about who they are and what their life is like. How old are are they? What’s their gender? Where do they live? Are they married? What do they do for a living? What kind of house do they live in? Do they have kids? Think of these questions as a foundation to build your audience profile.

Then, move on to more emotion-based questions and think about aspects of their lifestyle, habits or personality traits that will help you understand what drives them, what they most connect with, and where to find them. What do they desire? What brings them happiness? What do they struggle with? What are their goals? What do they like and dislike? What music do they listen to? What books do they read? Where do they shop? Who do they follow on social media?

You can also think of it in terms of what you are offering to your ideal client. What do they want to achieve? Where are they at and where do you fit into the picture? What problems do they have that you can solve or help with?

You don’t have to make it all up. You can base it on research you’ve conducted, patterns you’ve noticed, people you’ve already worked with… The more detailed you can make it, the better, but it also doesn’t have to be perfect, and it certainly doesn’t have to be final. As you and your business grow, so will your understanding of who you want to attract.

Visual Identity

Okay, so now that you’ve thought about your brand story and your audience… How does this all translate visually?

I first came across the notion of colour psychology and seasonal branding while listening to a Grow With Soul podcast episode and it gave me one of those eurêka moments where I thought “this makes SO much sense!” In short, colour psychology gives you tools to choose colours, textures, photographs, patterns and even fonts that all work together so you’re able to create a particular impression at first glance.

You can think of colour psychology as four main seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. I won’t go into too much detail here because it would take a whole blog post of its own, but if you’re interested in the topic and want to learn more make sure you check out Fiona Humberstone (a.k.a The Brand Stylist) and more specifically this blog post. Essentially:

  • Spring is fun, bright, approachable, energetic and bubbly… It’s quite literally bursting with life. Spring brands and personalities are great at communicating, they’re spontaneous, proactive and love simplicity. Their colours are light, bright, clear and full of warmth.
  • Summer is graceful, elegant and timeless, with great attention to detail and organisation and efficiency. Summer personalities are sensitive, supportive and highly creative. Their colours are cool, delicate and muted.
  • Autumn is authentic, earthy, focused and passionate with a strong connection to nature. Autumn personalities like to do things well and value education. Their colours are warm, intense and muted.
  • Winter is dramatic, grounded and minimalist. Winter personalities are highly driven, decisive and objective, and they like to get to the point. Their colours are cool, saturated and clear.

At the end of the day, this is only a tool that you may or may not use to build your own brand, but I decided to include it in this post because I find it fascinating and it really helped me think about my visuals and how they tie in with mine. People often describe my photography as earthy and when I started learning about all of this, I automatically felt that autumn was my season. It was a great framework and starting point, and it helped me understand that colours have meaning and they can be used to evoke certain thoughts or feelings, so I was able to confidently put my colour palette together instead of messing around for weeks with endless options!

What About Consistency?

So you’ve identified your brand story, worked out who your ideal client/audience is, and decided how you want to come across visually… The key for all these ingredients to work together is consistency. Consistency makes you recognisable and familiar, which fosters loyalty from your audience. It makes you memorable and more likely to be noticed, it makes you look professional and trustworthy… and it makes your life so much easier! When you know exactly what your message is, how you want it to come across and what you want it to look like, you don’t waste time fumbling around trying to fit it all together.

Quite simply and literally, it means your brand should look the same on every channel. Don’t have one avatar for Facebook, another one for Instagram, and another one for that Twitter account you created in 2014 but barely ever use. On the topic of social media, don’t spread yourself too thinly, either. It’s tempting to want to be present everywhere so people can find you, but it’s better to focus on just a few platforms that you enjoy using and where you know you’ll be active.

Your brand and brand story should permeate every piece of content you put out, so pay attention to your tone and the way you communicate, too. Yes, every social media platform is different, but if you’re super casual on Facebook while your website’s copy sounds very formal, or if you share beautiful landscape photos on Instagram but your Twitter account is full of memes, you’ll only end up confusing your audience and diluting your identity.

Creating a style guide can be incredibly valuable, because it gives you something to go back to every time you’re not sure whether a photo or a graphic ties in with visually with your brand. It’s doesn’t have to be overly complicated — here’s mine below for example. This can also be helpful when you decide to hire a photographer for some personal branding photography and you’re not sure who to go with. Circling back to seasonal branding, if your brand is very much spring-like with lots of bright, light and airy colours, you might not want to go for a moody, earthy, autumnal photographer such as me for example — and that’s absolutely fine!

Resources To Dig Deeper

I hope this was helpful and made sense! As always your feedback and comments are always welcome, and if there’s anything that I didn’t mention in here that you’d like to chat about, I’d love to hear from you. 🙂

To finish, here’s a bunch of resources that I found helpful when working on my own branding and while doing some additional research for this post — I hope you’ll find them useful too!

The Importance of Purpose for Creative Projects

The Absolute Essentials of Colour Psychology

Seasonal Colour Theory

Don’t Be Boring: A Musician’s Guide to Branding

How To Create A Strong Brand Identity For Your Small Business

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