In today's consumer culture, brands need to make sure they remain top of mind for their customers, after all—they are competing with many other brands for their limited attention. Many successful companies utilize visual brand stories to keep their customers coming back and choosing them over the competition.
You can't create a successful visual brand story without getting back to the basics:
What are your brand elements?
Do your campaigns align with your brand guide?
What is your brand personality, and does it appeal to your target audience?
Is your branding cohesive?
Will your branding stand the test of time?
These questions are essential for all businesses to answer in order to provide a foundation necessary for a cohesive visual brand story, expressed with purpose.
Branding vs. Campaigns
Brand elements are the key attributes of your brand story that should carry through to every touchpoint for your audience: logo, font treatments, colors, tone, etc.—the attributes that apply to everything. Campaigns are smaller spurts of marketing with a specific purpose. Campaigns should use brand elements for cohesion but allow the use of violators (a specific callout or special new attribute that will run its course by the end of the campaign). Violators draw attention to a specific feature of the package or product by disrupting the status quo of your branding—this can be as simple as incorporating the word "NEW" in a bright color on your package.
A brand guide is a visual document that helps keep track of all the elements of your brand. Your brand guide should be established before you go public with your branding, but that rarely happens, especially with smaller startup businesses. Some brands just kind of wing it, making it up as they go along, which leaves them to sort through their elements after the fact. Establishing a guide ahead of time makes design and marketing decisions easier, quicker, and more efficient. Good brand guides can adapt and grow with a brand as more needs are defined.
Do you recall ever seeing an anniversary version of a logo with a banner or some sort of celebratory image incorporated? Yep, that's a perfect example of a campaign. The celebratory image (the violator) is only around for the duration of the campaign, and the brand elements are not changed so dramatically that you no longer have that connection to their brand. Take Pizza Hut® for example. For their 60th anniversary, they changed the "i" in their logo to a candle and added clean text around the logo for further clarification—but kept all of their same colors, font treatments, etc., to make sure you knew at first glance whose logo you were looking at.
Appeal to Your Audience
Do you know who your audience is? Do you have any statistics to back that up? To be clear, your target consumer profile should be focused on your actual consumer. Defining your target audience can help you form your content and speak to who matters on a more personal level. Keep your target audience interested by following a focused brand story.
What do your brand elements say about you? Chipotle® is especially popular with Generation Z because of their casual, hand-drawn style, clean font, and focus on ingredients and the environment. Their tone of voice is another element that carries through with causal matter-of-fact confidence. They launched their 20-year anniversary campaign this past year showing a timeline of steps they've taken to source fresh, natural ingredients. The campaign was different than others they've done, but it still spoke in their tone, used their hand-drawn illustrations, clean text, and focused on what matters to them and their audience. Their brand story rings true. No matter their campaign, their presence fits in the parameters of their brand guide.
The elements you choose when defining your brand will set the stage. Determining your ideal brand personality, creating a mood board of ideas and styles you lean toward, and exploring color are good places to start if you’re in the infantile stages or performing an audit for a rebrand. We use market and consumer research to support our design decisions. It’s important our clients are on board with our concepts but their audience is in the forefront of our minds as we go through the process.
Does Your Brand Lack Cohesion?
Your brand's personality should always be apparent. Taking a step back is essential to ensure your story isn’t lost on your audience. Sometimes getting an outsider's perspective and guidance can be a useful practice. It's helpful to have someone unfamiliar with your brand assist in this process. Listening to an outsider's perspective can help ease the blindness of being in the thick of it, day in and day out.
Creating content across multiple platforms can be overwhelming, especially when juggling printed and digital materials in tandem. Adobe offers features that work between all their programs to help keep brand elements from getting lost. We use Adobe Library to create a virtual brand guide for each brand we work with. It stores logos, icons, images, color swatches, and commonly used groupings of text like disclaimers and footers. Adobe InDesign’s Styles feature aids in consistency across marketing materials and packaging over time. Once font styles and layout spacing are defined and created into styles, we apply them to a new package or piece of literature providing consistency with visual elements.
We also implement data-driven design. This allows a single source of product information to feed all platforms, increasing consistency and reducing human error.
The Long Haul
Brands evolve, but too much change can distort your brand story, disconnecting your audience, and wrecking that neat little package that is your identity. Brands should have a consistent feel whether seen as a post on Instagram or on the shelf at a local grocery store.
Coca-Cola® knows what they're doing. They've kept their key brand elements intact over their entire existence as a company—bold, commanding red; Coca-Cola streaming across in their script font; use of their "white wave" that follows the same styling as their font. Their ads have always been straightforward without much visual clutter. They are consistently running smaller campaigns, but their identity stays intact.
Oreo® is another notable example. They have a variety of product lines—original Oreos, limited flavors, ice cream, the list goes on. They always incorporate their logo in a prominent position on the center of the front of their products. Their packages are almost always their signature blue—exceptions are made when violators like a bright, warm yellow or a red are used for selected limited-edition flavor campaigns. Realistic photos of the food appear on their packages, emphasized with that special key ingredient in the background or the top cookie twisted off to reveal their mouthwatering center.
Design for All
Products and consumers' expectation of them should be easily discernible. Branding should be obvious, consistent, cohesive, appeal to the proper audience, and stand the test of time. Having a complete knowledge of the market and consumer data in addition to the right tools will allow your brand to create a consistent visual brand story.