Finding Your Brand's Aesthetic
A big part of my real job as marketing director was to create an aesthetic that I knew that people would connect with, our personal customer that we wanted to bring in, and that was consistent. And as we talked about earlier, it was a little bit of an issue, because we create product in several different categories. We work with paper goods, and scrapbooking, and crafting, and then we also work with party goods, and now planners. So, those all have different audiences, and they all have different looks. So, we have to come up with a way to connect those all. And then, aside from that, working with Paper Bandit Press, a completely different brand, I had to really rethink, like, who is their customer? And, how are we gonna present their business to people in the catalogs and the things that we put out in the world. So, it really has made me think a lot over the last six months, I've only had this job for six months, about creating and building a brand. And we've more than doubled our num...
bers within the time that I've taken over. And that's not from, like, gimmicky things like giveaways, or follow me here, or any of, like, these extra things that people do. It's just from simply changing the imagery that we're presenting to people. So, I know that there is a power in imagery, and in connecting people to you through a visual element. Just aside from logos and all of that, but in your actual images. And we're gonna talk all about that today. So, we really want to consider your style. And we've done this several times today. I've shown you one product photographed different ways that would reach different customers and represent a different seller. So, we can do the same thing with anything we're selling. In this case it's strawberries. So, if I had a vintage, kind of organic farm, and it was a family farm, and I wanted to get that audience in, that I knew would support a family farm, that loved the way that farms used to run, then I might use this image on the left, right? I would present it more as, like, a homespun home grown product that I want to bring people in to look at. If I wanted to be maybe, like, a little bit more rustic I could go with the barn wood and the darker colors, and bring out the contrast of the strawberry. Or, if I wanted to go a little bit more modern, then I go with a simple, clean, white background. I make sure it's really high key, and the elements that I add are a little bit more modern. But we're still keeping a little bit of that country feel, just because of what the product is. But it's something that you always have to think about. Who am I talking to, or presenting to, when I'm giving them these images? And what is it saying about me? And every image counts. Because you don't know what the first image someone is going to come across from you. Now, I say that, but you can also change your branding, and change the way that you're showing people who you are. And people will follow you on that journey. So, don't feel like, oh, I've been doing this for a long time, and it's not really working, but this is what people know me as so far. Like, no, you can change that, okay? Just like we can change as people, we can change our branding. Now, there's ways to do that so it's not completely disruptive, and like, you're losing a customer base. But we really ... If it's not working for you, don't keep doing it. So, let's keep going. I obviously get passionate about this stuff. Okay, so I used to be one of those people, too, that was like, "I don't really have a look." And actually, if you look at my personal Instagram account, it is just me and my life. And I'm not branding my life, it's me. So, follow me if you like me, and cool. If you don't, then sad for you, because I'm awesome. Let's scratch that (laughs). But, this is what I'm saying, as a brand it's completely different. I have to be concerned if people unfollow me after I present an image. A massive amount of people leave. Well, there's a reason for that. And I have to figure out why that is. I also have to consider timing, and all sorts of things, that as a person, I don't necessarily need to, but as a brand, I do. So, if you are your brand, then it's gonna be a little bit tough, but you really are gonna have to consider what people want to see from you as a brand, and it may not be your cute toddler. So, that's something to consider if you want to separate that, or you want to keep that as your own. Now, I used to be one of those people who is like, "I don't really know what I like. I like everything. How am I supposed to decide?" Because I like bright colors, and I like all this stuff. And then, (laughs), my friend was looking at my Pinterest page, and she was like, "What do you mean you don't have a brand?" Look at, just, like, the first two rows of the front images that I've pinned on Pinterest. What's consistent in that? [Audience Member] - It's white. [Host] - It's white. And if you look at my house, and the pictures I've already shown, it's white and black. That's it. I'm not ... I love color, but in my own life, I bring in neutrals. So, I might think that I really like something, but if I really look at what I'm doing consistently in my own life, I like neutrals. Which I never would have said, until I really, really considered it. So, and I'm most happy when I'm creating images that are bright and white. I just am. It makes me happier. So, that's what we want to help you with. We want to find something that makes you happy and excited as you're creating it. Because if you're creating a brand that you're not excited about, other people won't be excited about it either. So, you've gotta take people on that journey. So, how do you do that? I mean, really, that's hard. To just figure out what it is exactly you want to say, and who you are, and what you like. So, we have a lot of exercises for that. So, I used to teach at university level, photography. And a basic DSLR class, and, if I'm willing to admit it, a film class as well. So, that's how long it's been since I was teaching college. And I always assigned this assignment first. Because people's aesthetic can be so different. And what I love in an image could be completely different than what someone else loves. And it's really hard to critique that, or give someone a grade on that. And, so, this is actually where this exercise came from. I would give my students this assignment, they would brand themselves the beginning of class, and then I would grade them on that. Are they achieving these things in their images they're turning in? So, there was no question at the end where students were like, "But I did all the work, and I didn't get a good grade, because you don't like my style." No. I'm basing you, and I'm grading you on your style. So, it really, actually works super well, translating it, into coming up with your own brand. Because branding is visual. And so, when we start to do this exercise, it really helps us kind of key in onto what we want to do, and the direction we want to go. I call it the five minute flip. It definitely take more time than that. But, the main element of it happens in five minutes. So, we're gonna set a timer for five minutes. Before that you're gonna gather up as many visual materials as you can that you don't mind ripping up. Okay? Magazines, books, if you don't care about them. But anything in your home. The likelihood is, if it's in your home, it's something you wanted. Right? You purchased that magazine. You may have catalogs that you don't like. I actually am okay with that. Take those too, because then you can pull some things that you don't like. But you're gonna pull magazines, whether you go to the store and get them, or you just get ones from home. You're gonna set that timer, and in the next five minutes, you're gonna rip out of that magazine anything that you feel connected with. And you only have five minutes, and you should have a stack of magazines. So, that means I'm not analyzing these images, It's a gut reaction. I like it, I hate it, there's something cool about it, and so I'm pulling it out. It doesn't mean it's my favorite images, it's something I feel an emotion towards, I feel a reaction towards. And I rip those out, and at the end of the five minutes, I take that pile, and I hang them on a wall in my house somewhere that I can see often, that I'm gonna pass by a lot. Um, my husband loves this exercise. And, I still do it, and I do it probably every six months to a year, because your aesthetic will change and grow as you change and grow as a creator. So, it's something that you can continually do to kind of keep an idea of where you are, style-wise. So, we're gonna hang those up where you're gonna pass by. And every time you pass by you're gonna stop, And you're gonna look at that wall. And it doesn't have to be for a long time. But you're gonna look at it Until you find an image that you're just not connecting with, you don't like, for whatever reason. And you're gonna take it down. And every time you pass by that wall you're gonna take down another image that you don't feel connected to. Now, I recommend ... Our audience had this assignment, and they only had a day or two, but I recommend taking five days to a week, so that you can really connect to these images and really think about it. And that also means you can put up, like, fifty if you want to. And, hopefully, at the end you'll have eight to ten images, or however many that you just love, and you don't want to take down. And then at the end of that, you'll gather those up and analyze them. So then, people always ask, well what am I looking for? So, let's talk about that. So, even if they don't seem like they're the same, maybe they cover fashion, or cars, or several of your hobbies, because you have a bunch of different catalogs, we can find things that are similar. So, here are the questions to ask yourself. Similar colors or color palettes? So, you're gonna have a notebook out, and you're gonna be writing these down as you look through your images. Is there a particular color that shows up over and over again? Because that probably means that subconsciously, like me, who loves neutrals but didn't know it, you're connected to that. Okay? Is it clean or cluttered? I have a very, like, cluttery life, but love clean images, probably because of that. Makes me feel relieved when I look at a clean image. Simple, or complicated? Is it high key? So, bright light. Or, is it low key? Lots of dark tones. Do they have dark shadows and contrast, or are there no shadows and it's completely even lighting? Are they weighted on the same side? So, most people don't know, and we mentioned this a little bit earlier, that everyone is kind of attracted to one placement within an image. And I always find it fascinating, every time I see this assignment done, people will pull images where the main subject is almost always located in the same area of that image. Now, depending on what your culture is, it could be left, or it could be right. And it generally is the way that you read. So, it's very interesting to kind of see that. But, for some people it's, like, the top right. For some people, it's like, the low left. But there will be something. So, look at all those images and check that out. Okay, where is the main subject placement within the image? Just what we were talking about. Where is it weighted? Where is the most emphasis placed in the image? Is it symmetrical or asymmetrical? I love asymmetry. Is it lifestyle, or commercial, or photo journalistic in style? So, lifestyle would be more someone cooking in their kitchen selling food, as opposed to a commercial picture of food on a table. Is the texture in it smooth, or is there a lot of grungy texture to it? Is it vintage or modern? Do the images have text on them? Some people really love that. Graphic designers really love that. Photographers really, probably don't. So, you might lean one way or another. Do they have repetition? Patterns? What is the overall mood of your image collection? Um, I've seen people pull stuff from, like, Halloween, and Christmas, and Easter, all in the same kind of wall, but they still have the same feel. They still picked all the light images, or they still picked all the farm kind of feeling images. So, even when we're crossing across different topics, the images start to look the same. Did we get through everything? Yes. Okay. So, my wording for that, then is what those answers are as you go through on that list you have. Those are your personal visual beacons. Those are your guides. That is what your style is. And it's really hard to just say that, just out of the blue, tell me what your style is. But when you look at that list, and you see, this is really what I love. And you can probably do it again in six months, and one or two things might change, but for the most part, it will probably be really similar. Because, even though we're not aware of it, we all have a tendency to lean towards certain things. So, it's my number one thing to do if you're confused and you don't know what direction to go. So, some of your personal visual beacon statements that you write after this could be something like this. My personal visual beacons are clean, simple images white white backgrounds and pops of bright color. Okay? This is an exact guide. This person can take this and run with the branding. She knows what colors to pick. She knows what background to choose. She knows what props to pull, because she knows what her style is, and what her beacons are. So, let's move in. Here's another example. My personal visual beacons are vintage inspired with floral accents, and a bright, happy lifestyle feel. So, she's gonna go more towards a farm or a vintage feel. She's gonna pick vintage patterns for her background. She's gonna use old painted wood. So, she now has a direction that she wants to go with her company. Or, my personal visual beacons are clean and sleek, with black backgrounds, and lots of contrast. This is probably someone who loves tech. Right? They like that sleek look, and they want to show that to someone. And, (laughs) I have kind of a funny story about this. I was at a conference teaching a photography workshop, and there was, like, a huge tech guru there, also. And he came and sat in the back of my class. And the class was meant for designers, creatives, and he was probably the very opposite of that. He was a businessman, a CEO in the tech market. And this was probably, like, a whole new experience for him. Major player in the business world. So intimidating. And he got up and gave the keynote after that, and basically said, "Everything this girl just said in her class is wrong. Everything should be on black. Everything should be shiny. Everything should ..." You know, and I was so ... I was dying, but then when I really thought about it, within his industry, that is the standard. That's what he feels like everything should be presented as. And, for him, his personal, visual beacons were not hit in the presentation I was giving. Okay, so he did not connect with me at all. And I could have very easily been upset with that. But he's not my customer. So, why should I worry about that? And I think that's really important to keep in your mind as you're dealing with social media. Because people are gonna unfollow you. That's just the way it is. They may start following you because they see one photo that they love, and then they realize this person's visual beacons just don't align with mine, and they don't follow you. Guess what? They're not who you want following you. Because they don't like your style. Okay? So, we want people who love us for our style and for our brand, and we don't have to be upset or offended if someone doesn't align with that. Because their personal beacons aren't mine. Okay? If I can't gather up a group of people whose visual beacons are the same as mine, that's when we start to worry. Like, when we can't get anyone onboard with us at all, then we have to maybe reconsider who our customer is. So, that's actually our next thing we're gonna talk about. So, after we decide what our own personal visual aesthetics are, we have to decide what they are for our product. So, we're gonna take that same personal statement, but we're gonna put our product in it. So, can I say ... Well, first we'll ask ourselves some questions about our product. Does you product solve a pain or bring a pleasure to your customer's life? I've stated that right at the very beginning. It needs to do one of those two things. And your branding has to change depending on if you're solving a problem or if you're bringing pleasure. What color is your product? How do people use your product? Are they happy or sad when they need it? Because you're gonna market differently.