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Identity Is Your Brand’s First Impression

In an ever-accelerating world, decision-makers use your brand’s identity as a short-cut to make instant judgements about your business, your offerings, your values and, ultimately, whether or not they want to include you in their lives. That’s why it’s so important to understand, exactly, what your brand is saying about you in any given moment. The most important moment, of course, is the instant your brand first appears in someone’s eye. Your brand’s identity provides your crucial first impression to the market. Human beings are visual hunters. The vast majority of the data we take in about the world around us, we take in through our eyes. And we gather and process that data almost instantly. During that brief second, we decide almost everything we think we need to know about a brand. And, even if those conclusions are later proven wrong, our first impressions still stick with us and influence subsequent decisions we make about the brand. So it’s no surprise that the market leaders in practically every business sector spare no expense when it comes to designing the way their brands are perceived during that first moment of contact.

A brand identity starts with a well-designed logo that evokes the kind of emotional response you want your market to feel when encountering your brand. Your logo will appear at almost every touchpoint between your business and your market – usually prominently so. It is the focal point of all the communication you will have with your market. So be sure to treat its design and development as the critical business objective it is, with a budget that reflects its importance to the company’s future. Logos are not a necessary expense. They are investments in the success of all your future marketing efforts.

As crucial as it is, the logo is does not exist without context. It is just one part of your overall visual identity system. The rest of the system has to be crafted, too, in a way that supports the logo and gives it a home in which to welcome guests (your market). Any good identity system will include a color palette that complements the logo, a family of fonts for use in various communication formats, a definition of the kind of imagery that will promote brand objectives, and some rules for composition of stationery and other common marketing material. Depending on the size and complexity of the company, an advanced system may involve iconography, patterns, additional color palettes, informational graphics and built environments.

Is your brand identity looking a little dated?
Ask Boardwalk for a brand refresh.

The visual identity system extends to everywhere that eyeballs go – print materials, online, outdoors – wherever your market may be. And here’s something to keep in mind: it’s more and more likely that that first instant of contact will happen on a mobile device. So it’s critical you make the desired first impression there.


It’s true that identity systems are, primarily, visual identity systems. But, for some businesses, it pays to extend the system to the other senses. Broadcasters and filmmakers have known for years that sound can evoke incredibly strong emotions. Think of NBC’s three-tone signature or of the MGM lion’s roar, both trademarked and both powerful symbols of the companies they represent. These days, more and more businesses are using the internet’s full capacities, including sound, so this kind of audio branding is now available to almost everybody.


The other senses can also be brought into the mix. Chains like Cinnabon, Panera Bread and Starbucks have long been carefully manipulating the aromas in their stores to maximize sales. Major department stores are now leading other retailers to do the same. Auto manufacturers like BMW pay detailed attention to how it feels to drive their cars – the touch of the smooth burled-wood dash, the grip of the leather-clad steering wheel, the responsiveness of the vehicle itself to commands from the driver. The feel of a BMW is as important to sales as its functionality.

And, of course, a big part of your brand identity is you brand’s name. It helps to have a name that reflects the business you’re in. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible. But if you’re stuck with a less-than-perfect name, consider the many benefits of using a tagline. Taglines can finish telling the story if the name doesn’t say it all. They can position the business and differentiate it from its competitors. They can serve as inspirational calls to action for both employees and customers. The best name/tagline combos walk that fine line between being too generically descriptive and too unfathomably abstract. Taglines, by their nature, cannot be part of that instant first impression. They’re the second read. But they’re often a crucial part of the identity system.

Again, your brand’s identity provides your crucial first impression to the market. Today’s leading brands build relationships with their markets in every conceivable way they possibly can. The strongest of them take a systematic approach. They organize carefully crafted visuals, sounds, aromas, textures – but especially visuals – into fully integrated brand identity systems that present a consistent point of view across all touch points. They build proprietary worlds that meets their markets’ expectations, puts customers at ease and prepares them to be receptive to targeted messaging. This kind of environment drives interest, demand and, ultimately, revenue. And it does most of it in that very first instant of contact.

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