Visual brand identity: How to find yours (and stick with it)

28th July 2021

It is hard to overestimate the importance of first impressions. This is true for businesses as much as for people. No matter the size of your company, your visual brand identity is essential for your success. It helps build brand recognition and is usually the first thing to capture your audience’s imagination. 

What is a visual brand identity? 

Your visual brand identity is based on five key elements: 

  • Color palette 
  • Typography
  • Logo design 
  • Imagery 
  • Brand guidelines

Together, these elements create your look. Ideally, your look becomes strong enough to allow your audiences to recognize your brand simply based on seeing one or more of these components.

Let’s delve into the five components of creating a visual brand identity…

1. Color palette

Color is an incredibly important identifier in our society. Think about classic white wedding dresses or dark funeral suits, for example. Business attire in industries like banking or finance is often restricted to darker, more subdued colors. 

The colors you choose for your brand will help differentiate you from your competitors. They will also elicit emotional reactions from your audience. 

Your brand’s color palette is a selection of colors you would like to be associated with your brand. They will be the foundation for other elements of your look. They will also set the mood of your brand. Many successful brands will choose a few primary colors and back them up with a selection of secondary colors. 

Take the messaging app WhatsApp, for example; the app’s core color is green. Users find the color in the app’s logo and its user interfaces for different devices. However, to allow the brand to be used with different color palettes, white and black versions also exist. 

Your brand’s color palette can help you both strengthen your connection to your industry as well as set you apart. For most small businesses, a combination of both might be most suitable. In any case, it is worth testing your audience’s response to your selection.

2. Typography

Just like colors and logos represent your brand’s identity, so does typography. The fonts or font families you choose can become a voice for your business before you think of straplines or write website copy. 

Typography conveys your brand values. For example, a traditional business may choose a serif-based typeface like Garamond or Times New Roman. On the other hand, sans serif typefaces are simpler and can help create a cleaner look. Script typefaces often convey creativity or femininity. A technology startup may prefer a more modern, edgy typeface. 

If you are choosing several fonts for your brand, they need to align with each other to create a consistent look. Usage is another key factor. For maximum impact, your business needs to use its chosen fonts consistently across all its communications. 

A strong font can help tie your communications together from brochures to social media posts, to your website. On the other hand, inconsistent use or excessive combinations of too many different fonts or font families are detrimental. They will make your brand look disorganized or even unprofessional. 

3. Logo Design

A good logo helps build brand loyalty, is memorable and sets your business apart from the competition. It communicates what your company does and who you are almost instantly.

Most logos are based on a combination of symbols and typography. However, there are examples of extremely successful companies using mainly symbols, such as car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz and oil company Shell. Companies like IBM and Visa have chosen the opposite and rely on typography only. 

Apart from looking beautiful, an effective logo has meaning built into the design. Even for small businesses, investing in a professionally designed logo is worth it.

An unprofessional, or even messy look is often enough to break potential customers’ trust, causing your business to lose income. However, a well-designed logo increases a company’s credibility and can help win business. 

Simplicity often works best for small businesses. Not many companies without long histories or large marketing budgets have strong brand recognition. A clear and simple logo can help build this recognition faster. 

4. Imagery

Pictures speak more than 1,000 words. Take Instagram and Pinterest, for example. Both social media platforms are built on the strengths of images. 

Brands that share consistent imagery on these platforms tend to create a stronger, more recognizable look. They also tend to outperform their competitors both on social media platforms and in business in general. 

Images you choose or create should fit in with your brand image in general to create a consistent, visual identity. 

Small businesses have a number of options when it comes to selecting images for their brand. Stock images are widely available and often a good starting point, especially if you are operating on a budget.

However, they will never be able to fully represent your brand. Another drawback of stock images is the fact that they are available to anyone. Consider hiring a professional photographer to create an image library exclusive to your business. 

Professional photography may seem like an extravagance for a small business, but it generally pays back several times over. A suite of images dedicated to your brand can often be used for several years across a wide variety of your company’s marketing collateral.  

5. Brand guidelines

Brand guidelines explain standards and rules for the use of each element of your visual brand. They ensure that colors, logos, fonts and images are used consistently. 

Far from limiting creativity, they help small businesses create coherent, recognizable brands. This consistency becomes even more important as a business grows.

Take global companies like airlines, for example. Strong brand guidelines mean that almost everyone recognizes a country’s flag carrier airline, whether they have traveled on its planes or not. 

This does not mean that brand guidelines are only important for large businesses. A small business benefits from having these guidelines as soon as you start hiring new team members. A thorough brand manual ensures that the brand’s visual elements are used to the company’s advantage from the first day. 

Creating a strong visual brand allows small businesses to set themselves apart from their competitors. It helps develop a strong, professional image that is recognizable by the brand’s target audience and beyond. 

Building a unique, memorable brand is only possible if all its visual elements fit together and match. A cohesive brand like this is a strong brand and more likely to succeed. 

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