Is Visual Identity Important?

September 16, 2014
Ryan Zelazny

Many companies who start out get their graphic design essentials; a logo, business card, maybe a website. Generally they get whatever it is that they believe is going to help them get the most business right away. As revenue comes in their budget for marketing increases and they begin to seek out more ways to expand their marketing and further their brand, and this is where you can actually hurt your company.

I've dealt with a lot of businesses that have gone to a different designer for each part of their marketing needs. Their cousin had a friend who did their logo, then they got the printing company to design their business card, and their brother knows a guy who does websites. It's a great way of networking and finding those key people that can help you out in the situation you need at the time. Unfortunately if that's a similar situation to yours you may be going down the marketing highway without a map, and if you're unlucky you can easily get lost. Each designer doesn't know why the previous made certain decisions, and you're forced to either redo portions of your established brand, or end up having a mish-mashed offering of marketing materials. This is where you need a map for your brand's marketing, and it comes in the form of a visual identity.

What is a visual identity? Simply put, it's a defined set of rules that will dictate all future visual communication for your company. If you already have an established brand this is where some tough calls may have to be made. You may have your current branding because it's the best that you could do with at the time, it may be dated, or it may be wrong for your type of business. This is something that a seasoned designer can help with, you really want to make sure if you're investing in your brand's future that it really is for the betterment of your brand, and not just because it's what was easy or cheap at the time. A friend of mine uses the line, "being cheap is expensive" and that rings true in a lot of areas, it’s a very true statement when it comes to design. I'm not saying that every project you do has to cost a lot of money, but what I am saying is that you should choose your designer, or design company based on their actual skill level and expertise, rather than by who is the cheapest. The reason why is that you may not receive the best service from a cheaper designer and even if you think the work is up to par, it may not be up to par within your industry. This sets you behind your competition and can ultimately cost you more money in business lost to your competitors than you would have paid the designer who would have represented you well. Now saying all this, you may have elements of your brand that are completely usable still and it's something that has to be evaluated on a case by case basis. The point is that once you progress to getting your visual identity, that's the way your brand should stay for the foreseeable future.

A well done visual identity includes quite a bit of information, the more the better in my opinion. You will find a set of logos preferably not just one, why is that? Because your logo can end up being used in a lot of places, so you should have multiple versions of it. You should have one for dark backgrounds, one for light backgrounds, one to be used for small spaces and one to be used for large. It should also include a detailed color scheme citing exact colors in a number of formats such as RGB, CMYK, HEX and even a pantone swatch. Colors are a very important tool to your business, they make up 50% of your visual identity when you look at it (no pun intended). Like your logo, the colors of your brand are used in a large variety of places, on screens you need an RGB color code because your color is being produced on a black screen, when you get print material done it's generally being produced on a white piece of paper and so a CMYK palette is used, if your painting your office to match you're going to want to correspond to get the proper color in that as well. Next is your fonts, fonts are actually a huge part of your visual identity, not just fonts used in your logo but which fonts you use in any of your marketing; on your website, in flyers or brochures, in quotes to customers, all of these should tie in and specific rules should be set for which fonts are used for which purposes. Depending on your line of business, there are many other things that can be included in your visual identity, it can be things like the types of photography used or filters and techniques that might have to be applied to any photography used, a set of icons, or multiple sets of icons, the lists go on and on.

How are all these rules going to help your company? Well the biggest benefit is you're expressing a visual image that will stick in your customer's mind, but it also builds credibility and helps you stand out from your competition. To use an established brand as an example, look at Sony, if you were out shopping and came across a TV and it said Sony on it, but it wasn't in their iconic font that they have been using since the 1960's you would probably wonder if it's a legitimate product or if it's a knock-off. This same thing happens to small businesses, when they see your logo on your truck and search for your website and see a different logo, or color scheme they get confused and wonder if this is really the company they were looking for. This is because 65% of people are visual learners, and when they see something from your company such an e-mail or flyer they associate the visual of that piece with your company. When you have something that is different, even slightly from the previous interaction it causes confusion in your customer.

Once you have your visual identity nailed down, what's next? Well then comes the fun part, actually designing all of your marketing materials. Now you can get a great business card, engaging pamphlets or brochures, impressive quotation folders, an awe inspiring website, and all of them will share a visual theme. Each of these tools will help you close sales or intrigue customers to purchase your product or service. Service based businesses benefit from this especially because as a service your customer has no tangible product to hold, you're based solely on your presentation until your work is completed. So if you have a presentation that is top-notch your clients will see that and it will show in the amount of closed sales you receive. You can even get them at separate times, no need to spend a ton of money all at once go at your pace and stay within your budget, but with your road map now in place your brand's marketing won't go astray.

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