Online Marketing, more than a strategy, has become a platform where businesses can reach and engage with their audiences directly. But as channels of communication continue to develop and improve through innovation and technology, consumers have begun to evolve as well.
Nowadays, it is less about what you have to offer as a brand and more of what you stand for. Product features, benefits, and quality are no longer enough to capture market attention. Today’s generation of consumers are looking to connect with brands through common values and an authentic desire to make the world a better place.
Brand Authenticity – What does it mean to be genuine?
In an era when anyone, good and evil, can harness the power of the internet, finding authenticity has become quite a challenge for consumers. However, the weight of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of businesses who are now faced with the task of branding themselves in order to build real and lasting connections with their market. But what does it really mean to be authentic?
According to The Journal of Consumer Psychology, Brand Authenticity is “the extent to which consumers perceive a brand to be faithful toward itself, true to its consumers, motivated by caring and responsibility, and able to support consumers in being true to themselves.” In simpler terms, it’s about honesty, transparency, and being passionate about making a positive impact not just in the lives of your customers, but in the world as a whole as well.
In order to build a real connection with your market, you have to know how to make your audience the hero of your brand story, not your product. By understanding what they value as a consumer, you will find it easier to engage with them in a much deeper way. This is where The Elements of Value comes in.
The Elements of Value is inspired by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This pyramid represents how you can drive value by being able to deliver the elements that make a product or service relate to a specific human psychological need.
Each level begs to answer a specific consumer question:
- Functional – How will this product or service help me?
- Emotional – How does this product or service make me feel?
- Life-changing – How can it make a difference in MY life?
- Social Impact – How can it make a difference to OTHERS?
Only after you have delivered on these elements will you be able to build value, establish brand authenticity, and turn season, impulsive buyers into loyal customers.
Storytelling through Visual Branding
When you use the word branding, a non-marketer will immediately associate it to logo and design. This is because humans have been proven to process and respond better to visual data than any other kind of data known to man. In fact, we are able to process images 60,000 times faster than text content.
This may very well be the reason why visual branding is one marketing strategy that has not only stood the test of time but matured into a significant factor in a brand’s journey to establish authenticity. A visual brand language is considered successful if you were able to create a unique and memorable experience for your market.
There are many branding tips for small businesses out there, but for us, they all point to one overarching message – BEING UNIQUE. Good design can be found everywhere, but having the ability to execute it in a way that is consistent and distinctively yours is the real challenge.
One brand that is particularly at the top of this ladder is McDonald’s. Their visual branding has proven itself so strong to the point that the company has tried running several “unbranded” campaigns such as these:
See how it works? It does not matter if it’s blurred or without a logo, one glance and you know exactly which brand these ads are from.
The advantages of investing in visual branding are endless, but to get you started, here are the benefits that will persuade you:
As you implement your visual brand across marketing collaterals, both online and offline, your target consumers will eventually learn to associate it with your business. Once you’ve built a first good impression, it will take an average of 5 to 7 interactions before your brand sticks to a consumer’s mind.
Being Creative and Consistent
Visual Branding gives businesses a chance to remain consistent without having to sacrifice creativity. Text content can only be rehashed a few times until it gets overused, but with visual branding, sky’s the limit. And just remember, a branding that is consistent has been known to increase revenue by up to 23%, and should also help you get a good start on one of the most successful kinds of marketing which is retargeting.
Imagery can be the most powerful tool you can use to inspire trust and loyalty. Visual cues trigger emotional responses, which in turn, builds a deeper meaning for the viewer. With 91% of consumers saying they prefer purchasing from a brand that is authentic, it’s high time you invest in building a visual brand signature.
Strategic Ways to Use Visual Branding to Drive Authenticity
#1. Create Your Brand Mark
While visual branding is not limited to your logo and tagline, these two serve as unique signifiers of your company and the simplest icons of your identity. It’s important to remember that these will be consistent throughout your company’s lifetime, (unless you decide to rebrand along the way) so do spend time to design your website strategically. Making sure your logo and tagline represent your brand and what it stands for perfectly is key to building a solid foundation on authenticity.
#2. Make Your Visual Story Original
It will be difficult to be recognizable when your branding looks like everybody else’s. This is why it’s crucial that you go back to your roots, your story, because that is what makes you unique. Being authentic to who you are as a brand will reflect on the visual content and stories you create. Once you are able to establish an original identity through visual branding, your audience will eventually learn to associate particular cues to you.
#3. Say No to Stock Photos
An authentic visual strategy will yield no fruitful results if you resort to doing it the easy way by using stock photography. With visual content being a cornerstone of building authentic brand identity, using unoriginal photos can harm your credibility and your audience’s perception of your true values. Nowadays, humanizing your brand by showing the reality of the people that make it is one of the greatest ways to stay genuine and connected to your market. Make use of real-world imagery and explore user-generated content and you’ll get to tip # 4.
#4. Connect Deeply
The intention behind staying unique and not using stock photos is to form deep and lasting connections with your audience. What makes a strong content strategy, visual or not, is keeping your target market in mind during the whole process. Is the visual content to saying something relevant, timely, and relatable? Will this evoke a particular emotion? Connecting deeply means seeing the consumer for who they really are – people with dreams, aspirations, and frustrations.
#5. Curate REAL Content
Most of what makes it to social media is a brand’s highlight reel. Awards, events, and new products are often pushed to viewers with the purpose of establishing authority and credibility. But authentic stories are a combination of both good and bad chapters, and that is something that connects with a market. More than your successes, your audience is much more interested in knowing how your brand started, how you built your website and the struggles you were able to overcome before you got to where you are now. Inspire people by showing the human side of your brand through visual elements because they will be able to relate to that.
#6. Leverage Social Media
When it comes to sharing your brand stories, nothing comes close to the power of social media. While various platforms call for different purposes, one of the things they have in common is being visual-forward. This is the perfect channel to show the world brand authenticity – it’s real-time, quick, and is open for two-way communication. In fact, authenticity is something consumers look for before interacting with a brand on social media, with 86% of Americans saying they will readily shift to a competitor if a brand lacks transparency or seems insincere in its values. A few ways you can use social media to drive authenticity are:
- Giving honest answers to inquiries
- Responding to both positive and negative feedback
- Sharing behind-the-scenes and processes
- Providing product or service features and prices
While all these may seem overwhelming at first, the inspiration for your visual branding will come if you know who you are as a company and the values you live by. It’s hard to show authenticity if you force it – and that will reflect on any message you put out into the world.
Five Brands Who Are Doing It Right
While using visual branding to drive authenticity is not an entirely new thing, a lot of companies are still finding their way around it. To get you inspired, here are a few brands who have been doing it right for quite some time now:
In this Instagram-obsessed world, Glossier has found a way to rise above the competition, and the simplicity of their strategy is so amazing that they’ve reached cult status almost overnight. Their approach? Less is more.
Their tagline – “Beauty products inspired by real life.”- is authenticity in its purest, most direct form. For the beauty brand, everything starts with their market and it reflects on their visual signature. From their packaging to their Instagram feed, their focus is on highlighting natural beauty through minimalist design and barely-there products.
The tech giant is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to visual storytelling. Over the course of 21 years, Google has mastered the art of development and innovation and that is evident even in their brand design. In fact, most people now wait in anticipation on what fun twist Google will apply to their logo during holidays and special events. They are the perfect example of being consistent without sacrificing creativity.
For Lego’s 50th Anniversary
For Freddie Mercury’s 65th Birthday
From its colourful palette and choice of vector graphics, it’s easy to believe that Headspace is all about bringing joy and relaxation to its users. The app’s tagline “Meditation made simple” is a message that’s loud and clear in its visual branding.
The company makes use of colours that evoke joy and calmness, and chose to go with illustrations that could easily take you back to when you were a kid and life was more fun, less stressful.
The thing that makes Airbnb different from any other accommodation platform out there is that it doesn’t focus on the place but on experience. Their goal as a company is stated on their creative proposition which is “Belong Anywhere.” The identity of Airbnb is rooted in their promise to give its users a sense of belonging wherever they are in the world.
When you click on their site or subscribe to their newsletter, you’ll see that their visual stories feature locations with people in it, which evokes an emotional connection that makes a person think “I want to experience that place” as opposed to “Oh that place looks nice.”
Dove has been one of the most successful brands when it comes to visual storytelling and establishing authenticity. The brand shifted its message and became advocates of “real beauty.”
Their ads and campaigns are easily distinguishable from its competitors for they steered away from using airbrushed, highly-photoshopped, and stick-thin models and set the stage for women empowerment, regardless of their physical appearance, skin colour, or age.
The market is saturated and getting even more competitive, so maximize every channel and exhaust all efforts in making sure you stay true to who you are as a brand because that is key to being memorable. As with any other strategy, the most difficult part is the beginning – how do you turn good content to great stories?
How do you use visual branding to stay relevant? The questions may seem endless, but at the end of the day, you learn from doing. Take the first step, track progress, continue to evolve, and eventually, the right market will not need to see your name to know you are.