Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Slow the Scroll: How to Capture Readers with Visual Branding


Hello, Villagers! My marketing nerd heart is so full that I get to talk more about branding with you today. If you missed our first Seekerville post on the subject, you can click here to read more of the specifics on honing brand, audience, and strategy.

Today, we’re going to focus on visual branding, which includes the colors, imagery, typography, and other design aspects that help tell the story of what we write and what our audience can expect in our social media spaces.

To start, I’m going to lay a few easy ground rules. The possibilities for self-expression are as unique and numerous as fingerprints, but the most effective platforms:
  • Keep it clear: Once they’ve determined the core vision and mission of their platform, successful brands make sure no part of their visual branding conflicts with it. If they’re going for entertainment, their colors might be whimsical and bright. If their subject matter is poignant and serious, then every image, font, and color they choose reflects that.
  • Keep it simple: Less is always more when it comes to branding. That includes text, white space, and clean design. Marketing expert Donald Miller, of StoryBrand, advocates promotion that requires the least amount of thinking for the audience. Just as vague branding can deter a potential reader (or an existing one), visual elements that are too busy can have the same effect. In today’s digital world, the goal is to create content that will get readers to notice and stop their scrolling. 
  • Keep it consistent: Effective brands choose a few fonts, colors, and layouts and then use them everywhere they like to play on the internet--website, social media, newsletter headings--a cohesive package wrapped in a shiny, on-brand bow. When readers know what to expect, this builds a trust that makes them more likely to engage.
So now that we have some basic ground rules, let’s look at ways we can make stylistic decisions that reflect our brand, even if we have no experience in design. (*Ahem* Like me!)

Colors

Pick a palate of complementary colors. Three or four will be enough. If you have no idea where to begin, mood boards are helpful with images that capture what you’re going for. Is there a common scheme? Tons of articles talk about color psychology in branding, but I don’t think it needs to be that complicated. Say you’re a historical romance author who captures all things vintage in your brand. You might find an inspiring photo and experiment with a cream for the aged lace in the shot, a warm brown from the antique suitcase you loved, a dusty pink that matches the pretty vintage ribbon. Voila!

If you do an online search, there are plenty of color palates and wheels. When you find the ones that work for you, be sure to keep the HEX code for each color handy, which starts with a pound sign followed by six symbols (i.e. #99FFFF is a lovely teal color). This is a magical internet-friendly code that will produce the exact color in most programs and applications.

Now, incorporate them into your logo, business cards, and one-sheets. Put them in your newsletter, your social media graphics, and website. Use one, a few, or all of them, and readers will know they’re yours.

Images

Images can help enhance the tone you’re trying to convey and show off your sparkling personality. But the number one thing to remember is that they must be your own, public domain/licensed under Creative Commons Zero, or used with permission and clearly attributed to the original source.

If you frequently post your own photos on social media, then using a distinct filter, lighting, or composition can also contribute to your visual branding. For example, if your content is poignant and introspective, then artsy, moody images with deeper saturation might complement it well. There are so many apps that can help make your photos unique (author Mary Weber, aka the Instagram Queen, has some wonderful tricks and techniques in her Instastories).

Typography

The language of sans and serif might as well be Mandarin to me, but typography definitely contributes to the tone and personality of brand. The fonts you pick for your website and graphics largely depend on the software you use and the choices available therein. One of my favorite resources for inexpensive, gorgeous typefaces is CreativeMarket.com, which has a demo area that shows what sample text looks like before you buy it.

When making your choice, it’s important to ensure fonts are clean and legible across multiple browsers (and small phone screens, too), particularly if they’re for a blog post or another large body of text. While I’m a huge fan of a strategically placed accent fonts, too many fancy scripts or ornate flourishes can be distracting and unpleasing to the eye. So keep it simple, friends!

Templates

There are loads of programs that can help even the novice graphic designer create a cohesive visual footprint on the web. Whatever program works best, you can make templates for blog and social media content and simply interchange text, images, and colors for new posts. Also keep in mind that different social media platforms have different optimal sizes. Minding these dimensions will ensure that all of a graphic is visible and that it doesn’t get resized or warped.

Say you want to do a Question of the Week post on your business Facebook page. You would find the correct size for Facebook (1200 x 630 pixels, according to SproutSocial.com), crop an on-brand, eye-catching image or solid-color background to that size, and overlay text and colors on it. Then the next time, all you’d have to do is open that saved template and change the question, adjusting the background and colors if you want to.

Deep breaths…

Does this sound like a foreign language to you? That’s okay. While I worked in PR for many years, I’m much more of a word-nerd copywriter whose hot mess graphic design offerings leave the real pros shaking their heads. So I encourage you to feel around in the dark until you get it, even if it means bumping your shins a couple of times.

Don’t be afraid to let that brilliant personality shine in your visual branding. And when in doubt, keep it clear, keep it simple, and keep it consistent. I have full faith in you!


What do you want your visual branding to say about you?
What authors are doing this well?




Laurie Tomlinson is the award-winning author of That’s When I Knew, With No Reservations, and The Long Game, currently featured in the Once Upon a Laugh collection. Her stories are fueled by faith, steaming mugs of tea, and her belief that life should be celebrated with cupcakes and extra sprinkles.


Find her on Facebook @AuthorLaurieTomlinson or her website, www.laurietomlinson.com.



More Visual Branding Resources:
Gorgeous color palettes to inspire you
Lots of colors (and their HEX codes) here
Adobe’s fun tool to help you experiment with color palettes
A list of resources for free stock photos + licensing guidelines
Some helpful font combinations for inspiration
A comprehensive list of optimal social media image sizes
Simple photo and graphic editing programs to experiment with
The best phone apps for photo editing and filters

36 comments:

  1. This post although interesting is overwhelming. I need lots of visuals to grasp this. I am still uncomfortable doing this because I have no artistic ability or eye for balance. Graphic art is easier now with all the apps but it s still terrifying to me. So much marketing is require for authors. It really cuts into my writing time. I have a marketing gal to help me with this. Still I do what I can. But the graphic part is way out of my wheelhouse. Thanks for giving me a better understanding of what is involves.

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    1. Hi Jubilee! You might ask your marketing gal if she has created a visual brand stylesheet for you. I find it very helpful to have all the information in one place (colors, fonts, logos, taglines, and sizes). I've learned a lot from YouTube videos and searching for blog posts but if it's not your thing, you could get help from a virtual assistant and free up more writing time!

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    2. Jubilee, you are absolutely right! One could truly write a whole post on each aspect of visual branding/design. I like to look at it as nailing all of this down once so it can save so much time and decision fatigue in the long run. If it helps you feel better, I am currently in the middle of a brand redesign (aka a hot mess) AND my style sheet is a simple notes document on my computer. Thanks for commenting!

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    3. Jubilee, take it slow and easy. One step at a time. That's my motto. It does sound overwhelming, but choose one element to nail down, something that seems less confusing...perhaps a color scheme. Small changes can be very effective.

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  2. Laurie, this is amazing! I haven't really nailed down my visual brand, but you've given me a lot to think about. Can I find mood boards on Pinterest? I'd love to begin by nailing down my colors. I like the background colors on my blog, but I know the one I love most is not available for the theme I'm currently using for my blog. One thing I'd love to know is how to unify all of this when I use free things (like my blog theme) so I'm limited by the options provided? And, is it okay to change up my visual brand when I get closer to having my own website, etc?

    Thanks for the suggestion of looking for a filter for my photos that I can use to help brand me. I had never even thought about that! :) I have more thoughts percolating, but I'll leave them in my head . . . for now.

    This is soooo practical! Thanks!

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    1. Hi, Jeanne! Good to see you here :) Yes, you should be able to find mood boards on Pinterest/Google -- or use Pinterest to make your own! I would say the number one free resource to help you unify all things design is Canva. It has such an easy interface, and you can upload all of the elements in your current theme (except for fonts, but they have an amazing selection). And it's perfectly okay to change your brand too as long as you keep it consistent when you do switch. I'm in the middle of a brand switch right now, as a matter of fact. Worth it! <3

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    2. Oh, yay! I love Canva and use Canva. Perhaps there's hope for me after all!

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    3. Canva's blog also has lists of ready made color templates if you're like me and not sure what colors work well together!

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  3. Thank you so much to all the Seeker gals for hosting me! I'm excited to be here!

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    1. I love geeking out over fonts, colors, and all the branding fun with you!

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  4. Laurie, this is great, thanks. I'll probably bookmark it or print it off. I need to work on how I present myself, so this will help.
    Kathy Bailey

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    1. Hi Kathy! A little groundwork now will save you so much time down the road. Laurie's tips are definitely worth tucking away!

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    2. Kathy, thanks for stopping by! Good to see you here!

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  5. Your timing is exquisite, as I am in the process of building a website (and newsletter, and facebook page) right now. These posts have helped me a lot in understanding what branding is and how to go about it. I'll probably need to keep tweaking it for a while, but it's so helpful to know where to begin.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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    1. Yay! Rachael, I'm so glad to hear this is a timely post for you! If you ask me, tweaking is half the fun! I like to think of it as honing and making sure my brand grows with me.

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    2. Yay! So happy to hear this helped!

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  6. Hi Laurie,
    So glad you could be with us again...and you've provided a wealth of information. A post to save for sure! And re-read, which I plan to do this afternoon. I'm so far from any branding consistency. My bad! Perhaps if I start small...

    Sending cyber hugs filled with gratitude.

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    1. That's all you need! Start small then let your choices guide what you do moving forward. You've got this Debby! Canva and you are going places, I can see it now :)

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  7. Laurie, welcome back! This is such a helpful post! I'm like Debby: I need to start small.

    In the past, I've tried to use a photo that gives a feeling of "down home" by using the photo of a front porch. But I don't use that on FB. I like to change my FB header seasonally. Maybe I should go back to being consistent everywhere. I also never think of fonts but have loved what the Seekerville fonts! I should invest some time in branding asap.

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    1. Changing your header seasonally is totally okay, especially if each photo has a similar feel and you are consistent with your fonts. Just like we want books within a series to be cohesive, your online content is one big happy package.

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    2. Yes, Missy! It doesn’t have to be complicated or intensive.

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  8. Laurie, what an excellent resource list you've given. I am marketing challenged, so this list will be so very helpful! Esp. the HEX codes. I make something, like it, and then cannot duplicate it because I forgot to write down the code! Argh!

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    1. Yes! Color codes are the number one reason I pull up my stylesheets. Reusing files as templates is a big time saver too.

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  9. Laurie, I breathed in your guidelines like salt sea air. Thanks for your guidance in how to be effective with our branding. Cheers

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    1. That's wonderful to hear, Marilyn! Happy branding!

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  10. Marilyn, that makes me so happy to hear!

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  11. Strictly speaking from a reader of blogs perspective:
    I have come across some blogs that I don’t care for.
    One has a black background. It makes things hard to see.
    Another has a lacy overlay that shifts and makes it confusing and hard to navigate.
    Even in some comment boxes, the colors are wrong or the cursor can’t be seen until you type something. The contrast is not there. Also some comment boxes are too small. You can’t see the whole text of what you typed, so you can’t go back and correct it. Or if you want to look back it is difficult to swipe to the beginning.
    It needs to be taken in consideration that lots of readers are aging, so font size and simplicity and contrast should come into play.
    Thanks for the post, from a reader: Paula Shreckhise ( google doesn’t like me and I can’t log in unless I go through another browser!)

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    1. Paula, thank you so much for weighing in! So helpful to hear your opinion.

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  12. Laurie, you're always full of so many great ideas. I love this. Even it I find it a bit overwhelming. ;-)

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  13. This is great, Laurie! And thank you for all the links at the end of your post. I'll be looking into them as I hone my brand. :-)

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    1. Jan, those links lead to lots of people who are much smarter than me :)

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  14. Thanks Laurie for this post. We talked a lot about branding events when I worked as a fundraiser before my kids came along. Branding is SO very important yet not the first thing that comes to mind as a writer. :) I don`t spend a lot of time on author websites so I`m not sure who does it well. (Lee-Ann B)

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    1. Lee-Ann, YES! It's much easier to focus on what we're writing, but thinking about audience helps us focus our writing.

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