Keeping a consistent visual identity across platforms

In my recent post about optimising images for the web, I recommended several tools that would help to reduce image sizes and improve web page performance. Wouldn’t it be great if we could use these tools in other ways that would benefit our businesses? Well let’s not forget the primary purpose of these tools is as image editors. Image editing software can help us create a more consistent look to the images we use. Why is this important? Visual consistency is important for our brand’s visual identity.

Keeping images ‘on-brand’ will help align your visitors’ experiences across platforms, from your website to social media.

On-brand‘ is defined by Lexico as ‘conforming to the image or identity that a particular company seeks to associate with its products or services’. Some assume our brand is our logo mark, and perhaps also our typography and fonts. The reality is our brand is everything about our businesses from our core values to how we design our customer interactions. I’ve written more about the differences between brand, brand identity and logos. Therefore, keeping our brand consistent is important. Our visual identities are a significant part of this consistency.

Brand visual identity: some examples

Have a look at the images below. Three brands’ websites and instagram feeds side-by-side. From top to bottom are Toms shoes, The Happy Newspaper and Who Gives a Crap. Notice the visual consistency between the websites and social media. These businesses understand that keeping things uniform is important to the customer experience.

Side-by-side screenshots from the Toms Website and Instagram feed showing the similarities in the visual brand.
Side-by-side screenshots from the Happy Newspaper Website and Instagram feed showing the similarities in the visual brand.
Side-by-side screenshots from the Who Gives a Crap Website and Instagram feed showing the similarities in the visual brand.

So how do we go about making our brand imagery and customer experience consistent?

Go Pro?

Ideally, we’d all be using professionally commissioned images for everything, from our website to our business cards. With the right photographer (or illustrator/artist), we can achieve a coherent style in our imagery. Does your brand suit a light, airy style of image, or dark and moody? Static, or full of movement? The photographer or illustrator you choose should produce artwork that reflects your brand’s visual identity. If you find someone that can understand your brand vision and reproduce that in your images, keep them close! Maybe buy them a coffee or a bit of cake once in a while too…😉

Stock images

Not everyone has the time or budget to pay a professional image creator for their brand imagery. Sometimes we need to find an alternative avenue. Stock images are a quick and easy way of adding high quality images to our websites, but do consider how these will impact your brand. Both the content and style should be on-brand. If one of these elements doesn’t gel with the rest of your images, it will stand out like a sore thumb.

If you are good with visualisation, stock images could work well for you. In that case, you could look on Shutterstock, Adobe or iStock for your images. Unsplash is also a good free stock photography website – you can give optional credit to the creator too if you wish.

The real problem with stock imagery is authenticity. Some may dismiss this as a fashionable buzzword, but brand authenticity is important to many of today’s consumers. Real images of us, our teams, our products and our customers go a long way to building customer trust. Are you more likely to buy from a brand that you trust? One that is transparent about their business practices and ethos? I am.

DIY forever?

If we want authenticity in our imagery, it doesn’t come any more authentic than the images we create ourselves. If you visit the Who Gives a Crap Instagram page you’ll notice they also use customer-provided imagery in their feed. This is becoming more common on social media and can be a great way of building brand trust and credibility.

So, after a (rather lengthy) detour, we come back to our image editing software. These tools can help us create consistent visuals, but we should always start with the right image. Remember how we decided on how our brand images should look earlier in this post (light/airy, dark/moody, static/energetic)? Well that process needs to start before we even take the photo – after all, ‘you can’t polish a turd’.

Where to start?

Some purists may advocate for using expensive, ‘professional’ equipment for business photography. In reality, the best tool for creating an interesting image is good light. Even cheap smartphones can take decent web-resolution images in good light. The real trick is the person behind the camera. We need to be mindful of our imagery before we even press the shutter button. What is the intent behind this image? Does it conform to our brand values? Do the colours fit with our visual consistency? Is everything in the image relevant? If not, could we move things around, or move ourselves and compose it differently? Do we really want to spend ages trying to edit this image afterwards, or get it right in camera?!

Image editing is powerful. It can fix many things in an image, but it’s best used to add polish to an already great image. Or add consistency. If our image is darker than normal, we can lighten it. And vice versa. If the contrast or colour balance doesn’t fit, we can change those too. You might find a filter preset that suits your brand visuals – a filter that can be applied at the press of a button. Some software even lets us edit or create our own presets to reuse over and over.

These editing tools make the process of creating a coherent visual identity simple. However, we must be mindful that it is our responsisbility to plan, action and then edit our images with uniformity. Editing software should not be used as a crutch to prop up poorly planned or executed images. It is there to help perfect our images and ready them for use. Images that represent our brands with a visual consistency.