If you know me at all or have been following Studio Bicyclette for any amount of time, chances are you’re aware of my love for the inspiration board. One of the first steps in my creative process for any new project, the dreamy inspiration-gathering phase puts me in my happy place, allowing me to get lost in beautiful imagery and explore various creative themes, and then narrow in on details. I get a little messy; I dream big and allow my imagination to run wild, all with the intention of pulling out concepts and ideas that can be used to define the creative direction for a project.
But there was one thing missing for me: a little bit of structure. Because as much as I love my beautiful chaos, I was finding that I’d end up with an inspiration board that captured the style and articulated the creative vision I had for a project, but then I was at a loss as to how that actually translated into the next phase of a brand design project or photoshoot.
That’s where a visual strategy comes in.
A visual strategy provides guidance as to how to style your brand and the framework within which to share your story. It helps you figure out what to share and how to share it. It helps define the look of your brand and translates that into a suite of imagery that can be used to showcase and enhance your brand, whether it shows up on your website or blog, in your social media content, or through other brand collateral.
Simply put, it takes you from inspiration board to brand imagery.
What is a brand, anyway?
So let’s take a step back for a moment and talk about branding. Not surprisingly, marketing genius Seth Godin has one of my favourite definitions of a brand:
“A brand is a set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one service [or product] over another.”
A brand is more than a set of brand collateral. More than your logo, your colour palette and your website - it is an experience, and your visuals should help communicate that and showcase your brand style no matter what the touchpoint is, immersing your audience within your story and including them on the journey.
Resonating at an emotional and instinctual level, a powerful brand communicates your values subconsciously, resonating directly with your dream clients and attracting the right audience.
And how do we do that, you might ask? Through styled brand imagery.
The Importance of Styling Your Brand
The ultimate goal here is to create a visual style that tells a story, so that whenever people see your images, they know it’s your content and it feels connected to the rest of your brand. It’s that feeling of seeing an image and automatically exclaiming “That’s so….”. We know the brand so well because they’ve succeeded in defining their brand style.
There should be consistency at every brand touchpoint - your branding, your website, your social profiles, your imagery - people “get” that it’s your brand because of consistency in the colour palette, the tone, the voice and the visuals, while all tying back to your brand vision and values. Moving forward, this will serve as a filter for any content you produce, and trust me - it starts to become so inherent that you’ll barely have to think about whether something is “on brand”.
Don’t get me wrong — the content, or subject matter of a brand photo is incredibly important, which is why I put together a quick download of my favourite content ideas for brand images. But the way you style your brand and the story you tell with your images deserves just as much attention.
Styling your brand allows you to communicate an intentional message, attracting your dream audience, enticing them to want to work with you and thereby realizing your goals.
How do you leave your audience with a first impression that captivates and imagery that tells a story and evokes an emotional response? Take the time to follow your curiosity and explore your inspirations. Pay attention to the details and focus on creating a visual strategy for your brand. Through doing so, you’ll be able to start defining the details that set your brand apart and showcase its distinct personality and style.
The Role of a Visual Strategy
A visual strategy provides guidance as to how to style your brand and the framework within which to share your story. It helps you figure out what to share and how to share it. It helps define the voice and look of your brand, providing you with the tools you need to translate it into suite of imagery or visual content that can be used to showcase and enhance your brand, whether it shows up on your website or blog, in your social media content, or through other brand collateral.
Simply put, it takes you from inspiration board to visual content, with the trust that you’re creating the right kind of content that will help you effectively tell your brand story.
Defining a visual strategy will help you:
Style your brand and tell your story in a visual manner
Narrow in on your brand story, identify what the themes are within that, and capture the details that tie it all together and allow your vision to come to life
Ensure that your brand images are visually aligned with your brand values and vision
Editorialize your content
Explore creative content ideas, but with structure
Plan a brand photoshoot and identify what needs to be done
Turn an inspiration board into a vision you can bring to life through actionable steps
It’s about merging that right brain creativity with the left brain logic, using a framework that leads you through a process to develop a clear, actionable strategy and an outcome that is aligned with your brand story.
If you’re curious to see what this process of inspiration board to visual strategy looks like and how to define your own, I’ll be introducing the next step of my signature process, creating an inspiration board as the next post in this series.
You can also take a peek at examples of projects I’ve worked on using this process — sharing the behind the scenes of how I helped take a concept from beginning to finished product for number of different types of brands and creative businesses:
- Breeyn McCarney, a dress designer who developed a clear vision for her brand, complete with sparkly details and custom icons.
- Dallas Curow, a photographer who refined her brand, found focus and was able to narrow in on who her dream clients and projects were.
- Lash It, a lash extension brand that narrowed in on her Instagram strategy, allowing us to create a suite of custom content for her.
- Scarlet O'Neill, a photographer for whom we rebranded her entire online presence and redesigned her website to match her updated style and direction.
And if you tend to get stuck on coming up with ideas for your branded content, I’ve got a cheatsheet with Content Ideas for Brand Photos, which is particularly helpful when you need an idea for a social media or blog post image — because we’ve all been there!