April 1, 2020
Over the past few years, as the idea of a “brand” started becoming a buzzword and started expanding into many different areas of business, there were many articles explaining, “what the heck is a brand??”
I have many thoughts on that question, but I think we could narrow this down even further to ask, “what is a visual brand?”
This is especially important as you consider visually branding your business, creating a logo, and a style system. Every designer, it seems, has a different definition of what a visual brand is. Here’s my interpretation — one that’s been honed over years of both designing brands for businesses and designing inside of many small businesses, often using brand assets that another designer created.
If you’re looking for a list of deliverables, here’s what we include in every brand style guidance package:
But this list of deliverables doesn’t really answer any questions, does it? There’s a specific reason why we chose to include each of these things, and more importantly, there’s a really cool multiplier effect that happens when they’re all designed together. For this reason, we design entire brands all at once and present them to our clients in their entirety. Because seeing individual elements to approve doesn’t help you see how they interact with each other and the context in which each of these elements will appear.
When we talk about visual branding, what we’re actually helping you create is a brand environment. The surroundings and the conditions in which your business operates. All of these conditions affect how your customers will perceive you and how you treat your customers.
Imagine you’ve planned a fancy dinner for your birthday. You just made reservations at a restaurant that’s been boasting its impeccable service, beautiful presentation, and unique flavors from a famous chef. You get ready for the night by putting on your favorite black dress, fancy heels, and a swipe of lipstick. You’re ready to sip on some sommelier-recommended wine and to finish off the meal with gold-leaf encrusted chocolate cake.
You get to the restaurant and… the lighting is fluorescent, the servers are wearing screen-printed t-shirts, and without any music, all you can hear is the sound of people chewing, silverware scraping against plates, and the rumble of conversations at other tables.
As a customer, you’re more likely to place a lesser value on the food, you’ll want to leave sooner, and you’ll feel a little bit like an idiot for showing up in your best dress only to have to wipe crumbs off your vinyl booth seat.
That’s a brand environment that’s incongruent with the value and the quality of the product, and it makes you distrust the restaurant. You’ll probably go home feeling let down and grumpy.
But imagine you walked into that restaurant and the host remembered it was your birthday and gave you the best seat in the house. Imagine the lighting is soft and warm and there’s a calming piano melody coming from the live musician. Your server recommends wine and specialties you might love, spaces out your entrees at the perfect time, and never lets your wine glass go empty. The bathrooms have amazing-smelling soaps and complimentary floss and bobby pins. There’s no rush to get the check, so you order another glass of wine, and at the end of the evening, you’re feeling so good and taken care of that you decide to treat yourself to an at-home spa treatment. The next day, you wake up looking radiant and feeling so special.
That’s the power of your brand environment! It helps you highlight your best qualities as a business and ties all of your good ideas together with a common theme. Most importantly, it helps your customer make decisions that align with your brand and products, and imparts them with a specific feeling or set of emotions that improves their lives in the way your brand promised it would.
On a visual level, your brand environment is composed of all the branding deliverables — colors, fonts, patterns, photography — and is determined by the way those elements are combined in a unique way. This unique brand formula makes your brand highly recognizable and trustworthy. That way, no matter where your brand is (whether it’s your website, on Instagram, your product on a retail shelf, or a business card), customers will recognize that it’s you!
From a design standpoint, it helps us to think of your visual brand in its entirety — how do all parts of the customer journey look together and in progression — rather than focusing on a single graphic or touchpoint.
We’re talking big-picture, y’all! Because as important as it is to hook a potential customer with a great design, it’s more important to gain their trust and delight them through a brand environment that’s consistent across touchpoints and consistent with your values and product.