Ultimately, all we want from our branding and marketing efforts is to drive results. But if those results aren’t coming at the rate you expect them to, the question remains, what can you do better to improve engagement with your audience and command the attention you deserve? While this answer is going to differ for each business and the community they’re targeting, nearly every successful business or ‘household name’ shares a common characteristic – a striking and engaging visual identity.
So how can you tell if your visual identity, or branding, is being shown in the best way possible and communicating to your audience effectively? In this article, we’ll explore the fundamental principles behind any great visual identity, but first, let’s clarify what we mean by successful branding.
Descriptions of branding usually become pretty vague, artistic and typically come across a bit snobby. And to make matters worse, if you ask 15 different designers “what branding is” you’re about to get 13 different answers.
To keep it straight forward, branding is, when done correctly, a direct connection to your customers. It’s how they perceive your business. But how can you tell if your branding is up to par with todays expectations, and driving positive results? With thousands of messages and call to actions being directed at people everyday, that question is more relevant than ever. So let’s dive into a few core attributes that every brand’s visual identity (their branding) should achieve, and how to spot it for your branding is hitting the mark.
"Branding is What People Say about You When You're not in the Room"
– Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of Amazon.com
One of the easiest tips for any brand in regards to their visual identity is to ensure they’re being consistent with their communications. This needs to be reviewed from a visual standpoint, as well as well as the tone of voice and style of their copy. For visual consistency, look at everything your brand touches, from printed pieces like letterheads, envelopes and business cards to your companies website, advertisements, receipts, emails…. You get the picture. Now, between all these pieces there should be some level of common ground between them. At the very least the font choices and colors, and ideally, graphic and composition styles should all match between them. A few questions to ask yourself:
• Are the same colors & fonts appearing across your brand?
• Do all of your collateral pieces seem to match well together, and achieve the same sense of quality?
• Does your copy appear in the same perspective across all of your collateral pieces, and do they all echo the same tone and messaging behind them?
Making sure that everything your brand touches looks, reads and feels like they’re all part of the same family is vital to effective branding, and leads directly into our next subject, recognizability.
Ultimately, recognizability is what we aim to achieve with your diligent work of ensuring your visual identity and brand voice are consistently applied across all of your business and customer touch points. The goal here is to make it so even without your logo present, your visual identity should be recognizable enough that people familiar with your brand will know that it came from you.
Before approving a logo design, tagline, or deciding on an overall visual style, you should stop and confirm that this final design doesn’t follow too closely to a competitor or other relevant brand on your target’s mind.
While some industries are going to have certain standards in how you present yourself, you should still have key characteristics that separate you from the herd. For instance, if you’re a business in the outdoor active wear space and have a focus on being responsible with your environmental footprint, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to take too much inspiration from Patagonia on how you present your brand. Since they’re in the same space as you with a very similar focus, you aren’t going to achieve clear separation in the eyes of consumers. And more importantly, the experience you present them won’t be unique or nearly as memorable.
Beyond you and/or your design partners’ judgement, asking one or two dozen people to review your design and make sure they don’t start a thought by saying… “you know, that looks a lot like.. [really big brand name or a direct competitors business here]”.
When this happens, it brings us back to the point of needing to stand out in the vast expanse of messages fighting for a consumer’s attention. If you look too similar to the last message, you’re not gaining any traction.
That’s why design trends should almost always be looked at skeptically. Especially with design growing ever prevalent on social media, trends spread quickly and while they can lead to momentary success, it’s rarely lasting and sustainable. That’s why (hopefully) you’re working with an expert that builds you a custom design system focused on timeless design practices, ensuring relevance for years to come.
A common theme we keep bringing up here is the obstacle that all brands face – their ever growing fight for their audience’s attention.
A piece we haven’t touched on yet is the best way to combat this and to stand out to your consumers – presenting a clear values driven purpose behind your brand.
Whether that be communicating your stance on current social issues like we touch on in a separate article, or clearly communicating the mission behind your company, showing your audience where you stand on current issues and what your purpose as a business is makes you far more relatable, and a standout candidate for your audience to do business with.
To drive this home, a recent study by Clutch.Co found that 58% of consumers support brands that agree with or support an issue they feel strongly about.
10 Tree is an excellent example of this. A clothing brand with a huge social media following, they’ve grown tremendously over the last two years as a direct result to connecting with their audience and driving home their purpose. In all of their communications, they consistently point to the positive impact they leave on the planet when a customer purchases their product, with the motto that with every shirt they sell, they plant 10 trees in the ground.
Another example of this (though less socially impactful) is Home Depot. Over the last few years, they’ve focused heavily on communicating their purpose of making home improvement easier, with large investments in new digital interfaces and software tools for their customers to make their work easier and faster.
10 Tree isn’t focusing on how soft their shirts feel or how high quality their fabric is, and Home Depot isn’t saying their products are better than everyone else’s. They’re providing a direct benefit to the customer and communicating it clearly, and often. Once their target has been communicated to enough, their brand becomes a direct correlation with the customer’s moral belief, which becomes a difficult bond to break.