Honing in on a Distinct Style for Your Brand

One of the biggest benefits of branding your business is the opportunity to set it apart and differentiate it from all the other businesses in your industry.

But nowadays, too many brands look the same.

And it’s for one of two reasons:

1  |  There are so many businesses out there that it’s hard to come up with anything new
2  |  Business owners don’t know how to come up with a distinct aesthetic for their brand

I don’t buy the first reason. We’re creative business owners; new ideas should be a fun challenge for us.

I blame the boring brands on reason #2: People just don’t know how to make their brand stand out.

Honing in on a Distinct Style for Your Brand | Elle & Company

And that’s why I invited brand designer Kadie Smith from Drop Cap Design to join me for last week’s Ellechat. 

Kadie has a very distinct style; so much so that I’m able to spot her designs on Instagram before ever seeing her profile photo or handle. 

Kadie’s not only great at coming up with a distinct style for her own brand; she’s a pro at coming up with one-of-a-kind brands for her design clients, too.

And she shared her secrets for creating a one-of-a-kind brand with me in last week’s free Ellechat webinar. 

Here’s a look at what we covered:

  • Why it’s important that each brand has it’s own aesthetic
  • Examples of brands that do a really great job differentiating themselves
  • What steps to take during the design process to make your brand stand out
  • Tips for designers and creatives on how to differentiate their own brand when they work with clients who have different brands and styles
  • And more!

You can watch the replay by registering through the Crowdcast window below, or keep scrolling and take a look at the transcript.


Lauren: Hello everyone, and welcome to this week's Ellechat on honing in on a distinct style for your brand. I'm really excited to have Kadie Smith joining me, a friend and graphic designer who has a really great style. I immediately thought of her when this topic came up. We've been doing the brand challenge, this is the first week of the Elle & Company brand challenge. I would love to know if any of you tuning in have been taking part in that challenge too. It's a four-week challenge to help you create a one-of-a-kind brand. It walks you through step-by-step exactly how to create a brand from the ground up. It's been really fun, but I found that people tend to struggle with making their brand look different from what's already been out there, from all the other businesses in your industry.

Today’s Ellechat guest is Kadie Smith from Drop Cap Design. Let me go ahead and invite her on screen. 

Lauren: Right there! Thank you for joining me today.

Kadie: Of course, thank you for having me!

Lauren: Yes, so tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get started in graphic design?

Kadie: So I actually switched schools for high school when I was a lot younger, and there was an obligatory art class before you graduated, and my mom's brilliant idea at the time was that I was going to really struggle with the transition, and she wanted me to take an art class to express myself as I kind of got familiar with the new school, which is hilarious.

Lauren: That is funny.

Kadie: I totally clicked with it and loved it and ended up actually shadowing at a branding agency for career day in high school. I went to Auburn University for college, I actually did not want to do branding. I was like, "I am not into that, that's not my thing, it's to corporate. I was trying to decide whether or not to be an English major or graphic design. It was like, "Perfect, publication. I will do both and then go into magazines." I moved out to Dallas and got a job as a layout designer at an agency, and just very quickly was not the right fit. I felt like I wanted to abandon design altogether, just start over, just scratch it, new career.

Lauren: I can totally relate to that.

Kadie: Yeah, and so I started freelancing as a way to stay creative and see if it was even something I wanted to do with my life, and it snowballed. I started waking up at 4:30 in the morning and working with a few clients, and had no social life, and loved it, and had never felt more inspired or excited, and feeling in control, like I can explore lots of different things, and meet lots of people. Then the opportunity came where I just blindly jumped in, and just hustled to make it happen.

Lauren: That is awesome.

Kadie: Yeah! 

Lauren: Yeah. How long ago was that?

Kadie: We're coming up on three years. March 1st, three years ago, is when I just took the lead, so it's exciting.

Lauren: Yeah, and then as of today officially, Drop Cap Design is started.

Kadie: Yes!

Lauren: So you decided to rebrand recently. Tell us more about that.

Kadie: Yeah. We went completely from the ground up rebrand. I started DesignbyKadie, which is what it was before, actually as a student at Auburn. It was part of a student project to brand yourself and your freelance design.

Lauren: We had that too, yeah.

Kadie: Yeah. Hated the process. I was like, "This is so hard, I hate dong it for myself, I'll never do this again, I'm so glad it's a student project." Which is hilarious, because it turned into a full-time business, and I had no plans for that when I originated it. I actually struggled with what a lot of people struggle with when they start businesses, is that they just tie their entire identity and self-worth into their business. I had the hardest time, I was a major workaholic, I was just all the time just constantly doing new things. Every time anyone would ask me how I was or what my goals were, they were just all business related. I just did not separate the two at all.

It was about this time last year that I started thinking, I really need to create some separation between how I view myself as a person and my business, so that if, for whatever reason, one day this were to crash, I wouldn't just completely sink into a hole. I started bringing on other designers, starting with Allie, who's ... I call her my other designer, she's more of a business partner anyway. It was such a collaborative effort between the two of us that my name ... I just wanted to take it out, just to completely transition into a new phase, where it was more a partnership, and it was more team-focused. I just felt like the longer my name was in it, the more it was holding us back from a lot of our communities. That's not the case for everybody a lot of people experience a ton of growth when their name's still on the business, but for us it just felt like it was hindering a lot of opportunities, and creating a lot of confusion.

I pulled back from my editorial roots as a student, and Drop Cap is actually a typography term, which is ... Usually it's one letter, but it's at the beginning of a story, and I loved the design of drop cap, so now it's hard to say that in the phrase without thinking of our business name. 

Lauren: Right. Drop cap, yeah.

Kadie: I wanted to pull it in because we have some editorial clients, but we do mainly branding, and I felt like that whole idea, it just sets the stage for the tone of the story, and sometimes it's really illustrative. We kind of felt like that's our philosophy on branding, is that it's really setting the stage for a story to develop. There was just such a relationship between a drop cap's role and editorial layout, and then its symbolism in branding. It just all tied together, and suddenly ... the whole process was so much easier after that point.

Lauren: Yeah, I love it. The website went live an hour ago, is that right?

Kadie: Yeah. I'm sure there are some mistakes on there, so if anyone goes to look and finds any funky stuff on there, let me know.

Lauren: It's beautiful. You should totally check it out! I love hearing the story behind your name too, because I feel like that's so important, is to put the thought and intention into why you're naming your business what you're naming your business. That's a huge part of your brand, and it's often very difficult to land on that perfect name.

Kadie: Totally. And it took years to finally find something. 

Lauren: Yeah, and it usually comes at the most random time, when you're driving in the car, or talking to someone ... I don't know.

Kadie: Absolutely.

Lauren: Yeah. That's awesome. On the topic of setting the stage for that story, I think branding is a term that is often thrown around, and not many people can pinpoint exactly what it is. How would you define the term brand?

Kadie: That's so funny that you mentioned that too, because I was talking with someone the other day. I feel like the term "personal branding" is ruining branding. It is, because people don't know what that term means any more. Basically a brand is the perception that someone has on the business, but branding is influencing that perception. I related, because it can get tricky with those terms. That's really abstract, but it's kind of like a college game day. I would say, you wear your team colors so that people know you're on the same team, like it's an identifier.

Lauren: Right.

Kadie: The process of branding is kind of letting people know, "I'm one of you," or, "You're in my circle, you're who I service." It's just like a subconscious, really immediate way to identify who you are and who you're trying to work with, that eliminates a lot of that discovery. It's more instant when you go through the proper process of branding.

Lauren: I love that, team colors. I haven't heard that analogy, but that's so true. It should be just like sports teams, polarizing. People should either love your brand or really not be attracted by it if they're not your potential client or customer.

Kadie: Totally.

Lauren: I love how you made that up.

Kadie: People are like, "I want it to appeal to everybody," and then I'm like, you're not going to have those loyal, diehard people when it's just a wash.

Lauren: Right.

Kadie: It's the same with, I always go back to this analogy of Kate Spade and ESPN. Kate Spade is very classic, feminine; men are not going to be attracted to the Kate Spade brand. Even some women aren't attracted to it, and that's okay, it's not trying to appeal to everyone. But ESPN, they have that bold font, it's slightly italicized, it's more masculine, and they're two totally different audiences, and you can tell by their brand.

Lauren: Totally.

Kadie: There's value in doing that, how much more often you get to work with people who really value what you do, and understand where you're coming from, and it's less frustrating. It's like natural interaction.

Lauren: Yes. I feel, like, like you said, loyalty is built around a brand so much more when it isn't trying to appeal to absolutely everything.

Kadie: Totally.

Lauren: Yeah. With that being said, a lot of people have a tendency to look at everything else that's being done in the industry, kind of see what other businesses are doing, and try to emulate that style for their own brand. What happens is, it starts to become boring. A huge benefit of branding is differentiating yourself, so what benefits would you say come from honing in on an aesthetic, or a distinct style, for your brand?

Kadie: Yeah, totally. I feel like, especially having gone through the process recently myself, it's given me so much more empathy towards the process of branding, and also walking a lot of clients through it. There is this tendency to feel like you want to be validated as professional, looking like your competitors, which ends up defeating the purpose. Yeah, it might feel professional, but you're not really making a mark.

Lauren: Right.

Kadie: As consumers, when we see options ... when I go to shop, I'm looking for different products, or brands, that represent how I view myself. When everything looks the same, it takes out that joy of customization. I want to be able to purchase something that feels tailor-made to me, that is so part of how I view myself and what I value that it becomes like an extension of me. There are certain things that, they're just standard, and it kind of takes the joy out of it. Part of distinguishing is really allowing your customer to be like, "Yes, this person gets me, this is exactly who I need to be with." It creates this immediate resonance, and it just also allows the business owner to really tailor who their audience is so that they're saying things to an audience that's really receptive to that message.

Lauren: Right.

Kadie: It's definitely a process of weeding out, and if you're not distinct in communicating who you are and where you're coming from that's different from your competitors, then no one's going to really feel this personal connection to your business. It's just going to feel like one more thing.

Lauren: Yeah. That leads to recognition and being memorable. I feel like the brands that aren't afraid to step outside of the box of what everyone else is doing, those are the brands that I'm going to remember, and get excited to see content from, and visit often. The brands that blend in are easily forgettable.

Kadie: Totally.

Lauren: It's, "Which one was that? It looked like this ..." You don't remember the name as much, you just forget about it.

Kadie: So true. Especially for you and I, there are so many online brand designers, I feel like I find 20 new ones every single day.

Lauren: Yeah.

Kadie: It's like for photographers, or really anyone in creative or online business now. There's just so much competition. Even among a really saturated market, there are so many people who come on day one and just stand out, because they're coming in with a completely new story, or look, and they're just owning it, and everyone pays attention.

Lauren: It is. It does, it stops you in your tracks.

Kadie: Yeah.

Lauren: What are some examples of brands that stick out to you, or do a really good job of honing in on their own aesthetic?

Kadie: My first and favorite is Anthropologie. Part of that is, when I was in high school, at the very end of high school, early college, I actually worked for Anthropologie, and when they took me to their training, day one they introduce you to the "Anthro woman," which is their target customer. It's insane. There's actually been articles written about it. One's called The Sophisticated Sell, if anyone wants to read about it later. This lady is described in so much detail, and it influences every single decision Anthropologie makes, from what they buy to the scents that they have about the store. There's a whole scent story that's going on as you walk through the store, and this whole experience of here life, and here inspirations and travels, is being revealed as you go through the store. It becomes so much more than just a boutique. It becomes this whole ...

Lauren: Experience.

Kadie: Yeah! It's crazy how this lady ... they describe her, she even has a name, but so many women identify with different parts of her character, and they see themselves in different components of her life, that it creates this massive loyalty with really diverse audience. I think a lot of people wonder, "What's going to happen if I get really specific? I'm going to lose my people." It's just, people resonate with different components of that type. I think Anthropologie does a phenomenal job with identifying who their customer is and creating an experience around her.

Lauren: Love it. I'm glad that you said that about creating a profile, because that was ... actually that's the action step for the brand challenge today, is to create a profile. Because so many people don't understand that branding isn't about putting yourself on display, and all about your interests, and your favorite colors, and your favorite fonts, and what you like; the point of branding is to attract that ideal client, to repel or attract someone. In order to understand who that ideal client is, it's helpful to do a profile, and it's helpful to get to know them, just like the Anthropologie woman.

Kadie: I actually had a client who gave me this idea, and I wish I'd thought of it myself, that goes along with that. When she went through our Brand Scratchpad, she actually created a Pinterest board under the name of her audience, and went through and pinned things that that person would be interested in, from their perspective. It totally changed how she approached the project, and I thought it was brilliant.

Lauren: That is so smart.

Kadie: Isn't it?

Lauren: Especially with Pinterest boards, because you pin things that mimic how you want your brand to look, to feel, and to pin it from their perspective ...

Kadie: She would use it every time she made a social media post or content, and thought, "Is this person, would they be pinning that, or would they be interested in that? It was cool.

Lauren: So smart. I love that. Anthropologie is such a great example too, because you can see their brand in every sense, like smell, taste ... Well I don't know about that one. The whole experience. Also the way that they sound. Not only the music they're playing, but their tone that they use on social media, and in all of their marketing material. It is, it's that whole experience, that's a good one.

Kadie: It is. If anyone is curious about what actually goes into it, The Sophisticated Sell, that article nails it.

Lauren: Marisa shared it in the comments.

Kadie: Perfect. Another one, I know you asked me for two, and another one that just occurred to me that is brilliant, and it's a love it or hate it, Kinfolk actually did a phenomenal job branding in the editorial publication world. It's so crazy now, people even say, "I want a Kinfolk wedding." It applies. Everyone knows it's neutral tones, white space, minimal typography, it's a style, and it's so recognizable. They came into the game when it was either a lot of really elaborate coffee table books, or glossy magazines. They came in with this publication that had tons of white space, and it was just so distinct, and so different. They found a way to make their brand not just about their product, which I thought was crazy. It went out to this entire lifestyle. Now people, it's not even just about the magazine, it's about the company as a whole. I've gotten a ton of inspiration just from how they developed that. It's so successful.

Lauren: Yeah. That's a really great example. You know that you have hit the nail on the head with your brand if people are trying to emulate it, and use it as a verb almost.

Kadie: Totally. 

Lauren: That is awesome. I love that. Those are two really good examples.

Kadie: Oh, thank you.

Lauren: Now taking it, Anthropologie, Kinfolk, they're both bigger brands, and so when people step back to brand for themselves, they can get overwhelmed with how to create that distinct look, or that distinct style. With so many different brands out there, how do you go about creating a distinct look for your clients? What does that look like? What goes into that process?

Kadie: Our process is interesting. It's about half research, and then half designing. We have this thing called the Brand Scratch Pad, and it's in our discovery phase, and every client goes through it for, I think six to eight weeks before they start, depending on when their start date is. It goes through their whole story, like their personality, why they started, how they got to where they are, what their dream scenario looks like, who they enjoy being around. It's this almost, "Let's be best friends ASAP so I can get to learn everything about you." We go through trying to understand this person to where we feel like we could make decisions for them, knowing their whole history and background, and we try to pull a lot of symbolism.

It's easy to get, essentially a lot of clients will send us inspiration, and they're inspired by trends. For good reason, because trends capture a lot of attention. We take those trends, and we table them for a second for style, but we pull ... We have this list of words that have visual symbols. Whether they have historical reference to their trade, or they have a cultural thing about where they're from or who they're trying to work with. We go through and we try to just dig and dig and dig and dig and dig, until we have like 20 or 25 visual cues. These could translate either into shapes, or patterns, or color, or something, and then that way, once we pull the style and the trend back in, the whole design ... It's not even about the design any more, it's about what every single element represents as part of the story.

Then what's fun is, then Allie and I, before we show the client we pitch it to each other, so I have to explain why I did something, and how it relates back to their story. If it isn't really, it's kind of a stretch, she'll for sure call me on it. It doesn't fly.

Lauren: That's awesome. I love that. I feel like that's what a lot of brands miss. Especially for people who aren't designers, who are trying to create their own brand, it's going after what looks pretty and what's aesthetically pleasing to them, instead of taking it one step back and thinking, "What is the point of this? What does this mean? Why am I making these decisions?" And being able to have explanations for why they made certain design choices.

Kadie: Those styles and trends, that's all in execution. That's at the very end.

Lauren: Right.

Kadie: If we don't do the first part it's just going to look like everything else.

Lauren: Right, I love that. Then once it passes with her and vice versa then you present it to the client. Is that right? 

Kadie: Yeah. We go through, gosh, tons of concepts, and we pitch back and forth, and we go through lots of rounds, until we get two that we like, "These are both super solid. Either one of these is going to work." We totally hash it out like, "Does this have a lot of flexibility? Would this one actually work with packaging, or on social media? We start to play with application before we pitch it, and then we end up pitching something that actually isn't going to go very far. Then once we pitch it, then we collaborate with the brand to make them feel comfortable, make sure we're accurately representing parts of their story visually. Especially if there's a cultural reference, that we're really getting that cultural component right. For instance, right now we're working with a tea shop, and she's giving me all these materials on tea process, and plants in Japanese tea gardens. It's this huge process. I have two books on how to make tea right now.

Lauren: Oh my god.

Kadie: Once we go to her I'm like, "Okay, if you get a major tea connoisseur in your shop, is this accurate? Are these illustrations accurate? We kind of go through that, and then we develop it so that they can see what it's like as a whole. It's definitely more than a logo. It's more of a visual system.

Lauren: I'm so glad you said that. It's similar to what I'm saying in this brand challenge. It's perfect, it's like we planned it or something.

Kadie: Yeah, because a lot of the times ... it's funny, Allie and I had this conversation two months ago where she's like, "I feel like people come to us and they're wanting just a logo, a primary logo." We go through that primary process, but what we know is, what they're going to get the most use out of is this one pattern, or this one color pallet or something, that is really going to be a game changer, and we really need to spend the most time there. But it's hard to tell a client, "Your logo's important. For your specific instance, this part of the system is what we really want you to pay attention to." That's how it all works together.

Lauren: Yeah, I love that you said system, because that's the word ... In upcoming weeks, I've already written the content, they haven't seen it yet, but what's to come is how that brand really is a system where you have all these components: You have the colors, you have the fonts, you have icons, you have all of these different things. If you build that out ahead of time it's so much easier to create blog post graphics, it's so much easier to create all kinds of different collateral, because you just pull the parts of the system ... it's like an equation or something, a math equation. This plus this equals that.

Kadie: Exactly like this. Then it's, why is this so much easier?

Lauren: It is. It is so much easier. That keeps you, too, from switching things up all the time. Because I think part of that distinct aesthetic and style is just consistency. It may seem boring to you to use the same fonts over and over again, and the same colors over and over again, but that's what creates that recognition, is the consistency.

Kadie: It really does. I even was guilty of it when I first started. My first year of freelancing, I switched and nobody would even notice. I would switch it to Helvetica and Garamond and
Baskerville. All the time I couldn't decide ...

Lauren: All the time, yeah.

Kadie: They're all serif fonts, and they're all so similar.

Lauren: That's right.

Kadie: But two years ago I landed on one, I was like, if I'm going to be a brand designer, I cannot break the rules myself.

Lauren: Yup! 

Kadie: Yeah. It is crazy how much easier it is for me to be like, "Yeah, this is right." Whereas in the past I'd be like, "I can't decide if this feels like me or not." It's because I had too many ... I just said anything goes.

Lauren: Right.

Kadie: Then it's like being paralyzed.

Lauren: Right. I feel like it's better ... Because there is an experimentation phase, especially when you're DIY-ing your own brand, where you're like, "What fonts can I use?" It is so good to stay consistent, and then eventually work with a designer, or go through a rebranding process if you are a designer, and then make those updates. I've been guilty of those things too, Kadie. As a designer I feel like it's super hard too, because you have the ability to switch things up all the time.

Kadie: No one's going to even notice. But they could. 

Lauren: Yes. On that note, because as there are probably a lot of people tuning in who are creatives and designers, who are working with a lot of different brands, so whether you are a florist, or a wedding planner, or a designer, you're working with a bunch of different styles. For me, all of my brands are going to look different that I design, but when I go to create my own brand it's really difficult. How do you choose colors, how do you appeal to people with different styles? Does that make sense? Am I making any sense?

Kadie: Yeah.

Lauren: It's always hard, in that sense, to create your own brand. You just went through this with Drop Cap Design and the branding process. What did that look like for you specifically? How did you create a distinct brand when you're working with so many brands all the time as a designer?

Kadie: Yeah. This is where it's interesting, because I do think that brands that lead with their target client are more successful, but when it comes to really honing in on the ideas, that's where you come in, you as a business owner.

Lauren: Right.

Kadie: Because at the end of the day you have to be the one that maintains it. I, for the longest time, would do such a simple look, that could just be going in so many different directions, and I would show how versatile it was by using a lot of work I did for clients, and showing everything. I felt like, "I'm not going to be legitimate unless I show every single project, and how I work with every single industry," and all of those things. It started to become, for me, confusing on how to maintain it creatively, and I started to feel really uninspired, because I felt like there wasn't any structure. Then I started coming in and being like, "Yeah, I work with a lot of different brands, but at the end of the day the thing that's consistent is my perspective on design," and Allie and Hector and all of the other contractors that we work with.
What drew all of us together is this really natural minimalism. Which I know is a word that goes everywhere, but it's really the mindset of editing. A lot of that came back from my background in editorial, and just storytelling. I wanted it to be a framework. Like for a magazine, you create a template and a framework that's recognizable, but it fits the content that's going to go into it.
While I wanted there to be some structure, and what we showed to create a lot of consistency, especially online ... I do a lot with color, so I'll try to apply it to a lot of different things to keep the color the same. I could've gone in a different direction, where I kept the style the same and showed all these different colors. There's a lot of different ways. It's kind of like science class in high school, where you keep one variable the same and try to change some other things.
That pillar really helps you maintain great consistency, even when you're really wanting to show versatility, or promote your clients. There are some clients I work with who have crazy loud colors, and a lot of vibrancy and energy, and our brand's just a little bit quieter. I still want to promote them, but I just sometimes find, what's the best application? How does their brand fit into our philosophy on design and create a stronger story? I'm trying to think of another example of how that's played out.

Lauren: I can say from my experience, when I was approaching my brand, I can try to work with a bunch of different industries, and I know a lot of designers who like to mix that up all the time, I really like creative small businesses, and usually I'm branding for female entrepreneurs. That's not always the case, but that's who gravitates toward my more feminine colorful style. When I was branding Elle & Company, I knew that I wanted a black and white simple logo that would be sort of timeless, and I love a good ampersand. That was already in my head. I kept that simple so that the colors of my branding projects, that would pop. Keeping that kind of as my variable that doesn't change, or I guess that's not a variable, my constant, my variables are the colors of my blog post images and that sort of thing.

Kadie: Yeah. All of your images, very illuminated. There's a lot of light, there's a lot of color, but it's not necessarily bold, vibrant ...

Lauren: Yeah. 

Kadie: More like clean. Yeah, pops of really clean color. You've kept that so consistent, even though the women that you work with range from so many different actual businesses.

Lauren: Right. 

Kadie: It's almost an industry example, where so many different women use it and it's still the same look.

Lauren: Right. The same goes for you, in that I always know it's one of your designs, because it is more minimal. With what you share on Instagram especially, you have the neutral tones, pops of green, just like your work space right now. It's so on brand. I think that that's important to keep in mind, honing in on your aesthetic as a designer, or as a creative, and showing that off in your brand.

Kadie: My style has always been minimal, but through life experience it shifts a little bit. When I first started creating brand identities, there are so many rules, and I would keep it so structured that it can be stifling. That's that whole idea of a system, because it allows you to shift slightly in one direction or another as your business grows. Going through the rebranding process was very eye-opening, and understanding a lot more about how it feels on the other side.

Lauren: Yeah. Also, just popped into my mind too, but when you're working with clients, do you ever ask them ... I'm sure when you're doing that whole discovery phase, and research, you really find out what makes them different from others in their industry, and trying to highlight that through the brand. I feel like that's what makes brands distinct. I don't know if you've heard of Kimra Luna, but she's a business strategist and online marketer, has bright blue hair. Her brand is just kind of wild, and I don't know, but it goes from here blue hair to, it just sweeps across her website and everything that she does. It's just consistent. It's kind of fun, it goes to show she doesn't take herself too seriously. That kind of makes her different, and she's just taking off with it.

Kadie: Yeah, and I won't lie, sometimes it's hard. Sometimes there's a lot of vulnerability that comes in honestly answering a lot of those questions, and it doesn't always happen the first time. Sometimes I'll have a new client who, for whatever reason, gives just really generic answers, and it's hard to pull something distinct. You have to go back and say, "Can you dig a little deeper on this part, or pull a little more out of this story? Because we need to get to that heart." Because everyone has a unique factor, it's just sometimes people don't know how to share it. Or they don't know what is interesting about them.

There's a great relationship, it's funny, it's almost like ... I tell some people it's almost like half designer, half therapist. Because it gets to this point where they're very much sharing their life story, and things that have really impacted them, or reasons why they feel very passionate about what they do. We try really hard, and it's a constant learning experience, to create this atmosphere that's really safe and trusting, so that they feel like they can really, honestly show us who they are, and put themselves out on the line so that we can then create a brand out of it. Sometimes it's a process of really pulling the story out if it's not coming out the first time.

Lauren: Yeah. I know a brand designer, I think it's Jen Olmstead, I love her work too. She invites her client over, and usually a spouse or a friend that knows them really well, and she'll interview them to find out more about ... pick up on things that people might not say about themselves, or brag on them, because they probably won't brag on themselves. It's just really interesting to start pulling out those bits and pieces, and try to incorporate them in a brand.

Kadie: Totally.

Lauren: I know for one of my clients, she had seven children ...

Kadie: Oh, wow.

Lauren: Yeah, seven children. She took photos of families. Family was really important to her. We had seven green dots at the bottom of her logo, and it gave her a cool story to tell if someone asked her about that. Or some people may have thought it was just a design detail, but it's little things like that, that I feel like go along way in the branding process.

Kadie: Yeah. I feel like it's such a success if at the end they're like, "Oh my gosh, this feels so much like me. This is what I would've designed for myself if I had known how to design." You can see this confidence, and that's the exciting part, is when we dig really deep, and keep going back. Even though I know they're ready to get into color pallets, I know they're really wanting to see design, going back and really landing the story, by the end it's really exciting.

Lauren: Yeah. Especially when it represents them well and also appeals to their ideal client.

Kadie: Absolutely.

Lauren: It comes together.

Kadie: All of a sudden we hand it over and they're like, "Now I'm nervous because I have this thing that feels so much more like me, and it's talking to all my favorite people. What do I do with it?" Even though it’s hard, it's exciting. It's really fun.

Lauren: It is exciting. That's awesome. I love that. Are you up for some questions?

Kadie: Yeah!

Lauren:  Hannah asks, "What are some uncommon ways to differentiate yourself from other brands?" Uncommon ways.

Kadie: I do have an example for this one. I knew a designer way back who took personal branding so seriously, down to what they would wear every day, how their house was decorated, their entire life was around their brand.

Lauren: Their brand.

Kadie: I will say it was maybe a little extreme, but it created this consistency in their life and their interactions. For instance, Ashlyn Carter, who, she's Ashlyn Writes, she's incredible, but she talks about copy writing as it relates to branding. And visuals, I know you've said it before, and it's a statistic that it's 90%, and copy's the other 10%. Copy can be a great way to bring a lot of recognition. It just goes that extra little step.

Lauren: Yes. I agree. Branding too, you think often of the logo, and patterns, and icons, and that sort of thing; photos can make a huge difference. I know the hardest projects I've worked on, especially for websites, if my clients don't have images for me to use that go along with the whole brand, the final product falls short. The best results are from clients who have photos professionally taken, have someone on their team. They can take the photos and they look gorgeous, but it really goes such a long way.

Kadie: I will say, and a lot of people might not agree with me, but there are times that I need photos, and I'm not able to take them or get them made in time, and I have one photographer on a stock photography site, that I only pull photos from them.

Lauren: Being consistent.

Kadie: Even if I’m not in a crunch, and she's my style, she actually would be my ideal client, and consistency-wise, it's seamless. That's kind of helped when I am in a bind. I just stick with one photographer, even if it's stock. I just stick with one.

Lauren: That's really good, because I feel like that's the hangup I have with stock photography, is clients will pull from a whole bunch of different sites and it won't look consistent, but if it's one stock photographer that's really smart. I like that one. Awesome. That's good, I'm trying to think of other unconventional ways. I think even the way that you name ... your tone and terminologies, the things that you name your products, can have a huge impact on your brand. If you think about Apple, with iMac, iPhone, iPad, MacBook, they've kind of created their own language. That's a way to be distinct.

Kadie: Something else, I do this because I'm obsessed with magazines, which I've talked about just about a million times already. I got one magazine that really represented my male ideal client, and one magazine that really represented my female client, and I subscribe to both, and I circle words and phrases out of those that I can repurpose. It helps a lot.

Lauren: I love that, and I love that you said that too, because that's an action step in an upcoming brand challenge. It's just right in line. Look who's awesome!

Kadie: It just represents all of the users.

Lauren: I love it. Hannah, I hope that was helpful for you, some uncommon ways right there. Maybe the photo one was a little common, but the other ones were good. Elaine says, "If you were trying to establish a personal brand for your portfolio, where do you start when it comes to picking fonts and colors?

Kadie: Damn, it's hard.

Lauren: I know.

Kadie: I always go straight to Pinterest and start a board, and start pinning a lot of random things that I know relate to the project, or relate to what I'm trying to talk about. Then I look for patterns, and I start editing away what doesn't feel relevant any more, and so I come down to all pictures that work together really well. Usually somewhere in there, there's some type references or color references, and I use that as a starting point.

Lauren: Yeah. That's what I do too, with inspiration boards. It's a great visual starting point to pull together ... usually a color system starts to come in there, and I'm able to pull colors from that. Then with fonts, I look back to brand keywords, and the ideal client profile, and that sort of thing to find out. Of course you need an idea of type, you need some knowledge on type to know what types of fonts to choose. Do you go serif, sans serif, do you use a script? I think that doing your research, I'm sure during your discovery phase too, helps you kind of know what colors and fonts would be fitting.

Kadie: Totally. It's a process. We go through a couple color stories, and a couple type stories, and have to go back. Sometimes three will kind of work and then one will really work, and it takes a second to figure it out.

Lauren: Right. Yeah. Editing through colors and secondary colors, all of that ... Elaine, stay tuned, because in a couple weeks we'll be covering exactly that in the brand challenge. Alby asks, "Now that social media plays a huge part in branding, how do you go about creating a visual identity on sites like Instagram beyond having your logo as your avatar?

Kadie: That's a good one. I like these questions. That's a great place for assets to come in. For those of you all who aren't familiar with the term assets, it's just like the icons, or patterns, or illustrations, or any complimenting visual that goes inside your logo. Even color pallet. Color pallet's huge for social media. Editing your photos in a similar way, that all goes along with whether or not your brand has a lot of pattern, and ornate visual stimulation, or if there's a lot of white space and breathing room. Compositionally you'll kind of want to mimic that with photography, but also, every now and then, I'll throw out the quote of one of our brand patterns as just a way to further develop that brand's story, or that brand identity, on social media. That kind of, a little bit more robust, I guess.

Lauren: Yeah. I think visually you can mimic your ... You said colors, incorporating the same colors in your images. I always shoot for white space with pops of color, because that goes along with my website. Also something that you can do, Alby, is think about the tone and terminology in your description. Whether it's your Pin description, or on Instagram, the caption, there's just as much branding there as in the visual side of it. That's what pulls someone in.

Kadie: Yeah. Content's huge. I think it's Jenna Kutcher that actually has a little freebie download on Instagram that might be perfect for Alby ...

Lauren: Yeah.

Kadie: But it even talks about how you put categories of content that relate to what's important to your brand, your brand values. I never thought of it that way, but it's really helped.

Lauren: Yeah. She is the Instagram pro, so that is a good guide. Colors, composition, and the copy that you use in captions, are great ways to brand social media. Good question. Camilla asks, "How much of you, personal styles/preferences, should be translated into your business brand? I understand the need to design brand to a target audience, but what if you identify yourself with that said audience? Too tricky?

Kadie: That's perfect. If you identify yourself with your target audience then you've landed on the right target audience.

Lauren: Yeah. That makes it easy to understand your target audience, hopefully.

Kadie: Yeah, I'd say equal parts. It's a relationship. You want to show up halfway and have them show up halfway.

Lauren: Yeah. I think, too, that comes through ... those are the most authentic brands, I feel like, when you can really identify with your audience and their needs, and it meshes together well. That's a good ... I shared an example today in my Instagram stories about having a client who was working with Southern brides, or that was her ideal client. She wanted to work with Southern brides. I was thinking blush, navy, I was thinking of more Southern colors. 

Kadie: Classic Southern colors, yeah.

Lauren: Yes. Then she told me she wanted to use purple and teal because those were her favorite colors, and I'm like, no.

Kadie: That’s more like traditional Indian weddings.

Lauren: It's just, no, we can't do that.

Kadie: Yeah.

Lauren: I understood what she was saying, in that she wanted her bubbly personality to be seen, so we added a secondary color that was pinkish purple, it lent it self to what she was going for, but it wasn't an all-out purple and teal brand that was going to scare off her ideal client. I feel like it's that balance between, like you said, between your ideal client, and then infusing bits and pieces of yourself in there as well.

Kadie: Color's such a sensitive one too. There's so many associations with color that are just innate culturally, and you don't want to go against those.

Lauren: No, no, no, no, no. Yeah, the purple and teal, super sweet client. We did not go with purple and teal, and she ended up loving her brand, and it turned out great, but a little education went in there. That's a good question Camilla, thank you. Okay, we have time for a few more.

Jackie says, "When watermarking/branding photos that are meant to be both great images as well as images with blog titles on them, what is the best way to show your business name while not creating visual clutter? Should you water mark be a brand icon, a logo, or our handle for social media accounts, or a small font for our websites?" This is good. Branding your blog post images and social media images. Should you have your log, should you have your handle, should you have your URL? What does that look like?

Kadie: I have used all of those in different ways

Lauren: Yeah.

Kadie: First I would say to look at your piece of content and figure out, what's the purpose of that. For instance, if it's a blog graphic, that you intended it pinned on Pinterest, then maybe the title of what that content is really needs to be primary, and your website, of how to find more about that topic, should be at the bottom. Then if it's announcing your business in some way then your logo needs to be primary. It's really just figuring out, what's the purpose of that content, and then how much of your branding needs to be apparent, and then using your assets to either make it ... This is design terminology, so bear with mr. 

Lauren: I love it.

Kadie: Break it down if you need to, but hierarchy, like what needs to be primary, secondary, and tertiary. A lot of times your branding needs to. That's when having a system really helps, in making that simple. So there, it's simple.

Lauren: Yeah. I'm a fan too. I don't have my logo on any of my blog post images, which I've gone back and forth on. I like the simplicity of it. My hope is that they're branded already with the colors and the fonts and the layout, that people will see it and think Elle & Company, even without seeing my logo on it.

Kadie: Yeah.

Lauren: Usually if it's pinned then it'll have the Elle & Company logo right underneath it. If someone tries to rip it off then that's unfortunate. If I'm sharing posts on social media myself, like outside of blog post images, my handle is right there as well.

Kadie: Yeah, I usually don't put logos on anything on Instagram or anything like that.

Lauren: Yeah. Usually, if they're clicking through on a pin, they're going to land on my website anyway. I don't know, that's my two cents on that. Other brand designers would be like, "No, put your logo everywhere!" I think it's like Chipotle, they don't have to put their logo on the tinfoil on their burrito.

Kadie: You just know when you see someone with it.

Lauren: Right, exactly. I take that stance with blog post images, but that's just my two cents on it. 

Kadie: I like that stance. I second it.

Lauren: Thank you Kadie, I appreciate it. Good question Jackie. Catherine asks, "Inspiration is everywhere, and sometimes it's hard to tell what's totally original versus adapted from someone else. How do you navigate such a fine line, and how do you focus on your brand voice while not completely tuning out other brands. Differentiating yourself I guess, how do you tell what's original?

Kadie: I don't know if you have the perspective of a designer or business owner. I don't know, I'm a little bit curious on that question, knowing the fine line between how you need to stand out, or who else is kind of mimicking each other or with your own clients. 

Lauren: Or maybe as you're building your brand, if you're inspired by something like Anthropologie, and using it as inspiration, but not necessarily ...

Kadie: Mimicking.

Lauren: Ripping it off. What's that fine line? That's how I take it.

Kadie: Yeah, okay, I get it now. I was like ... I don't know. For our ideal client, I do get very inspired by Anthropologie. We have girls and guys that both come, and I have the two client archetypes, and I absolutely have to pull inspiration, or else it would just be too abstract. Then for the guys, the most interesting man in the world is our ...

Lauren: Dos Equis, yeah.

Kadie: When I go to those two I pull, what are the similarities between the two? They're very cultured and worldly and sophisticated, a little bit older. I start to pull patterns of how that brand and my brand are similar. For Anthropologie, a lot of our similarities is that this woman's very interested in other cultures, and diversity, and cultural influences, and history. Then where we're different is that I take a much more neutral, minimalist approach, and Anthropologie takes a lot more color inspiration from that same foundation. You can both be inspired by the cultures, and apply it completely different.
If you're inspired by another brand and you really want to bring it into your own, try to get down to the root of what their story is, and then see if that's the same. If it's the same then just apply it in a different way, but it'll still have that same feeling, of a similar message.

Lauren: Yeah. I've found too, I usually tell my clients to steer clear from pinning other brands and logos to their Pinterest board that we use for inspiration. Because even subconsciously it'll get stuck in my head, and I find that as a designer it's hard to see outside of it. If I ever feel like I'm being too heavily influenced then I'll stop following along with a certain brand for a while, or I'll get outside of the brand components and try to think more, instead, of colors, patterns, textures, that sort of thing, to get out of that.

Kadie: Yeah.

Lauren: I like that advice for seeing the similarities between them, because I think that why-component, and the explanation, I super important.

Kadie: Totally.

Lauren: That's really good. Great question, Catherine. That was the last one, because we're coming up on the hour and I want to be respectful of Kadie's time and your time guys, but we got through six of them, so we made it in. Thank you so much, Kadie. This was a lot of fun. I'm glad that you came on and shared your wisdom with us. Thank you so much.

Kadie: Thank you! This is just so much fun. I never get to do things like this, and breaks up the work day. It's a lot of fun to get to talk about something I enjoy doing so much.

Lauren: Yes, and congratulations on Drop Cap Design.

Kadie: Thank you.

Lauren: You had some really positive feedback in the comment section, people saying it's so beautiful ... the icons are my personal favorite, I'm always drawn to icons. Really, really well done, so congratulations.

Kadie: Thank you so much.

Lauren: You are so welcome. Thank you all for taking the time to tune in today. I hope that you found some nuggets of wisdom in here that you can implement in your own brand, for making it stand apart and be one of a kind.

Next week we'll be talking about how to create an inspiration board. I'll be taking you through the process for start to finish that I go through. I'm taking you behind the screen and showing you how I go about that. I hope you join in. Thank you all. I hope that you have a great remainder of the week, and I'll see you in another ElleChat soon. Bye.

Kadie: Thank you guys.