How five words can take your brand image from scattered to cohesive
Does your brand feel smooth and seamless to someone who’s never heard of you before? Do your social media posts, website, and email newsletter all have the same look and feel, to the point that your fans know your Insta quotes when they see them?
Think about people like Danielle LaPorte and Brene Brown. You know them when you see them because they have such strong visual brands woven through all aspects of their business.
They are visually consistent and intentionally designed to evoke the right emotions in the right people. They build trust with every consistent interaction because you know what to expect.
So how do you create a strong brand like that? For that matter, how do you even begin to visually represent your business? This can feel even harder when you ARE your business. Do you just choose your favorite colors and run with it? Have a logo designed and go from there?
You could. Those are definite possibilities. And in the beginning that might be your best bet, just create a brand and start. Get something out there.
I see entrepreneurs all the time who have built amazing businesses with a brand image they cobbled together over the course of a few years by outsourcing a logo here and bartering for some web design over there. It’s totally normal and maybe even advised when you’re a young business… your brand image is important, but proving you have an actual legitimate business that can pay the bills takes priority.
But there comes a point when you realize that what got you here, won’t get you there. You have to do something different if you want to continue to grow.
When that time comes, and you’re ready to jump to that “next level” with your brand and establish yourself as a leader in your industry, it’s time to go back to the basics and build a more intentional, cohesive brand image from the ground up.
Fortunately, the basics are the same no matter your level or years in business… that’s why they’re basic.
First, you have to take a deep dive into who your ideal client is, what they want from you, who you are and how you want to serve them, as well as who else is in your marketplace and how your industry is represented.
This is how we begin to figure out how your brand should make your target audience feel - should they feel calm? Well taken care of? Excited, adventurous, and carefree? What qualities or features make you stand out from others in your space?
Going through those foundational questions will help you start to solidify your brand as a real entity beyond just you.
But once you’ve done that you’re just left with words on a page. There’s still that tricky bit of how to turn those words into something visual you can design a business card with.
Enter, brand words. Also known in some circles as tone words.
Brand words are a set of 3-5 visually descriptive words that help you move from knowing how you want your brand to feel, to knowing how that feeling should look.
Your brand words act like a guiding light for your design choices, giving you clarity around what your brand should look like and boundaries around what you should avoid.
It can be a little bit foreign if design isn’t your thing though, so I’m going to walk you through some really simple steps to help you figure out your brand words and give you some tips on how to use them after you do.
First, you’ll want to go through those foundational questions we talked about earlier. I have a workbook that walks you through those if you aren’t familiar with this process.
Even if you’ve already done the basics for your business I recommend revisiting it every year or so.
Our brands evolve over time, we learn who we really work well with and find services we don’t really enjoy doing. Figuring out exactly who your ideal client is and how you serve them is an ongoing process.
Once you’ve done the foundational work you’re going to go back through it and look for patterns, words that stand out and feel somehow more relevant than the others.
Do you consider your brand more bold or more romantic? Are you modern or traditional? Is making your clients feel warm and cozy a priority, or do they prefer a vibrant, playful feel?
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you’re searching.
What words resonate with your clients most?
What do you value as a business?
How do you want your clients and potential clients to feel?
Who are you trying to attract? What do they value?
Do any words just intuitively feel right?
Your goal here is to create a list of words to describe your brand that are emotive, descriptive, and creative. We’re looking beyond “organized and professional” and into “romantic, vibrant, elegant”.
If emotive words aren't really your thing, don't worry! This is something a lot of people struggle with. I've got a whole list of words in the Brand Discovery Guide just for you... just go through and circle the ones that stand out to you.
Now that you have your list you’re going to narrow it down to the top 3-5. These will be the words that describe the essence of your brand!
Go through your list and compare the words you've picked. Do any of them automatically stand out as more important? Do a lot of them have a similar feel?
Once you’ve narrowed your list down it’s time for the fun part - creating a mood board! Your mood board is just a collection of images that represent your brand words visually.
I use Pinterest for this when I go through the process with my own clients because it’s literally a visual search engine; it’s meant for this type of thing!
Take your brand words and combine them with words like “design”, “style”, and “colors” in your search.
For example, you might search for “vibrant design” and scroll through the results looking for something that resonates with how you want your brand to feel or look. We aren’t looking for branding ideas here… this can be photographs, paintings, clothes, interior design, or just close ups of flowers.
You’re looking for overarching themes for each word that can start to define your style. Think colors, textures, bold text, or whatever stands out to you and fits your brand words. For example, if one of your brand words is calm and you search for calm design styles, you may find a lot of clean white spaces and blue accents.
One word of caution, don’t search for things like “vibrant branding” or “romantic logos”. This is too direct and can make it easy to inadvertently steal someone else’s brand image. You want your mood board to represent your unique brand, not a knock off of others you like.
We’ll talk about the nitty gritty of finishing your mood board, and how it transforms into your brand, later. For now continue searching for each of your brand words and save all the pins that stand out to a private board. This is the beginning of your mood board! Keep adding and curating it as much as you like, until you feel like it represents how your dream business will feel - to you and your clients.