Chapter Four: Nailing Your Brand's Aesthetic

The majority of the initial impact your brand has on a customer is based on visuals. Before customers can read a single word, they’ll have absorbed a lot of aesthetic touches.

Planning an aesthetic is intimately tied to the DNA of your brand’s story. Your aesthetic should be inspired by:

You don’t have to be a deep expert in graphic design to plan your brand’s aesthetic. Here are five pillars to start with that will help you form a visual brand identity that will create a great first impression on your customer base:

Colour

Colour is one of the most obvious factors in visual branding. There is a marketing colour theory that suggests that each colour creates an emotional or mental response in a consumer. For example, red brings up passion and impulsivity, whereas blue creates a serene and trustworthy feeling. You can read more about this topic here.

Don’t take this emotional colour theory as hard truth. Your brand colours should, above all, be related to the story you’re trying to tell. For example, for decades the Hershey logo appeared as white lettering against a brown background. This made the logo itself look like a classic chocolate bar. Nevermind that brown typically conveys a natural, grounded brand association; Hersheys used their logo colour to say something particular to them.

Likewise, BMW combines colours in a way that reflects their unique story and heritage. In 1917, Bayerische Motoren Werke created a logo with their company name enclosed in a black circle, with blue and white panels in the logo’s center to represent the Bavarian flag. In 1920 the logo took on it’s popular interpretation as a plane’s propeller. Nowadays, the blue and white of BMW’s logo is thought to represent the sky and clouds.

That being said, there are some hard-fast colour rules to keep in mind:

Decide on your main brand colour and your secondary brand colours. For example, your main brand colour might be green where your secondary brand colours are cream and dark grey. Your main brand colour will take up most of the area space of your content, whereas the secondary colours will be the accents.

Decide on font colours as well, breaking down into heading text colours, body text colours and aside text colours.

Include your brand colours in your brand standards guide documents. No one on your team is to use colours outside of this guide, combine your brand colours, or experiment with different shades or opacities.

2. Layout

Your content layout makes up a huge part of the visual impression left on your customers. A document that is laid out with straight, clean lines presents the impression of order and trustworthiness. Content laid out with a more creative format is more attractive to customers looking for fun brands that are disruptors in their field.

The main key with creating the layout for any advertisement is cleanliness. Stick to the mantra “less is more”. Crowding your content with too many elements will make it hard for the reader to know where to focus, and leaves the reader with no main takeaway point.

Content is usually laid out with the most important elements at the top, the most important of all being the title. The title, and the first phrase following, should contain the main point the reader is to walk away with.

Your content’s layout should contain adequate whitespace. Whitespace allows for mental breathing room between elements. It also creates more of an appearance of cleanliness. Think of Apple’s branding: most people consider it ingenious because it takes the notion of clean to the next level. With tons of whitespace, it presents the impression of an uncluttered mind, and nods to the highly streamlined UX of their products.

3. Signature Elements

Colours and layout are fine, but they won’t differentiate your brand from all the rest. To really form a brand identity, you’ll need signature elements.

Signature elements could include:

Signature elements help build up brand recall. Here are some examples of companies that are really nailing this concept:

Casper Mattresses

Red Bull

Uber Eats

Adobe Creative Cloud

4. Photography/Imagery

We touched on this in the Signature Elements section. Having strong graphics or photographs is essential for telling your brand story. Ask your team the following questions:

Resist the urge to use stock photos! They don’t add value to your content. The models and situations are not enacting your brand’s unique scenario. Stock photos stick out like a sore thumb; they’re cheesy and generic. A good camera is a worthwhile investment for any marketing team, as is a basic photography lighting system. If you don’t want to take the photos yourself, then hire out a photographer. A photoshoot doesn’t have to be expensive. For a few hundred dollars you can get dozens of viable images for your marketing content.

Not every brand uses real-life images. Graphically designed images can work just as well, or better, to illustrate your story. Graphic images can be quickly and easily experimented with, and cheaply produced in many cases.

Consider where and how you’ll use images in your branding. Throughout your website, inserted into your marketing collateral, and in social media posts? Using the same images consistently across channels can help build your brand and establish the right tone with your customers.

5. Tone

Tone is a vague concept, but you know it when you feel it. Each brand has a tone they convey, which is the unspoken message behind their branding. Tone is created over the sum total of all your branding elements.

Just like a film has a tone it creates through cinematic style, choice of actors, music, setting, dialogue and subject matter, your marketing team must consider the overall impression your customers are receiving. Your tone should be cohesive, with all your branding elements working together to strike just the right note. Disjointed tone breaks down consumer trust, and adds friction in the buyer's journey in the form of confusion.

Click here to check out seven strong examples of tone in popular brands.

We live in an age where looks matter more than ever, and that certainly holds true for brands. A well-polished aesthetic signals brand trust-worthiness, and can quickly position your brand alongside industry leaders. Your brand aesthetic is a core part of your business’s identity, giving people something to relate to when contemplating what you offer. A well-executed aesthetic can turn your business into a rising star; a poorly-executed aesthetic will stunt your sales, repel customers, and ensure your business never gets off the ground.

The good news about your brand’s aesthetic is that you don’t have to have it all figured out on day one. All brands are iterative; logos evolve over time, website layouts change subtly over the years, and brand imagery gets a facelift after it begins to look dated. It’s not essential that you get everything perfect today. Just aim to have a well thought out, consistently-implemented brand standards. Consistent branding allows customers to feel increasingly familiar with your offerings as they interact with more and more material. And familiar feels like the safe choice.

Let's recap everything we covered in this chapter. When planning your company's visual brand standards, consider the following:

Colour

Layout

Signature elements

Photos/Imagery

Tone

Join me next time for Chapter Five: How To Create An Awesome Website. We’ll be talking about, you guessed it, your website.