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August 2022

Visual identity: tackling the greatest challenges

The pandemic has changed the way that brands need to communicate – digital first is no longer an option, it’s a prerequisite. This means the places your visual identity needs to work have changed, for good. Your brand elements need to be more flexible, agile, accessible and distinctive. Even the practicalities of how they’re implemented needs to be reconsidered, to ensure they’re still fit for purpose in our new hybrid world. So how do you tackle these challenges?
1. Stay strong and keep it simple

The average view time for an online banner ad is anywhere between 1-5 seconds, so the importance of having a strong visual brand and a clear message is imperative if you want to be seen and heard. Although view times vary depending on the channel you are communicating through, it is now a given that nearly all your communications will be viewed on screen and quite often at speed.

We recently spoke with The Banner Men, the experts when creating online advertising, and they relayed four key strategies to us:

Strategy one: Keep copy short and sweet
Strategy two: Have your branding on every frame
Strategy three: Animate, animate, animate
Strategy four: Innovate

Although the above is relating directly to online advertising, we believe the sentiment of all four of these strategies should be reflected when creating a digital communication. Number four being the most elusive because it means doing something truly different in your sector to enable your communications to stand out from the competition.

2. Make it your own

We want our brands to have visual stand-out, however, this can be a costly exercise if commissioning photography, illustration or a bespoke font. There are however, simple ways we can inject individuality without breaking the marketing budget.

Creating a distinct and ownable graphic device that supports your positioning can give you stand-out. Using photography you already have, but giving it an unusual treatment can refresh a tired image library.

Icons are used throughout brands; they are great illustrative navigators, especially online. They can visually mirror elements of your other brand assets which makes them ownable, but it can feel like every visual trick has been played when it comes to creating icons. We can however create difference in how they move online. Animating icons or graphics can give them a personality and enable them through movement to feel distinct to your brand.

Font creation or licensing can be expensive, but there are ways to create a distinct look and feel to your typography using free fonts and a graphic treatment. Creating a typography style that is ownable to you and no one else.

3. Stay fresh and agile

a distinctive typography style can give you stand-out

It’s more important than ever that our visual brands stay fresh and agile, especially when viewed online. Here we are competing with lots of other visual stimulus and if our brands do not have the ability to flex and stretch, then the audience will quickly tire. Sense checking that your brand is fit for a digital world is essential. Your brand needs to give you enough visual places and spaces to go so that your brand feels consistently you, but can stretch in different ways to remain buoyant.

Creating a distinctive typography style can give you stand-out, while enabling your messaging to be truly owned by you. A diverse colour palette can mean you can be a visual chameleon and change colour to suit the message, theme or campaign. Graphic devices should feel agile and animate if they can, to give them a pulse, enabling them to move through your communications and feel alive and energised.

If your brand currently feels static and consistent to the point that all your communications feel identical, it may be time to refresh your brand to enable it to truly flourish in a digital world.

a distinctive typography style can give you stand-out

4. Think big, think small

Size really does matter when it comes to your visual identity. In today’s omni-channel world, brands need to work in a variety of different places and spaces, so the ability to scale up and down is essential. From large scale advertising to tiny social media avatars viewed on a mobile phone – the simpler your visual assets are, the better they work.

What if your brand doesn’t have a simple graphic or a short wordmark? You may have a key visual asset from your heritage, such as a traditional crest, that needs modernising without losing gravitas. The answer is to go down a process of simplification and reduction – create a cleaner, sharper version that works better on-screen at small sizes.

Even highly recognisable brands need to modernise, especially if the visual identity feels dated or overly complex. Many brands are becoming simpler, bolder and more stripped back. Having a distinctive and flexible graphic device that can responsively adapt is essential in today’s digital world. Variable fonts and scalable graphics allow applications to be dynamically created, no matter the size or dimensions.

5. Cover all bases

We need to go beyond 2D

The number of channels that B2B customers use has doubled in the last 5 years, and due to the COVID-19 crisis, the digitisation of customer interactions has hugely accelerated. For the first time, e-commerce has now surpassed being in-person as the single most effective sales channel. What does this mean for brands and visual identity?

When creating a brand in the past, you would generally think with a print first mindset, then make sure it works digitally. Recently the whole mindset has completely reversed. That means all your visual identity elements need to be considered through the lens of digital channels – whether it’s avatars, online colour accessibility, websafe fonts, or scalable imagery, graphics and icons.

There is another channel fast approaching on the horizon – the Metaverse. It could drastically transform the way that brands can communicate with their audiences. Consumer brands are already starting to use virtual reality worlds to sell virtual wearables or NFT’s. Other brands have started to buy land in the Metaverse. And it’s not just consumer brands – investors have noticed a boom in buying virtual real estate. What does all this mean for your visual identity? It means we need to go beyond 2-D and make our identity assets three dimensional. Whether it’s creating immersive worlds, virtual logos, graphics and even avatars for our people. It would mean making truly interactive interfaces and experiences, so people can interact with your brand in a virtual environment.

We need to go beyond 2D

6. Bringing it all together

Now you’ve created a flexible, dynamic visual identity that works on all channels – so what’s next? You need to bring it all together in guidelines, so your global teams can implement it. The first question is where do you house everything? In the past, guidelines were printed and then immediately out of date. Most brands now create a PDF version, formatted for viewing on-screen. The rise of Digital Asset Management tools means you can not only house your guidelines online, but organise all of your brand assets too.

Many brands now create their own bespoke brand hub – freely available websites, including all of their verbal and visual identity assets. Some even take it a step further by creating a true open-source brand, allowing anyone access to all their assets, including their components and pattern library. Users could even propose a new component or pattern, which can be checked and potentially added to the design library.

However, guidelines aren’t the end of the journey, they are the beginning. They shouldn’t be static – they should constantly evolve. Then all of your partners, colleagues and suppliers need to be kept up-to-date with any changes. Ensure you have regular brand reviews, to make sure everything is still fit for purpose. The best visual identities need to be created in partnership, so you can truly tackle the greatest challenges together.

We are already living in a digital world and that world is only going to expand and further revolutionise life and in turn our brands. If we stand still, we will be lost in the visual noise of those who are embracing change and innovation. We therefore must enable our brands to live and breathe, to flex when they need to, to move with us and never stop evolving and moving forward into the metaverse and beyond.


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