Branding is an element of marketing that affects every company, large or small. How you appear to your customers, and the messaging you use, plays a big part in how they respond and interact with your products and services. New platforms and shifting consumer expectations has seen a significant increase in businesses coming to us wanting to re-evaluate their own identity, either as a re-fresh or full-scale re-brand.
In our recent workshop ‘Standing Out from the Crowd with Visual Branding,’ we’ve spoken to our experts to hone-in on specific elements of your visual identity, including ways you might be weakening your current brand, how to strengthen it to build better connections with consumers, and how to adapt your brand identity for new platforms.
In this article
- What makes up your visual identity
- 7 ways you might be weakening your visual brand
- Inflexible brand guidelines
- Offerings that don’t match your wider brands
- Internal bias on what works for your brand
- Restricting your Visual Identity – B2Bs are people too!
- Not looking beyond your ‘core’ guidelines.
- A visual brand that doesn’t translate to new platforms or formats
- Taking a static approach to your visual brand’s value
- Strengthening your Brand Identity – When and Where to Engage External Support
Join us next Thursday for our next workshop - Video and Content Production Strategies to Invigorate your Brand
What makes up your visual identity?
A visual identity isn’t just one thing, but rather a series of components that, when combined, create a unique image for your brand and allows it to be recognisable.
For Laura Weldon, Creative Director & Founder of StudioLWD, this ‘toolset’ should begin with a graphic element. “We start with a graphic element that represents the brand from a graphic point of view. This could be shapes, colours and patterns that can be broken apart to become very dynamic.
When you have the graphic element piece, you need everything else that supports it; photography, styles, fonts, colours – all of this comes together to bring it to life. This is your ‘kit of parts.’ You need to have enough of this ‘kit’ to make everything look interesting and engaging.”
As Laura touched upon, a brand toolkit could include:
- Colour pallets
- Logos and logo guidelines
- Iconography & placement
- Typography and font guidelines
- Document templates
- Brand voice
- Photography and image guidelines
7 Ways You Could Be Harming Your Visual Brand Identity:
Ideally, bringing these elements together will perfectly reflect your brand’s purpose and resonate with your audience. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. In some instances, how you implement your ‘toolkit’ can ultimately result in more harm than harmony.
Here are 7 considerations to assess the impact of your current identity.
#1 - Inflexible brand guidelines
For starters, it might be that your brand guidelines are too restricted to allow it to be dynamic. Greg Jolley, Executive Client Director at Stocks Taylor Benson warns against brand guidelines that are too rigid. “If you need a three-centimetre line here, and a margin here, it all becomes very mechanical and starts to inhibit rolling things out and getting things done.”
Phil Marshall, Group CEO of stm_group gives an example of where smaller brands have “captured movement in their visual identity” and have moved away from being ‘static’ to allow for this more dynamic approach.
“Take the Hebden Bridge Trouser Company as an example. They have captured the essence of what they’re about. If you look at the visuals and the video content they use, it’s massively reinforcing their messaging. They’ve started dynamically and have worked backwards. Yes, they have a logo and it’s recognisable, but it’s so much more than that.”
Download our comprehensive guide and interactive workbook for analysing your branding, assessing your identity and identifying next steps for a rebranding project.
#2– Existing visual brand guidelines that don’t match your wider offerings
Very often, your company will grow and evolve, offering more services and products than when your visual identity was first formed. In this instance, you might feel like your brand no longer reflects these new offerings. But before making any drastic changes to your visual identity, or creating a new brand altogether, Greg recommends asking ‘why?’
“Why do you want to expand it? Why do you want to add new colours and fonts? You need to look at the structure of the brand. How closely aligned would this new business be to the main brand? Does the ‘offshoot’ still need the equity of the larger brand to be relevant?
Are our new offerings totally separate? All these questions need to be answered. A visual identity won't change the structure of a business in terms of objective, but it can support those changes.”
#3 - Internal Bias on What Works for Your Brand Identity
Laura mentions another element that could be holding back your visual identity – internal bias. “You need to take away the internal emotional connection. It’s not about what you want, it’s about what the audience wants. You need to make sure that the audience is at the heart of it.”
#4 – Restricting your Visual Identity – B2Bs are people too!
One question raised in the session was the difference between approaching visual identity B2B vs B2C. Phil says it can be a mistake to treat the two entirely separately.
“It’s no less important. That’s the mistake that some brands make when you talk about business to business and business to consumer. Ultimately, it’s all about stories. Your visual identity is the shorthand, it should simplify the complex, making it palatable and relevant.
Comparing professional services with FMCG - there’s still a conversation to be had, but it’s a different conversation.
Once you’ve understood what the touch-points are, and how the audience engages, it’s the same challenge. It’s about creating the tools to make that conversation easier.”
Read our exclusive interview with Gareth Turner, former Head of Marketing at Weetabix about invigorating and building on a heritage brand.
#5 – Not looking beyond your ‘core’ guidelines
Similar to being restricted by your current brand toolkit, Laura says it’s possible that you’re not looking beyond your ‘core’ guidelines to help make your identity more dynamic.
“It might not always be about changing the visual aspects; it might be that your tone of voice needs freshening up. The go-to is always ‘let’s change a logo, or add colour,’ but there are other ways that you can evolve your identity and keep it fresh using things like language and video.”
#6 – A visual brand that doesn’t translate to new platforms or formats
Very often, the emergence of new platforms will be a trigger to assess your current brand identity. How does it look on these new platforms? Do we need to adapt our messaging to fit with how audiences are consuming media on these platforms?
According to Greg, brands can be too concerned about the technicalities of their visual identity rather than how it works.
“You can get bogged down with the technical elements. It doesn’t matter if the logo is “x” distance from the top of the screen. With brands wanting to get on TikTok and similar platforms, you need to think about if it looks and feels right.
It’s not about the size of the logo, it’s not about the technical stuff, it’s about how it feels. Does it look like us – that’s the best measure.”
Phil highlights the importance of the conversation you’re having on potential new platforms. “There are new visual formats coming out all the time. Just shifting reels across onto TikTok doesn’t work. Just because it’s the right shape doesn’t mean it’s the right conversation to have on that platform.”
Examples of new formats and platforms that can prompt a discussion:
- Twitter Spaces
- Instagram Reels
Quick read: Our creative, branding, and research experts share the best practical advice, tangible strategies, and most common mistakes they see in brand identity projects.
#7 – Taking a static approach to your visual brand’s value
Our final piece of advice comes from Phil about not taking a ‘static’ approach to your visual identity’s value and how you measure its success. “Creating a visual identity is not something you do and then just put on the shelf. It needs to breathe and evolve. So, evaluating the value of it needs to be continual. This can be as basic as looking at engagement figures on social media.
Are the stories you are telling effective? Evaluating this is an ‘always on’ process, and it might crescendo to a point where you’ve justified the need for a full review.”
Strengthening your Brand Identity – When and Where to Engage External Support
As Phil says above, you might get to a point where a full review of your brand identity is necessary, or maybe you are simply resource-limited and need some extra guidance on how to make the most of your current identity. If this is the case, there are many areas of expertise available to take advantage of.
Using external support to garner stakeholder buy-in
Gaining stakeholder buy-in is important for all marketing strategies, and Laura explains how external support can help with this.
“External support gives you that impartial voice. We’re the experts in brand, just as you are the experts in your own business. External support will bring those the expertise together.
To get buy-in from the team, sometimes it’s best to avoid ‘design by committee.’ Instead of having 50 people involved in the process, you can make people’s voices heard through interviews, questionnaires, and surveys. This also ensures that everyone feels like they’re part of the process and journey.”
Extra resource to help future-proof your visual identity
For Greg, external support can be beneficial to ensure all basis are covered in terms of future-proofing the assets and elements available to you. “External partners can assess your key touch-points and the needs of the business. They can then provide templates, a clear set of assets, and advise on how these are going to be rolled out.”
Structure and rigour
Lastly, Phil emphasises the structure and rigour an external partner can bring to the process. “External support brings with it experience, best practice and proof that it has worked elsewhere. Some stakeholders feel that they might already know the answer. Bringing in someone external is objective. External support can guide the process and keep it on the rails.”
The GO! Network is a free-to-use marketing intermediary, connecting in-house marketers with vetted agency partners that can help solve your challenge. If you’re looking to review or take on support, let us know here.