With increasingly fierce competition and even niche markets saturated, it is branding that enables SMEs to stand out from competitors and build relationships with customers. In everyday life, we have preferences about who we want to hang out with, and the same goes for brands. Many physical and emotional factors come into play, and these may not necessarily be associated with a company and its services, which might seem cold and distant. However, as people, we trust those brands that we find most engaging, be it in terms of meeting our needs or connecting with us. We look at how brands act, how they talk, what they believe in; we look at whether they make us laugh or think, and whether they make us feel understood.
They say that when we see someone for the first time, the human brain takes just a few seconds to form an idea (or at least a projection) of who is in front of us. When it comes to brands, visual identity is hugely important because that first impression can make a difference both in the short and long term.
What a brand is and what branding means for your business
From a company’s social media account to the packaging used to ship its products, everything plays a part in conveying the personality of a brand. But what does this word really mean? Often people confuse a company’s brand with its logo or the colours used on its website. But a brand is really the perception that people have of your business. Of course, when a customer encounters one of your products for the first time, they’ll immediately notice the logo, but they’ll also take in myriad other aspects, such as how the packaging makes them feel, the experience they have of your website and how they’ll perceive themselves if they purchase your product in the future. Every detail can make a difference and, with the right mix, can help position the brand in people’s minds.
Before setting out to find a graphic designer to make over your company’s image, first take a step back and think about the very essence of branding. What message do you want your business to convey? If you want to be chosen over you competitors, you need to stand out by focusing on what makes your business unique. Always start by clearly setting out the mission, vision and values that guide your work. This first step will help you understand who you want to be and how to present yourself to people.
Why visual design is important for a small business
Earlier, we talked about how quickly we form an idea of the people we meet. This reaction time is even shorter when it comes to digital media. Researchers at Carleton University in Canada have shown that it takes just 50 milliseconds (0.05 seconds) to form a first impression of a website and to decide whether to keep browsing or not.
These studies underline that the first image we see of a website or product is crucial. In particular, it has been demonstrated that visual appearance has an even greater influence than user experience. So we’re going to show you a whole host of benefits that your company can reap if it starts to think seriously about a visual design strategy:
- Conversions: attractive and engaging designs are extremely persuasive; they create a positive perception of a business and build trust. And when a firm is perceived as being trustworthy, it’s more likely to convert prospects (potential customers) into actual customers.
- Credibility: a brand’s visual identity plays a key role in positioning it in the mind of the consumer. Visuals help to add value to products and brands. Once created, this perception will be easier to highlight compared to the competition and will strengthen relationships with customers.
- Longevity: iconic and memorable graphic design creates connections with customers because it allows a brand’s personality, the key element that makes customers fall in love with your products, to shine through.
- Communication: an effective visual identity will boost your communications. By fully customising your offering graphically, you will ensure that your brand’s personality wins people over at every touchpoint (the places where customers encounter the brand). An unmissable opportunity to improve brand awareness.
To get the most out of your visual identity, you need to invest. This means turning to professionals and not trying to do everything yourself. Otherwise, you risk undervaluing the graphic impact of the company, spending too little initially, and then spending much more later as you try to catch up with competitors.
Key aspects to focus on
The question you should ask yourself once you’ve finished reading this article is this: does my brand identity represent me and is it distinctive? To answer this question, you can review how your branding and communication is (or isn’t) conveying the values and personality of your business. Alternatively, you can analyse the aspects that most impact your visual presence:
- Logo: the logo is the ultimate embodiment of a company, giving visual form to its values and value proposition. That’s why a logo should be something memorable and distinctive, even if it doesn’t tell you what the company produces. Just think of the clothing brand Lacoste with its crocodile logo. Investing time and money in choosing a logo will ensure recognition of your brand and a clear position when customers come to choose between your product and the competition’s.
- Colour palette: according to the book “Brands and Branding” by Stephen Brown, around 90% of people are influenced by colour in their purchasing decisions. It’s therefore essential to carefully pick your colour palette based on the message that you want to convey and your brand’s identity. Colour influences people’s state of mind and can help your business to differentiate itself.
- Typography: choice of font should not be an afterthought. Typefaces can play an important role in expressing your brand’s identity, because different fonts are associated with different values. For example, a seriffed font conveys prestige, whereas a thick sans serif font is gives the impression of solidity and resoluteness.
- Photographs and images: it is important to present yourself with images that really represent your company and its personality, not just because Google now penalises websites that use stock images, but above all because people viewing your website or social media pages need to feel engaged with your communication. Indeed, if your photos are carefully chosen and in keeping with your brand identity, they will improve interaction with users, shares on social media and awareness of the brand.
Three examples of SMEs with distinctive visual identities
To get an even fuller understanding of how visual identity boost your firm’s growth, here are three examples that can serve as inspiration:
- Elo Soap: the bars of soap produced by Elo are different from everything else on the market. But this has less to do with the (admittedly fine) product itself than it does the eye-catching visuals that have enabled the brand to build a loyal following. How did it achieve this? In Greece, the theme of ancient gods is a well-worn cliche. So Elo gave it a new twist with fresh and modern packaging that nonetheless remains respectful of tradition.
- Unincorporated Coffee: a small coffee roastery in Los Angeles changed up its identity with a major rebranding exercise. The firm wanted to retain its unconventional character while taking its visual identity up a level. Through a logo, which is also a mascot, it created a bold, irreverent and transgressive image for the roastery that is in keeping with its unmistakeable coffee.
- Jungle Culture: selling coconut shell bowls, bamboo cutlery and other plastic-free items, the company produces sustainable homeware that also supports craftspeople and farmers in Vietnam. Through a brand identity that offers nods to the ancient symbols of Vietnamese culture, its visual communication touches every aspect of the business. As can be seen from its Instagram account, which today has almost 11,000 followers, the brand’s personality is rooted in nature.