At first glance, does the image above make you happy? All the bright colors, the cut-out hand prints and childish scribbles… but look a little closer, and you’ll see a lot of the crayon colors are red, white, and blue, and many of the scribbles are images of the Twin Towers. Uh-oh. On closer inspection, it’s clearly a photo of a children’s memorial to the 9/11 tragedy. How does it make you feel now? If you were trying to select an image to communicate childish joy, it would not be a good pick. This little exercise proves visual communication can be pretty tricky, and when it comes to branding and packaging design, you need to have a plan if you’re going to get it right. That’s why we believe every brand needs a visual toolbox in their marketing kits. What’s a visual toolbox? Read on to find out more.

A visual toolbox is a collection of carefully curated images, symbols, patterns, fonts, colors, and phrases used to communicate the essence of a brand. Ideally, this work should be done before ANY branding elements have been created, but if you don’t have one yet, don’t worry. You can create a visual toolbox at any time. But be warned – after you go through the process and get really clear on your positioning, you may find you need to go back and retool your existing branding.

The number one thing to remember before you begin is that a visual toolbox IS NOT ABOUT YOU. It is not a vision board. It is not a dream board. It must be 100% about your ideal brand fan or client. People buy based on how things make them FEEL. So, if you want your brand to connect, the first thing you need to do is understand really, really well what your tribe cares about and why. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who are your ideal customers?
  • What do they look like? What are their values? Principles? Aspirations?
  • What is their biggest problem you are trying to solve?
  • What is the main emotion or feeling your audience feels? What words are going through their head?
  • What is your unique approach that helps solve this problem?
  • What is your price point and how does it compare to your competitors?

When you have all these answers spelled out, you will want to create the first part of your visual toolkit – the customer avatar. There are plenty of examples online, or you can download the form we use here. Give them a name and a profile photo. List gender, age, income, profession, education, where they live, type of car (if they have one!), even goals and aspirations. Try to think of every aspect, including where they get their sources of information. And to really drill down, think of things that ONLY your core target would look to. For example, you might think your target likes to work out, but that is still too large a pool of prospects. Do they do triathlons, are they a Peloton junkie, or do they feel most at home in a Bikram yoga studio? Those would be three very different people!

Customer Avatar
Customer Avatar

Now that you know who you are talking to, you need to find out what they want to see, hear, and maybe even taste! The best way to go about this is to simply ask them. Conduct some one-on-one interviews of people you know who fit the profile. After that, go ahead and do a little good-natured online stalking. (You can read more about our thoughts on stalking, here.) Not suggesting anything creepy – simply check out the sources of information that you previously identified. As you research, take note of the colors, images, memes, and topics of conversation you see. Take screenshots, download photos. Once you have a bunch of imagery, either upload them to a site like Pinterest or Google Slides, or place them into a document in your favorite page layout program. Start looking for similarities in the imagery and group them together – it’s kind of like a puzzle. You will notice certain types of subject matter, color schemes, font styles, etc. will keep coming up. Any time you come across an image that doesn’t fit, delete it. What you will be left with is your visual positioning board – part 2 of your visual toolbox.

Sample of visual positioning board

Now that you have the two documents, go ahead, and print them out. Place them nearby where you can see them. Any marketing piece you create should echo this information. Use it as a guide for your social media posts and you’ll find your Instagram page will be much more cohesive. If you are working with an outside vendor, provide these pieces to them to act as guardrails for any work they create for you. They will appreciate the direction and you will be much happier with the results!

If any of this feels out of your comfort zone or you’re not sure where to start, we’re always here to help point you in the right direction – we love working with businesses of all sizes to get their branding in line with their mission, and connect with their customer’s cares.

Photo by Eyvn from Pexels