How to Develop a Strong Digital Brand for Your Business

An expert shares 7 tips to create an engaging website and digital presence.

Whether you’re transitioning from a side hustle or launching a brand new venture, a strong digital brand will help you succeed.

A digital brand tells a visual and written story about who you are and what people can expect from you. And, it can be a valuable asset—a consistent brand presence across all platforms can increase revenue by up to 23%, according to the “State of Brand Consistency” report, published by Lucidpress.

“Particularly in this day and age, your digital brand will be the first contact people have with your business,” says Rachel Ritchie, Principal, Creative Services at Portland, OR-based digital marketing and design agency Good & Gold. “If a business aims to grow, scale, and create an audience of engaged clients that remember them and come back, their digital brand needs to be a meaningful priority.”

Ready to get started? Rachel shares 7 things you need to focus on to create a strong digital brand.

1. Devise your positioning

Start by thinking about your brand and what it needs to convey. Focus on why someone would want what you have to offer by considering what impact it has on the lives of the people who use it. And, consider your target audience, including who they are and why they are drawn to you. From there, you can build out a collection of words and images that work to communicate your essence.

Keep in mind that when you’re trying to stand out, a compelling part of your story may be something other than what you offer, like where you source materials. Or, it might be the experience people have with your business. User experience is predicted to be the number one brand differentiator in 2020.

“If people recommend something, it won’t be because of the formulation or the legacy of the business,” Rachel says. “It’ll be because the product was great and the experience was easy. Experience is a huge piece of the puzzle.”

2. Choose a brand voice

The process of finding the right brand voice and tone will vary for every business, depending on the market you serve and your own personality. “Find out what feels authentic and real for you,” Rachel says.

Brand voice should be consistent across all digital outlets, as well as any offline channels like direct mail, print, point of sale, or presences at in-person events such as festivals or trade shows.

A consistent tone will make your brand feel more credible and reliable to users, giving them a distinct sense of your core values. Think about how you want to be perceived—your tone can help convey honesty, knowledgeability, reliability, friendliness—all kinds of human values.

Brand voice can evolve over time, Rachel notes. See what people respond to in different channels. Evaluate where you’re connecting with your audience, and don’t be afraid to tweak the approach to improve your reach.

3. Craft a timeless style

The visual elements of your digital brand are one of the first things a visitor will notice. Your choices of color, font, and other style elements should feel fresh, but not too trendy. Once you decide on a color palette and fonts, create a style guide to give every steward of your brand clear direction and a shared language to express your message visually. Rachel notes that there isn’t one “right” choice of color and style. “Everyone is different, and everybody has their own feelings about color and typefaces.”

“You want to reference what’s out there—for example, high-contrast colors or color blocking,” continues Rachel. “But, you want to stay away from typefaces or color schemes that feel too trendy so you don’t look like every other site.”

Instead, look for a timeless visual aesthetic that will be durable. Typefaces should work across multiple channels, including social, video, email, and your website.

“Think about how things can spin off in different directions across time,” says Rachel. “The last thing you want is to need to redesign your website 6 months from now because it looks dated.”

4. Pick the right images

While the plethora of stock art easily available online may make it tempting to grab something quickly and add it on your website or social feed, think before your post.

Draft an overall approach for what imagery feels appropriate for your brand so you have a consistent visual style across all digital channels.

Rachel explains that this can vary widely depending on what your business offers. If you sell a physical product, high-quality photography is somewhere you shouldn’t skimp. “It’s an investment that needs to be made in consideration with brand guidelines and how visuals can integrate across all channels."

For other types of organizations, stock photography can be a great option. “There’s tons of high-quality stock photography out there—some of it free—and that would be a great way to illustrate many sites,” she says. “That’s an area where a business can save money for sure."

5. Take time with templates

The early wire-framing process—in which you essentially figure out the layout or blueprint of your website—is extremely important, says Rachel.

“You want to put in a lot of time to figure out the layout and structure,” she explains. A good website feels intuitive to the user and not distracting or random when they’re searching for information or content.”

Scalability should also be considered. If you offer a few products today, consider how the website will function as your business grows and you offer more. If your website is a content portal, you need to make sure readers can easily find archived articles as well as new, featured posts. A nonprofit will want the ability to highlight pop-up fundraising campaigns tied to current events or holidays, in addition to annual efforts.

A brand’s logo is its calling card, both online and off. To design yours, look at what other brands in the space are using, and talk to people who work with different aspects of your brand. Get their input on what they think your audience will respond to and what feels right.

“Listen to all the stakeholders before you jump in and start sketching,” says Rachel. “You can go into a project thinking you know everything and then be completely wrong.”

As with all your design elements, make sure your logo doesn’t feel too trendy and is durable, built to live in many different ways across different platforms. A good logo works in different colors and can be reversed. For example, if a logo is red type on a white background, it should also work as white type on a red background.

Different versions of your logo should also be created for use in various formats—horizontal and vertical, for example. But, don’t go overboard creating alternate versions. Design 2 or 3, and provide precise guidelines for what version should be used where and when.

7. Think cross-device and cross-platform

Finally, remember that everything you’re designing must work across not only multiple digital platforms, but multiple devices as well.

When you create your website, for example, think of your email design, too, says Rachel. “My philosophy is that email doesn’t need to feel like a carbon copy of your website, but it does need to live in the same universe.”

Look at all your details, and take note of how design elements can be adapted to other channels, keeping in mind that not every channel has the same requirements. “What might catch someone’s attention in an email inbox could pull from the same elements as your website, but each channel should feel different,” says Rachel.

Also, consider desktop versus mobile needs when designing, and remember that many elements of your website will display differently on a PC, tablet, or phone.

“We still design for desktop, because that’s where things look the best and a design can live and breathe and deliver the best user experience,” Rachel notes. “But, mobile can’t be an afterthought. Customizing the mobile experience is constantly on our minds.”

Unleash the power of your digital brand

A consistent digital brand strategy with strong copy, visuals, design, and positioning can help you find and grow an engaged audience. Select digital design elements that are durable and translate across channels, and you’ll tell a compelling story and build a strong online presence for your brand.

Rachel Ritchie

Principal, Creative Services at Portland, OR-based digital marketing and design agency Good & Gold