Craft A More Effective Identity

by Peleg Top

A current client is going through an agency re-positioning and corporate identity and website redesign. His firm is a small creative agency in business for about ten years. They were struggling with the process and asked for help. When I saw the branding work-in-progress I was struck by the disconnect between their new identity design, their personality and their market.

They were seeking high-end, conservative clients in the health care industry but their identity looked edgy and their marketing copy mostly boasted their own qualifications. They didn’t come across as a firm who “got” the health-care industry or cared about their client’s success.

This is a common problem with solopreneurs and creative agencies. We do a great job for our clients but when it comes to our own identity, we often miss the mark.

An effective identity represents two things: your personality and your target market.  To attract your ideal clients an identity must align the two and stay true to both.

Your personality is about the culture of your business and the experience of working with you. Your own personality manifests in your business name, tag line, the tone of your copy and everything else written about you.  But your market plays a bigger part in the visual representation of your identity.  As a creative agency, you’ll connect more successfully to your clients if they see themselves in you.  In other words, design your identity with your client in mind.

Here are a few ideas on to start your discovery process:
1. To know more about your personality, ask others. Start with a client survey. Make it anonymous.  Choose people you have worked with in the past two years (as many as you can) and ask them to describe your business and their experience of working with you.

2. Do the research. Once you’ve picked a target market to focus on, spend time researching it. Buy trade magazines, check out the websites of other vendors in the field and look at the identity and collateral of the biggest and most successful companies in that industry.  Try to notice the common threads in style and tone.

3. Hire a copywriter that will get the tone right. The tone of the writing in your marketing materials connects you with your ideal clients. Look for a copywriter that can easily “speak in your voice.” You want someone who can project your personality through the written word.

4. Write a clear and effective company tagline. Your tagline is usually the first thing your clients read when they encounter your identity. Make sure it speaks clearly about what they need—not what you want to provide.

5. Create an identity mood board. Collect samples of good design / effective marketing from your target market (not from other creative agencies) and create a mood board collage with them. This will help you see patterns of design direction, making it easier to create a design that speaks to your market.

My client ended up ditching their current branding process and started from scratch. With the steps above completed, they had a solid foundation to build on. Now they have an effective identity that shows their personality and attracts the right clients.

As a creative agency, you’ll connect more successfully to your clients if they see themselves in you. In other words, design your identity with your client in mind.

Quick Tips
1. Your brand is not what you think you are, it’s what others think of you when you’re not in the room. A brand survey can be your most valuable piece of getting a good reality check.

2. Take it slow. If you’re embarking on an agency rebrand or a new marketing and identity program for yourself, give yourself the time to do the work and allow ideas to emerge.

3. Your brand identity will be most effective when your clients and prospect are able to “see” themselves in you. Your goal is to make a connection with the design, not simply look good.

Dig Deeper!
1. Before you embark on the visual part of creating your identity, there is some homework to be done. Like picking out your target market and finding your voice in that industry. The Designer’s Guide to Marketing and Pricing (HOW books), can guide you through some of this process.

2 thoughts on “Craft A More Effective Identity

  1. Carrianne

    This is so true! I can easily whip up a host of creative ideas for my clients but have the hardest time working on my own brand identity!

    Why would a client trust my company to create a solid logo for them if my own brand is lacking? I have a media company which means I deal with many areas of design. It’s so hard to represent everything I stand for in one little icon!

    Do the research. Take the time. Step away from your logo and come back to it with a fresh set of eyes. Have non-designers look at it and get their first impressions…

  2. Bryn Mooth

    Designer Stephanie Orma recently wrote a piece for about her experience designing her own business identity. See the article here:

    She had a great line:
    If I were my client, I would have most definitely fired myself in the process of redesigning my website. Rather than three or four design options, I demanded 15 to 20 different versions. I was never satisfied. My objectives were unclear. And to top it off, I didn’t pay very well.