Visuals That Take The Cake

Episode 02

Derek and Tucker sit down to discuss visual impact and what that could mean for your brand.


Today we’re talking about visual impact, what that means for an organization, and what they can do about either poor visuals or uninspiring visuals.


Visuals that are part of your brand. So, visual impact when it comes to branding and marketing. Visuals is pretty broad, but they’re critical in telling the story of what you do.



Yeah, visuals really need to do all the things that every other piece of your brand needs to do. But some people don’t think that; some people choose preference. They let themselves make decisions based on what their taste is versus what the market needs or what their customers or clients really would be attracted to. And this is where we get this option of not communicating or differentiating properly and you end up just becoming noise.

Expand Full Transcript


While whether you realize it or not (and I think a lot of us do,) in your own daily lives, whether you’re shopping for personal things, whether you’re vetting businesses to help your business to work with, you inherently are passing judgment on all of those potential purchases and relationships based on what they look like.



Yeah, and for that you need to think about the two big things is being able to resonate, right? So when you walk by and you look at all those places, some of them resonate, some of them don’t based on you might not be the target market for everybody. And that’s OK, you’re not trying to resonate with everybody; you’re trying to resonate with a specific person. And then two, it’s authentic. It’s not just super trendy. It could be anything. It could be for anyone. We’re trying to get down into those visuals that really tell your story, not the story of other people.



Yeah, and this is this is a term that people use, might not be the term that creative educators use, but what we’re talking about is the look and the feel of your business.



So when we’re talking visuals, how about you list a couple that we’re specifically talking about; those tools that we use?



Absolutely, the first visual I think a lot of us gravitate towards is your logo. The mark, the symbol that goes on your business card, on your letterhead, maybe it’s even sewn on the front of your shirt.



Yeah, but it’s more than that, right? I mean, most people think of visuals or most people think of branding as your logo. And I had a conversation with someone after work a couple of weeks ago and they said, “So what do you do?” And I go, “Well I’m in branding,” and they said, “Oh, so you design logos?” And I kind of explained to them, that maybe, I don’t know, 10 percent of what we do is logos. I mean, that’s just that cherry on the top of a rebrand. It’s just a piece of all of that. So what about some of the other visual elements that we work through?



Key components of those visuals would include color, photography, what type, style, and point of view those photos specifically are taken from. There are all kinds of components that we would put into a creative visual toolbox to help you build out your materials. Patterns, textures, badges, iconography, symbols, all kinds of things; but it’s way more than just the logo.



Yeah, and most people go, “Well if it’s so much more than the logo, why do you start there?” In our process, always, the first visual element that is created is the logo. Which is because everything is built off of that logo, right? That’s that big signifier that then trickles down into all the other elements.



The logo is the flag. The logo is the first thing. It’s the it’s the flag that you’ve staked in the ground that, when done really successfully, should stand for all of the things that your organization stands for and then is supported by all of these other visual assets. And without these other visual assets, especially if those visual assets aren’t rooted in a deeper meaning around what you do, quite likely that logo is going to fall flat.



For sure. So why is having poor visual impact important? Why? Why do we care?



It’s a problem if your visuals aren’t impactful for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it’ll hurt the perception of your brand. If your visuals aren’t strong, if they don’t reflect what you do, if they’re not attractive to the audience that you’re going after, (whether that’s an internal audience or a customer based audience) if you aren’t intentional about crafting how you want to be perceived, people will craft their own perception for you. And that quite often won’t be the perception that you want them to have.



I think the best example that we talk about is the label on the box, right? If you don’t have a label on your box, then people are just going to label it themselves. And our opportunity with visuals, I mean, we do it with everything else, but specifically with visuals is to label that box and to make someone feel a certain way about it. And when you say the brand’s perception, it can really be weakened internally and externally. I think of opportunities of clients that we’ve had where they roll something out and their internal audience is just so elated by it because they’re like, “This is us. This feels just like us.” But there’s opportunities or circumstances where people have rebranded in other parts of the country and they’ve not heard that kind of welcome.



When you get into that, what we would call the red flags of saying, “Well, how do I know if the visuals of my brand, of my organization, of my marketing materials, that there’s a problem?” One of those problems is completely the internal side. If people internally aren’t excited about what you look like, they’re not excited about wearing that branded swag. If you roll out a whole bunch of super cool branded sweatshirts and you find out that nobody’s wearing them, that might be a red flag.



Yeah and if we’re talking about red flags, I have three big ones that come to the top of my head. That first one is the rebranded buy-in. Or even just branded buy-in when you launch your brand for the first time. That buy-in from internal people and external people is super important. Like I said that internal feeling of, you know, “I love the way that we look. I’m excited. I’m proud to be doing all of these things because this feels right,” that’s an opportunity right there to have this unity that you didn’t have before



And, the deeper layer behind it feels right, is it feels right because this thing, this badge on my shirt, I believe that this stands for what this organization is all about. And that I am excited to be part of.



And what about the flip side of that? Not internal, but externally when we get buy-in, what are some of the red flags that we see when that’s external?



The most common one I jump to is lack of sales. If you’re losing out to a direct competitor in that external market, it’s because they are looking at you and they’re not able to figure out either (A), why you’re different from somebody else they’re talking to or (B), they’re literally not attracted to this perception that you’ve created.



And I think that definitely, lack of sales is one of those symptoms that we can see and someone goes, “Well, we have a great product, we have great service, we have all these other things. We just can’t get those initial leads. We have great return customers, we always have.” I mean, some people have 70, 80, 90 percent return rates on their customers, yet they can’t keep pulling in leads. And a lot of it comes down to visuals, which sounds kind of crazy at the beginning. But just the fact that you’re not attractive means that there are people out there who just don’t think of you as a viable option.



Well and the root of that oftentimes is because the creative branding efforts that went into that initiative wasn’t purposefully done with a target audience in mind. They didn’t know who their target audience was, or they did, but they shifted to ultimately creating that brand for themselves. For the very styles, looks, and things that maybe the leadership of the organization is personally attracted to in their own lives.



Yeah, I mean, that leads us into that third most common symptom of the visual lifespan of those creative pieces. Or you constantly see change in creative. Where you just redid this a couple of years ago, but now we have a new leadership team in the marketing department, and for some reason, we’re getting all new visuals. More often than not, that’s because they’re making decisions based on preference, not purpose. And we’re getting this constant introduction to trendy visuals that aren’t authentic and aren’t timeless and don’t stand for what we stand for. Yet, they work in the marketplace right now.



I think there is part of marketing efforts, part of your whole overall initiative that can be short lifespan pieces. That might be advertising or the components that you’re putting out for a short-term promotion, or more trendy things may be appropriate for very specific types of business. But I think for most of us, if we’re going to invest in the time and the effort and the expense that it costs to build this visual system correctly, I would like that to last a decade.



I agree, it’s almost shocking to me when someone does a rebrand and within five years, they’re already out of date. They obviously weren’t in-depth enough; one. Or two, they were doing things without purpose. They weren’t really narrowing down what their story was and discovering who they need to be and what piece they need to be telling with their visuals. We see this all the time where someone will have a totally fine visual brand, and it’s not a problem yet. Then you’ll have a marketing leader come in and say, “I don’t like that color or I don’t like that type. I’m going to switch that for no reason other than I’m not a fan of it. I used to use something else somewhere else.”



Yup, exactly.



OK, as then we move forward to solutions, how about you talk about a couple of examples that we’ve seen throughout our process here where someone’s had a problem. Or what do we see when we’re working with a client that they’re choosing that preference over a purpose? Where can that really hinder a rebranding or branding project?



The challenge of everything that we’re talking about, especially the visual component of somebody’s branding efforts; it’s subjective. Ultimately, we’re human beings, and as human beings, we have personal preferences. And it’s challenging to be able to be intentionally thoughtful about the difference between, “What’s right for me and my own wardrobe, for example, versus what’s right for my business and will be most attractive? And while being authentic, also be attractive to my target audience, whether that’s prospective employees, current employees or customers?” And that personal preference sometimes will get in the way.



Yeah, for sure. And I think about so if we have symptoms for people who haven’t started down this process, but there’s almost like this in the middle of the process that we’ve already engaged with somebody, what is a symptom? Or maybe someone’s listening and they’re going through this process right now and they’re like, I just can’t figure it out. We’re having problems with this. What are one or two of those things that really stand out?



That the new logo of the new brand is never chosen. That you just work on it indefinitely and end up finding yourself just doing anything and everything that now is starting to basically lack meaning, lack purpose, lack reason. But now we’ve just gotten down to style.



Yeah, it’s almost like the amount of concepts. When you start getting into the double digits of concepts.



If your agency presents you with 30 logos instead of three, then it’s quite likely that they did not include any intention, purpose, strategy, or root meaning. Then instead, it became purely a creative exercise.



And that’s where we find a lot of trouble, right? So if we’re just throwing out creative, that’s where then you get to this preference. Where you get this like, “Oh, this is what my tastes are. This is how I like to view things so I’m going to go with this logo over that logo.” Instead, it should almost be this presentation where every single one says, “Oh yeah, I get it. That totally makes sense to me,”



Because up to that point you’ve done all the work. You’ve laid the groundwork, had all of the objectives in place and had been checking off at key points where it was a nice strategic, thoughtful progression to then landing on that creative solution. Instead of your creative partner going away for a certain amount of time and never hearing from them, and then they come back to just then give you this great big reveal.



Yeah, so the second one that I think of all the time, (because we had a client that did this) when you get up to the four five six seven rounds of revision on a logo; that means that we’re starting to tailor based on preference. That means that you’re starting to pick things, individuals are starting to have their opinion put in not based on what the customer would want to see, but what my personal preference is and I’m going to tell you that this needs to change.



On occasion, we’ll have a customer who has to include, and rightly so, the voices of all of the people on the team that should be involved in this process. We just have to make sure, and they have to make sure that the people that are included are able to be objective and thoughtful while giving their own personal preference opinions.



So we’ve talked about visual impact, we’ve kind of talked about the problems of not having an impactful visual system and how that can hinder you in the marketplace and with all the other initiatives that you’re trying to do. And internally, those interesting things of saying, well we’re trying to create unity, we’re trying to create buy-in, a big problem is that we’re not giving someone something to be prideful of. Then now let’s shift to what are some of the things that you can do to solve this or at least get down that first step of saying, let’s work towards something that makes our visuals more impactful.



I think the first step is to get your story straight. It’s to go right to the core of, “What are we about? What do we stand for? What is this brand really in the business of?” And that takes some work.



It’s getting down to the root desires, the root emotions that you’re trying to convey. There are a lot of really great things we talk about when someone’s story is about confidence, when it’s about freedom, when it’s about sustainability, it could be about anything, really; but it’s to determine what you’re trying to talk about. Not just the facts and the figures, but that deeper level that your story really needs to talk about.



We talk about three things that a brand identity should successfully do. It should communicate what you do, it should help you stand out amongst your competition, and it should help you attract your customers. But we go to that first one, that is communicate what you do, to follow up on what you just said it’s not just what you do in that specific product or service, it’s not just the features and benefits, and it’s not just the problems that your product might solve for your customers. It’s why you’re in business in the first place. Think about the meaning of a logo or a symbol that you might put on the side of your building or the front door of your office or wear on your shirt; if that stood for that deeper thing, then maybe it doesn’t have to be a picture of a car because you sell cars or a picture of the widget that you sell. It can actually take a different route and be a little bit more aspirational and hopefully longer-lasting.



Absolutely. The idea that you have visuals that really stand for something (and I’m not talking, they’re not philanthropic visuals and they’re not trying to solve charitable problems) they’re why you come to work, why you get up every day, why you want to work here versus somewhere else. Everyone has so many options. There has to be a reason why you’re here more than money. If your visuals can have that kind of stamp where you’re saying they’re that banner that you’re flying, (I think of flags for countries) and to say that stands for something to each one of those to the individual people that live there. And for us to think of someone’s logo, someone’s visuals, as their flag, as their banner – that helps us understand what they stand for and helps them feel like they are communicating it to the world.



If you think about your own example, an example of a brand that you feel loyal to. Could be a clothing brand, could be a food or beverage brand, could be an automobile brand. But when you think of that, especially if it’s one that you are passionate enough about where you would wear a hat or a T-shirt or something of theirs on your own self and become a brand advocate. To where people go, “Oh my gosh, look at that you’re into jeeps. Why is that?” What’s an exercise or a part of that process that we do that people should be thinking about that help start crafting that external story?



So the first thing (like we’ve already talked about) is to get to the root of your internal story. So for example, there might be a brand that you follow. You wear that brand and someone goes, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe that you like them too!” And in their head, they’re thinking, Oh, that means you like sustainability or you stand for this or stand for independence or whatever it is. And then the second thing, what you’re asking right now, is so how from a creative side, from a process side, are we going to take that story and move it forward to be able to craft something out of it? That’s with these brand attributes or brand characteristics. We here like to take four to six adjectives that we need to use from a strategic angle that then takes that preference. It takes the subjective nature out of it and says, “OK, if we want something to look bold and we want something to look athletic, then we know it needs to look like this.” Totally taking the preference off the table.



Yeah, it lays a foundation. Or even better, it puts up a North Star that guides and inspires all the creative. It inspires the messaging. I would go so far as to say the experience that your customers have with you in your office space, on the phone, over Zoom, in person, from start all the way through the delivery of what you do, should in a perfect world, if we interviewed them and we asked them to describe that experience of you and your products and your services, they would hover in or land on those five or six words that you chose. We would hope that they would use those adjectives in describing you.



Or synonyms of those adjectives. For us, those characteristics or those attributes are a huge step. Not just in the visual portion, but the verbal portion, too. For us to say we want someone to read something and feel this type of way. So going back to the example, if it’s bold and athletic, then the way we talk should be bold and it should be athletic. Which is sometimes harder to do than it sounds, but it definitely helps guide the creative from both ends.



If you’re creative, and I’m jumping ahead to the visual pieces and the way that we actually can execute and solve for some of these. If we’re working on a brand and we know that that brand stands for confidence and they want to be perceived as bold and athletic, then that absolutely affects the colors that we start to hone in on. And you can actually Google, believe it or not, what is the color of confidence? What is the color of joy? And it will start to put you in some scientific (albeit surface-level) scientific associations that have proven that people associate certain colors with certain things. But it’s a great, great guidepost in starting to choose creative things such as color.



That leads us to the next section of saying, when we’re creating these things it’s not just these four to six attributes or characteristics that we’re working with. We don’t just say, “OK, we’re about confidence. We want to be bold and athletic. All right. Make creative.” That’s just a part of the puzzle, right? That’s just a part of that strategy and the other piece of that strategy is focusing on the research at the very, very beginning, right? That visual research of competition of other things in the marketplace. Of not necessarily direct competitors, but indirect competitors. Who’s a wallet competitor? Who speaks to our target market that doesn’t necessarily do what we do, but they take that same piece of the pie.



I would even add, who in the market is hiring the same type of people that you’re looking to hire? It doesn’t take a lot of effort to spend a little bit of time, even just simply going online having identified who these competitors are, to get a pretty good understanding of what they look like. What colors are they? You know, one of the key tenants that we talk about here is differentiation; being unique in how you are positioning what it is you offer. A key companion part of that is by being distinct. For you to stand out in that crowd of competition, to look authentically like yourself. It’s going to be hard to do that if you inadvertently pick a brand color that’s exactly the same as everybody else.



Yeah. So, to your point earlier to say, “Oh, we want to stand for joy. That’s what we stand for. Our story is all about joy, all that happiness.” And you go and you search, what is the color of joy? You’ll come up with, let’s say, yellow. And you see, OK, yellow, that’s great. But all your competitors are also yellow or orange or a shade of those. And you go back and you go, “OK, nope, Joy’s yellow. So we got to go forward with this.” That’s where it’s not so cut and dry. It’s not, here are the six attributes; those equal creative. It’s like, here are the six attributes that should guide you as you use all of your research and all of your knowledge and all of the things that you’ve learned through this whole process to say, “OK, what is right?” And I think color is a great example because it’s so subjective. It’s probably the most subjective thing that we deal with. There are so many different people who like certain colors or this color, that color. Maybe you have a whole team of people that are on this and each person likes a certain color that makes it really hard to be making decisions. And then when you roll it out to the entire organization, people start becoming disappointed because there’s no real reason for that color other than we like it. It’s like, how do we get something where it’s a, “We are this color because of this.” And every single time that we’ve gotten to that point, the organization says, “Yep, that makes sense.”



It becomes, “Because we did it on purpose. Because we stand for X and X is the color of that.” Versus, “Because our CEO likes that color.”



So a question that I could see someone having is, “OK, so if I’m not allowed to be trendy, I can’t use any trends in creative?” Is that not the case? What would you say to that?



I would say it depends on what you’re trying to do. What are you trying to do? What do you stand for? What is your product? What specific marketplace are you in? Are you selling a trendy product? Try to find the balance between doing something like, if one of your brand attributes is contemporary or forward thinking or innovative, or cutting edge, then that absolutely will affect that creative product that comes out. If your brand attributes are vintage, timeless and classic, then you can see how some of these words start to evoke certain sentiments that will translate into creative.



I would absolutely give people a green light to look at trends, be aware of trends, and to use them when they work; as long as you can find the trends that make sense with your story. And if that tells your story better than your current stuff, then I would say, Yeah, go for it. But to your point, these visual pieces of your brand should be foundational. These these should not be changed every three years. They should be utilized and grown, but they should not be completely replaced. So you had an example earlier, to say some of this trendy stuff can be used for advertising; 100 percent. But as long as it maintains that same perception and maintains those same rules. You’re not just throwing trends out just to be trendy.



Well and the tactical ways in which you execute your marketing and your advertising can change and pivot all the time with much less investment than going all the way back to the core and the foundation of your brand, what your brand looks like, and reinventing that. You can do a new ad campaign in a matter of days or weeks. But if it takes months and months to put that brand foundation in place, like I said, we want that to last for a decade or more. But ads might only be as effective for as long as it’s running on the air or on the radio. The brand should stay relevant. Even if in 10 years you tweak it or refine it to reflect the times that have changed like Pepsi continues to do.






And Starbucks continues to do. To make sure that they’re not stuck in the old ways and time hasn’t passed them by so that they can still stay relevant.



That’s and that’s because people change too, right? Preferences change. Your customers’ preference is going to change over time, and that’s just the nature of the world that we live in. Everything changes so much. But when we’re talking about foundational pieces, refining and growing is totally different than rebuilding and completely replacing. So, if there’s one thing that I think that everyone should be taking out of this conversation, it’s purpose over preference. Every time. And if you do purpose over preference, you will not be disappointed with the business results that you get from that.



One of the smartest customers that we’ve worked with, who ended up becoming incredibly successful, reviewed some of the creative that we were presenting to them around the brand and what it looked like. And that person said, “I personally don’t like this. I would never wear this myself. This isn’t for me, but I completely recognize and understand that I’m not even close to being in the target audience, and I think this is absolutely on the mark for the people that we are trying to talk to.” And that’s brave.



And that’s the goal that every marketing or organization leader should have, is to get to that point. The hope is to understand that sometimes your preferences aren’t top of the totem pole.



Yep. Purpose over preference.



All right. Till next time.



See ya!


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