Looking for ways to safeguard your brand’s image, no matter who is creating your content? Learn how to build a solid brand identity by creating visual guidelines for your creative teams.

Brand identity is one of the most important components of the marketing engine. How a brand visually presents their business has a huge impact on audience’s recognition of the brand and their perception of the brand’s personality. It also helps them draw comparisons to competitors.

Marketers want audiences to engage with their brand by expressing thoughts or feelings towards their products, services, or initiatives. The responsibility to guide audiences to a proper understanding of a brand’s value lies with marketers. Strong visual content is a critical and effective way to create a brand identity.

However, producing consistently high quality visuals is not an easy task regardless if brands are using in-house, agency, freelance, or technology resources. All four types of resources come with their own production challenges. Here’s how to build an easy-to-understand and comprehensive set of visual guidelines to ensure consistently high-quality content.

Visual Guidelines Are Different Than Brand Guidelines

How to Establish Your Brand Identity with Visual Guidelines — Visual vs Brand Guidelines

Image via Rawpixel.com.

Develop your visual guidelines separately from but within the context of the brand guidelines. Generally speaking, the larger and more layered a business is the more they’ll need detailed visual guidelines. Also, the types of products or services they offer and who they sell to can determine how complex their visual guidelines are.

There are some important distinctions in how companies use brand guidelines and visual guidelines. Brand guidelines tend to be catch all and include a host of branding rules around logos, fonts, typography, colors, voice, and specifics. But, they often only touch the surface of visual considerations. Brand guidelines can be used by marketing partners, UI/UX teams, writers, marketing automation solutions, sponsors, influencers, and so many other diverse groups.

Visual guidelines have a more defined purpose in creating a brand identity. They’re specifically tailored to help the creative talent produce images and videos for the brand. For this reason, visual guidelines tend to focus more on technical considerations and details on how to compose and shoot photography or videography. They also outline audience personas as well as tone, messaging, and brand values or pillars.

For example, the following rules belong in visual guidelines but not in brand guidelines:

    • When featuring “x” product, ensure imagery includes a mix of diverse ethnicities between the 30 to 45 year old demographic
    • Use only lifestyle photography for website hero images. Lifestyle images for this space must always have people using products and include enough negative space to accommodate room for text overlays.
    • When shooting customer testimonials, ensure to always capture b-roll of customer’s office/facility, and ensure to always include an over the shoulder shot of customers ordering products on our ecommerce site.

Here is an example from Shutterstock Custom, of the types of visual guidelines brands often specify for one seemingly simple product shoot:

How to Establish Your Brand Identity with Visual Guidelines — Visual Guidelines
Image produced by Shutterstock Custom for Appleton’s Rum. 
All trademarks depicted are the property of their respective owners. No affiliation with or endorsement of Shutterstock is hereby implied.

Visual Guidelines Improve Content Consistency

What is the value of putting effort into developing visual guidelines? Let’s look at two significant value points that visual guidelines have for aiding content quality consistency.

First, visual guidelines align the multiple creative resources marketers rely on to produce assets for campaigns or projects. Everyone from in-house creatives, to freelancers, to creative services, to specialized agencies benefit from having defined visual guidelines.

The second value is that visual guidelines help consistently express the intangible, non-technical elements of branding. This includes personas, tone, positioning, or a brands value pillars, all of which are critical to producing on-brand visuals. Executing these elements is arguably the most critical part of creating audience recognition, perception, and competitive comparisons discussed earlier.

Something as simple as defining a brand’s different audience personas can increase how successful your agency will be. You’ll streamline your efforts in casting models for campaigns, or boost efficiency at finding the right stock images or footage.

Tips for Creating Visual Guidelines

How exactly do you create and also enforce visual and brand guidelines? It’s less resource intensive than you may think. Let’s look at three simple questions to consider.

Who are the Stakeholders and Users?

How to Establish Your Brand Identity with Visual Guidelines — Stakeholders and Users

Image via Foxy burrow.

Ask yourself who will be the frequent users of your visual guidelines and what sort of details matter to them most. The answer likely involves looking at your typical creative output in a month/quarter/year and the types of resources you use to execute it.

For example, if you primarily rely on an agency for creative they’ll be more interested in knowing about personas and positioning as they have more established relationships with your business and greater concern for marketing goals beyond attractive visuals. If you rely on freelance photographers or videographers and handle more of the creative ideation/briefing/storyboarding than they’ll care more about technical details around lighting, audio, environments, angles, depth and many others.

What Do You Sell or Offer?                                                  

How to Establish Your Brand Identity with Visual Guidelines — Products and Services

Image via iJeab.

This seems like a simple tip, but depending on what you sell the details of your visual guidelines will differ substantially. For example, if you sell physical goods you’ll outline a significant amount of detail on how you want to compose product shots. Those details can differ between different product lines, which means each line will need its own visual guide. Document everything from pack sizes, to labeling details, to unit quantity, to props, to human elements. This is especially important when considering how much a role product visuals play in support ecommerce conversions for brands selling physical goods.

The details around lifestyle imagery will be very important for a business that offers services. Since they don’t have product photos, building a brand identity will look different for them. Service-based businesses should spend more effort on qualitative descriptions for how they want lifestyle images or footage shot.

What Does Your Feedback History Look Like?

How to Establish Your Brand Identity with Visual Guidelines — Feedback History

Image via Viewvie.

Look back at the history of your feedback with creative resources. This is an effective way to determine the most important part of your visual guidelines. Inspect your revision history in creative project management tools, or use simpler methods such as looking at PDF comments or email history with creative resources. Project managers or project leads can also give good feedback for what was inaccurate with past creative work.

Audit your creative work history to find the gaps in your brand guidelines. Find what guidelines need further explanation to avoid future revisions, and don’t get caught up in your feelings about particular favorite campaigns. Remain impartial and focus on what was inaccurate for visual branding.

Get Started Today

The value of having consistently high quality content that’s on-brand is worth the work.

Once you’re over the hump of brainstorming and starting the development of visual guidelines, the rest comes very quickly. You know your branding and marketing the best, so choosing your guidelines will be easier than you think.

Cover image via Africa Studio.