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First things first: what the heck is a ‘visual identity?

Well, it’s what many people think of as ‘branding’. I try to avoid using this word because it’s misleading. A ‘brand’ is SO much more than just its visual identity.

In fact, any marketeer will tell you that the brand of your business is its essence, or its soul. To be clear, it’s the way your business makes people FEEL whenever they interact with it. In whatever way they do that. Whether it’s using your website, phoning you or learning about your company from a third party.

All business brands make you feel something or other. Even those that aren’t important to you personally, in which case it’ll be ‘bored’ or (worse) ‘disengaged’. Clichéd examples of these are regularly trotted out by marketeers trying to make a point (Apple, Innocent, Red Bull, etc, etc). Thinking about each of these brands will give you an internal reaction of some kind – most likely the intended one, because they are VERY effective brands. I think a much clearer demonstration of brand personality comes from thinking of a less well-known or out of favour brand. Hoover for example, what reaction do you have? Thanks to Dyson, it’s probably: ‘behind the times’. Or, if you live on the south coast, try Southern Rail for size. Need I say more?

A visual identity is simply the representation of your brand on paper or online. It’s sometimes called the ‘look and feel’ of your business. It’s the way that the brand for your business is communicated through printed materials or online imagery.

So, how do you work out exactly what you want your visual identity to be?

The first step is to identify the brand values for your business – usually three to five adjectives that best describe the ‘personality’ of your brand. It’s best to be as specific as possible. Don’t just plump for ‘friendly’, for example. Most businesses want to be friendly (except Southern Rail). Go for ‘warm’, ‘welcoming’, ‘open’, or ‘chatty’ instead. You can see how each of these words means ‘friendly’, but each in a different way.

Then you take these three words to a graphic designer. They’ll use this information – and should ask lots of other questions too – (plus some amazing graphic designy MAGIC) to work out how to communicate these adjectives through a visual representation.

I also suggest to my clients that they choose someone famous whose personality is similar to how they want their business to come across. Among my clients, for example, I have a ‘Joanna Lumley’ and a ‘Fern Britton’.

What should be included in a visual identity?

First off, a logo. Your designer will most likely generate a few options for you, and you’ll whittle and refine these options down to your favourite.

Once you have settled on one and tweaked it into something you LOVE, you’ll need it supplied in three different versions: full colour, one for use in black and white printing (which will be black or grey) and a white version for use on a coloured background. You should also get some guidelines about the exclusion zone (or blank space) that must always be kept clear around your logo.

You may also want a watermark or ‘stamp’ version, which is a simplified logo that you can use to add interest to a page or layer over an image to claim ownership of it.

As well as your logos, you’ll want a finely honed, and specific set of colours. This colour palette will be used in your headings, borders, backgrounds, etc. Each colour should come with its own colour reference – CMYK which is used in printing and a hex number which is used to replicate an exact online colour in a design package such as Canva. It’s also useful to give these colours a name so that you can refer to them with other team members easily – saying ‘the light grey, not the dark grey’ begins to tire very quickly.

Next up will be a range of fonts for you to use for headings, subheadings and body text. You might also ask for a recommendation on the ‘point’ size for each of these types of text. A graphic designer is vital for helping to figure your fonts out. Choosing ONE nice font is easy, but putting two or more fonts together without making your work look like a horror show is very difficult for an amateur.

You might also include infographics or hand drawn images, depending on how fancy you want to get. For The Marketing Architect I have a range of textures that I use in my content, such as the ‘tile’ print that you see in green at the top of this page.

It’s a good idea to invest in a few photographs that fit within the style of your brand. Go with a well-recommended professional photographer, discuss your brand and show them your visual identity guidelines. Ask him or her to take headshots, photos of your team and your pictures that represent your product or service in action. Then, supplement these with cheaper, stock photographs from Shutterstock or Fotolia.

Why is consistency important?

Once you have these elements in place, use them and only them! Never, ever think ‘oh the font isn’t important, it’s just a doc for me.’ Set the font on your computer template and use it all the time. Get in the habit of doing this and you’ll instantly notice anything that’s not in ‘your’ font when it’s going outside of your business.

Taking these steps and sticking to your guidelines is key to developing a recognisable brand for your business. And, once your customers and prospects can spot your content, it’s the first step along the way to building the ‘know, like and trust’ relationships that make them feel comfortable about agreeing to buy from you.

Want some help with this? Get in touch, I can help you identify your brand values and manage the process of selecting the right graphic designer and creating a unique, beautiful and effective visual identity for your business.

Book yourself in for a free, no-obligation, but lots-of-questions-asked consultation here, I’d love to help.

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