So many people just want a pretty website, but if you want your online business to be successful, it has to be more than that. You can't decide on what your website and brand should look like until you know who you're serving and how you're doing it. The purpose of your business needs to determine the way you present it visually.
As a designer, my job is to dig into the bigger purpose behind your business and help you translate that visually in a way that speaks to your target audience. To do this, I spend a lot of time asking questions and listening to answers.
I start by learning about your business’s purpose, and this is where I encourage my clients to start as well.
Your passions, skills, experience, and values need to work together to create a business you love, that feeds into you, and that brings something to the table that no one else has. Even if you’re in a field that so many others are also building businesses around, this combination will create a unique approach.
There should also be a greater purpose to your business. More than making an income or leaving your office cubicle, there needs to be something that drives you to get up each day and work. Running your own business isn’t easy, but if you have something bigger that you’re reaching for, it can make buckling down and getting into the trenches easier. This could be gaining the freedom to travel, making more time for your kids, or helping others who wouldn’t be able to hire someone if your services didn’t exist.
This purpose is what makes your business unique and what drives every other decision you’ll make. Say you’re focusing on providing amazing customer service and delighting clients. How would this affect the way you approach setting up your website? Or if you want to make clients feel that they can take their fitness to another level without spending hours a day working out, you’re going to approach your services from that perspective.
Finding your target audience is essential.
I’m sure you’ve heard this over and over, but it’s worth repeating when discussing visual branding. Your business can’t serve everyone, and you need to know exactly who it is you want to serve. It may be someone you enjoy working with and who is only a few steps behind you in business. Or you could be reaching people who are too busy to do what you do without giving up other tasks they love.
The more specific you are about your target audience, even getting down into their favorite way to spend a Sunday morning and how they fit fun into their lives, will give you a clear picture of who you’re serving and how you can help.
So how does purpose and audience translate into a visual brand?
Unless you have both pieces, your visual brand will never do what you hope for. Visuals are important, but if they don’t reflect your purpose and appeal to your audience, being “pretty” gets you nowhere.
As you start building your brand, you’re also going to start thinking about how you want to present it to the world. That’s totally normal, but you need to take some time to think about what you’re creating visually instead of just putting pieces together that you like. If you don’t take the time to create something cohesive and unique (either with a designer or on your own), you’re going to end up with a brand that doesn’t fit together well and is confusing to people to see it.
When I start working with design clients, I always have them fill out some extensive questionnaires that help them to be really clear on who they’re reaching and what kind of visual style will best reach those people. I take into consideration the client’s own preferences, but really try to focus on who they’re serving and how they do it.
I ask my clients to give me 10 words that describe the feeling that they want people to have when they see their branding. These words give me a lot of insight into my client, their business, and their passions. Even among people with similar businesses, there is a lot of variety in the feeling they want to convey. One fashion blogger may want a brand that is “electric, fun, bright, and free-spirited,” while another may be more focused on “calm, collected, light and feminine.” Both of those clients can have beautiful branding and a successful business, but they are going to look totally different.
The importance of a mood board
Once a client fills out the questionnaires, I have them create a Pinterest board with images that visually represent the words that they gave me. Not only does this help me understand the “look” that they’re drawn to, but it also helps them to see how the feeling they want translates into something specific. Looking back over these boards, most clients comment that they saw a lot of repetition, in colors, textures, and style.
Because the same word can mean different things to different people, getting a visual representation helps to clarify what you mean when you say you want a “sophisticated” brand. Sophisticated to me means jewel tones, classic shapes, and clean lines, but it may mean something totally different to you. And that’s totally okay - it’s just something you need to understand for yourself.
From the images and questionnaires, I put together a mood board that I feel represent the brand I’m trying to create. This will include some main colors, an interesting pattern, and pictures that reflect your brand’s feeling to your ideal audience. This mood board then directs all design decisions.
It’s easy to get distracted when you’re looking at pretty things all day and I find that clients often come back to me with new ideas that don’t match our original discussions. It’s not that they’re wrong about that website looking create or a certain color palette being beautiful, it’s just that those things may not match with the ideas we’ve clearly laid out. This is when I refer back to the mood board and ask, “does what you’re suggesting today fit with the brand identity we’ve already created?”
By coming back to this over and over, you can keep your visual brand on track with the purpose and audience you’ve already set. You may find that these things change over time or that what you thought you wanted isn’t all it seemed to be, and that’s okay. But by having your purpose and audience as the focus of your brand, the visual identity will support those things instead of distract from them.
If you’re not already clear on your design style and your business’s visual brand, you can check out my Design + Style Questionnaire. I usually only give this to client’s, but I have a passion for helping everyone create a visual presence that is as unique as they are. This questionnaire includes 5 pages of questions that will help you get clear on your business’s purpose and audience and how that translates into a visual brand.
HOW CAN YOU IMPROVE YOUR PRESENTATION TO MATCH YOUR PURPOSE THIS WEEK? HAVE ANY TIPS I MISSED? LET US KNOW IN THE COMMENTS!
By Samantha Mabe
Samantha helps creatives and small businesses stand out online and in print through building a visual brand that reflects the things that make them unique. She is also the creator of Inspired Online: a video interview series featuring online entrepreneurs sharing their stories and actionable tips for those growing their own online businesses. A Pittsburgh native with North Carolina roots slowly making my way south, she loves God, ice cream, and tv shows that were cancelled too soon.