Designing a Striking Visual Identity That Sets Your Brand Apart
The goal of any marketing department is to become top of mind to their consumers. The expression means that a company is the first brand that comes to mind when someone is thinking about buying a product, finding a particular service or solving a specific problem. It’s an appealing concept, but one that’s not so easy to achieve. Especially in a digital world where you are continuously competing to grab people’s attention.
To become top of mind, a company must put in place marketing efforts in order to make its brand and its message known to their target audience. For example, a company must:
- have a striking and consistent visual identity across all communication channels;
- ensure a regular presence in the spheres where your target audiences hang out;
- deliver quality over quantity, whether in the content you create, the customer service you provide, or the products and services you sell.
For this article, I’m going to focus on designing a strong visual identity to help you create graphic guidelines for your brand. All this in order to get you noticed by your personas, wherever they are.
Let’s start by defining the concept of visual identity and why you must create one.
This means that the consumer is able to associate the message presented with the right company, simply by the visual that is presented to him, no matter where he is. Take the example of the famous fast food company McDonald’s. Whether you’re on the highway, on the internet, reading the paper or watching TV, you’re most likely able to identify McDonald’s ads at a glance. Its visual identity is so strong that you just have to see the golden arches or Ronald’s face to recognize it.
McDonald’s has been in business for a long time and regularly displays its products to the general public. This undoubtedly helped the company to become top of mind. But imagine if the messages presented had no guiding lines, no visual axis, no primary colors. The affiliation between the ads and the fast food chain would not be instantaneous as it is now. McDonald’s would probably not have the same notoriety among the population, no matter how good the burgers and fries are!
Define a Visual Identity to Create a Strong Branding
Creating an effective visual identity is not just about picking two or three of your favorite colors and putting them together to come up with designs. A successful brand identity is the result of a thoughtful creative process that takes into consideration your corporate values, mission, target audience and more.
1. Define a Solid Business Foundation Before Designing Its Image
To develop a visual identity that is representative of your business, you must first consider its foundation. You probably know the services and products you offer inside out, but why did you decide to found your business? Why did you choose to work in this industry? What is your mission statement? What are your corporate values? What is your long-term vision? Who do you want to help?
Putting these elements on paper is an essential step in establishing your brand identity and will help you define the message you want to convey.
2. Analyze Your Market, Your Competitors and Your Target Audiences
Market research is a key step in developing your company’s visual identity. Thanks to this analysis, you will get knowledge about your industry. You will most likely uncover business opportunities. Lastly but importantly, you will be able to identify the elements that make your business unique when comparing it to your competitors.
2.1. User Persona: Why It's Important to Define Them
What speaks to a teenager probably does not interest a new mother. It’s important that you take your main targets into consideration when designing your visual identity. The more you know your personas, the better you will be able create images and videos that appeal to them and convey your message.
The definition of user personas can help you:
- establish brand guidelines with a visual and an image style specific to your audience. For example, are they more attracted to neutral and relaxing tones or to bright and energizing colors?;
- determine the communication channels to prioritize. Where are your personas hanging out? Is it on social, online, on television, on Spotify, etc? This will determine the main visual aids to use in your marketing campaigns;
- understand their consumption habits;
- establish the message to broadcast and the tone to be used to help them move forward in their buying process and solve their problems.
2.2. Don’t Skip the Competitive Analysis
Assessing the market also means doing a competitive analysis to understand how your main competitors have chosen to present their business to consumers.
With this process, you will most likely discover:
- if there is a graphic design style to your sector;
- if there is a specific tone in the broadcast messages;
- what are their main communication channels;
- what are the strengths and weaknesses of each of your competitors;
- what makes your business unique.
Once your analysis is complete, you will know how to promote your business to differentiate it from other companies in your industry. You will be able to identify your strengths and weaknesses, put your strong suit forward and make work on your weak spots. In addition, you will be able to find business opportunities and target threats that could have a negative impact on your business. This step is essential, not only to help you create your visual identity, but also for the development of your overall marketing strategy.
3. Designing a Mood Board to Define Your Visual Guidelines
Now that you have defined the detailed profile of your company, your target audiences and your competitors, it’s time for a little brainstorming session. At this point, you need to put down the different styles, visuals, color schemes and concepts that appeal to you. Write down everything that comes to mind, powerful words that grab your attention, visual atmospheres that you would like to create, feelings that you want to communicate… absolutely everything! When doing so, always keep your target audiences and your market research in mind. Ultimately, although your branding needs to appeal to you, it most importantly needs to resonate with your clients and prospects.
At this stage, the team at Unik Web loves to put together mood boards on Pinterest. We gather various shapes, icons, collect color palettes that inspire us and that, of course, reflect the values of our customers and their personas.
4. Designing Your Visual Identity
Once your brainstorming is complete, the time has come to choose the elements that will be included in your brand guidelines and define your style guide. Depending on your skill set, if you want to have a professional looking brand, I suggest you hire a graphic designer or a web agency. They will take the time to understand your analysis and listen to your ideas in order to present you with mock-ups. Those mock-ups should be aligned with your vision, your mission statement, your industry and your personas.
Note : An agency such as ours can assist you in carrying out every step mentioned above, from defining your buyer persona to the competitive analysis, including the layout of your brand guidelines.
Designing visuals is time-consuming and requires advanced knowledge of tools like Photoshop and Illustrator. You don’t want to leave anything to chance, at the risk of creating a visual identity that is not up to par. Trust me, unless you have the required qualifications, hiring a professional with whom you can collaborate is preferable. They can define your brand guidelines according to the visual identity that you have imagined.
4.1 Determine Your Primary and Secondary Color Palettes
Based on the market analysis performed and the palettes you chose when creating your mood board, what colors will you define as final for your business? Some shades are associated with feelings, values, geographic regions, elements, etc. It is important to take this into account when making your final choice.
4.2 Choose Your Fonts for Titles, Subtitles and Your Paragraphs
Secondly, you will need to determine the types of fonts you will use when creating your content. Ideally, your H1, H2, H3, H4 and paragraphs will all have a recurring font and size, so that readers can easily understand the hierarchy of your texts.
Feel free to mix and match font styles — bold, thin, with serif, sans serif, etc. — but don’t forget to take typography standards into consideration. For example, your URLs should be underlined, words in a foreign language should be in italic or in brackets, terms you want to highlight can be in bold, and so on.
4.3 Define Your Preferred Shapes
Would you like to present a rounder and more fluid style thanks to the circle, the oval and the wave? Or would you like to have a more linear and direct style with the square edges or the triangle? Your final choice should be reflected in the design of all other graphic elements, such as your logo and the icons to be created.
4.4 Icons to use
Depending on the previously selected shapes, will your icons be more rounded, straight or a combination of both? Will they be drawn with thick, solid lines or rather thin strokes to create a minimalist style?
At this point, you’ll also want to design an icon bank in the same style to use for your communication tools.
4.5 Select the Type of Images and Visuals to Use
The time has come to determine the visuals that will be included in your various marketing tools: website, blog articles, email banners, event material, etc. You can decide to use stock photos (on Adobe Stock, Shutterstock, Unsplash, Freepik), Lottie files, drawings, paintings, illustrations, etc. You can also do a photoshoot to have a bank of pictures of your company, your events, your offices and your employees. If you have an ecommerce business, this last option is essential to showcase your products.
If you choose to use free images, pay special attention to copyrights. Be sure to read the terms of service carefully and assign credits when required. Using visuals that do not belong to you without the authorization of the creator could lead to legal proceedings and incur significant costs.
4.6 Create Your logo and Its Pictogram
The design of your logo and its pictogram is a crucial step. It is what will allow your audience to recognize you easily. You should therefore not modify it regularly; the more your logo is used according to pre-established guidelines, the more your company can become top of mind.
Ideally, this main component of your branding should be created according to the visual identity that you have previously chosen. It should also incorporate the defined graphic styles. Make sure your logo is simple and doesn't have too many text elements. The goal is to design something unique and original, but also timeless for your company.
Once you have all your elements in hand, I strongly suggest that you gather them in a graphic charter or brand guidelines. This way, your employees will be able to respect your visual identity throughout everything they create. This will ensure that you develop coherent visuals across all of your communication tools.
5. Launch Your Branding According to Your Final Visual Identity
Finally, the time has come to use your branding through your communication tools. Here, the keyword is coherence. For all of your channels, be sure to repeat the same colors, shapes, icon styles, images, and variations of your logo. Be consistent on your different social media channels, in your print or digital ads, in your email campaigns, on your packaging, absolutely EVERYWHERE. The more you advertise your content using a strong visual identity, the more your brand can become top of mind.
Holder of several HubSpot Academy certifications, she uses her expertise to ensure the creation and development of the company's Inbound Marketing strategy.