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Understanding Visual Identity in Brand Development

July 19, 2022By Shannon Curley

Topics: Marketing Strategy, Blog, Visual Identity, Brand Identity

Back in the old days of the door-to-door salespeople, a purchase could be made on a good impression and a handshake alone. Nowadays, with the Internet, digital communications, and the evolving nature of customer interaction (and obsession), it’s a bit more complex.

Visual identity: more than a logo

A great logo is important to establishing your brand, but the visual identity journey doesn’t end there. In fact, it probably shouldn’t start there either – but we’ll get to that.

When we talk about visual identity for your company or business, we’re not merely referring to your logo or website, but rather everything visual that goes into the image your brand puts out into the world. Whereas a logo may be the marker of your brand, your visual identity is your shepherd into the world of branding.

The Google logo is a good example. While the logo itself represents Google the brand, the iconic color scheme (red/blue/green/yellow) and typeface (Product Sans) are the branding that stamps all of Google’s additional products: Drive, Gmail, Hangouts, you name it, it’s been Google-ified. That’s how your everyday consumer knows that a product is made by Google, even if it isn’t explicitly labeled Google Calendar, Google Photos, Google Play … you get the idea.

As you think about the visual identity of your business, here are the 4 key elements to keep in mind:

  1. Color
  2. Typography
  3. Imagery
  4. Layout

Choosing the right colors for your business

Can you imagine if the Starbucks logo was neon orange? Or if Bloomingdales’ “Big Brown Bag” was … pink? If just the thought of these changes made you tense up a little, then you already understand the significance of choosing the right colors for a brand.

There is a lot of research on color psychology and how and why we react to colors the way that we do. Red, for example, tends to connote passion – and occasionally anger. Yellow on the other hand is more joyful, although sometimes also associated with cheapness, depending on the gradient.

When choosing the right colors for your company color palette, it’s important to consider both the cultural connotations of the colors you’ve selected as well as how the colors appear within the industry. You might cringe at the idea of Starbucks being neon orange because it is a more artificial color than we would expect from a natural, organic coffee company. If we had instead suggested that the Starbucks logo change to a toffee brown or an oatmeal color, your reaction perhaps may not have been so adverse.

Within certain industries, there are color schemes that may be used more often than others. Tech, for example, tends to have a lot of variations of black (Samsung), white (Apple), and sometimes blue (IBM). Travel companies often use bright blues and greens and oranges (Trivago, Expedia), while automotive companies tend to use colors like red and orange to connote speed (Pep Boys, AutoZone).

When considering the right colors for branding your business (logos, website, business cards, etc.), think about what others in your industry are doing. There might be some logic to why they’re doing it! And while you will always want to differentiate from your competition, be sure to think about what colors (and connotations) make “sense” for the service or product that your company provides.

Beyond text: typography and hierarchy 

Much like how a brand’s visual identity is more than a logo, typography is more than a font. Rather, typography includes font style, size, spacing, and placement, and how each of these elements work together to create a structure and hierarchy of communication for your business messaging.

Text tells a story, even without reading the words. Serif typefaces, for example (think Times New Roman), tend to be viewed as more serious, and often, more trustworthy. Sans serif typefaces, on the other hand, are more casual, and sometimes more approachable (think Comic Sans).

When considering typography for your company or business, here are some places where you should expect to see your textual choices at play:

  • Logo
  • Website
  • Sales collateral
  • Advertising

Again, though your logo might be the first stamp of your visual identity that potential customers see, it is only one element of your typographical identity. It’s possible, in fact, that your logo type is entirely different from that on your website. Venmo is a good example. The Venmo logo is a blocky, lowercase, sans serif, italicized type; on the other hand, their website text is thin and regular (not italicized), and sentence-cased. And yet, the logo and website typography work well together because they are both sans serif and both send the same “easy to read, easy to use” message, which is exactly how Venmo wants their instant-transfer service to be perceived.

Another important element of typography on your website is the typographical hierarchy, which refers to the way that text is ordered and prioritized on your site. In your web builder, this is often structured by sections – like Title, Header 1, Header 2, Header 3, Paragraph – and treated using different sizing, spacing, and sometimes fonts. The website for A Pup Above is a good example. Check out the use of different sizes, fonts, bolding, casing, and how it helps establish priority messaging.

Finally, you’ll want to make sure your typographical choices are consistent across digital as well as physical collateral for your business. That means choosing similar fonts for your business cards and flyers, as well as posters, billboards, and other forms of advertising. It may not seem like a big deal, but brand consistency actually improves customer trust, and can ultimately improve revenue.

Layout & user experience

These days, most website builders (Wordpress, Wix) come with a series of default layout options, but it’s still useful to know the basics of good layout and how your visitors will interact with your site.

Here are a few layout terms to keep in mind:

  • Z-pattern: top-to-bottom, left-to-right; this is the direction in which English readers typically scan a page 
  • White space: blank space between and around containers (gives your readers’ eyes a visual break!) 
  • Containers: elements on the page including text boxes, images, and navigation bar 
  • Gutters: the spaces between containers on a page
  • Above the fold: the part of your website or page that is visible to visitors before scrolling downward

The way that the content is organized on your page affects not only whether your site appears cluttered, empty, or ideally, balanced, but also how your audience or visitor interacts with your page. The user interface is directly related to user experience, and user experience translates to better customer-business interaction. 

You can also use elements like navigation bars, search bars, drop downs, pop-ups, chat bots, subscribe boxes, form fills, and more to use dynamic layout to interact with your audience in new ways.

What stories do your brand images tell?

The last piece of the visual identity equation is perhaps the most obvious: imagery. Imagery ranges from original illustrations to stock photography to custom icons and everything in between. The Mercedes Benz logo? That’s imagery. The cover photos for Time Magazine? Imagery. Poet Rupi Kaur’s personalized illustrations? Imagery! 

According to a report by MDG Advertising, 67% of online shoppers rated high-quality images as being “very important” to their purchase decision; this was higher than product descriptions or product ratings. People enjoy images that are pleasing to the eye, and that includes everything from the content of the image – what people, products, or scenes are included – as well as how the image is treated – such as filters, coloring, and gradients. 

Moreover, it’s important to think about which of your imagery you want to be original, and which you can use stock for. This applies to photography, illustrations, and iconography, all of which can be found in stock format on sites like Pexels and Flaticon. 

Our recommendation? If your budget is limited, spend money on original photography for your top-selling products and your most viewed webpage or sales collateral. If you don’t know what your most viewed page is, make sure that your above-the-fold image on your homepage is original, not stock. It is also useful to have original photography for things like brochures and printed case studies. Likewise, if you’re going to invest the production costs into any video work, it’s best to make sure that your product and service features are original footage and not stock or B-roll. 

Unlimited budget? Even better. Original photography outperforms stock, and you won’t run the risk of competitors using duplicate images. 

As far as icons go, stock icons are usually a safe bet, and are being used more and more as a universal communication tool in lieu of adding more text to your website, business cards, or other brand materials with limited space. As we like to say in my cohort of writing peers, “Save a writer, use an icon!”

Visual identity: find yourself, avoid a crisis

Establishing your brand’s visual identity is an important step in creating a credible, authoritative, and recognizable brand for your business or company. 

If you read this article and noticed some gaps in your company’s current visual identity, it may be time to consider a rebrand. After all, the last thing you want for your business is to suffer a visual identity crisis!

Before embarking on your visual identity journey, make sure you know what story your business is trying to tell. Only then can you make sure that your colors, typography, layout, and imagery are consistent with the messaging you want to put out into the world. 

Finally, make sure you have the right team of designers, writers, and production experts to bring your brand identity to life. It’s your job to run the business, but that doesn’t mean you have to design it! 

Ready to get started? Your friends at Trailblaze Marketing have the resources you need to give your brand a compelling, creative visual identity overhaul. 

Want to learn more? Schedule a call with Trailblaze Marketing today. 

References

How to Develop a Unique (& Memorable) Brand Identity in 2021

What is brand identity? And how to design and develop a great one

How to build your brand identity

What's In A Brand? How To Define Your Visual Identity

 

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Posted by Shannon Curley

Shannon Curley is a content and brand strategist from Providence, RI who has written about everything from superheroes and dinosaurs to medical innovation, sustainable energy, and tips for traveling with your dog.

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