How to Find Your Brand’s Visual Voice

How to Find Your Brand’s Visual Voice
Brittany Krueger

Written by:
Brittany Krueger

Sep 29, 2016

brand visual voice

Your visual voice is like your fingerprint. It is a unique way to define you, your company, and your brand. It helps you convey your message through visual stimuli. Using a distinctive visual look and feel can significantly expand the reach of your message because beautiful visuals attract people.

Humans have evolved to process information visually. People are wired to comprehend images much faster than spoken and written language.

Ideas used in a visual context can better resonate with audiences than simply speaking to an audience. Images can communicate powerful emotions in succinct ways that language alone would take much longer to communicate. Images showcase swaths of information quickly.

Images not only include pictures, but animation, graphic design, advertising, illustrations, charts, graphs, gestures, symbols, and signs.

By changing a phrase’s font, the darkness or lightness of the background, and scale you can create different atmospheres and messages that range from frilly to creepy to bold.

In finding your visual voice, you can create compelling stories that effectively and persuasively communicate information to your audience.

brand visual voice 2

Image and font choices significantly affect how visual messages are interpreted.


Why Having a Visual Voice is Important

The success of any endeavor involving an audience depends on how well you communicate your message. Your mind interprets visual images as very powerful and concise messages.

These messages become a mash-up of words and images that collaborate to create both concrete and symbolic meanings. These layers of varied communication styles create a more impactful and memorable experience.

In today’s world, technology makes it all the easier to utilize your visual voice. On the Internet, visualized information has increased by over 9000% since 2007. Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Messenger all have fast-growing audiences.

Snapchat is a mobile app that allows people to send pictures and videos to others. Twitter has overhauled its platform to incorporate images and videos within their original 140-character limit. Instagram is an app for smartphones, designed to network using videos and photos.

Starbucks’s Instagram feed has over one million followers. One aspect that’s helped the company’s Instagram success is that it lets its followers mostly control the feed’s content. Fans submit the majority of the images. They become part of a community and feel integral to Starbucks’s success.


The Internet is a Visual Culture

All of these social media sites and apps were constructed on the Internet. In order to find business success, you must utilize the Internet. The Internet is a visual culture. This means that transactions are based predominantly on visual forms of communication, design, information, fine art, and media.

Visual content is presented in meaningful ways to sway audiences to purchase a certain product, to believe in a specific concept, and to see a particular individual as important.

Visual matter extends beyond the Internet. It’s in TV ads and print. It’s in architecture and fashion. It’s in graffiti and presentations.

Tim Urban’s Ted Talk, Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator, has been viewed more than seven million times. He uses humor, timing, and visual images to engage the audience. In the comments section, the majority of comments are about how people loved this talk, how they related to it, and how they stopped working on other tasks to pay attention to what Urban had to say.

brand visual voice evolution of communication

Create a timeline infographic like this with Visme

If we go back in time, we discover that our earliest forms of communication were visual. We painted on cave walls. When you remember something, oftentimes the memory is visual. That’s because communicating visually is part of human nature. Words are easy to forget, but images can last a lifetime.


Advantages of Having a Visual Voice

1 We're Hardwired to Crave Visuals

The human brain evolved to recognize and store visual images into long-term memory. Visual processing involves over 50% of the human brain. Humans can take in a visual scene in less than 1/10 of a second.

Visual cues allowed humans to survive to the modern day, and, while no longer as vital for survival in today’s world, visual stimuli are a communication form the human brain is wired to notice, respond to, and retain rapidly.


2 Visuals Enable Instant Connections

Humans evolved to make connections between random objects. That’s why we can make out a face in a piece of knotted wood or a bunny in a cloud. This ability to interpret relationships allows for instant understanding. We don’t have to make a sustained effort to comprehend a message.

Research shows that 67% of people were persuaded by a verbal and visual presentation. Only 50% of people were persuaded by a solely verbal presentation. In an age where the average consumer’s attention span is eight seconds, you need to communicate your message clearly and succinctly. Visualization allows you to do that.

brand visual voice apophenia

Apophenia is the phenomenon of seeing connections between random pieces of data.


3 Visuals Increase Retention Rates

When a message is designed well, it engages people and stimulates their memory. This means that they pay more attention to what you have to say. They also remember more about what you said, are more likely to talk positively to others about your message, and are more likely to agree with your position.

With 24% of Americans preferring to not have sex than sit through a PowerPoint presentation, it’s vital that your content is designed and delivered in a clear, concise, and evocative manner.


4 Visuals Are Easier to Understand

When comparing data, it’s much less time consuming and easier to comprehend when visualizations are used. It takes humans 150 milliseconds to process a symbol. It takes even less time for humans to attach meaning to it. It can take up to twice as long to process words.

Whenever you have complex data, showcasing correlations, trends, and outliers in graphs, charts, and other visual forms will give the audience immediate clarity. Poorly designed presentations lead to decreased communication and relations. That leads to less earnings and sales.

Think about this scenario: two presenters are giving the same talk. Presenter A stands in front of his audience and describes the chronology of the bubonic plague. Presenter B stands in front of his audience and uses an interactive timeline coupled with his speech to showcase the chronology of the bubonic plague. Which talk would you want to attend?


But Beware of These Pitfalls

1 Visuals Can Cause Stimuli Overload

Today, people receive more than five times the amount of information than they did in 1986. That’s such an information overload that people only read 28% of words on a page. When visualizing information, it can be easy to use too many visual cues. Audience members can be overwhelmed with all the graphics, advertising, and data.

With consumers’ attention spans being so short, it’s often easy for them to find an excuse to stop paying attention to what you’re saying. Therefore, it’s important to provide context for every visualization. Your visual communication should have meaning and direct your audience to the conclusion you want them to make.


2 Visuals Can Distort the Truth

Visualizations can be misleading, if not done correctly. Inaccurate visuals can severely damage your reputation.

Your visual voice is what sells your brand, message, or product. If people don’t trust you, they won’t trust what you’re selling. This means that it’s vital you present data realistically and use an accurate visualization type for your information.

brand visual voice misleading charts

Misleading charts often have y-axis values that don't start at zero, as in this case.


3 Poorly Designed Visuals Are a Turnoff

If your visual voice is designed poorly, you won’t get your message across. It doesn’t matter how intriguing your information is. If the layout doesn’t retain the audience, they won’t be paying enough attention to listen to what you have to say. Thus, incorporating a compelling design is fundamental to success. This means your content must be consistent, clear, and engaging.


How to Find Your Visual Voice

Since humans rely on visual aids to interpret the world, they use visual and nonverbal communication on a daily basis. Fifty-five percent of communication comes from body language, while 38% stems from tone of voice. Only 7% of communication is from the spoken word.

By using visual messages, you can better educate your audience and create enhanced information, marketing, and business strategies.

To succeed in the business world, you must be able to communicate effectively and cohesively. This means incorporating visual cues within your day-to-day interactions.

Often business managers, sales staff, and advertisers will use infographics in their presentations to grab and maintain their audience’s attention.

Infographics incorporate visuals and language to showcase data in an appealing and engaging format. They combine graphics and text to simplify complex and dense data into an easy-to-process setup that is formatted in a clear and concise manner.

Research shows that color visuals “increase the willingness to read by 80%.” Infographics allow people to take advantage of the strengths of both text and visuals, while diminishing their faults.

Infographics are only one example of visual aids. In general, visual aids help to:

  • Increase audience interest
  • Focus audience attention
  • Enhance information retention
  • Increase presenter credibility

To create an engaging visual voice, you must:


1 Identify Your Principles

Figure out what you want your message to be. Only then can you start to create your design principles, which will form the basis of your visual communication platform.

If you’re struggling on how to approach design principles or how to transfer your message into a visual voice, research the top-designed visual communications platforms, including which companies are at the top of the visual voice field.

Think about an instruction manual. When people read directions that incorporate both text and images, they do over 300% better than people who are only reading written instructions.

Look into how different layouts affect “perception and cognition of visualizations.”  For example, determining a color palette is one step toward finding your visual voice.

When determining the color scheme for your visual voice, you want to use no more than four colors that serve as identifiers for your brand. Design Seeds is a website that showcases how different colors work together to create varying tones.

Facebook, Twitter, and many other companies use the color blue to showcase their brand. Why? Because blue is associated with cleanliness, freshness, and good health. It is “inherently likeable to our brains.”

brand visual voice color scheme

This site uses deep, earthy tones to evoke the outdoors and grilling experiences.

Pay attention to shapes. While photos are fantastic visuals that help define your brand’s voice and attract an audience, they must be used in context. This means incorporating text. To differentiate text from the photo, enclose the text in a shape, such as a square, rectangle, or circle.

Minimal design changes can greatly affect how people interpret your communication. For example, any illustrations should match what your message is about, both in subject matter and tone.

When using a profile picture, have your photo match your color scheme. If your color scheme is comprised of vibrant reds, blues and dark indigos, then a profile picture could feature a person wearing a bold blue dress with a bright red headband and a deep purple background.

brand visual voice shapes images

The types of shapes and symbols used in a piece of communication send different messages.

Any icons should be simple and have universal meaning. If you use icons, you want them to enhance your message, not confuse or distract from it. In general, all your visuals and text should have the same feel and look. Your audience should be able to identify a distinct mood and focus from your visual voice.


2 Initiate Your Principles

When you know what your message is and how you want to showcase that message, you can get into the nitty-gritty of creating your visual voice.

This includes thinking about proximity, similarity, closure, symbolic, indexical, and other layout concepts. These specifics help “to either emphasize important information or de-emphasize irrelevant details.”

brand visual voice proximity color

The proximity of bars in a chart or the color scheme of a map can be used to emphasize important information.

For example, font combinations are an important detail. When fonts don’t match, then your visual voice seems disconnected.

When looking at fonts, it’s a good idea to combine a serif and a sans-serif font.

Serif fonts have a “small decorative flourish at the end of the strokes that make up the letters” and are generally easier to read. Sans-serif fonts don’t have the flourish and are generally used for titles because of their clean look.

To get ideas on how to combine fonts, search “font pairings” on Pinterest. A good rule of thumb for a professional look is to combine uppercase and lowercase letters.

brand visual voice font serif san serif

A simplistic, elegant style that combines a serif and san-serif font

People recall “80% of what they see and do, 20% of what they read, and 10% of what they hear.” Therefore, ensure that your visuals are easy to process and engaging.


3 Evaluate Your Principles

Once your visual voice is up and running, you need to receive audience feedback. Only when you get comments on your visualizations do you know how successful your visual voice is.

While it can be daunting to receive feedback, it is critical to having successful visual communication. An audience wants to see that you are taking them seriously. They want to know that they’re being heard.

As stated earlier, a huge part of Starbucks’s success on Instagram is that they post pictures their followers submitted. People go to Instagram to see if their image has been posted and to see what kinds of pictures other people took. In this way, Starbucks is interacting with its customers.


Your Turn

Taking the time to find and examine your visual voice is the first step toward effectively communicating with your audience.

Once you've realized how important it is to your brand identity and image, you'll need to decide whether to create your own visual content or hire a designer to do it for you.

If you have limited time and resources (and would like to call the shots when it comes to the look and feel of your brand), then there are plenty of DIY visual content tools out there that can simplify this process. You can try one for free here.

And if you want to get up to speed with the latest trends in visual communication, right from your inbox, don't forget to sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

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    About the Author

    Brittany Krueger works in pediatric research and as a technical communicator and consultant. She graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a Master of Arts degree in Writing.

    When not working, she’s usually taking her German Shepherd hiking or preparing for her next bike century.

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