Why you should review your brand visuals at least once a year, and how to get started
Every business, and every project, needs a unifying visual strategy that tells a consistent story—one that feels authentic, clear and actionable.
And yet, so few do.
Over the last several years, we’ve done dozens of brand visual audits for our clients. And the most common problem we encounter is a lack of structure and consistency across channels. Essentially, we’re seeing messy sites and messy social channels.
What exactly does messy look like in the digital world?
- Too many colours
- Inconsistent fonts
- No visual hierarchy of information
- And a lack of visual consistency
Disconnected visuals can get in the way of effectively communicating who you are and what you do. And most importantly, they can confuse your audience, repel them or leave them feeling uninspired to take action.
Good visual communication is powerful.
And there’s a reason it works well online. The human brain can process a visual image in only 13 milliseconds (according to this MIT neurology study). And that’s much much quicker than it can process text.
Because visual memories are encoded in the medial temporal lobe of the brain, the same place where emotions are processed, visuals can also cause a stronger reaction than words, which helps users engage with content in deeper ways.
Each opportunity to communicate through visuals—the look of your website, presentations, social media profiles—affects the value of your brand.
And it’s essential to have a strategy for how you want to communicate visually.
That starts with an audit.
What is a brand visual audit?
A brand visual audit is essentially a brand checkup. We do it to assess how our clients’ brands are being expressed across all channels—from logos and presentation decks to websites, Instagram stories and Facebook ads.
A visual audit analyzes all of your organization’s design elements with the goal of ensuring your branding is consistent across all channels and outlets. This not only means taking stock of your visual design elements, but also the verbal and written components, too.
We take a holistic approach to our audits. Despite being called a visual audit, these checkups also analyze the visual messaging so that content not only has a consistent look, but also a consistent tone, voice and message.
You might be surprised at what an audit will reveal about how your organization’s visual elements and core messages stand up against what users actually experience. Maintaining a consistent user experience is crucial in building trust, and as your organization grows, adding more content and features to your product or service makes that increasingly difficult without a solid set of visual brand guidelines.
A visual audit is also a great way to bring all of your team members together and help them understand your organization’s direction and goals.
Here’s how it works.
How to undertake a visual audit
To start, you’ll need to collect all of your content from your website, social media channels and your product or service itself. Everything must be assessed to ensure that the touch points along your customer’s journey relay the desired message.
1. Gather visual materials
First, collect anything that includes your logo and even things that don’t. Include past and present documents, brochures, stationery, website, digital and social advertising, photography, illustrations—basically everything!
Here are some elements you should pay particular attention to:
- Style guides
- Existing design systems
- Website pages
- Logo in all formats
- Web ads
- Landing pages
- Marketing campaigns
- Workshops, presentations, promotional speaking engagements
- Social media content
Gather every bit of visual material you can find, including internal communications from your departments. Well-meaning internal users operating outside the marketing department may not have the guidance necessary to use brand materials appropriately.
Understanding how brand visuals are being used (or abused) can help you develop tools and “libraries” to ensure the brand is being deployed appropriately and consistently throughout internal and external communications.
It also helps to know the tools you will need to develop templates for to make it practical and actionable.
2. Organize and categorize
When each brand element (logo, colour, typography, graphic elements and imagery) is isolated and organized, patterns and similarities will start to emerge, pointing the way to what needs to be addressed.
It helps to create your own separate collage or mood board for each element, placing all the logos together on one and creating another with samples of brand typography. Imagery should be sorted by type: product photography, corporate imagery, illustration, charts and graphs.
At Forge and Spark we often use a Miro board to collect and assess the elements and messages our clients (and their competitors) are expressing (and yes, we apply this to our brand too!)
3. Assess the challenges
With all the visual elements organized and arrayed, it’s time to look for opportunities to bring it all together into one cohesive and practical system.
Find out the challenges your team is facing when creating visual content. It’s often the social media people who are struggling with design issues when there is no foundation or resource they can consistently reference.
In B2B industries, the style of photography content is often surprisingly similar, especially if there’s a heavy reliance on stock imagery, but finding a distinctive visual style is critical. Reaching today’s audiences, even in a B2B environment, depends on grabbing attention with imagery. Think about how your brand visuals are different from your competitors’. You can be unique to your brand—even while using stock assets.
Get ready to answer these important questions for each type of visual:
- Are the visuals aligned with the brand?
- Are team members having to guess at colours and logos?
- Is there a single source to access visual requirements?
- Are your assets easy to use?
- Is there a better way of doing things?
4. Audit the non-visual components
We believe content drives design and because they need to work together, the non-visual aspects of the brand will also need to be defined. Specifically, determinations about brand voice, personality and positioning will inform the visual design.
If, for example a brand is friendly and optimistic, it may point to a lighter font and a bright, welcoming colour. A more authoritative brand voice might suggest deeper colours and a classic serif typeface. Combining this with the opportunities identified by the visual audit will help define an effective and differentiated visual style.
Putting it all together
Ideally, you should aim to do a thorough audit of all your current visual communications assets every 12 months to ensure you’re achieving your business goals in the best way possible.
Conducting a yearly audit helps to ensure that you aren’t just doing the same thing you have always done on autopilot. It provides an opportunity to ask: Are we being consistent and on-brand and is our process working practically for our team members who need to create with it every day?
Cohesion across all brand touch points builds trust and improves the experience of the end user. So, get obsessed with your brand visuals and start making them work for you in better, more effective, ways.
We’re here to help! Want to chat about how a visual audit could strengthen your brand? Get in touch anytime.