If you’ve worked in marketing for any length of time, you know just how important it is to have a strong, cohesive brand identity. These days, your brand — and its visual identity — are just as important as the product you’re selling. And with the high expectations of today’s average consumer, a visual strategy can make or break a business. But why? What does brand even mean? 

Marketing maven Seth Godin explains brands as:

“A set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”

It’s the part of your company that keeps your audience emotionally invested. You know: The part that makes your audience feel things, and that makes folks stick around.

So why are visuals so important, then? Think about this: The average person is hit with around 5,000 ads per day. (That figure is from 2007, so it’s fair to assume that today’s number is higher.) Additionally, the human brain can process images 60,000 times faster than text. Humans are visual by nature, so the appropriate question here is why wouldn’t you have a visual strategy in place?

A visual strategy lays down guidelines for styling your brand, and offers a lens through which your brand can view the world and its place within it. Your visual strategy is the framework of how you share your story, which helps your team put your ideas into cohesive action. So, are you ready to get started?   

Targeting your audience

Before anything else, we first need to determine your objectives. Take this time to identify your audience, as well as the needs or desires your visual strategy will meet for them. (This is  a great opportunity to develop buyer personas for your audience.)

Get specific about your audience: What age ranges do they fall in? What regions do they live in? What are their online browsing habits? What are their pain points that your product or service addresses? And how can your visual strategy aid that?

Identifying your audience will help you determine which marketing channels are the best fit when it comes time to put your strategy to work. Matching your audience to the appropriate channels will guide your decision-making process as to what kinds of visuals you’ll need to create.  

Remember: Social media is about meeting your audience in their space at the right time and place, and sparking meaningful conversations and interactions that make a lasting impression. But you can only do that if you know your audience like the back of your hand, which means it’s important to constantly evaluate and re-evaluate your audience research, since your target market (and their interests) will shift over time.

Next, it’s time to solidify your social media goals. There are a lot of different directions you could take with this, so it’s important to be precise and ensure that these targets effectively support your overall business goals. Here are some thought-starters:

  • Build brand awareness
  • Drive traffic to your website to bring in inbound leads
  • Showcase your company’s culture
  • Increase audience/customer engagement
  • Improve ROI

This isn’t an exhaustive list — you know your business better than anyone else, after all. So what goals make sense for yours? Make sure these are documented and communicated with your team to hold everyone accountable as you move forward, because these goals will be your foundation as you build your visual strategy.

Now, let’s get into the fun part!

Share your brand’s story

Why are you in business? How did it all start? What impacts do you hope to have on the world? It’s incredibly crucial to take time to think through all of this. Write. It. Down. Make sure that it’s accessible to everyone in your business. You and your team must be on the same page about the details of your brand’s story in order to produce powerful work. Humans are emotional creatures. So, storytelling will be at the heart of your strategy.

Your brand story will get the wheels turning on how you want to tell that story with imagery. Be intentional with this process. This isn’t one to rush. This story will carry your business through everything for the years to come—so make it worth it! And always be authentic.

Worth a thousand words

Now that you’ve nailed down your brand story, it’s time to think about how you’ll tell that story. Grab your team for a brainstorming session — word associations with your business is a perfect place to start!

What words come to mind when you think of your business? Make note of everything that’s called out. And don’t forget your customers — what words might they correlate with your brand? It’s beneficial to have several minds working on this, as everyone’s perspective is unique and can draw some important insights for you to act on.

Now, group those words into categories or ‘buckets.’ You can pull out a ‘hero’ word for each of those buckets, and have the other words you’ve called out fall into those buckets. These buckets can act as pillars of your strategy, meaning that any kind of visual you produce moving forward should play into at least one of those pillars or messaging themes.

This is also something you’ll want to keep documented for your team as they work to ensure messaging consistency. Remember to revisit this process every once in a while — just as your business grows and evolves, so should the foundations of your strategy.

#Mood

Now the actual visual planning starts. The best way to reign in and lay out all of your ideas is a mood board. Mood boards are a fantastic and effective way to capture the styles, colors, and emotions you want to elicit while keeping your goals and objectives in mind. It’s time to flex those creative muscles!

Mood-boarding isn’t a perfect process — you may have a ton of ideas bouncing around in your mind and you may find that once all laid out, they don’t exactly go together. But this is your chance to flesh out all possibilities and let your thought process run wild, so get it all out in the open and worry about refining your ideas afterwards.

Don’t leave anything out here: Your mood board can include font styles, color swatches, color themes, color ratios, words, people, scenery, icons, patterns, textures, layers — anything goes! Anything that’s going to inspire you and your team to produce images that tie back into your word association exercises is fair game. (Here are some brand mood boards from Pinterest to get the ideas flowing.)

You may think that you have to be an artist to make a mood board, but that’s not the case! You can always make a physical board, but you can also easily make one online using free graphic tools like Canva. They even have preset grids perfect for mood boarding that you can quickly plug images into.

If you don’t have your own imagery, sites like Unsplash are great for gathering stunning images to inspire your strategy.  

Plan your work and work your plan

Now let’s put those ideas to work. Building a content calendar will keep you and your team on track. With it, you’ll lay out the kinds of content you’ll need, whether that’s photography, text graphics, videos, infographics, and so on. Be sure to sync this calendar with important activities in your business, like a new product launch or your next customer happy hour. You’ll want to keep these in mind as those activities can inspire more content ideas.

Here some other items you should consider including in your calendar:

  • Who it’s assigned to
  • Draft deadlines
  • Post date(s)
  • Potential headlines and social message copy
  • Which medium(s) it should be posted to
  • Relevant business events
  • The pillar the content falls under

This can be done in a simple Excel Worksheet, but there are several free content calendar templates online too, if you’d prefer that route. Choose the system that works best for you and your team! You’ll often find that as you’re working through this process, more ideas will surface. Remember to run those through your process, ensuring that those ideas are also intentional and purposeful and make strides toward your overall goals.   

So, what do you think? Are you ready to dig in? The process can seem intimidating, and you may even feel that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. But this process should also be an enjoyable one, because this is where your brand really comes alive.

Take everything one step at a time: Start small, be intentional, and collaborate. This isn’t something you’ll have all figured out in one day, but the process is well worth the rewards that wait at the end. (And if you’re feeling frustrated, never be afraid to take a step back and return with a fresh mind and eyes.) With the right visual strategy, the hard work and passion that you’ve poured into your product or service will have a deservingly pretty face to match.

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