How to Begin the Search for Your Brand’s Visual Identity

colored pencilsTaco Bell is often held up as a brand that knows what it's doing on social media. Before you follow Taco Bell on Snapchat and steal its ideas, take a look inward. Are burritos and tacos woven into your so-called brand DNA? Does your brand serve the needs of hungry interstate truckers and night denizens dragging their knuckles out the door after last call at the corner bar? Did you follow the stories this year about Chipotle and see in your mind's eye ascending market share figures for your brand? If your answer is no to all these questions, then Taco Bell won't offer you a shortcut to finding your own brand's visual identity.

If you're with a B2B company, professional association or government agency, finding your visual identity for Instagram and Snapchat, for instance, might be the subject of weekly, or daily, meetings. These meetings might have proved fruitless. Luckily, there are other sources of inspiration, beyond the obvious consumer brands. Allstate, PwC, IBM, Cisco are on Snapchat. They were secure enough in their visual identities to launch on the platform that is said to be the surest route to attention from 18-34-year-olds.

At PR News' Dec. 7, 2016, Snapchat Boot Camp, and Dec. 8 Media Relations Conference in Washington, D.C., I asked a few of our presenters what their recommendations would be for communicators who are trying to find a visual identity for their organization—one they could use on Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube. Claire Hunter, corporate relations manager for Allstate, Amy Derjue, senior content specialist for Solomon McCown & Company, McKenzie Stough, digital media associate for Georgetown University, Jeremy Art, digital & social media specialist for C-SPAN and John Walls, director, brand PR, luxury & lifestyle brands, Hilton Worldwide, offered these suggestions.

• Before identifying a visual identity for your brand, do some corporate soul searching and be clear about your brand's personality. This shouldn't be determined in one meeting. Take the time to look inward, do the research and find consensus.

• If you feel your organization has no obvious visuals or visual theme to work with, start with employee engagement. Start with the people who work at your organization. There's no more powerful visual than human faces. You can make them the centerpiece of your visual campaigns. Showcasing employees on Instagram or Snapchat can also facilitate recruitment.

• If you're with a nonprofit organization, showing dollar figures of donations and images of donors or donor organizations can form the core of your visual identity.

• Determine who the people are beyond your organization who can tell your story for you on social channels. Authenticity is driven by third-party validation.

• Your visual identity can be as simple as a single color. Is there one color that dominates your logo or calls to mind an emotional connection with your product or service? The more you use this color, the more people will identify it with your organization.

• Respect your audience and ask yourself why it would be interested in anything you have to share on social channels. Your visual identity can be found in your audience itself, if you know it well enough.

These suggestions are only starting points. The more successful you are with your organization's visual identity, the more visual ideas will spring to mind. The first step is always hardest, in all things.

—Steve Goldstein, editorial director, PR News @SGoldsteinAI