How often do you think about brand imagery (or other people’s brand imagery)? While we see these kinds of visual elements every day, rarely do we stop to admire how every Target store is painted with the same shade of red paint, how Nike’s collateral always uses the Futura Condensed Extra Black typeface, or how every McDonald’s restaurant is immediately recognizable no matter what country you’re in. That’s because when brand imagery is successful, we aren’t supposed to think about it—we just know.
If you’re involved in developing your brand’s imagery or helping other brands workshop their own, though, it’s your job to think critically about brand imagery. While there are plenty of ways to handle brand imagery incorrectly, there are also plenty of ways to do it right. To help you manage your branding components and assets, we’ve highlighted a few best practices that will ensure your branding efforts don’t go to waste.
It’s Brand Imagery (Not Brand Image)
Brand imagery should not be confused with brand image. Your brand image is how consumers perceive your company. Your brand imagery is the aesthetic appearance of your brand. While brand image is more intangible and figurative, imagery is literal, communicated using simple visuals and sounds or more involved experiences that harness other senses such as taste or smell. For example, by releasing a proprietary scent throughout each location, Abercombie & Fitch help shoppers associate their brand with a specific woodsy smell. IKEA and Cinnabon do something similar, too.
The goal of brand imagery is quite simple: to communicate the right messages to your target audience so that they immediately recognize your brand and associate positive emotions with it. You only have one chance to make a good first impression, after all, so it pays to take the time now to develop an accurate, memorable appearance.
Components of Brand Imagery
There are a lot of different elements to consider when creating a strategy for brand imagery. Most of them are visual—while some companies are uniquely suited to utilizing the other senses, eyes are still the most reliable path into a consumer’s mind.
Some of the most common components of imagery include (but are not limited to):
- Logos: These are graphic marks or symbols used to identify a company. The Nike check or the McDonald’s Golden Arches are examples of logos that really work as brand imagery.
- Photography: Many brands use photography on their websites or in ads. When you choose to use it, make sure to pay attention to the subject matter—that’s where the values of your brand will be communicated.
- Illustration: Plenty of brands use illustrations in their imagery to communicate a more fun, whimsical persona. Slack, Mailchimp, and Headspace are good examples of this.
- Typography: The typeface you use both in your logo and throughout your marketing material can really help unify your brand with your messaging. For instance, you’d recognize the Coca-Cola logo font (a form of Spencerian script) anywhere.
- Video: Video content can take brand imagery to the next level. When they all have the same look and feel, consumers will instantly know it’s your brand. Buzzfeed’s Tasty videos did this well.
- Animation: What illustration is to photography, animation is to video. The M&M’s characters are a great example of animated brand imagery.
- Color Palettes: Employing a consistent color palette is one of the easiest ways to unify brand imagery and increase brand recall. You can have primarily one color (like Airbnb), two colors (like Best Buy), a gradient (like Instagram), or the whole rainbow (like NBC).
- Design Systems: For any company with digital products, design systems are how you guarantee a cohesive user experience. This is how you know you’re using a Google product or an Apple device—things just feel familiar.
Some of these elements are essential for any brand; you need to have an established logo and brand colors, for instance. Other elements will depend on the brand image and persona you’re going for, such as whether you choose to use predominantly photos or illustrations.
If You Wanna Do it Right…
Speak to Your Audience
The most fool-proof way to make sure your brand imagery is spot on is to think about it from your audience’s perspective. First, this means knowing who your audience is (and we hope you do). Then, think about what they enjoy, what’s important to them, and what would repel them from your brand. It’s also worth taking a look at your competitors to see the kind of consumers they’re speaking to. Car companies are a great example of using imagery to speak to different audience segments. Cadillac, Ford, Mercedes, Toyota—they’re all selling the same product, but through their imagery they’re able to speak to different audiences.
The success of brand imagery lives and dies with your ability to create and maintain brand association within the minds of your audience. That can’t happen after just one exposure to a brand asset; it has to build up over time, and that requires consistency on your part. Across your many marketing campaigns, channels, and touchpoints, make sure all of your internal teams and external partners are using the same brand assets in a consistent way. It helps to create a central repository for assets that everyone can access and an approval process to ensure nothing is shared with your audience that doesn’t meet brand standards.
Use Version Stacking
Over time, assets likely go through many different iterations as information is updated and brand standards are updated. By aggregating this file history in one place, teams will be assured they’re using the most current version of an asset, and content creators will be able to look back at previous versions or even retrieve them for reuse. By organizing all versions of an asset together, you’ll save everyone time and improve consistency.
Create Brand Guidelines
Whether it’s ensuring that an icon rather than the full logo lockup is used in smaller sizes, or that the correct HEX color is used at all times, brand guidelines will ensure your assets are always used correctly and that you see the biggest return on your creative investment. Keep in mind that brand guidelines are a living document, meant to be updated over time (a decade ago, nobody was making rules about sharing your brand on TikTok, after all). As you make these updates, make sure these guidelines can be easily accessed by anybody who may need them.
Don’t Let Brand Imagery Jump Ship
Creating and maintaining consistent brand imagery that successfully communicates with your audience is not a small task. On everything from brochures to social media posts, imagery needs to be thoughtfully considered, or things can quickly become muddled for your audience. The best way to keep all brand assets aligned with one another is by moving them through the same approval processes. Whether you work with photos, illustrations, videos, or even audio, our proofing software, Ashore, can help with that.
With fully customizable workflows, automated notifications and reminders, and proof timelines to keep everyone on track, Ashore has all of the tools you need to facilitate a fast and constructive approval process. Our platform also offers version stacking and version comparison to help you manage the many iterations an asset can go through, contextual commenting to allow approvers to quickly point out issues, and dynamic tagging to keep your assets organized.
If you’d like to finally get all of your creative assets under control and coordinate your brand imagery, sign up for Ashore today!