The Illuminist Blog

The Secret to Great Branding

Posted by Jason Hammond on January 02, 2016


Lean in and listen close— because I’m about to tell you a secret that few outside of the creative field know and many inside of it refuse to concede. The secret to great branding isn’t the logotype, logomark, color palette or the brand guidelines and rules—it’s the Story. This isn’t to say that good or (better yet) great design isn’t important. As a matter of fact I would argue that the Story is the very thing that makes great design possible.  

Study the habits of great designers and top branding firms and you’ll find a pattern of deep research and discovery, manifested in the form of moodboards and inspiration walls that, to the outsider, look like the inner-workings of the mind of a crazy person. But in reality, this is the mining and molding process that informs the narative behind the visual manifestation of the brand. This is what separates a nice logo from great branding.

Without Story you simply have a pretty picture, some appealing typography and possibly a well orchestrated combination of contrasting and complementing colors—if you’re lucky. Story is what gives your branding real meaning. It informs the selection of the color palette, influences the shapes of the forms, the weight and balance of the lines, and drives the concept behind how a single icon can suddenly stand for so much more in a customer’s mind. As a client, what you’re really paying for isn’t just a set of brand assets and rules to use them by, but all of that thinking that went into it—the Story behind the brand.

So don’t simply settle for a logomark and type that’s the most pleasing to your eye. Ask for more: What’s the backstory behind the brand identity? How did it inform the design and what does this say about the brand? In other words, ask to see “behind the designer's curtain”. When we created the branding for the Minneapolis restaurant—The Freehouse—we started with a Story influenced by our research of the neighborhood, the building, and the history of breweries in America. We painted a picture with words first and then used it to inform everything we created from the logomark to the uniforms to the artwork on the walls.

“It’s 1915—Beer production in America is growing, along with the popularity of breweries. Although a few national breweries exist, small regional breweries dominate the market by brewing and distributing to local bars, taverns and pubs that they own and operate—for this reason these establishments are called tied houses as they are tied to a single brewery, but soon a new concept will arrive—The Freehouse.”

See how a strong Story shaped the branding of The Freehouse.

Have a brand or rebrand project you're about to undertake? 
Want to find out more about how we infuse Story into the branding process?

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Topics: Storytelling, Branding