The Visual Business of Brand Identity

Okay, okay, forgive us for trotting out one of the oldest clichés in the book, but sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words, especially when it comes to brand identity.  What is brand identity, you ask?  These are the elements of your brand that, when combined, communicate what makes your company unique to consumers.  Brand identity is made up of different components:  visual pieces, which include your logo, typefaces, colors, packaging, and photography; and personality, which includes language and tone used to differentiate your brand from others.  All of these elements serve to communicate something to your audience, helping them form a perception of your brand and how it fits into their lives.

The question is, why do so many companies still scrimp on these elements?  In order to understand how to improve brand design, let’s first explore why branded visuals are so important in the first place.

 

Branded visuals tell a story

We’re trained to make snap judgments based on what our senses perceive, and the look of your brand can leave an impression that informs a customer’s opinion long before they come into contact with a salesperson or buy a product.  Visual cues let us know everything from what type of product or service you might be selling to who you’re selling it to. 

Let’s take Shake Shack, for example.  From their simplified burger logo, you know immediately what they’re trying to sell.  You can also infer that because their iconography is very modern, they are targeting a younger demographic.  Take a look at their social media, and you’ll see attractive, whimsical imagery that incorporates the same design elements as their logo and showcases their products and team in an interesting way.  They’ve gone the extra mile and offer branded merch on their site as well, again in line with the other brand identity elements they’ve created.  All of this imagery begins to form the idea that Shake Shack offers good food at a casual, fun spot to hang out with friends.

 Shake Shack's Instagram is full of bright, drool-worthy photos.

Shake Shack's Instagram is full of bright, drool-worthy photos.

It’s pretty clear that the visual language surrounding your brand is just as important as the written language when it comes to potential consumers.

“Branded visuals are important because it's how you're represented to the consumer,” says Carolyn Sexton, Launch Art Director.  “It’s how they're able to recognize you in a world that's constantly fighting over customer attention and engagement.”

 

What brands are getting it right?

How to brands in other categories use design to establish a brand narrative?  Here are just a few that are making the most of their visual assets to get customers engaged.

 

B2B – MailChimp

How do you make an email marketing platform fun?  MailChimp has cracked the code.  From an email newsletter that utilizes colorful graphics and animation to an Instagram account that showcases their logo on the bottom of a pool full of ducklings, MailChimp knows how to get noticed.  Their visuals are clean and bright, which extends to their website graphics as well.  They align with the modern, quirky brand identity that MailChimp has created.

 A quirky Valentine's Day Instagram post featuring the MailChimp mascot, Freddie.

A quirky Valentine's Day Instagram post featuring the MailChimp mascot, Freddie.

CPG - RXBAR

RXBAR’s ethos is simple – offer healthy protein bars made with few ingredients.  So few, in fact, that they list the ingredients on the front of their packaging.  This simplicity can be found on their website, which utilizes white space and graphic lines to both convey the purity of their product and mimic the design elements of their product’s packaging.  Their social media images also align with this style, allowing the products to be the focus and provide pops of color.  The visuals help to mark the company as a modern, healthy food option for people on-the-go.

 The RXBAR website mirrors the clean design found on their packaging.

The RXBAR website mirrors the clean design found on their packaging.

Financial Services - Zelle

It’s hard to get excited about a money transfer app, but Zelle’s design aims to do just that.  The app takes on the likes of Venmo and Square Cash and uses an eye-catching combination of purple and mint green to visually distinguish itself from competitors.  Their social graphics and videos use this same color combo, which plays well against the white backdrop of most news feeds.  Additionally, their logo incorporates a play on the dollar symbol, letting users know right away with the app is used for.

 A still from a short social Instagram video showcases Zelle's signature color scheme.

A still from a short social Instagram video showcases Zelle's signature color scheme.

Fashion – Asos

Fashion brands are obviously at an advantage when it comes to branded visuals, but some are more successful than others at creating imagery that captures attention.  Asos, the U.K. online retail giant that is now taking the U.S. by storm, knows the importance of attractive imagery.  They showcase everything from bright, pop-art inspired product shots to professional-level photos of real customers styling their pieces.  The imagery fits their Millennial demographic to a T.  The Asos website and emails also make use of bold imagery, color, and type to stand out in the crowded fast fashion market and convey a trendy vibe.

 The header from this Asos email uses bold colors and simple shapes to capture the spirit of their summer collection.

The header from this Asos email uses bold colors and simple shapes to capture the spirit of their summer collection.

 

How to improve your branded visuals

There are a few steps you can take to improve your own branded visuals.

1)    Invest in high-quality photography.  While you maybe balk at the idea of paying for a professional photographer to shoot some images for your brand, it’s an investment that pays in the long-run.  Consumers are drawn to an interesting photo, and brands can help themselves significantly by regularly shooting images and video that can then be used across the web.

What constitutes a good photo?  “Less is more when it comes to photography,” says Carolyn.  “Sometimes I see ads or visuals where everything is screaming at you.  Not everything can be the top priority in an image – hierarchy is a good thing.”

 

2)    Understand design trends.  Design trends come and go, and understanding what’s hot right now can help you either work with what’s popular or go against the grain.  There’s a reason so many brands have adopted colorful imagery in the past several years – it both pops against the white of social media feeds and gives brands a sense of youthfulness.  If your brand’s identity centers around heritage or luxury, you can still incorporate modern elements into your visuals (think white space, bold type, and interesting photos) without sacrificing your brand’s core design aesthetic.

 

3)    Think about context.  Customers increasingly use their mobile devices to view information about your brand.  Because of this, make things easy to read and to see.  This is especially good advice for your email marketing because no one wants to endlessly scroll through your email on mobile to get past a huge image.  And making your message concise and clear is helpful, regardless of where people are interacting with your brand, as you have a limited amount of time to get your point across.

 

 

In our increasingly visual world, logos, graphics, typefaces, photos, and colors all serve to quickly communicate information to customers and set brands apart.  Improving the visual aspects of your brand identity can translate into a more cohesive brand narrative as a whole.  And when in doubt, Carolyn says, “hire a team of design experts!”