Wondering how to create a visual marketing style guide that establishes consistency in 2024? Start here.
Think of some of the most recognizable brands in the world. What images do you see?
Nike’s swoosh. McDonald’s golden arches. Apple’s simple icon with one bite missing.
They all have one thing in common.
If you want to create a brand identity that’s instantly recognizable, it must have an extremely consistent appearance over a long period of time, to carve out a forever place in America’s hearts and minds.
You have to see it over and over again – in the exact same way – in order for a brand to become truly unforgettable.
While we may not all have 50+ years in business like Nike does, or tens of thousands of franchises like McDonald’s, we can achieve the simplistic recognition that these brands enjoy on a smaller scale. (Until we all become mega-successful business owners on a national level, of course.)
While we may assume that level of success requires some fabled level of instinct and luck, in fact, it all comes down to … intentional consistency.
That’s right. If you want your brand to be instantly recognizable, what you really need is a stable, reliable visual brand. And a visual marketing style guide helps you deliver just that.
What’s A Visual Marketing Style Guide?
Think of a visual marketing style guide as the visual roadmap for your brand. It’s like having a GPS for your photography, videos and graphics, ensuring that every piece of visual content captures the look and spirit of your brand consistently. Whether you’re a small business owner or a seasoned executive, a style guide helps your brand maintain a cohesive and recognizable visual identity across all platforms.
Why A Photography Style Guide Matters
In today’s digital world, 94% of a brand’s first impressions are design-related, according to a study by Shopify. That means the first thing people see is typically a visual element. While that may seem pretty obvious, what this staggering statistic really shows us is the power and impact of your visual content. A consistent and unique visual style sets you apart.
We’d even go as far as to say a consistently compelling visual brand is the magic ingredient that turns a casual viewer into a devoted customer. In fact, 67% of consumers believe that clear, detailed images carry more weight than product information or customer ratings, according to a study by MDG Advertising. That’s the power of visuals in decision-making. By having a visual marketing style guide, you ensure that your brand’s visual narrative aligns with your audience’s preferences, making your content more appealing and impactful.
How To Create A Visual Marketing Style Guide
Now that we’ve established the “why,” let’s delve into the “how.” Crafting a visual marketing style guide may seem like a daunting task, but fear not! We’ve broken it down into easy, effective bite-sized chunks.
1. Logo Guidelines
Your logo should be the most easily recognizable piece of your visual brand, which is precisely why the consistency and uniformity of its use is so important. This section of your style guide should explain exactly how you want your logo used, as well as how it shouldn’t be used. For example, you may want to state that your logo should never be distorted, depicted in another color, or used directly on a color background. You may also want to define which color logo (e.g. brand colors, all-white or all-black) should be used on light and dark backgrounds.
2. Color Palette
A consistent set of brand colors gives you a recognizable and meaningful look your audience can connect with and remember. Choose a set of colors that resonates with your brand’s personality. Whether you go bold and vibrant or muted and pastel, consistency is key. To ensure that your colors stay consistent no matter who is creating content for you, include color codes in your style guide. You may also want to include codes for both CMYK (print) and RGB (digital) reproductions of your logo.
Typography includes the fonts, typefaces, sizes and weights of your brand. These could be different depending on your headlines and body fonts. You may also want to identify ascenders, descenders, and baselines, as well as tracking, kerning and line height. All these decisions affect the look and consistency of the words used in your brand. While it may seem like selecting a couple fonts is enough to create uniformity, it’s important to clarify the details to avoid mistakes in the future.
4. Image Types
Specify the types of images that align with your brand. This could be anything from candid shots of your team to stylized product photography. Maybe you want to use a combination of different types. In that case, specify which type is used, when, and for what purpose. For example, you may want to use candid images on social media, professional product photos during launches, and behind-the-scenes videos for posts about company culture. Think of all the different variations of your content, both photo and video, and then decide where each is most effective.
5. Image Tone
Another way to think of tone is the mood an image creates when you’re viewing it. Are you aiming for a playful and lighthearted tone, or is your brand more serious and sophisticated? Your images should depict a consistent mood based on the emotions you want to elicit. While this decision may start with a feeling, however, it’s a bit more technical in practice. For example, let’s say you want to create bright and fun images that depict a healthy, happy lifestyle. In your visual marketing style guide, you may want to include specifications on the image’s exposure, brightness, contrast, white, black and saturation levels, as well as your preferences on lighting. All of these more technical aspects can affect an image’s mood or tone to great degree.
6. Image Composition
Once you have your logo and colors clearly outlined, it’s time to consider the composition elements that best represent your brand. This could include framing, angles and the balance between subjects and negative space. For example, if you have a startup lifestyle brand that targets a younger audience, then you may want composition styles that feel organic and accessible – like you’re watching a day in the life on camera. In this case, selfie-style angles and tight framing might work best. On the flip side, if you’re a luxury service that targets well-established high-earners, then you might opt for a look that’s more expertly produced: good balance, traditional compositions, and inspired framing that requires the eye of a professional. Consider what your brand needs.
7. Editing Guidelines
Once you’ve established the guidelines for your images and videos, it’s time to turn your attention to editing. For photography, you can specify what parts of the body can or cannot be retouched, as well as the degree to which you want them modified. For video, the same rules apply; however, there are different considerations to be made. You may want to specify how much the language or messaging is edited, such as removing all “ums” and “ahs” for clarity or retaining them for authenticity. Consider what would match your brand tone and goals, and go from there.
8. Consistency Across Platforms
Finally your style guide should be created and presented in a visual manner that’s easy to understand and quick to share. Everyone who touches your brand should have a copy, and it should be updated regularly to ensure the highest level of consistency. Finally, ensure that your style guide is adaptable to various platforms – from your website and social media to print materials.
Other Elements To Include
Since this is a visual marketing style guide, one of the most important elements will be visual examples. For each section, aim to include a photo, video or both that demonstrates what should be done, as well as what shouldn’t be done. Since photographers and videographers are creative people, you can also include style references and inspiration to help guide them. It’s a visual marketing style guide – so make it as visual as possible!
By putting together a comprehensive visual marketing style guide, you’re not just creating a set of rules; you’re building a visual language that speaks directly to your audience. In a world where attention spans are shrinking and visual content is king, a well-crafted style guide is your ticket to making a lasting impression.
Ready to elevate your brand’s visual game? Connect with us at SchlickArt, and let’s turn your brand story into a visual masterpiece.
Visual Marketing Education
At SchlickArt, we know your marketing visuals are only effective if you actually use them. That’s why we help you create powerful photography and video – and then we teach you how to share it. With each session, we’ll give you our best tips based on your specific marketing goals. We provide the education and resources you need to brand your content, integrate it into your marketing strategy, post it with intention, and maximize engagement along the way.
If you want even more tips and resources, we have an educational blog, newsletter and video channel to help you dive deeper, as well as professional presentations, workshops, and coaching sessions if you’re ready to take action and level-up your marketing now.
About SchlickArt Photography and Video
SchlickArt, a boutique photo and video studio in Santa Clarita, started in March 2012 with the simple idea that empowerment creates a kind of beauty and authenticity that shines through every camera lens. Built on a philosophy — rather than a product, service or person — SchlickArt has rapidly evolved, meeting professional portraiture, business photo and business video needs as diverse as the community we capture. It’s the desire to take care of you, the client, that drives us at SchlickArt.