What do Amazon and Airbnb have in common?

They’re both former startups that have developed into universally-recognizable brands. Briefly mention Airbnb in a conversation, and people know what the company stands for. Show someone the Amazon logo, and there’s no question about what the company does.

We’re used to the role these brands play in our everyday lives, but have you ever thought about how they came to be that way? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s how you can create a brand people recognize through visual consistency, brand voice development, and powerful storytelling.

Define Brand Standards

To be recognizable, you need to be consistent about what your brand puts into the world. If your marketing communications and online presence don’t send a clear message, your brand will lack in substance and power. Maintaining a consistent message continues to be a challenge with so many digital elements at play, but this can be solved with a brand style guide. We’re not talking about designing a logo or choosing a font for your website; rather, we’re talking about developing a brand style guide that defines how and when your brand’s visual imagery should be used.

Wondering what a brand style guide looks like in action? Take a look at the OpenTable brand guide. OpenTable’s design team clearly states which colors the logo should appear in, what colors it can be paired with, and where it should be used. As a world-renowned brand, OpenTable isn’t taking any shortcuts with its brand image.

opentable branding

It’s also a good idea to include a do’s and don’ts section. Are there certain colors your logo should never appear in? Is it important that your logo is always associated with its wordmark? Being explicit about how your brand shouldn’t be used protects its integrity and helps uphold a consistent, memorable image.

creating a brand

This brand guide works well because its proactive, direct and thorough. It’s also accessible to the public, meaning that anyone can learn how to use OpenTable’s brand from a quick Google search. When your brand standards are easy to find, it’s easier for others to maintain a consistent brand image for you. Whether it’s an internal designer or a journalist writing an article about you, a style guide leaves no question about how to use your brand.

Define Your Brand Voice

Once you’ve determined your visual brand guidelines, consider how your brand communicates. This is your opportunity to express your values, create emotional connections, and make a difference. If you’re new to developing a brand voice, here’s how to get started through tone, language, and style:


We’ve all heard the saying "it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it." When it comes to your brand’s tone, this old saying pulls its weight. Your tone determines how people feel about your brand when they interact with it online and out in the world. From your website copy to a billboard, your tone guides all of your communication. If you’re not sure what your tone is, think about what role your product or service plays in people’s lives.

For example, a clothing brand geared towards teens might want to exude a humorous, quirky, and playful tone. On the other hand, a productivity app for college students may want to focus on communication that’s both friendly and informative without being too playful.


Crafting a brand voice is a delicate balance between being approachable yet authoritative; trustworthy yet relatable. Thinking about your brand’s vocabulary can help you achieve a happy medium while differentiating yourself from competitors.


On a basic level, it’s important to determine whether your brand voice should be formal or informal. For example, brands in the personal finance, insurance or real estate industries may risk losing credibility if they don’t maintain a certain level of formality. Companies in the retail space, however, have a little more room for flexibility when determining how they communicate. If you want people to feel like they’re speaking with a mentor or a professor when interacting with your brand, adhere to more formal language. If you want to come across as a best friend who gives great advice, use informal language that might appear in everyday conversation.

Negative vs. Positive

You can also think about what you don’t want your brand voice to convey. For example, a brand that provides personal care products or over the counter medicines might avoid the use of negative language, because they’re aiming for a positive outcome. But what if you’re a B2B company trying to resonate with marketers or salespeople based on their daily pain points? In this case, certain negative language might be necessary in order to appeal to your audience’s problems on a personal level.


No brand should craft a style guide without considering the language their customers use. Consider this: if your ideal customer was to find your product or service on google, what would they type in? Thinking about the problem from this point of view can help you think about customer-centric language. To get a grasp on what words and phrases your customers use, try conducting your own research by collecting reviews, social media messages and emails from your customers. Then, analyze this content for trending words and overlapping themes.

Grammar and Punctuation

Grammar and punctuation are a key element of brand style. Do you use the oxford comma? Do you prefer when guest bloggers avoid exclamation points? Is everything AP style, all the time? These standards help you maintain a high level of professionalism and consistency across digital channels. This is especially important for your blog, social media, and other digital marketing channels where you may have multiple contributors as your brand grows.

Once you’ve honed your brand voice, give it a safe and accessible place to live. Just like your visual brand, your brand’s voice also deserves a style guide to define tone and language for yourself and others. This guide serves as a reference for PR work, content marketing, website development and more.

Brand Storytelling

Every recognizable brand has a strong and emotive brand story. Your visual elements and brand voice help complete your brand story, but you still need to craft a believable narrative that humanizes your brand and helps people relate to it. To extract the most powerful story, you need to be honest and raw about where you came from and what you’ve overcome. Everyone loves an underdog story, and talking about your past makes you more relatable and trustworthy.

Regardless of where you brand is now, you must be able explain the who, what, where, and how about its history. Did you have a business idea on a train across Europe? Did you win a startup competition in college? How about what your first office looked like, or what it felt like to make your first sale. What inspired you to become an entrepreneur? Your brand’s history is the foundation on which it was built, and your story is incomplete without it.

If you don’t think your story is especially emotional or relatable, that’s ok. In fact, your brand story can be fun and exciting if you want it to be. For an example, take a look at Drizly’s brand story. It's succinct but descriptive, helping paint a clear picture about how two friends teamed up to create the first alcohol delivery service. These beginnings aren’t earth-shattering or incredibly unique; in fact, they’re quite common. But Drizly owns this story wholeheartedly, knowing that it’s what helps their brand take shape and stand out.