Building Your Brand's Visual Identity in an Evolving Digital Landscape

By Paul Cowan, VP, Enterprise and SMB Marketing, Shutterstock

Paul Cowan, VP, Enterprise and SMB Marketing, Shutterstock

All brands have unique stories to tell, and visual content is arguably the most compelling way to share that story. Having a well-established visual identity for your brand is vital to help your content resonate with audiences while differentiating from the competition.

Just on Instagram alone there are over 95 million photos uploaded to Instagram each day, and it’s getting harder and harder to capture people’s attention. Building and maintaining a unique visual identity isn’t as easy as it used to be, and many marketers are starting to reassess what informs a brand’s visual identity and how to reflect it in content. 

"Marketers are responsible for helping their respective businesses differentiate themselves in today's digital landscape"

The formula is familiar to most marketers. A brand’s visual identity is still made up of every visual element that they use to connect with audiences. But the factors that have changed are the volume, variety, and frequency at which marketers are expected to create visual assets. Today marketers must maintain multiple social feeds and digital channels, while continually creating engaging, on-brand content to stand out amongst competitors. However, few marketing professionals are willing to take the steps to implement substantial changes to their content creation strategies, even though they have a desire to improve their content processes.

There is no perfect content creation strategy that suits all businesses. Because of this it’s important that marketers allocate time and resources to better understand their brand’s target audiences and existing processes then modify their content accordingly. If marketers can help develop a unique visual style and look for their brands content, that content has a better chance of standing out and leading to better recall. As a result, unique content can generate interest beyond existing customers, which can then lead to increased lead generation and revenues.

Additionally, marketers are responsible for helping their respective businesses differentiate themselves in today's digital landscape. A company who emphasizes differentiation as part of their marketing strategy is more likely to succeed in connecting with their customers on a deeper and more emotional level.

Below are a few visual examples from brands that are doing it right.

Consistent look and feel

Every company has their own look and feel to get their message across to their customers. Determine a few consistent elements within your visuals as a simple way to manage and update your brand identity.

Color is an easy place to start. Your business logo contains the primary colors of your brand, but are there other splashes of color that can be introduced to build consistency without overusing the primary colors? In the example below Chipotle uses bold color to emphasize the freshness of their food.

You can also achieve consistency by defining visual composition by channel. Are photos, illustrations or a combination of both best for your visual identity and which channels are these best suited for? When and how should visuals feature people and what features are important to include e.g. full body, portraits, demographics, shoot angle? Universal decisions on image composition for a brand is essential to deliver consistency and encourage brand recall among your audience.

Context, Audience & Differentiation

Building your brand’s visual identity in the digital age requires sophistication and dedication to overcome the challenge of constant change. Below are three keys to helping brands systematically build a strong visual identity:

#1: The first building block is to have a good understanding of the platforms on which you want to promote content. If not done correctly, modern consumers will immediately be able to identify content that looks out of place on a specific platform. It is therefore crucial to make sure your content fits the platform on which you’re posting. For example, posting Snapchat-style images on Pinterest won’t work, and vice versa.

#2: The next step is to leverage audience insight data to get a better understanding of your target customer: are they male or female? Do they respond better to humorous or serious content? In this step, it is vital to use sophisticated targeting tools in order to create relevant content that reaches your target demographic at the optimal moment.

#3: The following step is to study your competition. Specifically: what content are they pushing out, what’s their visual style, and what distinguishing factors can you employ to keep your brand looking distinct? It’s important to understand what your competition is doing, as you should not employ their direct tactics.

Differentiation from competitive set

In the automobile industry, every car has a different feel and a defined purpose, and it is important to relay that message when promoting it on media platforms. Smart cars, in the  example below, differentiates themselves by showcasing images of smart cars and their drivers in various cityscapes, which highlights the car’s versatility and gives a quirky and urban tone to their product. Their overall objective is to demonstrate the freedom and fun of owning a car in the city. Land Rover, on the other hand, sets itself apart by depicting a more rural, adventurous feel with photos and videos showing people enjoying the outdoors, and how the car enables them to do that.

Images courtesy of Shutterstock, produced by Shutterstock Custom for Smart Car. All trademarks depicted are the property of their respective owners. No affiliation with or endorsement of Shutterstock is hereby implied.

Following the steps outlined above will help you build a strong visual identity to ensure consistent messaging across channels, while also working to strengthen brand equity in the long-term.

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