What you see is what you get when it comes to visual branding. When a customer encounters your branded visuals, they’ll use that experience to make assumptions about your business.

To make a great first impression, you’ll need a brand image that communicates what you want your audience to know about your business, at a glance. Here’s what to do, and why it matters.

What is visual branding?

Visual branding is an important facet of your marketing strategy. It consists of all the visual elements used to represent your business, from your logo to the font on your business cards. Each component works together to create the overall look and feel of your brand.

Your visual branding serves several purposes.

First, it’s there to convey your brand personality and make an emotional impression on your audience.

Next, your brand’s visual identity will help your audience learn about your business. Potential customers use visual cues to understand:

  • Where your business fits in the market.
  • What makes your brand unique.
  • What they can expect from your products or services.

Finally, your visual branding approach will help unite the many fragments of your brand through consistent images. Whether your target customer looks at an email newsletter, Instagram post or brochure, shared visual branding elements will signal that it’s your business speaking.

Why does developing a visual brand identity matter for your business?

When customers shop around for businesses to work with, they are indeed judging the book by its cover. In other words, they’re evaluating your business based on its visual branding.

Why? Well, in many ways, the brand experience echoes the customer experience.

If a prospective client encounters a brand where quality and detail appear to matter, they will expect the same level of quality and attention to detail with your products or services. However, if your visual branding is on the sloppier side, they probably won’t anticipate top-notch service.

When your audience encounters visuals that signify a playful, fun brand personality, they’ll look forward to having a blast with your business. When they come across a more buttoned-up brand, they’ll know you take important matters seriously.

Your approach to visual branding can also say a lot about your position in the market. This is known as brand positioning. By representing your brand through high-end visuals and custom design work, you’re hinting that your audience can expect to pay a premium. If you’re just squeezing by with the bare minimum, this signals you have a smaller budget and, most likely, lower prices to match.

5 main elements of visual branding

Your brand identity is made up of 5 key components:

  1. Logo.
  2. Typography.
  3. Color palette.
  4. Graphic elements.
  5. Imagery.

Let’s take a look at each of these visual branding essentials in detail:

1. Logo

Logo is an umbrella term that describes all visual elements used to identify or represent a brand. However your logo looks, it should be a unique signifier that introduces or reinforces your business name and brand personality. Consider it the “face” of your brand.

When you’re thinking about how to represent your brand visually, keep in mind that there are several different types of logo elements you can play with.

Source: Vecteezy.com

A wordmark or logotype is one that is primarily composed of text, and usually features the brand’s name in a stylized font. For example, the cursive Coca-Cola logo and boxy FedEx logo are instantly recognizable wordmarks.

Another possible component is a brand mark or logomark, a pictorial image used to represent the brand. Think of the Target Bullseye or the Nike Swoosh.

Of course, some logos combine a wordmark and brand mark. Target’s use of bright red Helvetica text is just as memorable as the Bullseye brand mark. These two elements can be used together or separately, depending on the application.

You might also choose to add a tagline to your logo to explicitly state what your company does, where it’s located or when it was established.

Here, you can see variations of the British Airways logo. It’s made up of the wordmark spelling out the airline’s name and Speedmarque brand mark. Like the Bullseye and Swoosh, the Speedmarque is often decoupled from the company name and used to reinforce the brand’s identity during various customer touchpoints.

2. Typography

When your brand has something to say, the way your text looks on the screen or page will add an additional level of meaning beyond the words themselves. Big, block letters will convey strength and stability; a swirling script might communicate elegance and tradition. That’s the magic of typography.

Typography is a science and visual art form related to the display of text. In terms of visual branding, it’s the specific brand fonts you choose and how you use them.

Graphic design experts often recommend pairing a sans serif font with a serif font to distinguish headers from body copy. The little tapering lines known as serifs can add an air of distinction to the text. But their absence can create a sleek, modern appearance. When used in tandem, both styles can give your brand messages a balanced feel.

British Airways embraces this technique, with a serif font used in the word mark and variations on Mylius Modern, a sans serif typeface, for other text. (Note the use of the Speedmarque here as well.)

3. Color palette

The color palette you select for your logo and other visual content will evoke an emotional response and contribute certain qualities and characteristics to your brand. In the language of colors, verdant greens can represent balance and nature, cool blues evoke a feeling of calm and sunny yellows suggest warmth and optimism. The colors you use, and how you combine them, will really set the mood.

Your core color palette could involve just a primary and secondary color, or several different hues. British Airways uses specific shades of blue, white and red as a nod to the Union Jack.

An extended color palette can give you more options when it comes to design. For instance, you might specify a light option, a dark option and several neutral hues that complement your core color palette. These help add depth to your primary color choices and complete the ambiance of a visual piece of branded content.

4. Graphic elements

Additional details that feel true to your brand can add dimension to your visual identity. When creating marketing collateral and other pieces of design, you can incorporate graphic design elements like:

  • Shapes.
  • Patterns.
  • Textures.
  • Negative and positive space.
  • Linework.
  • Icons.
  • Formatting.

These elements, of course, can be rendered in your brand color palette. They can even share similar visual qualities with your logo design and typography.

5. Imagery

Finally, the photos and illustrations you include across your branded content should reinforce the same look and feel as the rest of the elements we’ve covered. Whether you use stock photography, original shots or custom graphics, these can help evoke your brand’s personality and values.

Each picture speaks a thousand words — so be sure that the people, places, products and props you feature communicate the right message.

As outlined in the British Airways brand guidelines, the airline prefers “epic panoramas” that evoke “the romance of travel.” It also encourages realistic product photography that clearly and realistically illustrates the function of a particular travel accessory.

 

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A post shared by British Airways (@british_airways)

The creative direction you choose for your images can also be influenced by your brand color palette. The cb2 brand centers on dramatic, high-contrast hues and geometric shapes. Accordingly, the retailer uses imagery that exhibits these colors and qualities in their catalogs and Instagram posts.

Characteristics of a good visual identity

A successful visual identity will make a great first impression with your audience. From then on, it can boost brand awareness and resonance throughout the customer lifecycle.

Here are the most important visual branding characteristics:

It’s meaningful

Your visual brand is an important communication tool. So, the visual “language” you use should help reinforce your brand personality and marketing messages. Colors, fonts and images represent different emotions and attributes, meaning it’s important to choose elements that express the right meaning for your brand.

It’s memorable

In order to promote brand recognition, you’ll want a visual brand identity that is recognizable and memorable.

Including concrete or abstract visual cues that connect your business to your industry or services is a helpful way to communicate who you are and what you do.

Or, if your business is just starting out, including a wordmark in your logo will help reinforce your brand name. If you just use a brand mark, viewers might remember the unique image but not the name itself. That won’t come in handy when they try to find you on Google.

It’s simple

Your logo and other visuals should stand out from the competition, but they should be simple enough for your audience to remember easily.

When people were asked to draw car logos from memory, the most simple, streamlined logos proved easiest to recall. There were a lot more accurate logo sketches for Audi than Alfa Romeo — and some very poorly drawn Ferrari horses. But the fact that 82% of participants actually attempted to illustrate the Prancing Horse is a good sign for brand awareness.

It’s versatile

Incorporating practical and versatile elements into your visual branding approach will make it easier to promote consistency. After all, the same visual brand identity will need to appear across all branded assets. Depending on your business, these might include your:

  • Website.
  • Advertisements.
  • Social media content.
  • Print materials.
  • Product labeling and packaging.
  • Email communications.
  • Business cards.
  • Mobile app.
  • Branded merchandise.
  • Staff uniforms.
  • Office or storefront design.
  • Service vehicles.

Here’s what this means in practical terms. You might get excited about using a color gradient on your website. But, if you’re in the construction industry, you’ll quickly realize it won’t be affordable (or possible) to order screen printed hard hats, mesh safety vests or embroidered polo shirts with that gradient. Another texture or pattern would be more adaptable.

It’s consistent

Last but not least, ensuring visual consistency is key. Whether customers first meet your brand on social media or by spotting your service van on their street, they should have the same brand experience. Once you’ve established a meaningful, memorable, simple and versatile brand image, use it to create cohesion across different visual touchpoints.

A quick tour of the visual branding process

Whether you’re taking a DIY approach with your own set of branding tools or partnering with a brand agency, the steps in the visual branding process will look fairly similar:

  1. Articulate your brand personality and how it relates to your business goals and values.
  2. Conduct market research to understand your competitors’ visual branding approaches and what your target audience will be looking for.
  3. Gather inspiration and collect visual references through moodboards, sketches, mockups and other exercises.
  4. Create logo design options that could represent your brand, then choose the one that feels like the right fit.
  5. Select other visual elements that work well with your logo and complete your visual brand.
  6. Develop a brand style guide to document your strategy and ensure visual consistency moving forward.

The brand style guide is the all-important deliverable your visual branding project will conclude with. Here’s an example from the British Airways brand guidelines.

It provides an at-a-glance overview of the brand mark and wordmark used in the logo, the brand color palette, brand font, imagery and other graphic elements. It even references the brand voice that should be injected into all marketing messages.

This comprehensive, 147-page document details visual branding do’s and don’ts to promote a strong and consistent visual identity. Your business might not need a style guide with quite as much detail, but your approach can still be the same.

Don’t underestimate the power of visual branding

The right visual branding can instantly draw customers in, attract top talent and empower internal teams. It can serve as a guiding force, keeping you aligned with your core values and inspiring you to take your business to greater heights.

So, what are you waiting for?

Jessica Barker is a Chicago-based content writer at Brafton. When she's not mixing work and wordplay, you'll find her curled up with a cat and a cuppa, wearing various hats as a fashion historian, GIA-accredited jewelry blogger and crafter.