How to create a successful visual brand


Australia is being continuously flooded with new franchises and brands. Increased choice and the ability to shop around more easily means it is more important than ever to establish a loyal customer base. A strong brand identity can help do this. Getting the visual element of a brand right can be a difficult task but, if done correctly, can really drive customer engagement and improve your bottom line.

Having a strong visual brand can help franchisees achieve growth by connecting with their target markets and driving engagement. The best visual representations accurately and concisely reflect the overall brand message. But getting it right is no easy task. Franchisors should create a set of visual guidelines for their franchisees to easily follow. The biggest issue for franchisors is if there is inconsistent delivery of the visual identity across their franchisee base. Franchises such as McDonald’s is an example of how powerful coherent branding can be across the world. It only works because it is consistently delivered regardless who operates the franchise.

It is important for franchisors to understand that creating a successful visual brand identity is not as simple as designing a logo. Everything needs to link back to and support both the business and the brand’s intention. While there is no magic formula for getting a brand’s visual identity right, there are elements that successful franchisors consistently use. People say ‘never judge a book by its cover’ but, in franchising, the ‘cover’ certainly contributes to the overall impression.

Franchisors who follow these six key steps are more likely to develop a successful visual identity for their franchisees to follow. Franchisees must understand this process and the importance of following visual branding guidelines.

1. Understanding the audience

The first step for franchisors is to understand who you are talking to. One of the greatest challenges of visual branding is creating something that evokes the right feelings about your brand in your audience. Your brand is simply a perception, it is how people perceive you; ultimately it is the sum of every impression your customers receive from you. This is particularly important for franchises, where visual branding is vital to connect with audiences and to attract franchisees owners themselves.

Once you know who your audience is, you can consider what you want them to think and feel about your brand. Don’t try to convey too many messages at once as the messages may end up diluting each other and get lost. It’s best to select one idea  that you really want your customer to understand, then focus on designing the visual identity to communicate that.

Franchisors must understand that what evokes a positive reaction with one group might have the opposite reaction in another, so an accurate representation and understanding of your audience is vital for brands when developing a new logo or visual identity. Understanding your customers is the most fundamental step in building your brand’s visual identity, but it’s often overlooked.

This must be communicated to franchisees in detail, so they know who they are targeting. This will affect how employees market themselves and converse with consumers.

2. A singular message

While evoking that right feeling through your visual identity is vital, it is important not to represent too many messages at once or you risk diluting your image. Decide on the single most important idea you want your customer to get when they look at your brand. Design a visual identity that truly represents that one idea. This helps to provide a clear and concise design objective and also makes briefing your designer much easier.

For example, Harley Davidson’s slogan, ‘American by birth. Rebel by choice’, is targeted at the high-end market of successful men who want to relive their youth and feel cool and rebellious.

KFC’s ‘finger lickin’ good’ gives the impression the food is so delicious you don’t care who sees you licking your fingers.

It is vital for the franchisor to communicate this idea to their franchisees to ensure they are delivering on the same message at the front end.

3. Clear brand attributes and benefits

If you are designing a visual for a brand then think about the specific benefits the brand provides. It is important to differentiate between features and benefits. Features are product specifications, while benefits are about fulfilling needs. For example, some of the features of Curves gym include the gym facilities and nutritional advice available. The benefits would be helping women feel empowered to get fit and feel healthy. Reflecting these benefits in your brand creates an association between the benefits and the brand in the minds of your customers.

Again, these must be communicated to franchisees so they can clearly outline features and benefits. This will also ensure their marketing is coherent.

4. Symbols

For some brands, symbols can be a simple but clever way to create shortcuts that evoke feelings or represent a brand’s attributes. For example, the deceptively-simple Amazon logo has an arrow pointing from the A to the Z, creating a subtle representation that they have everything you could need. The arrow also forms a smiley face, suggesting customers will be happy they chose Amazon. Nike uses the ‘swoosh’ symbol and this is also reflected in its slogan, ‘just do it’, because for Nike the brand is all about determination, effort and success. Domino’s is renowned for its two dice, using red and blue, while Vodafone uses its renowned bold red letters. 7-Eleven also has a well-known symbol using the 7 in numerals and the 11 in letters, which makes it easy for consumers to spot the sign when they’re driving. These symbols are used to help consumers think of the brand and what it stands for as soon they see it.

Symbols are a significant part of the visual branding guidelines. It helps to make sure franchisees understand the importance of the brand’s symbol, what they mean and how they reflect the overall brand and its message.

5. Characters

For some, having a brand mascot can be a great way to bring a brand to life, giving it personality and lifting it up from obscurity. This can work well for brands that otherwise might seem dry. Starbucks famously uses a twin-tailed mermaid in their logo to represent the strong seaport roots of the Seattle-based company and to provide an alluring mystery around the brand. McDonald’s has Ronald McDonald the clown, suggesting it’s a family friendly restaurant. KFC also uses the famous face of  Colonel Sanders, the man who started the chain using his secret chicken recipe. Characters can be effective but it is important to choose or create a character that is suitable for your audience. For example, childish characters are unlikely to work with  some adult audiences.

Again, franchisees will need to ensure they are using the character in the right way across the entire franchisor model. For example, Ronald McDonald is used on children’s happy meals and to promote children’s parties. You never see him being used to market Big Macs.

6. The right typefaces and colours

Colours and fonts can elicit different feelings and responses in people, making them an important consideration. Famous brands have done this well. Barbie uses soft, rounded fonts and even has its own pink Pantone colour. Toys ‘R’ Us uses a backwards ‘R’ and bold primary colours to reflect its whimsical childlike personality. Your font should reflect what you are trying to convey, so they need to be considered and chosen carefully. Serif fonts (e.g. the little feet on Times New Roman) give the impression of maturity, where sans serif (like Arial or Helvetica) can appear more contemporary.

Using upper case can give the impression of loudness or shouting while lower case typefaces appear more softly spoken, conversational and accessible. Different colours can also evoke different feelings. Yellow may be perceived as cheery, blue as clean and calm, and orange as energetic. Just like the Barbie pink, certain brands have created strong colour associations (‘Donut King pink’ or ‘Vodafone red’, for example). Sometimes combining carefully these chosen attributes with hidden or overt symbols can help underline brand messages.

McDonald’s is another example which uses its colours and font to represent its core audience, families. This is evident through its use of bright, strong and bold colours. By contrast, Gloria Jeans coffee shops uses darker brown colours and a coffee mug to attract an older, coffee-drinking audience.

Visual identity is a fundamental part of any brand. Franchisors need to seriously consider what exactly they are trying to convey and the emotions they wish to elicit. Once this is decided, franchisors must ensure all of their franchisees understand the brand and what message it is trying to convey. This will ensure that the brand is consistently delivered from head office right through to the front door and beyond.

Dan Ratner is managing director of branding and communications agency, uberbrand. He has more than 15 years’ experience in marketing, communications and branding and is passionate about branding as an enabler to fulfil organisational objectives. Working closely with uberbrand’s clients, Dan works to understand the current customer perception in the context of business goals. Dan works with well-known Australian brands across a variety of sectors including financial services, travel and education.

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