The value of standing out: a deep dive into the role of visual brand identity

Long Read

In today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, where potential customers are bombarded with countless choices of what brands to buy from, standing out has become more crucial than ever.


Yet, as a branding agency, we continuously see brands conforming to look the same in a sector rather than stand out. One of the most potent tools in a brand’s arsenal for differentiation and recognition is its visual identity. In this article, we pay special attention to this specific component of brand building: the visual aspect. We will delve into the importance of visual brand identity and its significance, examining examples of both successes and failures in brand execution. From iconic logos to cohesive colour palettes, we will explore how visual elements shape brand perception, resonate with target audiences, and drive brand success.



Understanding Visual Brand Identity


Visual identity is the one aspect of a branding project that generates the most opinions; often, feedback can come as personal taste and preference in disguise. The visual elements cohesive brand identity that a brand uses to communicate its essence, values, and personality to the world are crucial. It is the outward expression of a brand’s identity, comprising components such as logo, colours, typography, imagery, illustration, motion, UI components, and any other design elements.


A strong visual identity not only distinguishes a brand from its competitors but also fosters brand recognition, loyalty, and trust among consumers.



The Role of Visual Elements


A lot of focus is placed on the brand’s logo, as it is the one element that often acts as a shorthand for your brand. It’s an instantly recognisable symbol that encapsulate the brand’s essence and values. Think of the iconic swoosh of Nike or the golden arches of McDonald’s — these logos transcend mere design; they are powerful brand beacons that evoke emotions and associations in consumers’ minds. However, having a strong logo does not equal a strong brand. Businesses need to invest in more than a logo; your business’ brand is only going to build reputation once the business has built the recognition it needs by a combination of visual elements that reflect the brand strategy you have defined.


Elements such as your colour palette play a pivotal role in conveying a brand’s personality and evoking specific emotions as well as separating your brand from others in your sector. From the bold red of Coca-Cola that helps them stand out in a crowded shelf space, to the acid pop of hot coral on Monzo’s bank card, colour can play a vital role in helping you capture your audience’s attention. Over time, if it’s distinct enough, your brand could even become known for the colour it uses. When this happens, colour becomes an invaluable visual element.


Image courtesy of Ragged Edge & Monzo


Another tool that can be employed to create a strong brand identity is typography. It can reinforce brand messaging and personality, with font choices reflecting best brand identity examples and traits such as modernity, tradition, playfulness or sophistication. Consider the distinctive typography of the Macmillan’s brand or the minimalist elegance of Apple’s sleek fonts — each choice communicates volumes about the brand’s identity. What does your choice of typography say about your brand? Is it serious, warm, technical or casual?


Original brand created by Wolff Olins, later refined by Dragon Rouge


Imagery plays a really important role in complementing a brand colors visual identity by reinforcing brand values and narratives. Whether through photography, illustrations, or graphic elements, imagery helps brands communicate their story visually, by creating connections with their target audience.



The Importance of Standing Out

In a crowded marketplace, brands must not only strive to be seen but also remembered. A strong visual brand identity example serves as a beacon amidst the noise, guiding consumers to make meaningful connections with brands. A good brand identity also helps build trust with your audience — the more a customer sees and recognises your brand, the more they trust your brand. Let’s explore some examples of brands that have mastered the art of standing out through their visual identities.



Airbnb: Distinctiveness and Positioning

One of the most striking examples of visual identity success is Airbnb. From its inception, Airbnb recognised the importance of visual identity important one of differentiation in a crowded marketplace. Its logo, a stylised combination of a heart, a location pin, and the letter ‘A,’ immediately conveys the brand’s commitment to heartfelt hospitality and global connectivity. Moreover, Airbnb’s vibrant colour palette and whimsical illustrations evoke a sense of adventure and possibility, resonating deeply with its audience of intrepid travellers and experience seekers.


By placing its audience at the forefront of its visual identity, Airbnb has transformed from a mere accommodation platform into a cultural phenomenon synonymous with wanderlust and exploration.



Brand Extension Success: Burberry’s Modernisation

Burberry’s journey from a traditional British luxury brand to a modern global icon is a testament to the transformative power of brand modernisation. Through a strategic overhaul of its visual identity — embracing digital platforms, refreshing its logo and typography, and leveraging social media to engage younger audiences — Burberry successfully repositioned itself as a symbol of contemporary elegance and luxury. By balancing heritage with innovation, Burberry’s visual identity appeals to both traditionalists and trendsetters, ensuring its relevance in a rapidly evolving marketplace. Part of this creative strategy was the modernising of many of Burberry’s most recognisable visual elements, such as it’s famous check and colour palette



Consistency and Cohesion: The Key to Brand Loyalty

One of the hallmarks of a strong visual identity is consistency across all touchpoints and channels. Whether it’s a website, product packaging, social media post, or physical storefront, a cohesive and consistent visual identity reinforces brand recognition and fosters trust among the target audience. Brands like Coca-Cola and Apple have mastered the art of consistent branding, ensuring that every interaction reinforces their brand’s core values and message. By maintaining a unified visual language, these brands cultivate enduring relationships with their audience, driving loyalty and advocacy.



Learning from Failure: Pitfalls of Poor Visual Identity

While successful brands serve as inspiration, failures of identity example offer valuable lessons in what not to do. Let’s examine some examples of brands that faltered in their visual identity execution, leading to confusion, backlash, and ultimately, brand dilution.



Nationwide vs. NatWest: Blending In Rather Than Standing Out

The financial services industry is rife with examples of visual identity missteps, where brands struggle to differentiate themselves in a sea of sameness. Recently Nationwide, a prominent UK bank, faced criticism for their new visual identity that moved the brand visually closer to a competitor – another UK bank, NatWest. The key factor is that the colour palettes moved them closer to the competitor’s brand, not further apart. This could lead to potential customer confusion, especially in a sector that is not know for the introduction of unique visual elements (few banks have developed unique photographic styles, for example). By failing to carve out a distinctive visual identity that will resonate with its customers, Nationwide risks blending into the background, lost amidst competitors vying for attention.



Before and after the recent rebrand



A comparison of the new Nationwide logo vs Natwest



Brand Extension Failure: Virgin Brides and Harley Davidson Perfume

Brand extensions can be a double-edged sword, offering opportunities for growth and innovation, or risking brand dilution and confusion. Virgin’s ill-fated foray into bridal outfits and Harley Davidson’s venture into perfume serve as cautionary tales of successful brand extension gone awry.

By straying too far from their core values and target audience, these brands undermined their credibility and eroded consumer trust in playful brand.


A strong visual identity alone cannot salvage a misguided brand extension; it must be rooted in a deep understanding of the brand’s identity and values.



Visual branding impact

One brand that uses its colour palette, distinct visual elements, typography and copywriting to create a memorable brand identity is The Economist. Few other brands are strong enough to just rely on a brand colour and a typeface to create a visual identity that talks directly to their target audience. It’s cohesive visual brand identity examples is matched by bold advertising that gives instant brand recall.

In summary, The Economist uses a number of brand elements within its visual brand identity, consistency, distinctive voice, reputation for quality, global perspective, editorial independence, innovation and thought leadership. Together, these elements contribute to its status as one of the world’s leading publications.



Conclusion: The Power of Visual Brand Identity

In an increasingly visual world, a brand’s visual identity is more than just aesthetics—it’s a strategic imperative that defines how a brand is perceived, remembered, and valued. From the iconic logos of Nike and Apple to the vibrant imagery ad campaigns of Airbnb and Coca-Cola, successful brands understand the power of visual storytelling in forging emotional connections with consumers. By embracing distinctiveness, consistency, and relevance, brands can create visual identities that stand the test of time, resonating with audiences across cultures, generations, and channels.


As brands navigate the ever-evolving landscape of consumer preferences social media posts and technological advancements, the importance of a strong visual identity cannot be overstated. By investing in professional brand design, understanding the nuances of colour psychology and staying true to their core values, brands can leverage visual identity as a powerful tool for differentiation, engagement and growth.


In an age where attention spans are fleeting and choices abound, the value of standing out has never been greater.


In conclusion, a brand’s visual identity is not merely a logo or colour scheme — it’s the embodiment of its essence, values, and aspirations. By crafting compelling visual narratives that resonate with audiences on a visceral level, brands with solid visual identity can transcend mere products or services, becoming symbols of inspiration, aspiration, and belonging in the hearts and minds of consumers worldwide. As the adage goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words” — and in the realm of branding, a strong visual identity speaks volumes, forging enduring connections and shaping the future of brands in an ever-changing world.