Creating a brand identity
April 22nd, 2019
It’s been three years since I set up Helen Deverell Communications. It feels like a big milestone as I can no longer say I’m a newbie in this freelance world, yet I still feel like I’m learning something new every single day.
I’m often asked by in-house internal communicators about freelance life and I know many of you are considering it. One of the biggest things for me over the last three years has been understanding what my offering is, what makes me unique and how this translates into a brand.
It was a big thing because having clarity on it helped with my confidence and made me feel less like an imposter (see Advita Patel’s recent post on imposter syndrome to find out more).
So, to mark this anniversary I’m sharing my new brand and the process I went through to create something that I felt reflected me and the work that I do. I’m particularly excited by the new look and feel across my website and would love to hear what you think of it. You can also see an example of my old branding at the end of the blog.
Obviously, I didn’t do this alone. I had help from some incredibly talented people including Rachel Miller as a sounding board, Jackie Le Fevre who helped me understand my values and Emily Atkins who built and designed my entire website.
When I set up my business, I wasn’t 100% sure what my offering was and what set me apart from my fellow consultants. And to be clear, this wasn’t about being in competition with other consultants as we all support and champion each other. But it was about recognising that we all bring something a little different, and I wanted to be able to articulate what my contribution to the IC world was.
So, I ended up saying yes to a lot of things without clarity on whether it was the type of work I wanted to do. However, if I could go back and do it again differently, I wouldn’t. While I wasn’t sure that every piece of work was necessarily what I wanted to do long term or what I wanted to be known for, I only said yes to things if I truly believed I could do it. And by saying yes, I was able to experience different types of projects and clients that helped me understand what I did and didn’t enjoy.
However, this lack of clarity showed through in my brand. I’d started with a light green colour and spiral theme that I’d chosen because it symbolised a fresh start and new beginnings. Over time, I added more imagery of me and played around with the wording, moving from ‘the creative communications company’ to ‘passionate about communication’. However, it always felt a bit vague and it wasn’t possible to get a sense of who I am, which is pretty key, considering the company is based around me!
But before I made any big decisions, I wanted to understand more about why my clients choose to work with me.
I asked several of them to share their reasons and they graciously gave me thoughtful responses – and interestingly very similar responses which was reassuring! The words ‘safe pair of hands’, ‘thorough’, and ‘attention to detail’ came up a lot, which suggested to me that they trusted me to do a good job and I could be relied upon to deliver.
But I wanted to validate this further, so on the advice of Rachel Miller I decided to work with Jackie Le Fevre of Magma Effect to understand what my personal values are and how I could translate that into my branding.
Understanding my values
Jackie is a values expert and uses the Minnessence Values Framework to help people and organisations understand what their values are.
Through Jackie, I’ve learnt that we all have values and they’re emotional and energy rich ideas which drive our choices and behaviours. Values influence how we feel about situations and deal with daily life.
Did you know that values are hierarchical? We all have multiple values, but some will matter more than others at different times in your life.
I decided that since my business is effectively me, I should probably have a better understanding of what my values are. I worked with Jackie to do this – I completed a questionnaire and the answers were analysed using the Minnessence Values Framework.
I was then given my top 10 values. My top two were achievement and congruence. After speaking to Jackie, I understood that achievement meant that I get a sense of achievement from doing a good, quality job. And congruence is exactly as you would expect, I do what I say I will.
To me this tied in perfectly with the idea that I’m a ‘safe pair of hands’.
Translating this into what I do
I spent an afternoon with Rachel Miller throwing ideas around to understand what this meant for my offering. I realised that I got the biggest sense of achievement from doing work where I could get into the detail, help people and have a big impact so I have now focused my business around audits, strategy, content and writing workshops.
For me that feels right, plus it gives me flexibility and variety. Audits can be very different depending on the organisation and through focus groups I really get a sense of the people that make up an organisation and feel that I’m making a difference to them. Content can be anything from strategic to crafting a message and shaping the right language that lands a message perfectly. Strategy can be creating an internal communication strategy, translating a business strategy, communicating values and much more. Writing workshops are an opportunity to support people and give them skills and techniques that makes a difference to the way they do their jobs straight away.
Everything was now starting to come together. But what did this all look like visually?
Bringing the brand to life
Armed with all this information, I spoke to my website designer Emily Atkins and gave her the task of re-imagining my brand.
Emily works in-house as a senior UX designer and took on my website three years ago to expand her own CV. We’ve been on quite a journey since then as the website has evolved and I think it’s safe to say we’ve both learnt a huge amount as we’ve gone through the process.
We spoke at length about the idea of how a safe pair of hands felt like quality and detail and how that translated into brand through the idea of ‘premium’ and incorporating rich, deep colours.
We decided to go for a much darker green with accents of gold, supported by a more pastel palette to balance out the darker colours. By keeping green as the primary colour, it was an evolution of my brand rather than a complete change.
Next, we removed some of the hand drawn icons such as speech bubbles and icons that were originally created to support a brand identity around ‘creative communications’. Instead, we introduced the hexagon elements which we linked with graphene, a material that is made from honeycomb sheets of carbon that are one atom thick. It is one of the strongest materials ever discovered. For me, this idea of strength tied in with quality and trust, so we used a hexagon as part of the logo and incorporated it into the overall branding.
We also changed the font from one that was rounded to one that was sharper. We kept the images of me throughout the site as ultimately, I’m not selling a product, my clients work with me for my knowledge and skills, so they need to get a sense of who I am through the branding.
We decided to abbreviate Helen Deverell Communications to a more approachable HD Comms in the visuals. There was also a nice coincidence in my initials being HD and the connotations this has when associated with ‘high definition’.
However, the best person to explain how the brand came to life is Emily, so I asked her to share some of her thoughts below on how she transformed some words on a page and ideas in my head into something that I felt truly reflected me and the work I do.
Over to Emily…
HD: What process did you go through to translate my values into a brand?
EA: Before creating the visual brand I gave some thought to the way the values could be interpreted into visual attributes. The values described how the brand felt, so I assigned another word to each of the brand values to help describe what it looked like as well. This process helped Helen and me really articulate what the brand was about before I started to develop the visual side of it.
For example, when Helen spoke about value of achievement being about delivering high quality work, I immediately thought of the word ‘premium’ from a design perspective. This, along with other word associations, then helped to drive the colours we chose right through to changing the font from Quicksand, which was thick and chunky, to Neuton which was thinner and more refined.
HD: What are the top three things people should think about when creating a brand for their business?
- Brand values – What is your brand trying to say?
Working out what your brand is about and creating a set of values is crucial. Values help define the ideology of the brand. Once you have a set of brand values as a solid foundation you can start to build visuals and tone of voice around this.
- Audience – Who are you aiming your message at?
Your identity needs to reach and communicate with your desired target audience. Think about who they are and what resonates with them. Consider the appropriateness of your visual identity and tone of voice for this audience.
- Style guide – How you (and others) communicate your message
A successful brand identity can work across both print and digital spaces. In particular making your visual brand work across the digital space is vital – especially for those far reaching social media and digital marketing attributes. Think about how all the aspects of the brand identity can work here, for example how the logo works in the header of a website and across social banners and profiles. Documenting these examples by creating a brand style guide will help keep the use of these elements consistent. A brand style guide defines, describes and presents examples of your brand across different medias in order to standardise the use of the brand elements.
HD: What have you learnt through evolving my brand over the last three years?
EA: Everything changes in business, and your brand is no different. The way it looks needs to evolve over time to keep pace with the industry and web design trends. The brand should feel like it’s growing with your business – so it was only right that some change needed to occur to reflect the developing landscape of your industry and clients.
I hope this blog has been helpful for people thinking of stepping into the freelance world. In my experience, creating a brand didn’t happen overnight and involves more than one brain and set of skills. And I will continue to evolve the brand as I, the business, and the world of internal communications continues to change.
A big thank you to Emily, Jackie and Rachel for their support and please do let me know what you think of the new brand.
My old website branding:
Thank you for sharing Helen. It was a great insight not only on how your business has evolved but also the strength values can play in helping to define who we are. Reading your article has made me interested now in exploring my personal values and I found the above article inspiring to push myself forward in my professional development.
Hi Dan, I’m really pleased you found it helpful and has inspired you to investigate your own values. I found it such a useful exercise as our values can be hard to articulate so it was great to be able to use a proven method to help me do that. Good luck with discovering yours!
Have to say to me the place you have landed now – with all that glorious design from Emily – has real coherence and I feel is an honest and aligned presentation of what really makes you ‘you’ in this field. Well done Helen – here’s to the next exciting three years and beyond!
Hi Jackie, thank you so much for your kind comment and all your help with my values – I wouldn’t have got to this point without that insight.
Thank you for sharing how your business has evolved over the last three years. For me that’s what good effective communications is all about. We keep evolving messages, branding, strategy through the warps of time.
[…] the past year, I’ve done some work to understand my own values and worked with a client to help them understand and embed theirs. On both occasions I worked […]