Everyone wants a beautiful brand — the kind of brand that feels not only ethical and values-driven but the kind of brand that people are drawn to and fall in love with.
When I first started Rank & File, I wanted desperately to create this kind of brand. But it wasn’t easy in the early days — primarily because I hadn’t yet honed my eye for good design. And since my budget was limited and I was doing mostly everything myself (website, graphics, social media…), my brand was only as strong as my artistic branding skills and my technical know-how. Do you know the feeling?
I’ve come a long way since the beginning of Rank & File — learning a ton about branding both from a visual and verbal standpoint, and seeing how it’s shaped my company for the better, and I now help founders with both their visual and verbal branding through My Coaching Programs
The importance of a visually appealing brand can’t be overstated. It brings legitimacy to your project and is really a baseline nowadays. As Miki Agrawal said in my interview with her a few weeks ago for Issue #14 of Rank & File Magazine:
“To be best-in-class at anything, you should really consider the aesthetic across every touchpoint of your brand — from Facebook ads, to website, to packaging, to flyers — every single thing that you do has to be aspirational, accessible, and an art form for the masses in order to shift culture.”
Upgrading the visual aesthetics of your purpose-driven brand so that it’s aspirational, accessible and an art form is what today’s episode is all about. I’m going to walk you through the most common pitfalls founders make when it comes to visual branding, the most important elements that you need to have in order to create a more compelling brand, and tips for how to accomplish this all with a limited budget.
Visual Branding is Not Your Logo
Many founders think that when they start their company, it’s important to do a few things first: get a name, get a domain name/URL, and get a logo. Some founders then go on to work with a branding person to select brand colors, fonts and a mood board. But is this really where visual branding ends? No.
Standard branding services, like logos and colors, are wonderful foundations and tools if the founder understands how to guide the branding professional or designer to produce something that really captures the essence of their vision. And, if the founder actually knows how to carry their visual branding forward on their own to build an audience and drive sales. But, I have found that 95% of founders don’t.
Let’s breakdown these two issues.
#1: Founders jump the gun on working with designers.
Entrepreneurs often rush into picking out a name and a logo because it makes their project feel real and like it’s actually taking shape. But, they don’t yet understand their business model, their customer profile, their messaging, tone and brand personality before they hire these things out.
The result is a lackluster brand that will not resonate as deeply with their audience later because the aesthetic will not all match with the customer, the mission or the message.
The better way is to focus on doing your foundational brand development work first — getting your business model, your customer profile and your messaging (at least on paper) first before working with a designer on your visual branding components.
If you do this, you will get a much better result. Plus, I find that most branding experts will ask for this type of information anyway. Instead of just throwing this together in the questionnaire they will give you at the beginning, it’s best to do your customer interviews/market research and be 100% clear on your vision and mission before even searching for someone.
Here’s a test if you really have your foundations in place and you are ready to work with a designer. Describe outloud the following for your brand:
-Your mission statement
-Your vision statement
-Your company values
-Your company’s tone of voice/ personality
-Your customer profile
-Your business model
-Your sales channels
-Your sales strategy
#2: Founders don’t have the skills to carry their branding forward on their own.
Even if you get your foundational elements into place first before working on your visual branding, you still run the risk of not understanding how to actually use your visual branding in practice throughout your sales strategy. And if you aren’t using it effectively, what’s the point right?
This is what Miki Agrawal was talking about when she said that companies need to pay attention to all the touch points of their brands. In order to carry your branding forward on your own, you need to understand how you will use layout, fonts, colors, photography and graphics, together with words, to create an experience and a conversation on your various channels.
So, my second piece of advice is to make sure you understand how you will actually show up on your various channels to create an effective sales strategy. Otherwise, again, visual branding work is pointless.
The Key Elements to Upgrade Your Visual Branding
So now that we’ve talked a little bit about the common pitfalls that founders make when it comes to branding, you now know that it’s important to get your foundations in place first before even thinking about upgrading the aesthetic of your branding. Focus on your business model, your customer profile, your customer journey and your sales strategy as priority #1 — after all, if these things are weak, there is no amount of visual branding work you can do that will make a difference.
But, once you have these elements rock-solid, you are ready to start looking at your visual branding to really bring your company to life!
Visual Branding Element #1: Color
The first branding element that will help you to upgrade your brand is actually not your logo, it’s your colors. Colors have a lot to do with creating your brand personality. And even just the slight difference in hue and shade can shift the perception that people will have about your product or service. Colors can quickly position your product or service as cheap or luxurious, playful or serious, feminine or masculine. So it’s important to really understand your customer profile and your value proposition before selecting colors. Otherwise, you might send mixed signals to your customer.
The conscious consumer tends toward a different color palette than bargain shoppers — so do your homework. Colors can also make your company feel dated, so if you want to instantly update your brand aesthetic, look at your colors and how you use these colors. Do you need to change the hue slightly or take a more minimal approach with how you use these colors? These are simple changes that make a big difference.
Visual Branding Element #2: Photography
Photography comes second for me because we can create an entire look and feel just using color and photos to sets the personality of your brand. Color and photos are often what designers will use to create a “brand mood board” in standard branding packages. From here, it’s your job to use the mood board as your north star — matching everything you produce with this mood board to make sure it matches or at least is complementary. Until I could easily tell right way if a photo or graphic I was creating “matched,” I would literally pull up my company mood board and put them side by side to make sure I was “on brand.” I would suggest that you do the same thing.
If you don’t have a mood board, get one. And if you aren’t using it to cross-check all your visuals, start doing that too. It will make a dramatic difference.
Visual Branding Element #3: Font
The third element is font. Fonts also send a message about your brand’s personality, and therefore your product and services. So, it’s important to not pick these blindly. Fonts can make your company feel really polished or really playful and relaxed.
A great way to upgrade your aesthetic right away is to modernize your fonts, and also, to use enough whitespace. I often find that founders who create their own visuals use way too little whitespace in general — the line height and space between paragraphs is just not big enough. They also don’t leave enough whitespace between their words and graphics.
So, to upgrade your aesthetic … remember, whitespace!
Visual Branding Element #4: Logo
Logo for me comes last, because color, photography and font choices will completely shift your logo. Once you have the other elements of your brand in place, the logo will fall more easily into place.
Logo trends change and so it’s important to work with someone who will produce something that feels fresh and enticing to your audience. For example, minimal design (especially for the conscious consumer) is very popular right now. So if you have a brightly colored logo with outdated fonts — your company will automatically feel “off” and frankly put you in a cheaper category.
Some companies like to be seen as cheap, because they are selling cheap items, but often times socially-conscious companies like ours are not competing on price. In fact, purpose-driven companies might have higher-priced items and so it’s important that your logo (along with everything else) positions your company to look intentional, thoughtful and artful.
How to Accomplish These Items (Even on a Budget)
You might be thinking, oh no, my visual branding sucks. What do I do? I don’t have lots of money and I don’t have the skills I need to upgrade my brand aesthetic. I have three suggestions for you:
#1. Seek outside help on your brand foundations and skills
It’s not uncommon to pay $2,000 to $3,000 and even more for a logo, colors and mood board. In fact, this is on the low end.
What’s crazy is that entrepreneurs will pay this for a basic branding package, but they won’t invest in the help they need from coaches and consultants to set the foundations of their brand and how they will use branding effectively in their sales strategy.
So, my suggestion would be to seek out a business coach and consultant to help you really master the foundations first so you have a solid customer profiles, amazing messaging and a great sales strategy action plan in place before doling out money on the visual aesthetic stuff.
This second option is the better way to invest your money because it will pay off more quickly.
#2: Don’t overpay for logo, colors and mood board
If you do your foundational work, and you come to your designer armed with examples of other brands that have inspired your brand, then you don’t need to overpay for a fancy designer. It’s all about you being clear. If you really know your vision and direction, most designers will be able to bring that to life for you. Of course though, it helps to hire someone who has done other work that you admire.
#3: Spend your money on a web designer instead
Even the best branding work can be wasted when a founder tries to DIY their website and is just not technically savvy enough to lay everything out in a compelling way. Plus, I find that founders waste between 1 and 3 months playing around with websites instead of getting out there to make sales. If they would have just hired help, they would have had a much better end result, and would have more quickly been out there focusing on sales and making money.
I also find that founders use tinkering with their websites as a procrastination tool (even if it’s subconscious). Focusing on a website, means you don’t have to focus on the scary, public stuff like making phone calls, posting to social media, creating blog posts and engaging customers in real-life.
So my last piece of advice to you is this: don’t take on your website yourself as a founder unless you can pull it together in 1 week. If it takes you longer than a week, it’s not worth your time. You are much better off, focusing on the hard, scary sales stuff than the initial layout of your website. Trust me!
I would however, get up to speed on how to update the call-to-action portion of your website, how to read analytics so you know how people are engaging with your website, and how your email marketing tool works so you can drive sales. This is a much better thing to focus on.
I hope that this mini crash course on brand aesthetics has been really useful for you and that you feel like you’ve got a better handle on what you should be focusing on to really upgrade your brand and elevate your sales.
Keep good. Keep giving.