visual brandingGuest post by Rodney Laws

Businesses come into existence through a complex combination of factors. Sometimes it’s a matter of the right skillset proving value at the right time, and an opportunity coming up to turn its use into a full-time operation. But no matter its origin story, every business needs a defined purpose — a core goal that, while contrived, communicates its style and intent.

Identifying such a purpose though is just the beginning. After that, you face the challenge of disseminating it to the people you need to impress: your existing or prospective customers, and even your potential investors. Your copy will need to be razor-sharp, with polished phrasing and potent messaging, but you’ll also need to make your visual branding a priority.

A picture paints a thousand words, it’s said, and it’s certainly been found that imagery has a far more immediate impact than even the boldest, most underlined or italicized text. Want to make your brand memorable? Put out visuals that reflect its nature.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Take inspiration from your favorite brands

You could try to work from scratch, but even if you happen to be a professional graphic designer (which is unlikely in this context), your ideas almost-certainly can’t stack up to those generated by massive brands with massive budgets — and even if they could, your time is at a premium, and it isn’t a good idea to hole up for weeks while you brainstorm or doodle logos.

That’s why I strongly recommend starting your visual branding journey with some in-depth industry research. Look at other companies in your field that you aspire to rival, and think carefully about how they describe themselves, then relate that to the imagery they use. You’ll likely notice that certain colors, font styles and types of images appear very commonly: this is due to long-established associations (green to nature, purple to luxury, red to passion, etc.).

This is also great for finding subtle ways to stand out. Ideally, your visual branding should be broadly familiar, but just different enough to give you an edge over those other companies.

2. Create a set of brand guidelines

Picking out all the elements that you want to use isn’t going to accomplish much if you don’t use them consistently. Consistency is mission-critical for visual branding, because even the occasional deviation can cause confusion about what your brand is supposed to be. People will wonder if that different design approach is your new brand style, or simply an aberration. Either way, it will negatively impact your recognizability.

What you must do, then, is create set of brand guidelines: a document that clearly states everything from the fonts you use to the types of stock images you’ll allow to be associated with you. These guidelines should be shared with everyone in your company, as well as any business you partner with for PR or content marketing.

3. Make your website design a priority

There’s a delicate balancing act to be achieved with website design. Optimal customization comes with a custom self-hosted website, but creating (or commissioning) and maintaining a custom website is typically something for enterprise businesses with unique requirements.

Using a hosted solution is much easier, far more common and often cheaper, but places limitations on what you can do with your design. Assuming that’s your situation, you must put a solid amount of time into choosing a predefined theme you can revise to achieve a comfortable fit with your brand style.

Themes aren’t hard to find, thankfully. WordPress, the most common CMS, has perhaps the biggest selection around — the web is packed with roundups (here’s one), so you can search based on your industry (e.g. “WordPress themes health food company”).

If your business is ecommerce-based using something free like the WordPress plugin WooCommerce, you’ll have just as many options, though you’ll need to be careful to confirm that the options you find are compatible with ecommerce. Alternatively, there’s Shopify, which is one of the best WooCommerce alternatives because (in part) of its rock-solid core selection of responsive and customizable themes.

At a minimum, your website should feature a clear version of your logo, your selected fonts, your preferred content layout, your main color scheme, and your selected frame shapes (e.g. triangles, rounded squares, ovals — you may not have any, but some do). It should be absolutely clear when someone arrives at your website that it’s yours.

3. Mix internal images with UGC

Visuals, in general, can be effective, but if you really want to get a purpose across, you need photos of people. Stock images of people in suits looking stoic? No, definitely not. You need personality, and to get it, you should pursue a combination of your own images and those provided by your customers/clients/partners.

Your images should be true to who you are: that means no formal dress if you actually spend every day in slacks and no enforced-wackiness photoshoots if you have mild tastes in comedy. Focus on getting across your passion for what you do (just as much as in your copywriting), and what you’re trying to move towards. For instance, if your company made fitness clothing, then your purpose would likely be to make people feel good while working out — so your photos should feature your employees doing just that, showing that you practice what you preach.

As for the UGC (that stands for user-generated content), it should trickle in through social media when you start encouraging people to create it (after you’ve built a community, of course). It’s pretty simple: if you sell fitness products (continuing that scenario), you should ask the buyers to send in their photos of themselves exercising while using your products.

Your photos show that you believe in what you do, and the UGC photos show that you’re effective at doing it — effective enough to make customers happy. That’ll prove your purpose in a way that a massive “About Us” page almost never could.

Your purpose should be communicated, however subtly, through everything you do and every representation of your company. Follow these steps to create a visual identity that’s consistent and effective, and your brand reputation will benefit.

Rodney LawsRodney Laws has more than a decade of experience providing marketing advice to online entrepreneurs and businesses. He has set up and marketed his own businesses and consulted on crafting campaigns for established companies. Learn more about what Rodney can do to help you or your business by heading over to or @EcomPlatformsio for even more news and views on marketing as an ecommerce brand.