How to Avoid Generic Visuals and Create a Strong, Engaging, Timeless Brand
Developing an impactful brand is often easier said (or thought about) than done.
Just as the media influences our subconscious thoughts and ideas about beauty, the brands we have been exposed to over our lifetime influence our thoughts and ideas about logos, fonts, and more.
It is so deep within us that we often don’t realize it and can’t pinpoint why some imagery feels good or comfortable to us and some does not.
The familiarity principle of attraction demonstrates that we each have a subconscious process that makes us drawn to people that we consider to be a safe choice. The same is true with branding and these influences can lead us to show preference to a logo that is fairly generic looking or a font that is commonly used — regardless of if it truly best for the brand.
Isn’t this a good thing though, when it comes to brand visuals? If it’s safe and familiar to us, won’t it also feel good to an audience? This is valid logic, however, this is one scenario in which this type of familiarity doesn’t serve you or your brand well.
Simply put, a generic logo (or one that looks very similar to many others out there), gets lost. Which means your brand gets lost in a sea of similar brands.
Or worse, your wellness brand looks like a 1990s corporation. Or, your modern corporation looks like a government entity that was last rebranded ten years ago. Generic brands make it much more difficult for your target audience to find you and less likely that they will stick around long if they do. These may seem like extreme examples but you’d be surprised how easily this can happen.
Remember the ‘Got Milk?’ campaign? Now an iconic element of 90s pop-culture, this campaign was introduced in 1993 and carried on strong for about ten years. It was effective and memorable. So if it worked so well for milk, it would work in other applications as well, right?! Not so much.
Numerous copycats were soon to follow. All aboard the ‘Got Milk?’ bandwagon! There were so many variations on this that there is even a Top 100 Spoofs list titled ‘Got ripped off?’
While this is great for the milk campaign and is credited with helping create a movement that sold more milk, it was not great for any of the variations that were second or more in line. Chance of standing out and creating a unique brand impact? Next to 0.
So what does one do about this? How do you counteract this subconscious inclination to pick what’s familiar instead of something that’s fresh? How do you keep modern-day branding best practices at the forefront?
First, here’s what not to do when avoiding generic branding:
Don’t copy an existing logo and modify for your company name.
For all the reasons we covered above, and more.
Don’t google the logo you think you should have.
There are far better sources (below) for inspiration that won’t reinforce the familiarity principle.
Don’t find a logo on Pinterest (or anywhere else) and consider asking a designer to create a similar version for your brand.
For starters, this falls into the ‘Got Milk?’ scenario and second, it’s an intellectual property issue. A good designer with integrity will not create a copycat logo.
What about the logos you can buy on various sites?
This option gives credit where credit is due and I’m in support of that, however, the key issue still present here is that same logo is also available for others to purchase. That other may be a competitor or a brand that has nothing to do with your brand. There are risks here; know what you’re signing up for.
Okay, now that we’ve established what not to do, here’s a list of what you can do to help ensure you secure quality, unique visuals for your brand.
1. Explore art, nature photography, home design, fashion, food, and more
There are sources of fantastic inspiration all around you. Notice what you feel in your body as you look at various images. Pin the ones that give you a visceral response. Pin the ones that you’re drawn to but don’t know why. Sit with them. Allow them to sit alongside all that’s familiar so that you can expand what you’re drawn to and develop an eye for what’s fresh and new — not just the familiar.
2. Sketch what you are imagining and feel in your body
It’s okay if you’re a terrible artist. Bringing pen to paper will allow you to express the way you feel about your brand and continue to cultivate a sense of uniqueness.
3. Consider your target audience, the aesthetic you wish to have your company convey, and your personal aesthetic — in this specific order
Your visuals must serve your audience first and foremost. Your personal aesthetic may have some overlap and be a source of helpful inspiration. Or, it may muddy up the whole process if it’s not in alignment with what’s in the best interest of your brand and the audience you are reaching. Be cautious and be very willing to set aside your own preferences. There are a number of other places you can express your personal aesthetic if it doesn’t serve your brand well.
4. Create a Persona Empathy Map
Curious if you fully understand your audience? Get to know them better with a persona empathy map, or maybe a few, if you have a varied target audience.
5. Hire a designer, shop, or agency you can trust
There is a variety when it comes to the experience and training individuals who call themselves designers. Understand the experience and qualifications that a designer you’re considering has before moving forward. Unfortunately, we have seen first-hand too many scenarios in which a “designer” gives a client a clip-art logo or one that doesn’t allow for versatility in web and print. In most cases here, you do get what you pay for and a cheaper option may cost you more money in the end.
There are a number of very qualified freelance designers that can be a great option. What is often lost here is the foundational strategy that is helpful in creating a brand that is highly effective in addition to being visually pleasing. Small strategy + design shops (like us) as well as agencies will be able to develop brand visuals based on a solid strategy crafted with your business goals in mind. This can mean the difference between getting a great looking logo that could work for any variety of companies and great looking logo that is highly effective in supporting your goals.
6. Avoid consulting with your significant other, your friend, and your mom
Keep in mind that they are prone to the same familiarity principle as you and they haven’t spent time cultivating a fresh perspective like you have. Consult with others only to further develop your personas, if those folks are indeed your target audience and otherwise protect your budding brand.
Think of a baby being knit together in the womb. They look almost alien-like at times and aren’t ready to be presented to the world. Furthermore, parents often elect not to share their chosen name either until they present it in conjunction with their new addition.
Gathering feedback from friends and family throughout the brand creation process almost always leads to a heightened sense of confusion, waters muddied with familiarity bias, and a far more arduous brand creation process. As tempting as it may be to share your still-baking baby with the world, don’t do it!
A well-crafted, unique brand is foundational in reaching your audience and building a strong community.
Our world is filled with the hum of copycat marketing but people are demanding authenticity more now than ever before.
Invest early in solid strategy and visuals that are effective at telling a story and cutting through the noise and you’ll have an evergreen brand that serves your company well and supports your business goals for years to come.
Where are you at with the creation of your brand? Have you encountered challenges? Are there any tips you’ve implemented that we didn’t cover? Leave us a comment below; we’d love to hear from you!
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