Brand identity. Money fritter or pyro-accelerant? 5 solid reasons to invest.


Dave Prince

9 min read

Design changes everything. It can create feelings. Convey personality. Transfer energy. Attracts. Foster loyalty. Charge more. Boost revenue. And yet, despite its mystical influence, many companies shun the usefulness of crafting an identity.

Identity is being oneself and not another. In a company setting, identity is not simply a logo, it extends far beyond. It’s colours, patterns, typeface, illustrations, icons. It’s the key messages. It’s how you write your copy. It’s your store front design. It’s your office decor. It’s the style of your takeaway cup. It’s how you shoot your videos. It’s your team uniform. It’s your website. And why? What’s the point of identity? To make your people (customers, team, suppliers) feel something.

Terrible logos, tasteless design, what-the-hell layouts and a colour scheme from another century, across the spectrum, small business to heavy hitters ignore what identity can bring to a brand.

Exhibit A. The Tim Ferris Show, one of my favourite podcasts of all time. I’m a huge Ferris fan. What’s not to love. Great interview style, interesting and successful guests. Layer in the books, the blog and countless other ventures he’s involved in. Total rainmaker but couldn’t give a rats arse about design. This is the landing page for the most successful business podcast;

If I didn’t know who Tim Ferris was and I went to his website, I’d be wondering about the creds of a guy who uses yellow to orange fades on a generic typeface. It gives you a certain type of feeling, sort of like a cheap takeaway joint. But he’s Tim Ferris, so shut the front door. He’s plenty successful already and this design-less approach has worked out pretty rad for him. But it’s the fine print you need to pay attention to here. Brand isn’t just identity (although they often get confused or melded together). Ferris has got other elements that he leans on for success(it’s in the headline; 6000+ 5 star reviews should do it 😏) and he’s focussed on making the best content he can.

That leads me to the headline. Is identity a money fritter? Tim Ferris doesn’t do it. Plenty of other businesses pay little attention to it. A waste of resource and time? Unnecessary fluff? Me think not. So let’s look at some reasons why this still happens;

Blindspot success

I’ve witnessed this phenomenon loop across lots of different businesses. When a founder or team has a relative degree of success doing things a certain way, there’s little incentive to shift the thinking. It’s safer to use the methods that got them to this point, into the future. How that might translate into a practical example: You bootstrapped your way into an online training business. Everything was done on the cheap. Your course content was solid. Early movers adopted. It got traction. The business grew. You made money. But you left lots of customers on the table along the way. Some thought you looked cheap. It reminded them of that other course they bought, that didn’t work out. They passed, over and over again. You didn’t change your tactics as the money flowed in becuase you had a blind spot. The success confirmed your bias. You didn’t need identity to get here, so why do you need it now?

This rule of anti -identity is probably true for many other design-less companies:

When a level of business success is achieved without identity, the desire to invest into identity is equally decreased.

Eventually a problem arises with this approach;

Lost customers, lost time

If you’ve run roughshod over identity, I’m pretty confident you are turning customers away unconsciously but there’s another problem here. For every customer you didn’t win, you extend the time it takes to arrive at mission completed. This is true for early stage companies or those trying to execute a turn around. Every customer you win allows you to do more. More for existing customers, more for new ones.

Repealed by your identity (or lack of it)

Brand identity works this way: shallow as it is, we make rapid fire decisions everyday based on sheer optics. Think about how you select a place to eat in unfamiliar territory. With no other guidance (ratings apps excluded) how will you make a decision on where to eat? It’s most likely going to be a few factors, like lighting, the furniture, signage, the menu typeface and the way the staff are dressed. Identity helps the customer discern. Is this for them? Or somebody else? Your 💩 identity might be costing you way more than investing in a decent one.

Relevance is decreased over time

Every brand has some time in the sun, a moment of relevance. How you capitalise on that and stay relevant is about business decisions. Companies that stick with an identity-less approach, risk relevance. The longer a brand stays true to underwhelming identity, the less relevant it becomes to the audience.

5 ways identity accelerates

Ever taken some petrol and thrown it on a fire? It mushrooms up, the heat intensifies and a cool whooosh bristles past your ears. In the same way, that’s what brand identity does for a company. Accelerates it. Amplifies it. Brings heat. Brings attention.

1. Identity is story.

The first aborigines painted on rocks to convey important cultural stories and through the use of symbolism and colours translated meaning. In fact, this was a global phenomena that dates back to the earliest humans and as a race we have an innate ability to translate semiotics. At a primitive level, if we see a raven or skull and cross bones, we immediately associate as a symbol related to death. Each symbol tells a story. Identity, taken as a whole is designed to tell a story about what our brand might be like to the potential customer. We don’t have time or resources to sit with every customer and talk about what’s on the menu or how it might taste or describe the atmosphere of the dining experience, so we do it with identity. We hint at what it might be like using visual cues, colours, patterns, marks, words, materials. This helps us scale, allowing us to serve more customers and hockey stick our growth.

2. Make them feel something

If you are a student of brand, you will recognise that what we say to the customer does not supersede how we make them feel. Identity has to make your customer gut-feel something and there’s 27 emotions or ways we can feel about a brand. When we feel emotions (like excited or amused), a bridge of connection is made. And feels can be very powerful in helping us take action. For example, throw back to your school days and think about when you had an upcoming test. For most of us, a little bit (or a lot)of anxiety washed across us well before the day of the test. The anxiety triggered the desire to prep, so that we could get a decent result. If you can build your identity around emotional responses your ability to grow faster and with more meaningful customer connections is fuel to the brand fire 🔥.

3. Under the influence

Having clout with your audience is a huge advantage. Identity paves the way for influence. By putting across a story to create meaning, which translates to feelings, you have the permission to influence your audience. This influence helps you have the ‘conversation’, which may turn a browser to a buyer. But remember, identity kicked off the sequence.

4. Own your vibe

The cheat’s version of personality is to look at others you admire, copy and paste, except that never works in the long run. There’s no point trying to fein a vibe, you can’t sustain it. Looking deeper into the proverbial eyes of your company and extracting the stuff that makes your persona unique is the work of practitioners who are prepared to sweat a bit. It’s worth the effort. Truthful personality attracts the customer you really want and helps you build a sustainable brand. If you are serious, be serious. If you are kooky, be kooky.

5. I can see clearly now

We can’t build companies for everyone. The moment we stop being for everyone we start being niched, clear and targeted (and that’s where you elbow the competition in the face). Identity is the arrow tip of any brand and if done with intent, can sharpen the focus of the company, cutting out unnecessary or conflicting messages. And this is good news for your customers becuase they ain’t got time to decode what you stand for. Make the mission clear.