Visual Strategy Part 3 with Studio Bicyclette

We started this mini series talking about the importance of defining a visual strategy for your brand, diving into the role it plays and providing you with a version of my Brand Styling Brief that helps lead you through the process of answering some important questions about your brand style and story. In the second week, we took to Pinterest in order to build our inspiration boards, and now here we are in our final week of the series.

This week, we’re going to talk about how to translate what you’ve discovered in the first two steps into an actionable strategy, the various elements of a visual strategy, and where the details may show up for your own brand.

First of all, it’s important to note that this whole process of defining a visual strategy is a cumulative one, and at each step of the way, we are starting to define a language around our brand just as much as a visual identity. Look back through your Brand Styling Brief, the captions you wrote on your inspiration board images and any other notes you may have taken along the way, paying attention to the words that appeared multiple times, those that felt particularly relevant to your brand, and the ones that you were most drawn to. These will be your brand tone words, and are important to keep on hand to use as guidelines for all visual collateral you create.

From your collection of inspiration images, there are a lot of specific details that we can pull out if we pay close attention, which is exactly why we took the time to make the notes on each photo. For example a marble surface from an interior decor inspiration image may give us an idea for a backdrop we want to source for our own brand photos, a strand of pearls in an outfit photo might represent the classic, chic style that is important to our brand, or we might start to notice that a lot of our inspiration images include fresh flowers, which is a detail that we can easily incorporate into our own visuals as a styling prop for consistency and to bring life to a photo.

When we start to become really clear on what our brand stands for (through the Brand Styling Brief) and what we are drawn to and love from a visual standpoint (through the process of building an inspiration board), we can learn a lot about our brand and if we take it one step further, it’s possible to start to define our own visual elements.

Elements of a Visual Strategy

The visual strategy itself can exist in a number of different formats — it might be a few pages in your go-to notebook, a Google Doc that you can easily access anywhere, or something more visual printed out and hung on your wall. When I’m working with brands to develop their own visual strategies, and the way that I teach it in my Visual Strategy Masterclass, is by filling out a large scale canvas that includes both visuals and text fields that I can easily refer back to.

Here are a few of the most important pieces to define in your own visual strategy:

  • Your brand style and story. This is essentially your “elevator pitch” of what you do and why you do it, capturing the essence of your brand and what you stand for in no more than a few sentences.
  • Inspiration images. I like to select a few key inspiration images that strongly represent the visual direction I want to take the brand in. These should be the strongest finals images from the inspiration gathering stage, and should really personify the visual identity of your brand.

  • Colours. You may already have a brand colour palette, so either the colours can be carried over from that or pulled from your inspiration board after paying attention to the specific colours that started to emerge consistently.

  • Tone words. As mentioned before, these will start to emerge through the process of filling out your Brand Styling Brief and through the inspiration gathering stage, and these are really important for defining a visual language around your brand that can easily be communicated to others as well.

  • Dream client. This is something that you will have defined at the beginning of this process in the Brand Styling Brief, but I think it’s important to make note of it here as well, since this is essentially who you’re hoping to attract with your visual content.

  • Specific details. This is where those details that we pulled out from the inspiration images and our overall notes come into play, and I like to keep a running list of all visual elements that we want to associate with our brand.

Where the Details of Your Visual Strategy Will Show Up

There are a number of places where the details of your visual strategy may show up — in your brand design and identity itself, through your website or any other design pieces such as blog post graphics or custom icons — but what I want to focus on primarily are your brand photos, since they play such a key role in creating a visual identity and can show up in so many different places.

We know that creating a recognizable style for your brand is important, forging a connection with your audience and telling a story through your visual content. Brand photos provide an opportunity to create brand awareness, communicate an intentional message, and attract your dream audience by building a relationship with them. Through your photos, you’re able to establish a “look” that’s specific to your brand. The ultimate goal is to reach the point where an image is recognizably yours when it pops up in front of someone, whether that’s in an Instagram feed, on your website, or in their inbox, without even seeing your profile pic or brand name associated with it.

Brand photos provide the opportunity to communicate the style, colour palette and message of your brand within one image which is particularly powerful, given how little time we have to capture attention and make a first impression, especially in the fast-paced, visual world of social media that we’re now so accustomed to.

Beautiful photos can tell incredible stories, and by tapping into the lifestyle aspect, specific style or unique offering of your brand, you’re able to illustrate this through creative content. Photos evoke emotion and communicate how you want your customer to feel when they interact with your brand. This is why we started this whole process by taking to time to define exactly what it is we want our brand to stand for and what feelings we want our visuals to emulate. By connecting with our audience on a deeper level, we’re also inspiring them to take action by building trust and forming a relationship with them.

Here are a few ideas about where specifically you might use your brand photos:

  • Social media posts

  • Social media profiles, backgrounds and headers

  • Blog post graphics or feature images

  • Sales pages

  • Website

  • Digital offerings, like ebooks, workbooks or catalogues

  • Product photography

  • Newsletters or emails

And there we have it  — we’ve now covered the entire process of building a visual strategy, in a simplified version of my signature process, from Brand Styling Brief, to inspiration board, to the visual strategy itself.

Hopefully this has helped you dive into your own brand style and story a little more and provided the necessary framework you need in order to help define a visual strategy and communicate what your brand stands for through visual content.

If you’re looking for a further deep dive in this process, my Visual Strategy Masterclass is designed to help you do just that, including video content and a suite of tools and resources to help you define your own visual strategy and leave you with a shot list for your next brand photoshoot, or I also have a number of free resources and peeks into the development of visual strategies for clients and students on the Studio Bicyclette blog.

Happy strategizing!