The images, logos, photos and designs you use to promote your business make up your visual brand. You may not realize it, but your visual brand tells the story of your business, including your company's values, personality and purpose, and it can be one of the best tools you have of communicating with customers.
Poor visual branding, however, can misrepresent and hurt your business. Not sure how to create a strong, effective visual brand? Follow these seven do's and don'ts to help your company grow and connect with the right customers.
Do be consistent
The visual elements you use to represent your brand should all have a similar feel and message.
"Consistency is a huge part of visual branding," said Nadeena, the photographer and content creator behind Art & Anthem, who works with small businesses to develop their visual brand.
Consistency doesn't just help customers recognize you. It also allows them to connect with your brand and develop a relationship. This relationship – when consumers relate to your business – is key to gaining trust.
An inconsistent visual brand, by contrast, can create a perception that your company is not genuine or trustworthy.
"Worse than having an ineffective visual brand that leaves no impression is having one that leads your potential customers to assume … that you're a fraud," said Nadeena.
Don't stop with your logo
Many new businesses spend large amounts of time, energy and money in their quest to design the perfect logo. While it's an important part of your brand, it isn't the only thing that matters. When considering the elements that make up your visual brand, it's important to think beyond the logo.
"I think even designers have this problem [of stopping with the logo], because business owners might not fully understand what branding is and how it is the foundation that you build everything on," said Nadeena.
In addition to your logo, consider how employee headshots, product images, ad photography and social media images represent your brand. All of these elements work together to create a visual impression that relays to customers what your business stands for.
Do understand your target market
Your visual brand impacts how customers perceive and understand your business. But you can't know how customers will respond to your visuals until you know who they are. That's why Nadeena tells clients that the most important part of developing your visual brand is understanding your target market.
"Consumers no longer simply buy things simply out of need," Nadeena said. "There are a lot of options. So they do their research and usually end up leaning toward the brand that they can relate more to, that seems to get … who they aspire to be."
Once you know who your customers are and how they want to see themselves, you can create and use visuals that appeal to those aspirations. This increases your chances that consumers will choose your company over your competitors.
Don't focus only on social media
Every point of contact that a customer has with your business, from the photo in an advertisement to the postcard you ship with orders, has the potential to influence how they perceive your company. All these visuals need to be carefully considered and integrated with each other.
"Visuals play a big role in fostering a connection between the brand and their audience, especially on social media," said Nadeena.
But that doesn't mean Instagram and Pinterest are the only places you need to consider the impact of your visual brand.
"Your visual branding should be consistent across all platforms," Nadeena said. "If you're doing it well on social media and then dropping the ball in your email marketing, your website, or ... brick-and-mortar location, then consumers just won't trust that you can deliver what they initially assumed you could."
Do think about emotions
Whom do you want to attract? What do you want consumers to think and feel when they come across your brand?
Nadeena recommends asking yourself these questions when developing any element of a brand, but these questions are especially important when planning out your visual assets.
Photos, images and design elements are a powerful branding tool because they provoke strong emotional reactions. Visuals, more quickly and easily than words, can tell customers whether your brand is a good fit for them. "With visuals, people have that instant recognition that 'Yes, this is so me,' or 'No, not my vibe at all,'" said Nadeena.
Your visual brand should be designed to create an emotional reaction that will lead your target customers to trust and identify with your company. This will increase their willingness to make a purchase.
Don't put the visuals before the brand
Developing a visual brand that promotes your business takes time. But if you are willing to experiment and discover what your customers respond to, you will eventually hit on a formula that works.
According to Nadeena, the biggest mistake people make is trying to create visual elements before understanding what they need to communicate.
"If you do this, you're just ensuring that you'll change your brand in six months when you have a clearer understanding of who you want to serve and what you want your brand to say."
Instead of starting with photos or designs that you like, take time to understand your brand and customers. This will inform the visual elements that you choose and orient your efforts towards the goal of connecting with the right customers.
As long as you understand your brand, your experiments with visuals and images will eventually make that connection happen.
Do treat your visual brand as part of your marketing strategy
Though many companies treat visual elements, especially on social media, as an afterthought or a separate tool, they should be considered part of your overall marketing strategy.
Like any form of marketing, a good visual brand "leads to trust in the brand and increased loyalty – a long-term investment in increasing sales," said Nadeena.
The right visual elements affect customers' perception of your brand and convince them to make a purchase in the same way that a postcard, magazine ad or web page can.
"At the end of the day, everything has to point in the same direction, saying the same message – either verbal or nonverbal," said Nadeena.
When you integrate your visual branding with the rest of your marketing strategy, you create a consistent message that eventually reaches and connects with your target market.