Visual Branding and Storytelling

Learn how to connect the visual elements of your brand to your authentic story.

Your visual identity (which includes your logo, photography, social posts and website) is one of the most immediate and direct ways of influencing how someone feels about your business.

Social posts featuring candid photography in a maker’s workshop can communicate authenticity, relatability, and craft. Studio shoots with flash lighting, makeup, and wardrobe assistance can suggest a more polished and controlled brand. A handmade soap company might create a hand-drawn logo to highlight the human role in the business. A whiskey brand could use a classic typeface to hint at the company’s long heritage.There are endless ways to influence how someone feels about your business through the visual aspects of your brand.

Make effective visual choices

Start by analyzing the visual identities of other businesses, both inside and outside your category. Look at their website, emails, social accounts, and any other online brand activity. Try and work out why they made the design decisions they did—and if you would have done the same thing. Write down what you think they were trying to communicate about their businesses and whether or not the choices were effective.

Now consider what your visuals are saying about your business. It’s tempting to choose colors, typefaces, photography, and illustration that you simply like on a personal level. That works If you’re a design-led business where your personal taste is relevant to your work. If that’s not your area of expertise, consider talking to a design professional to give you an outsider’s view on how your business comes across. It’s hard to get distance on your own business, so an experienced sounding board can be useful.

Although your visuals are important, a brand is much more than this. A brand is how a business is perceived in the mind of someone who has experienced it in some way. It’s the way your business is understood by others. Everything from your short bio on your social media accounts to the opening statement on your website helps a potential customer understand your business.

Incorporate your story

Stories help people make sense of what’s going on around them. They provide a framework for understanding. Most importantly, stories create an emotional connection.

A well-thought-out visual identity and an authentic brand story are an incredibly powerful combination that can have a huge impact on your business. Think of your visual branding as a gateway to a much deeper story about your business. If you can connect the dots between the history of your business and your visual touchpoints, you’ll build meaning into the brand.

Take The Handmade Soap Company. Founders Donagh and Gemma began making soaps in their kitchen, selling them at local farmer’s markets and to neighbors. Even after their business grew, they remained committed to lovingly-made, natural products. How do the aspects of visual branding on their website reinforce this authentic story?

The name of the business and the hand-drawn logo make the values of the business immediately clear. The photography features the products in real homes and natural settings. The brand tagline, “Kindness comes naturally,” is a concise reminder of their brand promise. Each of these branding choices act as a tie back to their authentic story.

Stay connected to your authentic story

As a business grows in size, it can become harder to stay in touch with the spark that spurred its growth in the first place. Working for a small business helps you remain close to your original motivations. You’ll remember the moment when you decided to start or join the business. You’ll be able to recall why you felt the business would be a success and why you’re the person to make it happen. These are the beginnings of your brand story.

One of the most difficult parts of running a small business is that your competitors watch what moves you make and will attempt to replicate your successful ones. Even larger companies watch innovative smaller companies and simply copy what works. The one thing that can never be replicated is the authentic story of how and why you started the business. When leveraged correctly, your story will set you apart from even your largest competitors.

Build deeper meaning into your brand

It can be tempting to use literal and obvious visuals to communicate your brand story. Balance is key for effective branding: Make sure your visual choices are clearly connected to your story, but don’t be afraid to add a little bit of abstraction and intrigue to inspire curiosity in your brand. Perhaps your logo features a character or you’ve named your business after an inspirational person in your life. The reason for your choices might not be immediately obvious, but this gives you an opportunity to expand on the story on your website, in customer emails and other in-depth brand touchpoints.

The visual aspects of your brand should communicate something about your deeper brand story, even if it is on the most subtle level. Every touchpoint is an opportunity to reinforce and strengthen your brand with authenticity.

Written by Mo Saha for Mailchimp. Mo is a branding expert for small businesses.