Truth in Brand Messaging

During a recent meeting with a client we discussed brand messaging, including the brand’s voice, and how we should develop a mission statement that reflects who they are. The topic of inspiration came up, and one of the founder’s had become emotional just telling the story of why they’re so passionate about their new company. Of all the client meetings I’ve been involved in over the years this left an impression on me.

Inspiration for a brand’s Truth

I began to reflect on the reasons I began FYD in 2001. Why I opted to pursue making it my own small business just days after being one of the many lucky candidates in a major lay off at my previous employer. Risky? Absolutely. Rewarding? Absolutely. A lot of long hours and a growing fondness for coffee? Check.

With starting any small business there’s risk and potential for reward. My personal risk was helping support my family after just being laid off from a position that provided financial stability… at least until that day. So literally days after, we made the decision to go for it. But among the many unknowns was developing FYD’s voice. What should we say? Who should we target? How is our story unique?

That recent meeting really brought attention to the fact that everyone has their own unique stories and experiences. Some companies feel that the brand drives the culture, but it should be the other way around. Using your personal inspiration in your brand messaging is an advantage to your competition because it’s more clear, more relatable, and, honestly, easier than forcing something else.

A brand messaging approach

Consider what brand messaging is at its foundation: it’s the voice of your business. It provides clues to your potential customer about what it would be like to hire you, and your job as a brand is to make the message as true and as clear as possible.

Given that most people find it easier to form a strong connection with other people versus just a product or service, focus on defining truly authentic brand messaging by starting with who you are. If you have a team of talented people, each with their own specialities, even better. Their personal brands will naturally promote your business.

Also, you don’t always need to talk directly about your core business to sell yourself. If you have expertise in other areas your audience is interested in, create content around that. It helps you reach people who’d never normally discover you – or your business.

Developing your brand’s voice

Try this exercise:

  • Write down three feelings/adjectives you want your brand messaging to convey.
  • Write down a super specific description of your potential buyer. Give her a name and a background.
  • Outline the #1 message you want a person to remember about your company.

As you’re developing content, come back to this exercise. Is your voice you witty and light? Authoritative and to-the-point? Deep and philosophical? No matter which approach, make sure it’s true to who you really are.

Also consider how your customers or target audience communicate. Are they formal and precise? Casual and conversational? Paying close attention to your brand messaging can help you get it right. Your goal is to build brand affinity by using the diction and sentence structure that’s appealing to your audience and authentic to your offering.

Every brand needs to engage an audience. The best way to do that is to stop trying so hard. Allow the brand voice to relax, kick off its shoes, and just be you. Even the most serious businesses should not shy away from a conversational, friendly tone that expresses personality.

Your experiences, and sources of inspiration, are what will help you shape who you are. Whether it’s your personal brand or your company brand. Of course messaging is just one part of developing your brand. We have some more insights from style guides to why you should budget for branding work to help you start your journey.

As always feel free to reach out if we can help you and your vision.


Truth in Brand Messaging

A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person.

Your reputation is comprised of many elements: what you do, what you say and how you present yourself to the world. For a small business a brand style guide lays out the rules for how you’re presenting yourself.

A quick google search on style guides reveals many intricately designed, novel-length books that dictate the exact usage of a logo, and the specific kerning between type. If you’re still figuring out who, exactly, your customer is, and just beginning to think about what features you want on your website, putting together a style guide at this stage might seem intimidating and unnecessary. But it doesn’t have to be long, it doesn’t have to be fancy and you don’t have to be a professional designer to make one.

The mere exercise of creating your first style guide can actually help clarify what’s really important to you, and start to give shape to the words and actions that make up your brand.

Step 1: Start with why

You probably spend a lot of time explaining what your product or service does, but how often do you think about why you do it? A good style guide will start by answering key big-picture questions:

Mission statement: Write one sentence that describes the reason your business exists. You really don’t need more than a sentence, I promise:

Nike: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world.

TED: Spreading ideas.

Google: Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Personality: Once you know the why, you need to know the who. Think of your brand as a person. How would you describe them? Sophisticated? Quirky? Down-to-earth? Loud? A dreamer? Write down 3-5 adjectives. Those are the skeleton of your brand’s personality.

Target audience: So you’re now starting to know who you are, but who is your customer? The easiest way to define them is to think about the archetypical person who would use your product or service: how old are they? What’s their gender? What’s their career? Education level? Favorite flavor of Doritos?

Step 2: Make your mark


For people, our mark is our signature—it’s what validates a contract, makes a check cashable and adds value to autographed books. For a company, your mark is your logo.

A logo does not have to be literal. It does not have to have a picture. It doesn’t necessarily even have to have your name (think of Apple or Nike). What it does have to do is represent that personality you described above. 

Once you have your mark, your brand style guide explains how to use it. The top three things you should think about are:

1. Where should it appear? Should employees use it in their email signature or does it only appear on the website and business cards? Does it go on every page of a powerpoint presentation?

2. Are there different color or shape variations? Do you want both a stacked version and vertical version? Do you have both a bright green version and a plain black version? Does it always appear with your name, or are they sometimes separated?

3. When should those variations be used? Should your green version always appear on a white background? If you have a photo background, should you always use the black version? On packaging to you use just your logo and not your name, or vice versa?

Step 3: Pick your colors


Color is a personal choice, but it also comes loaded with implications. You may love orange, but are its energetic, cheerful associations right for your company? Refer back to your mission and brand personality.

If you already have a logo, you should probably start there to help define your colors. For help getting started, check out Google’s super helpful color guide. You will want 1-2 principal colors, and 1 or more supporting colors, including at least one neutral or grayscale color. The Starbucks color palette is as identifiable as their mermaid logo.

Your style guide should explain when to use your primary color(s)—e.g. in your logo and packaging—and when to use any secondary colors, e.g. in the body text on your website, or as a background in PowerPoint presentations.

A good brand walks a fine line between consistency and agility: it should be easily recognizable, but open to change as your company grows and develops. Developing a basic style guide gives you a road map to define who you are today, and lays out the route to your business’ future brand identity.

If you have your mission statement, and know what you want to set out to do but need a creative services team to help with the rest… we know who you can contact.


Truth in Brand Messaging

Change can be somewhat unnerving at times. Yet evolving your brand as you grow is a necessity regardless if you’re just a small company with 1-10 employees or a Fortune 500 company. You should always look to refine and adapt to your target audience.

I had recently been discussing some exciting ideas with our client Redline Photo about different approaches to evolve and enhance the brand for next year’s events. The clean and minimal style of the logo design for Redline Run, their inaugural event, led us to ideas for updating the logo to convey that same feeling. Simple, elegant and upscale.

Change generates excitement

Starbucks Logo

With the recent holiday cup controversy that Starbucks has received on social media there’s proof that change can generate excitement and encourage engagement with your audience. Of course revamping your logo’s design every year isn’t necessary but trying out different avenues of growing your company’s audience whether through social media, within the community or even in reaching out directly to current customers for feedback can help generate some great ideas on how you can improve your brand.


Truth in Brand Messaging

Want-to-know moments. Want-to-go moments. Want-to-do moments. Want-to-buy moments. They’re all micro-moments, and they’re the new battleground for brands.

Micro-moments are transforming the way consumers shop. Retailers have to win micro-moments to win omni-channel shoppers. As we head into the holiday season, it’s more important than ever to rethink how your design is engaging your audience.

Plan for omni-channel shopping

Retail giant Target also learned something new about its customers recently. Following 2014’s successful Black Friday, Target discovered that 98% of their guests were shopping digitally and three-quarters were starting their experience on a mobile device. For the first time, Target strategically declared mobile as its new front door to the store. Casey Carl, Target’s chief strategy and innovation officer, called this revelation “a seismic acceleration.” Like Macy’s, the retailer decided it was time to reassess its internal structure.

“We [had] to rethink fundamentally how we design the guest experience,” explains Carl. “It’s not a store experience or an online experience; it’s a mobile-first experience.”

Target brought its online, in-store, and mobile teams together to create a “digital-first organization.” The new team curates its merchandise for maximum shopper ease, and marketing dollars are invested where the majority of Target guests are shopping—online, especially on mobile.

Winning the intent-driven consumer moments

Micro-Moments - Shopping Season is here
Companies that take steps toward becoming fully moments-ready are reaping tangible returns from both mobile investment and overall marketing investment. Brands like those mentioned above have figured out how to remove the friction for their customers in order to fulfill their needs anytime and anywhere.

Being there on Mobile

When someone picks up their mobile device, chances are they want to learn, do, find, or buy something right now. Whether in the form of searches, app interactions, mobile site visits, or even YouTube video views, these micro-moments happen constantly.

And being there on mobile can drive big results and build a competitive edge for your brand. Here’s why:

  • Many consumers aren’t brand-committed. Ninety percent of smartphone users are not absolutely certain of the specific brand they want to buy when they begin looking for information online.
  • You get a shot at your competitor’s customers. One in three smartphone users have purchased from a company or brand other than the one they intended to because of information provided in the moment they needed it.
  • Your presence can drive brand awareness goals. Studies have shown that you can increase unaided brand awareness by 46% (or 6.9 percentage points) simply by showing up in mobile search ad results.3And more than half (51%) of smartphone users have discovered a new company or product when conducting a search on their smartphones.

What about small business?

Whether you’re a startup of two or an established brand with 100+ employees a shift in consumer trends is vital to continued growth. Since many consumers aren’t brand-committed as mentioned above it’s just a matter of being visible with clear messaging and an intuitive experience for customers to research and more importantly… buy.


data credit: ThinkWithGoogle


Truth in Brand Messaging

Working with startups is something I enjoy doing. There’s plenty of ground to cover when building an online presence and for me the challenge is like having a blank canvas. So here are some things you should plan on if you’re just starting out to paint a complete picture.

Research, review and apply.

Take a look at what competitors are doing through their various social media outlets and see how they’re reaching their client base. Set the bar high and find inspiration from larger brands. Search for some example websites and make note of elements that work well.

With well established brands you’ll notice that their messaging is consistent and visuals are cohesive. This is something to keep in mind while you’re designing and assembling your messaging for your online presence.

The more preparation in place before developing assets to put online the easier it will be when you’re ready to start.

What’s your niche?

After you’ve reached critical mass with the intel you’ve gathered it’s time to make your statement. While you know what you do is great, how will you share this with your audience? What is it that sets you apart? There’s a reason you do what you do and why your excited to share it with everyone, crafting how you market this to your audience is key.

Startup in motion.

As mentioned above, having a consistent message and cohesive visuals are important when marketing your brand. Educating and exciting your potential client base regardless of the medium should be a priority. Once your website and social media accounts are up focus on growing your audience and encouraging interaction with your users.

Lego was once a company struggling to survive in the mid to late nineties. It wasn’t until they embraced their core audience and listened to suggestions that they then started outputting what customers wanted and regained popularity.

The same can be said for plenty of companies. Growing a community around your brand doesn’t happen overnight, but consistency and striving to grow with your audience will help get you there.


Truth in Brand Messaging

I recently had the fun challenge of testing my Illustrator skills with the branding of an event put on by SnowDay DC.

In discussing the overall style and theme of the inaugural event we thought that highlighting some of the fun aspects we recall of the nineties in an illustrated style would project that concept well.

If you were to Google 90’s photos the results… are not pretty. Stock photos are not much better. So we knew in order to showcase the fun and overall theme of the event a custom design would be the best route to go.

Starting with logo concepts I assembled a few rough ideas that drew from graphics of the period and we refined, combined, and tweaked to establish a logo that fits the theme and contained clear messaging. Much like I mentioned in my branding post, having the right visuals in place was key to how the rest of the assets would follow. This actually made illustrating the graphics used on the website that much easier.

For the site design, I wanted to display a more literal concept that the event is a bar crawl. Each building/bar contains a reference to that era and it was fun choosing which characters to add within the scene to really try to bring the whole experience together.



Truth in Brand Messaging

We’ve all seen that car. The one with the shiny rims but the rest of the car has seen better days. If your new website were the rims, do you feel the rest of the car looks just as good? Much like a car, your brand is seen from every angle. It’s the first thing most people interact with whether it’s on social media, business cards, your app, etc. It’s not only your logo/mark but also your messaging.

For many people having a brand = having a logo. But’s that’s just one small piece.

Not to discount the importance of your rims, I mean, website. But if you’re investing in a marketing campaign for your debut product or are about to launch your very first website why not step back and ensure your brand’s message and logo/mark is something you’re just as proud of? It will be viewed through all forms of communication.

The embodiment of your brand comes down to everything you do.

Branding visually

Plenty of great concepts can be hindered by weak creative. The design of your logo should be simple, professional and most importantly clearly communicate who you are and what you do. Your logo should set the tone for any creative assets that follow. A few good points mention in this Smashing Magazine article for logo design are that it should be:

  • Simple
  • Memorable
  • Timeless
  • Versatile
  • Appropriate

Whether you’re a startup with 15-20 employees, a major corporation or it’s just you these are just a few steps that are involved in the process of conceptualizing for what a brand’s logo should be.


In the wild

Some items to keep in mind when you start the creative process for your brand’s logo are how it’s used. A logo that may look great on t-shirts and posters may not translate well for your website. You should take into account how you’ll be using your brand’s logo through all types of creative when starting the design process and consider how that will translate on all levels (social, website, products, etc).

After all, you want the messaging you’ve worked so hard on to be perfectly clear everywhere!


Truth in Brand Messaging

Approached to develop an individual identity design for Nikolaus Schleitwiler the founder of RedlinePhoto. We found that less is more in the design and just utilized the initials of his brand for the identity.

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