The images associated with your company, from your colors and fonts to your logo and photos, make up your visual branding. These visual elements are a key part of any marketing campaign.
"Visual branding transcends every aspect of a company's presence in the marketplace," said Eric Lazar, the president of SpeedPro Chicago Loop, a graphics and imaging company that functions as both a marketing agency and a printer. In addition to providing elements like event signage, murals and banners, Lazar's company consults with customers to ensure that every element they print is brand cohesive and fully integrated into each company's overall marketing strategy. Through his work, Lazar has become a self-described "lead evangelist" for the importance of visual marketing.
"In lieu of a lengthy explanation… on the how the brand relates to the other senses of taste, feel, sound and smell, or for a service, the experience and satisfaction, a picture can say a thousand words," explained Lazar.
This instant communication makes visual marketing one of the most powerful tools a business can employ to connect with customers. Business News Daily talked to Lazar to find out what business owners need to know to use this tool effectively and create strong visual marketing campaigns.
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1. Visual design is part of your brand.
"Visual cues might be the most important factor in marketing and advertising," said Lazar. "It's a combination of color, font, graphics, depth and texture that should evoke a… familiar and relatable emotion."
These visual cues provide instant communication, unlike reading a website or listening to an ad, both of which take time. Many times, customers don't even realize this emotional reaction is happening.
"Ninety percent of all purchases are made subconsciously, meaning they are driven by emotional processes, not intellectual ones," said Lazar. "For the consumers that no longer have the time to educate themselves, it's the logo or visual branding that will trigger the sale."
Because visual cues are processed so quickly, any marketing campaign that involves visual elements needs to be carefully considered. All your design elements should tell the best possible story about your brand, its values and what benefit you can provide to customers.
2. Your marketing campaign needs visual guidelines.
To create an effective marketing campaign, start by creating guidelines for your visual elements. These guidelines should outline not only what designs, images and graphics you use, but also where and how they will appear to create consistent visual cues across your campaign.
Brand guidelines, explains Lazar, safeguard the customer experience, ensuring that your brand identity is accurately reflected across every medium and that customers are receiving the same information, no matter where they encounter your brand. Otherwise, customers may assume that because your branding is inconsistent, your products or services are as well.
"The three tenets of good visual branding are correctness, consistency and creativity," said Lazar. "When brands stray from these core pillars… expect less than stellar results."
3. Don't crowd your marketing campaign.
When you have a new product or an exciting story to tell, it's natural to want to share as much information as possible with customers. But being selective about what you include in your marketing campaign is as important for your visual elements as it is for written content.
"Consumers are looking for easy ways to garner trustworthy information, and one of the biggest mistakes a company can make is to overload an advertisement or a website with too much information," warned Lazar. "Consider what the clients absolutely need to know and why, then frame the visual communication around that."
The quick communication that visual elements provide can make this easier, limiting the likelihood that you'll overload customers with too much or repeating information. "It is... vital to pay attention to the distribution and pace of [your] messaging," Lazar said. "Repetition is important, but a company also needs to be careful not to overwhelm consumers."
4. All marketing needs to be measured.
Like any other elements of your marketing, the visual elements of your campaign need to be benchmarked and measured for key performance indicators. A/B testing is critical in visual marketing, allowing you to see which visual elements provoke the response you want. If you have the time and resources, test out options before you launch your campaign.
During a marketing campaign, social media platforms include built-in analytics for testing engagement and response, and you can use these to split-test different visual elements. For print campaigns or advertisements, test customer response by including different discount codes or bonuses to see which ad images customers actually notice and respond to.
"What gets measured, gets done," said Lazar. "The visuals… are making the difference, good or bad."
5. Sometimes change is necessary — but be cautious.
Sometimes it's necessary to break your brand guidelines and tell a new story. New visual elements in a marketing campaign can be a key strategy for keeping up with your consumers and staying relevant in your industry. But Lazar cautions that while these changes can help you evolve and avoid stagnating, they should be made cautiously.
Brands that have a firmly established identity risk the most when they change their visual elements, as redesign failures such as Tropicana and Pepsi. But even smaller brands should be careful when bringing in new designs or images. Too much change can make your brand difficult to recognize. Changes customers don't like can lead to media backlash or misperceptions about your brand's message.
"The purpose of branding and the result of doing it well is so that consumers build a strong relationship with the company," Lazar told Business News Daily. "Divergence from those familiar aspects should be approached with awareness, if not caution and sensitivity."
Whether you draw on tried and true visuals or attempt to introduce new ones, carefully consider all the emotional cues that those elements communicate to consumers. Then, make sure that they are consistent across every element of your marketing campaign.
"Regardless, if a potential customer is browsing a website or leisurely strolling past a storefront for the first time, those aesthetics and optics derive the first impression," said Lazar. "And first impressions matter."