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Is your visual brand helping or hurting your business? It’s worth considering because no matter what you may have heard, visual branding does affect your bottom line in one way or another.
Before we dive into whether your visual brand is costing or making you money, I’d like to clear up a few misconceptions…
First, do you need award-winning, expensive, professional design in order to build a successful brand? (Well, it doesn’t hurt, but…) No, absolutely not.
But there’s a lot of confusion about the role visual branding plays in business and that can cost you real dollah dollah bills y’all.
Most people think of branding it as picking out trendy fonts and cool colors and pushing buttons around in the Adobe Creative Suite.
Design is a business tool, not art. It either helps you make money or it has failed its job. Professional designers who approach their craft in this way are much more than decorators, they’re business problem solvers.
If your design is misaligned with your brand promise– if it’s treated as an afterthought or if you think it’s not important so you just do “whatever,” you should know…
Design has the power to devalue your offer in the mind of the customer and undermine your credibility.
And that means it can cost your business in real ways. I’m not just saying that to justify my existence as a brand designer, research backs this up.
Think visual branding doesn’t matter?
Because you might have heard…
“Content is the only thing that matters, worrying about design is an unnecessary distraction.”
Do you know who’s always offering advice like this?
People with crappy-looking brands who have never done an A/B test to find out whether a better design would help them make more money. They just don’t know whether they’re leaving loads of cash on the table.
My question is…
How do you know your “design doesn’t matter” design isn’t costing you sales if you don’t test it?
One such design-dragging “guru” I know who makes a great living as a content creator is someone I’ve never purchased something from because her sales pages look like a 3rd grader designed them in Microsoft Word.
I promise, that isn’t some kind of designer-spite (I actually like said guru), it’s that releasing $100 from my pockets requires trust, and the unprofessional presentation makes me doubt the value (and I’m quite sure I’m not alone).
The point is, even if she’s making good money, with an improved visual brand — who knows how much more she could be making?
Like anyting else in marketing, design is a hypothesis. As such, it can be tested and its impact can be measured.
If you think you don’t need it, if you’re pushing it to the side — “I’ll work on that later” — or if you just don’t think it’s that important, remember this:
- If you feel invisible, it’s branding that gets you noticed.
- If you have competition, it’s branding that helps you stand out.
- If your customers aren’t seeing how great you are, it’s branding that shows them.
- How will you bust through all the noise and endless options people have online and become the best choice for your dream customer? Branding.
But what is branding?
The way I like to think of it is branding is just an efficient way to sell things. It’s all the things you do that influence how people feel about you … and this, in turn, determines whether or not they’ll buy from you.
And how do you communicate your brand? You use words, of course. But impressions are influenced by more than what you write and what you say; in fact, the very first impressions will happen within a matter of milliseconds. With your visuals.Design says something about you way before your words have a chance to catch up.Click To Tweet
Effective design must be informed by your brand strategy, not the other way around
What a lot of design clients do is expect a designer to “create their brand” and then they figure out who they are. *Buzzer sound.* Wrong.
A brand is not a thing you buy from a designer.
Creating a brand strategy comes first and that requires answering some big, tough questions.
The problem is…
Those tough questions can create stuck points, which leads to a lot of business owners skipping over all the foundational decisions and starting out in the middle of the process somewhere…
Picking out fonts and colors and designing a business card before they ever get really clear about the heart & soul of their brand message.
Having a pretty business card feels nice — like you’re legit in the world — but it isn’t a business. That’s not branding, that’s decorating, and not only that, it’s backward.
If you start creating design assets before getting clear about who you are and what makes you different, then you’re missing out on the real power of design–its purpose to communicate those things.
Your design choices should be made only after you’ve answered all the tough questions:
- What makes you uniquely you?
- How do you want your customers to feel when they work with you?
- What is the emotional experience like when somebody works with you?
- What are your unique gifts and superpowers?
If you can’t answer these questions easily, you have some homework to do before you start picking out fonts and colors. I recommend working through the exercises in The Brand Story Blueprint to help you navigate these tough, foundational questions.
Without that foundation? Any design you create is just stabbing in the dark and hoping it works out.
Hiring a designer doesn’t guarantee an ROI
Even if you hire a designer to help, a lot can go wrong.
If you’re not clear about your business, they’re only going to be able to decorate your weak brand foundation. It may look pretty, and you may love it, but it may still be misaligned for the customer.
A good designer can help you get clear about your brand direction, but three problems I notice happening all. the. time:
- Good designers who understand brand strategy are usually more expensive, and clients don’t understand the difference in price — they can get it cheaper somewhere else! But, what they don’t consider (or maybe don’t know) is that “getting graphics made” is only the deliverable. The real value is in the process of working with a good designer. They can help you tell the whole story, know the “reasons why” design choices were made, and give you a playbook for how you’ll communicate the heart and soul of your business. Anything else is just “getting graphics at the graphics store,” and often largely dependent on the clients’ personal taste. (Results may vary.)
- Design clients like what they like, and don’t want to be bothered listening to a designer, or following and being engaged in a process. Designers won’t argue with you, they’ll do their best to please you so they can get paid.
- The person you hired isn’t really a designer. Pretty much everybody these days is a designer, ever notice that? Making graphics doesn’t make someone a designer, a better term would be “graphics technician.” A designer’s job is to solve problems visually, and if they’re not asking you about your problems or digging deep to really understand what your brand is about (or helping you figure it out if you haven’t gotten clear about it yet), you’ve just hired somebody to push the buttons on the software you don’t know how to push yourself.
It’s a big ol’ mess really.
How getting visual branding wrong costs you in real ways…
Look, I don’t want to beat around the bush. If your visuals are amateurish and poorly-designed, it’s going to take a LOT of extra work on your part for people to take you seriously.
I look at smart, talented, hard-working people trying to get noticed online all day every day (I’m an observer, it’s a hobby)… I visit their websites (I’m curious like that) to check out their design game, and a lot of the time, well… it’s a problem.
If your visuals do not align with the reality of how great you are, that first impression is blown to bits, and you may not get a second chance. Getting that second chance (or third, or fourth…), well, that takes time, energy, money … wouldn’t it make your life easier to just make a great first impression in the first place?
This is a very simple concept and yet it always amazes me how many smart people get it wrong: if you want to stand out from your competition and get noticed, your design needs to be different.
Different! As in, NOT THE SAME!
If you’re blending in with everybody else, by definition: you. will. not. stand. out.
But here’s what happens: you see what your competition is doing, or what somebody else is doing, and you think, “I’ll just make my brand look like that, done!”
Being relevant in your industry and on-trend is fine, but copying what everybody else is doing is the opposite of branding. Nobody’s going to see you, yo!
Another thing that happens is people use templates and off-the-shelf designs to save on costs, but if you’re using the same stuff everyone else is – no matter how lovely it may look – it will not be distinctive and memorable in the mind of your customer.
Whenever I go to Pinterest, everyone’s pins look like one big blob to me, like they’re all coming from the same person. It’s those few entrepreneurs who were careful about and invested in their branding that really stand out. Those are the ones I trust, remember, and visit time and time again. I have no doubt it’s the same experience for you too.
The consequence? Again, you have to work harder to become memorable. More time, more money, more days waking up to the sound of crickets — wondering why nobody’s paying attention, because you’re awesome, dammit! We can’t see you in the blob my friend. 🙁
Key takeaway: Branding makes you visible but you have to be telling your own visual story, not the one everyone else is telling too.
The reason why we want design that is unique to us is so people can put us back into context when they see something from us a second time, “Oh yeah, her! Her stuff is good, I’ll click on this link.”
And when you’re marketing your business online, you need to “touch” potential customers multiple times — 7, 10, 15 times! — in order for them to really begin to know and trust you and consider buying from you. If your design is so generic that nobody ever remembers who you are, you’re making this process exponentially more difficult for yourself.
Key takeaway: Visual branding shortens the process of becoming remembered by your dream customer.
Your visual branding is a reflection of you
I see these design crimes EVERY DAY:
— Sloppy designs (Next! I don’t want to work with somebody who’s sloppy)
— Tacky (Not really looking to hire a tacky person)
— Amateur (I’ll keep shopping around for a pro, thanks anyway)
— Copycats (Who are you again?)
— Inconsistent (You seem like you need to sort some things out, I’ll leave you to that.)
These first impressions happen in less than one second (that’s also from research).
That is not to say your visual branding needs to appeal to everyone
Not everyone is going to like it. That’s okay, you don’t want to attract everyone, just your dream customers. But you don’t want to put your dream customers off by being sloppy, tacky, inconsistent, amateur or copying what everyone else is doing.
How to elevate your visual brand
My best advice for creating a visual brand identity that will help you move the needle on your business is:
#1: Keep it simple. Studies show that simple, easy-to-use design works best.
#2: Define a brand personality and make sure your visuals are in alignment with how you want your dream customers to perceive you
#3 Follow a branding style guide to create brand consistency
This means sticking to a color palette, guidelines for the images you’ll use, and 1-3 fonts that reflect your brand personality. Check out my branding guidelines template for an example of how to create consistency in your visuals 👇
Branding Your Business on a Budget
Have questions? Hit me up in comments!
Taughnee Stone is an award-winning designer, brand strategist, and location-independent business owner for over 15 years. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, she now lives in Croatia with her husband, energetic Samoyed, and three bossy cats.