See me waving at you from over here in my shop?!
Yes, you, in the gray JCrew sweater!
Please, come buy something!
So I’m not literally doing that. Obvi.
But that is what your branding does. Figuratively. Or more accurately, that’s what your branding does when done properly.
In your creative, coaching, or online business, branding is what allows you to stand out from the crowd and get the attention of your specific people. Namely, your ideal clients.
While the rise of digital marketing has provided creative entrepreneurs and coaches with more opportunity than ever to create success, the flip side is that so many others are doing the same.
Ensuring you are distinctive in your branding is essential to achieving that...uh, well, distinctiveness.
Branding goes far beyond the visual, including your brand identity and brand story, as well as the products and services you sell, your voice, content, and a host of other considerations.
So how do you establish clarity and consistency in your branding, and why is it so critical to the success of your business?
Brand Identity is the Sum of your Audience’s Perceptions of You and Your Business
When people become invested in a brand, it’s because that brand is relatable, identifiable, and feels like a coherent being, almost like a person. When they love a brand, they see that 'person' as a friend.
It’s the whole know, like, and trust thing you’ve heard a billion times.
You’ve heard it a billion times because it’s TRUE.
Good friends are hard to come by, and so are good brand identities. You need to be distinct enough that people remember you, yet relatable enough that they like you, while simultaneously providing them with the thing they need most, whatever that may be (support, love, fun, information, adventure, etc.).
When you have a solid brand identity you cease to be a faceless, nameless business in an endless ocean of digital marketing, and become a vital being; one your audience will want to befriend. And eventually, buy from.
To do this, you need to have a positive impact and influence on your audience and ensure they see you in a positive light.
How Visual Brand Identity Affects Your Business
Visual branding is a HUGE part of how your audience perceives you, for the very reason that it is the thing they literally see.
While many other factors affect their perceptions of you, your visual brand is likely the first impression they get, and as such it’s uber important.
It’s also vital that your visual branding is consistent across all your platforms, be it your website, social media, email marketing, or whatever other avenues you use to promote your business.
Branding is all about recognition and perception, and if your brand looks or feels different depending on where people see you, they won’t recognize you from one place to the next. Worse still, you will give the impression you are unreliable.
Consistent branding can be the difference between people thinking about you first whenever they consider your niche, or forgetting you immediately. It can also be the difference between them deciding you are the right person to work with, and moving on to someone else because your brand seems like a hot mess.
Branding shows that you’re trustworthy. No one wants to hand their money to someone who’s all over the place.
Define Your Brand’s Personality
The first step in clearly defining your visual brand identity is determining who you are and what your business stands for. What is the ‘personality’ of your brand? Once you have settled on who you are and what you stand for, consider how you can visually represent those things.
It can be difficult to express your brand personality, especially in the world of online marketing, where there is often no face-to-face contact between you and your audience.
One of the simplest solutions to this, which works particularly well for creatives, coaches, and entrepreneurs, is for you to become the ‘face’ of your brand.
The personality of your visual branding develops from you - literally. Many entrepreneurs choose to use images of themselves as the primary visual aspects of their branding. They establish color schemes and other visual elements that reflect both their personality and the feeling they want to elicit in people. They incorporate these elements into their brand photography and use them across their platforms.
Here’s a trick for further developing and defining the personality of your brand. Think of two (or three) characters, icons, or figures that might represent your brand.
For example, my brand could be described as a cross between a more down to earth Charlotte York Goldenblatt from Sex and the City and a more smiley and less intense Olivia Pope from Scandal.
Olivia is quick, witty, focused, determined, and intuitive. And a lover of wine.
Charlotte, on the other hand, is more reserved, fiercely loyal, enthusiastic, and optimistic.
They both have humor and a certain degree of grace and elegance despite frustrations, challenges, and huge mistakes. While I’m still uniquely me, these characters both have traits and characteristics that I, and my brand, also embody.
A personality is extremely broad a multi faceted. Paring it down through characters can help you narrow down the aspects that are part of your brand. Using other characters can help you determine the best aspects and characteristics you’ll focus on. It’s often easier to recognise them in other people we compare ourselves to, than it is to see them in ourselves.
Moreover, it can be particularly useful when you’re working with another professional such as a graphic designer or branding photographer to help you develop your brand. They already have familiarity with the character, or can through a quick google search, which provides valuable insight into what I mean when I say “feminine,” “classic,” “clean.”
See if you can go beyond the #basic.
I get it and I agree, Audrey Hepburn is totally gorgeous and classy and I know, I know, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is actually your fave movie, but see if you can use a bit more creativity.
When you’re the face of your brand, that brand needs to be genuine -- it needs to actually be you. Don’t adopt branding that’s trending right now, or that you see working for someone else.
People can see through it and aren't going to know, like, and trust you when they perceive you as phony or striving.
If you’re uncomfortable using yourself as the literal face of your business, consider what might work well as an avatar for your personality, or what is central to your products and services.
For example, if you work with dogs or children, you might choose to focus all of your imagery on a dog, or child-related images. Likewise, if you’re a yoga instructor or crystal healer, your images might all focus on healthy people practicing yoga, or zen-like images containing the crystals you work with.
Brand personality is as individual as you are, so take your time thinking about this, and make sure it’s something that feels 100% genuine.
Make Sure You Know Your Ideal Client
You probably already know that for marketing purposes defining your ideal client is SO important. Where visual branding is concerned, it’s just as important.
If you’re using images of people in your branding, you want people who look like your ideal client regarding age, gender, and any relevant professions or hobbies.
You will also need to know what your ideal client expects from your brand visually. Are there certain colors they respond to best, individual styles they favor?
The more you understand your ideal client and what they want, the more you can bring your brand in line with them visually, ensuring they relate to you as much as possible, and are more likely to become your ‘friend'.
Keep It Simple
A large part of ensuring clarity in your visual branding is making sure you don’t over complicate it. When you have a lot of things going on visually, you run the risk of confusing people. Too many colors make a brand appear loud and busy. Too many different styles and themes give the impression you have no clear vision of your brand, and it lacks consistency.
Where visual elements are concerned, it’s better to be underwhelming than overwhelming.
You can create an incredibly compelling brand with a simple color palette and a clear understanding of the visual elements you will use.
Logos get a bad rep. A lot of brands mistake a logo for the totality of their branding, while others are so keen to avoid such a simple approach to visual branding that they neglect to have a logo altogether, or use several different ones.
Let’s be clear: you don’t need a logo. Heck, I don’t have one!
If for whatever reason you feel your brand isn't suited to a logo, or you prefer only to use the name of your business (or yourself) written in a particular font, that’s fine.
But if you are going to use a logo, you need to ensure it does several things:
- Establishes who you are and what you do.
- Is simple enough to still make sense when seen in small sizes.
- Is versatile enough to be used in different places, for different things, and in different formats.
- Effectively evokes a sense of your brand identity.
It’s useful to have a few different versions of your logo to ensure you can always use it. If it’s even slightly complicated ensure you have an incredibly simple version to use when needed. If it’s in color ensure you have a black and white version available. Make sure it will fit in a variety of shapes - squares and circles are more versatile because they easily fit into other shapes, while rectangles and other long shapes are difficult because they don’t easily fit into shapes with relatively even dimensions.
Another element of visual branding it’s easy to get wrong is typography. Your fonts need to be pleasant to look at, evoke a sense of your brand’s personality, and most importantly be easy on the eyes.
So many brands get caught up in their love affairs with fancy fonts and completely miss the fact they are tough to read.
Nothing will damage the clarity of your brand vision more than fonts that are impossible to read, or so distracting they prevent people from focusing on your content and offerings.
Establish set fonts for your brand and stick to them. I recommend choosing two or three. Which font will you use for your main text? Which for headings? It’s useful to have two different title fonts, one for large headings and one for smaller ones. If you’re going to use an ornate font, make it your large header font. You can also use this font to pick out single words and phrases on graphics (such as social media memes).
The fonts need to work well together. For example, if you use a cursive script as one of your fonts, you may want something that is easy to read and simple for your other font. If you use a serif font for your headers, you might want to try a sans serif font for your body text.
It’s also helpful to have a font that works well for fine print and tiny text, such as URLs on graphics and terms and conditions.
Consider the impression the fonts give. If you have a serious business purpose, such as accountancy or legal areas, a funny, flippant font is not going to create the right impression. On the other hand, if your brand is all about humor, fun, and laughter, a straight-laced, plan font is not going to have the desired effect either.
Download my FREE Brand Guide for great examples of font pairings.
Create a Color Palette
Colors tend to be the first thing we think about when considering a brand.
People decide whether or not they like a brand in 90 seconds or less. 90% of that decision is based solely on color.
Choosing your brand colors is very important and has a psychological element to it. Different colors create different impressions, emotions, and inspire different actions. Color theory can help you build your brand. Which, duh! Helps you make more sales.
I dive more deeply into the basics of psychology and color theory in the Brand Guide above.
It’s a good idea to have two primary colors, as well as at least one contrasting color. Don’t discount the use of black and white in your color scheme - you can make these the core of your colors with a monochrome look, or you can quickly add them as extras to use in addition to your brand colors (this is particularly useful for text on graphics).
Try out a few different color palettes, and ensure you settle on something that is both authentic to you and your personality, and appropriate for your niche and the purpose of your business.
Here a quick guide to the different colors and what they mean. Be sure to download my Brand Guide for a further explanation plus examples.
How To Establish Visual Brand Consistency
Once you have settled on the visual elements of your brand, create templates using those elements so you can easily replicate your brand’s ‘look’ whenever you create something new. Canva is excellent for this, enabling you to easily create templates, copy them, duplicate them, and resize them as needed. If you spring for the paid version, you can also set your brand elements like fonts, colors, and logo, so they are automatically used when you create something new.
Ensure you have a template for every visual element you regularly create, such as social media posts, blog images, email marketing images, website elements, other content you might create (downloadable freebies, courses, etc.) and any physical products you produce.
Establish Image Characteristic And Use Filters
If you’re using photographs as part of your branding decide what characteristics your photographs will have. While images will always contain a full spectrum of colors, you can easily match them to your brand colors by ensuring there is a dominant element in every image that is the same as your brand color. For example, if your main brand color is purple, you might ensure all your images contain something - flowers, clothing, objects, etc. - that is purple.
Beyond this, you should decide on whether or not you will include people in your images. If so, what age, what gender, and what kind of activities will they be doing? Will they be alone, in groups, or a mixture? Are there particular objects you want to include in all your images? For example, coaches often favor images that include the things their clients use on a regular basis. If you’re a business coach, you might include laptops and other electronic devices, notebooks, planners, and stationery.
Once you’ve decided on the content of your images, it’s easy to ensure they are consistent by always using the same image filter on every one. This might have a color tint in your brand color, or create a feel in keeping with your visual branding. For example, if your branding is all about orange, yellow, and sunshine, you might use a ‘summer’ filter on all your images to make them bright and cheerful.
Create Your Brand Guide
The best way to ensure consistency and clarity in your visual brand is to have a written outline of it that is readily available to everyone working in your business. Download The Brand Guide now and use it to create a totally clear and completely consistent guide for your visual branding.