In part one of this series, I showed you how to develop a name for your business that’s aligned with your focus and mission, and that really resonates. Once you’ve established and registered that business name, the real fun begins: developing a brand identity.
And I don’t say that in jest. Developing your brand identity really can be a lot of fun. At least, it was for me. This is where you get to learn about the meaning of colors, and play around with them. And design all the elements of your brand identity, playing around with concepts and layouts until you hit on one that resonates. Just like your business name, only visually.
I really enjoy this part. I learned desktop publishing when it was just beginning, and have always designed my own visual brand identity materials and marketing material. I’m not a graphic designer. But I know my way around Adobe InDesign and Illustrator. And I have an eye for good visual page design. Unless you know what you’re doing, you’ll need to hire a graphic designer for the nuts-and-bolts design part. Okay so you don’t get to experience the thrill of designing your own logo and identity. But I know seeing your idea for a brand identity come to life in the hands of a skilled designer will still get your adrenalin going.
The two base elements of your brand visual identity are:
- your brand colors
- a logomark or wordmark
I don’t think you can talk about one without talking about the other. Hence I’m including a bit about developing a logo in this part-two post focusing mostly on choosing your brand colors.
Which should you tackle first, however? I’ll leave that up to you. If you’re an A-type personality and a process kind of person, then you’ll probably start with coming up with colors. But there’s nothing wrong with doodling some basic logo concepts while you’re thinking about colors. Doing this can help you figure out which logo elements should have which colors. This is how I approached it.
The question, “Do I need a logo for my business?” is one that comes up quite often in online forums and on business networking sites such as LinkedIn and MosaicHub. My answer is, “not necessarily.” You could have a logomark or a wordmark, or both.
What’s the difference between a logo and a wordmark? A logo has some graphic design element to it. A wordmark is just type that may or may not be stylized with a bit of type design. Think auto racing, for example: NASCAR®.
(A logomark or a wordmark will have either a TM symbol or the R symbol after it. Both are essentially the same thing. The TM means it’s a non-registered trademark; the R means it’s an officially registered one. Using the TM establishes use of a wordmark or phrase without the costs associated with officially registering the mark. My wordmark tagline, for example, is communicating with creative energy™.)
Let’s take a hypothetical public relations consultancy, T.J. Witcher and Associates. In Illustrator, I’ve created three different looks. The first one’s a simple wordmark, with just some type design. The middle one is a logomark concept, with the “TJW Associates” in a square with rounded corners. The third one combines a “TJW” logomark and a wordmark for visual identity.
CHOOSING YOUR COLORS
Now … how do you choose the right colors for your business’s visual identity? There’s psychology as well as harder factors involved. I think you should consider these things:
- the image you want to project
- the emotion you want to create or exude
- your product or professional service; what you do
- your mission
- your personality
This is the part where you get to explore colors and their meaning. If, for example, you want to project an image of trustworthiness, then a darker blue would be a good colour choice. Blue symbolizes loyalty, wisdom and trust. If you want to project an image of strength and power, then the red like I’ve used in the T.J. Witcher and Associates example, is a spot-on choice.
After researching the meanings of different colors on Color Wheel Pro, the two I settled on for my own brand visual identity are orange and purple.
As Color Wheel Pro explains, “Orange combines the energy of red and the happiness of yellow.” Purple “combines the stability of blue and the energy of red.” Both colors also represent creativity.
So here was my thought process based on that color research:
- I’ve built a reputation for writing with energy and flair
- the two colors reflect my personality
- they symbolize what I do as an outsource independent creative and communication services provider
In other words, they resonated for me. They were the perfect choice.
DON’T GO COLOR CRAZY
Don’t go crazy with brand colors. You shouldn’t have more than two primary brand colors. Just as you shouldn’t use more than two typefaces in your visual identity. Using too many colors and typefaces makes your visual identity look unprofessional. Unless you know what you’re doing with color, and type and design software, hire a professional graphic designer.
Some of the best, most powerful logos have no more than two colors. Think of the FedEx logo, for example. The primary FedEx logo is blue and red. On FedEx Ground trucks, it’s blue and green. Either way, it’s instantly recognizable. And memorable.
You may want one or two secondary brand colors to use as design element accents in your visual identity and marketing materials. Adobe has a great online color wheel tool that shows you what colors work together. With it, you can explore analogous, monochromatic, triad, complementary, compound, shades and custom color combinations. In any of the options, you’ll see how color tones change as you move pointers around the color wheel.
MY COLOR CHOICES
I used the Adobe color wheel and the “custom” option to set the brand colors for both of my freelance businesses.
For Oomph! Allied Communications, my primary colors are orange and purple. My secondary brand color is red. I use that on my website for calling attention to drop-down accordions, and for call-to-action headlines in my print marketing materials.
My other freelance business is AskinImagesPhotography. Here, I chose purple and blue for my primary brand colors. Again, purple represents creativity. And photographers are creative types. Blue is my True Color. It symbolizes trust, loyalty, wisdom, intelligence and confidence. I’m a very loyal person, I’m pretty trustworthy and I’m confident in my abilities. Perfect color combination for me.
For an accent secondary color, I chose a gold tone because there’s also a touch of gold, or yellow, in my True Colors profile.
Personally, I think knowing your True Colors helps a lot in establishing the right color for your brand identity. Especially if you’re a solopreneur or entrepreneur. That’s because, as I mentioned earlier, I think your brand colors should in part reflect your personality. And as a solopreneur or entrepreneur, you are the face of your business. So your personality is important in every client/customer interaction.
Okay, let’s assume for a minute that you’ve done your color research on Color Wheel Pro and picked your colors with Adobe’s online tool. Time to pass the information on to your website and graphic designers.
A COLOR PRIMER
Before you do that, you need to understand a bit more about colors. So here’s a quick Color 101 primer.
- Adobe’s online color wheel shows your colors in RGB with three numbers, and in Hex format with a hashtag (#) symbol and a six-digit alphanumeric color code. Did you find yourself saying, “Huh, what the heck is that and what does it mean?!”
- RGB is red-green-blue. Color television screens and computer monitors generate color with different percentage combinations of red, green and blue. The Hex color codes are used for CSS and HTML web styling and design.
- For example, the RGB formulation of the orange used in my logo is R-235, G-155 and B-58. The Hex code is #FF8800.
- But you’ll make your graphic designer’s life a lot easier if you give him or her the CMYK mix for your letterhead and all your other print materials. That’s because print colors are formulated differently. They use a four-color process combination of cyan, magenta, yellow and black, or CMYK for short.
- For example, the four-color process color of my orange logo is 1.11% cyan (C), 45.69% magenta (M), 87.33% yellow (Y) and 0% black (K).
- Don’t feel overwhelmed. I just want you to understand the basics so you can converse confidently with your designer. This is really all you need to know about the technical side of colors. You don’t need to be a color expert. That’s your graphic designer’s job.
I wish Adobe’s online color tool showed the color combinations in all three RGB, Hex and CMYK formulations. That it doesn’t is a bit lacking considering that color swatches in InDesign and Illustrator can be set to RGB, Hex and CMYK.
After I picked my brand colors with the Adobe color wheel, I simply went into Illustrator, brought up the swatches and entered the RGB values. When you switch to CMYK color mode, the software automatically shows the percentages.
But you’ll probably need to use an online converter. Just enter your brand color’s RGB values, and this calculator will automatically show you the CMYK conversion values to give your graphic designer.
Another good site to choose your brand colors is color-hex. On this site, the colors are shown in Hex code format for the web. But when you select the link to your chosen color, a table shows you the color values in all formats. This feature makes color-hex handier than Adobe’s color wheel for choosing your brand colors.
PUTTING THE COLORS TO WORK
As with developing a business name that resonates, it takes time, careful thought and effort to establish the brand colors that are right for your business. Large companies usually have a lot of resources to pour into brand color and identity development. But there’s no reason why you also can’t have a powerful brand visual identity if you’re a solopreneur or entrepreneur running a small-to-medium enterprise (SME). All the color-selection and color-meaning resources available on the internet make finding the right colors for your business easy.
Best of all, you don’t need a huge budget—many of these online resources and tools are free. What you’ll need to invest to do it right, is time. If you can’t devote the time to doing your own brand color research, then work out a budget and hire an independent communication consultant to help you through the process.
Okay, you’ve done your research and analysis. You’ve figured out what colors are right for your business. Now it’s time to apply them to a look for your business.
That means it’s time to dive in to Adobe InDesign and Adobe Illustrator. Or turning your doodles over to that graphic designer you’re hiring. Either way, the really fun—and most important—part is coming in part three of this series on naming your business and creating a visual identity for it: The actual creation of a slick, professional-looking visual identity that carries across all your stationery and marketing materials.
I’ll show you how to do that, and help you understand why you shouldn’t try to do it yourself in Microsoft Word. Unless, of course, you want to give your printer a migraine…