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Everything You Need to Know About Branding in 2020

Branding is the public face of a company. To demonstrate your value to customers you have to build a strong brand that communicates with the customer base and the wider community in an authentic and useful way. Beyond just helping boost sales, branding is an avenue for intentional and thoughtful representation of a business and its products or services.

There are many ways to build a strong brand. Anything the company does that’s visible to the public is branding in some way. The company’s actions in designing its brand and in impacting the world outside itself are how it defines itself for employees, customers, and stakeholders. These actions have never been more important than they are in 2020.

It’s been a tumultuous year, to say the least. Amidst all the changes and uncertainty, brands can be symbols of hope, stability, and community. Tackling any of the various seismic shifts form this year is fraught with difficulty, but strong and clear branding will guide you through.

Some aspects of branding are timeless and continued to show their worth in 2020. But companies also innovated in brave new ways when they had to. Read on to find out what changed and what stayed the same in branding this year and get some branding tips so your company can use these trends to its advantage.

What Is Branding?

Everything the company says or does that can be seen or discovered by the general public is branding. There are also many things businesses do internally that also fits under this wide umbrella, such as designing letterhead and decorating the office with the company motto or slogan.

Branding can be a word, phrase, image, logo, motto, or feature. The essential qualification of branding is that it identifies your product, company, or service and sets it apart from the competition.

Think of cowboys branding cattle – it’s the only way to tell their livestock from anyone else’s. That’s exactly the purpose branding serves for products and companies. In today’s digital world, there are many more ways to create a brand identity and reinforce it repeatedly than there have ever been before.

Classic Branding Methods

From early digital methods like email promotions to ancient methods like insignias or logos, many of the most successful methods individuals and companies have used for effective branding are still in use today. If a tactic works, people take notice and try to implement a similar strategy. A few of these tactics are so often repeated that they have become the bedrock of branding.

A redheaded woman in red kneels against a red background.
Color is a vital aspect of effective branding.

For example, just about every company has a logo. Logos are usually the first thing prospective customers see and the fastest way for them to be able to identify a product and where it comes from. Brands spend so long on logo redesigns because they want to update their look without losing the reputation and familiarity people have built up with the existing logo.

Advertising began to take its modern shape in the 19th century with firms like J. Walter Thompson and N.W. Ayer leading the way. By the 1920s, the idea of brand management based on customer psychology had already grown out of its earlier nascency and into a form comparable with today’s branding. Here are a few of the most important classic branding tools:

  • Registered Trademarks

Trademarks are intellectual property that’s protected by law. The first American trademarks were registered in the 1870s while Britain and the Czech Republic registered theirs in 1876 and 1859, respectively.

These trademarks are immensely important to branding because they guarantee that companies can protect their branding. Everything from logos to slogans to color schemes has been registered by companies and corporations.

  • Mass Marketing

Although its appeal has dimmed, indiscriminate advertisement to the general public is still used very often today. Mass marketing predates our idea of brand identity that aims to create a long-term relationship with and give an experience to the customer. However, branding with authentic customer engagement in mind has changed the way mass marketing is used.

Email blasts are the most common update. Many companies make the mistake of sending out a mass ad with the name of the addressee changed but savvy branding uses email blasts to send out announcements and maintain engagement with their customer base.

  • Ad Placement

In the beginning, advertising agencies were focused on placing their clients’ ads in print magazines. Later, billboards and bus ads gained popularity. With the advent of the internet came the proliferation of banner ads and pop-ups. These ads can ruin the user experience completely or they can offer useful information.

Modern ad placement on social media is generally smarter. Streaming sites use native advertising and endorsements from the content creators to make entertaining and interesting ads that people will sit through and occasionally even enjoy.

  • Brand Personality

Even the most well-designed logo or ad isn’t going to translate into customer action unless it has some meaning to the viewer. There are many shared meanings in our society that can be used to give branding the personality it needs to be appealing. Rather than attempting to manipulate your audience, though, branding should aim to express the real characteristics of a product and link those to a social meaning.

People don’t rely solely on pricing and budget restrictions alone when they decide to buy a product. They also tap into their own life experience and social standards. The human aspect of a company’s brand engages the customer on that deeper level.

  • Testimonials

Showing how positively other people view a product will make that product appeal to others. In the early days of modern advertising, this was done with testimonial letters. Today, quotes on websites and magazines are common ways to show what people are thinking.

Reviews on eCommerce sites like Amazon and even comments on streaming sites serve a similar purpose. 2020 has seen an increased desire for user-generated content so forums and reviews are becoming the most current update to the branding testimonial.

  • Color

Color pairs and specific shades of color have been fair game for trademark protection for a long time. Whether it’s the classic red of a soda brand or the particular shade of green and yellow a farm equipment manufacturer uses on its products, color is a fantastic way for people to know your product without even seeing a logo.

One of the hottest branding tips this year has been to color your ads and other branding efforts with bright pastels that stand out and present a sense of optimism to the viewer. Color not only creates immediate brand recognition but it also helps unite a family of products into a common brand.

Branding and Design

You can think of branding as a specific application of design thinking. UX design, for example, aims to create the best experience possible so that the user is drawn to some call to action. Branding is a bit more nebulous because it’s meant to ignite and sustain a long-term relationship between the customers and the company, but branding and design use similar methods to accomplish these goals.

Branding and design both rely on user research, for example. There’s no way to know if your branding efforts are working unless you check in with your clientele. If you engage them and show that you value their input, your customer base will be more likely to stay dedicated to your brand longer.

From distinctive swooshes to green sirens, design produces all the logos we know and identify with products today. Designers take the business goals and brand character a company wants to express and turn it into an easily identifiable symbol and a general aesthetic that unites all aspects of a brand. In that sense, branding and design are inseparable. Design is how you build the face of your brand.

Branding in 2020: What’s New?

Some companies made a huge splash with their branding in response to the unprecedented events of 2020. Through elections and uncertainty, some brands were able to use their market presence to sound like a reassuring voice. Others missed the mark.

The main takeaway for branding in 2020 is that people don’t need their reality explained to them. They don’t want companies offering up platitudes or well wishes during hard times. Concrete help is much more preferable.

People also responded well to companies who managed to let the profit motive take a backseat to more important problems. A great example is Burger King, who used its social media accounts to broadcast a message with the large, bold headline “Order From McDonald’s,” in response to market constrictions across the restaurant industry. Seeing competition deflate somewhat in favor of a more common good was refreshing for many people.

Visual storytelling also evolved this year as more and more companies digitized their services and resources. With fluid web design, users are drawn further into the brand and able to interact more with the various facets of a company. Think of the endless scroll and GIFs in an infinity loop – more information is available faster than ever before.

Informative content continued on its rising trajectory as people were inside and on the internet more in 2020. As brands were trying to be helpful, they discovered that one of the best ways to do so is to give information to people. Content writing also creates a more informed customer base and generates more interest in a given product or type of product.

The demand for socially conscious companies also skyrocketed this year. Again, people weren’t interested in platitudes but loved to see companies making donations, organizing aid drives, and looking out for their employees. This has always been a way to give a brand a personable face but it was especially important this year.

Green initiatives like recycling, offsetting carbon, and promoting vegetarian and vegan alternatives also gained traction in 2020. Concern for humankind’s impact on the planet hit a high point and brands that provided ways to cut back on single-use plastics and generate less trash in general were able to benefit greatly.

Authenticity is a cornerstone of branding and design and it only got more crucial for branding in 2020. With so many other aspects of our lives becoming undependable, brands who were able to be transparent and acknowledge their own staying power with some humility were able to impact customers in a huge way.

10 Branding Tips for 2021 and Beyond

If there’s one thing we learned this year, it’s that trends aren’t nearly as predictable as we like to think. However, there were also a ton of great changes in branding and design that presented enough information to make an educated guess about what the next year and decade have in store. Here are a few branding tips based on the most likely scenarios:

1- Kindness & Optimism Are Winning Out

Far from the tongue-in-cheek egotism of the nineties or the guesswork and clutter of digital marketing in the 2000s, people just wanted to see people staying strong and helping each other this year. That trend doesn’t seem likely to go anywhere, so build compassionate messaging for more broad appeal.

2- Actions Speak Louder Than Words

This has always been true for people but many brands got on board this year with contributions, special hours for seniors, new remote work opportunities, and other concrete changes that were beneficial to society around them. Plan to make some sort of real impact on local communities next year, and make sure you mean it.

3- Go Long

People might gripe about the internet shortening our attention spans, but 2020 saw people engaging more with long-form content. That might be a product of more time spent at home, but now that they’re used to it people are going to keep wanting to see long-form informative content for years to come.

4- Authenticity Still Appeals

Authenticity is one of the most consistently admired characteristics of branding and design. Younger people crave honest branding even more than their parents’ generations did. Transparency, especially about a brand’s interests as a company, is key to creating an authentic voice with your branding.

5- Make ‘Em Laugh

There weren’t many events in 2020 that had people bursting with laughter. Brands have a great opportunity to fill that gap with simple, pleasant humor that helps people get through hard times will be much appreciated in branding for next year and likely several more to come.

6- Native Advertising Is Effective

On sites where content creators generate lots of user feedback, ads that are baked into the presentation and not separate skippable videos were much more effective. If the native ads or endorsements involve the content creator, people will stick around to watch them.

7- People Stayed Connected

Despite staying physically distant for much of 2020, people used video conferencing apps to stay in touch with friends, loved ones, and work colleagues. As such, many people gained digital literacy that they didn’t have before, which means there’s a new crowd of savvier online users that you should account for in your design and branding next year.

8- Honesty is the Best Policy

When supply chains were interrupted this year, the brands who retained customer loyalty the best were the ones who simply admitted that they didn’t know when deliveries would go out again. Customers are able to understand that companies can’t always deliver because of unforeseen circumstances, but if you’re up front about it it won’t damage long-term brand loyalty.

9- Customer Service is Branding

Take a lesson from the airlines’ experience in 2020: when the unexpected happens, your brand can take a serious hit if you can’t help customers figure things out. However, if you get customer service right then you’ll be able to increase your brand’s appeal.

10- Brand Inclusivity is Vital

Nobody will be impressed with token minorities in your ads but a real and honest sense that your brand cares about diversity, is for everyone, and accessible to anyone will go a long way in the coming years. That means people of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and abilities should be brought into your branding if they haven’t been already.

A woman wearing gray overalls and a hat stands near a handrail.
Authenticity is one of the most important qualities in a brand, especially for millennials and Gen Z.


There were many changes to branding in 2020. The unexpected and unprecedented events of this year caused people to have to make changes to their professional and personal lives and good branding was key for companies to make the right response. Branding isn’t a magic formula but it’s the best way to give your business a human face that will help people recognize your product and keep buying it. Use some of the branding tips in this guide to make your branding even stronger heading into the 2020s.

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