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What They Are & Why They Matter



What They Are & Why They Matter

When we build a brand, we build an experience that reflects a purpose. Visual identity is a huge part of this brand experience. Colors, graphics, and fonts turn brand concepts into visual identities that can be recognized.

Once a brand is established, it needs to become a recognizable identity that the external world can perceive. This recognition comes with consistency, and achieving that consistency requires a strong visual identity system.

To create a visual identity system, you need all the visual elements that the brand has. The visual identity system’s basics are a strong brand guide and its implementation tasks. The ultimate goal of this system is to turn all the brand assets into principles that all the content team can follow to make sure that the online presence is aligned with the original brand concept.

Visual Identity System Benefits

A visual identity system is a way to make things easier, help people achieve a manageable and effective workload, and avoid mistakes. These mistakes can take place when there is no clear guidance about how to achieve excellent work results.

Putting systems in place turns complex processes into easy-to-understand steps that increase efficiency.

An effective visual identity system will help an organization:

  • Improve the outcome of their content creation process.
  • Avoid mistakes related to misunderstanding what the brand entails.
  • Make collaboration between teams easy.
  • Create complex strategies with a strong foundation that can help implement them.

How To Create a Visual Identity System

Step 1: Develop the Brand Identity

A visual identity system starts with what we know as the brand image. This includes the logo, fonts, and brand colors. Ideally, you’ll have these in a brand guide already, but if you don’t you should develop them in this step.

Step 2: Create a Mood Board

Mood boards are similar to visual identity systems in the sense that they depict far more than a logo and color scheme. Mood boards go a step further in displaying photographs, video, and even audio or scents to get a well-rounded feel for a brand.

Mood boards are curated content (i.e. not developed in house at a company or organization) and are not public. They’re strictly helpful in gaining inspiration and feedback from stakeholders about what the official visual identity system might look like once it’s finished.

Step 3: Get Feedback

Sounds simple enough, right? But this can be a step in the process that you revisit several times before settling on the perfect draft of your visual identity system.

Rather than creating proprietary content for your visual identity system every time you get new feedback, use your modo board from the step above to relay your vision. Once you get buy-in, you’re ready to put together your own visual identity system.

Step 4: Include Guidelines

In order for a visual identity system to work well, it’s important to include guidelines for using each element. These guidelines answer specific questions “How do designers create new content without breaking the consistency?” and “How does a website developer understand what the website should look like?”

There are, for example, types of content where a logo is not the best option to add, so designers can opt for a word mark or simplified logo instead.

It’s important to be very specific and particular with the guidelines so that there is little confusion and designers can develop discernment about best practices for using the visual identity system.

Once you have them in place, it’s time to add guidelines for each element. There are several ways you can structure this, but here are a couple of common ones:

  • Dedicate a page to each element and include guidelines on the same page as the element.
  • Include your brand guide at the beginning of the visual identity system document and add guidelines toward the end.
  • Add an FAQ sheet explaining the guidelines for each element.
  • Add samples of do’s and don’ts so the team sees real-world examples of the guidelines in action.

Visual Identity System Basics

If you want to build your visual identity system to make your brand stand out from the crowd, here are some best practices that can help you avoid common mistakes and achieve great results.

Know your message.

Know your message, purpose, and how you want to talk to your audience. Visual identity system basics need a strong foundation to succeed. Think about those values you want to share and the misconceptions you want to avoid at all costs. Create a schedule that prioritizes your main goals and allows you to create results aligned with your values.

Knowing what you want to communicate will help you build a message that is not only profitable but also aligns with your values.

Have a strong theoretical background.

Do you know that psychology studies the foundations of the relationship between colors and feelings? Have you noticed that a message can be read as scary or romantic based on your font? If you have this information, you can shape how people visually perceive your brand.

Psychology tells us a lot about colors and how they can affect people’s perception of our brands. If you don’t know much about this, maybe it is time for you to start diving into some research work.

Create an effective system.

Create an effective but scalable system so it can be upgraded based on your brand and business needs. The main goal of any system is to make things easier. That should be on top of every requirement that comes along the way.

Visual identity system examples are successful if they show the potential to scale without losing their efficiency.

Be specific.

Be as specific as possible, as this will make you avoid mistakes and the unnecessary back and forth between team members. Choosing details like the stock photos that suit the brand can make the difference.

Making things clear can be incredibly helpful for new team members who don’t have the brand background needed to understand the virtual identity system basics by themselves.

Create an Amazing Visual Identity System

Building a system is a concept that sounds more technical and specialized, which makes it hard to start. But, the truth is, even if you have just a bunch of tasks together, you’re already building the first steps towards your system creation. You’re close to the goal.

Systems can make everything easier, even if you start small with many questions. You will learn the details along the way.

Have you created a strong visual identity system? If you haven’t, today is the day to start.

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Before Deciding Where Your Content Team Reports, Pay Attention to This



Before Deciding Where Your Content Team Reports, Pay Attention to This

When a brand creates a new content marketing or content strategy team, they often ask, “What function or department should the content team report to?”

My answer? “Yes!”

Now, I’m not trying to be a smart aleck. (Well, I am a little bit, do you even know me?) But seriously, my yes comes from years of helping implement content teams in dozens of businesses. My affirmative response indicates the most important thing isn’t to whom content reports; it’s that content teams report to the business.

When it reports into a function, such as brand, marketing, sales enablement, demand gen, PR/comms, or even (yes, really in one case) finance, the business acknowledges content marketing is a real thing with real responsibilities, power, and capabilities to affect business outcomes.

“What outcomes?” you might ask.

Well, that depends on where content marketing reports.

Now you have the real conundrum.

You can’t figure out where content marketing and content strategy should report without knowing the expected business outcomes, and you can’t know the business outcomes until you know where they’re reporting.

The most important thing isn’t to whom #content reports; it’s that content teams report to the business, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

It’s tricky.

Content’s pervasiveness creates the challenge

Content as a strategic function in business affects almost everything. That pervasiveness means nearly any function in the business could “own” content as a strategy.

For example, we recently worked with a company about a year into its enterprise-wide digital transformation strategy. They have a content team, and we were to help them assemble a governance and operational approach for their website content.

When we determined the right operational processes, we got into trouble. A content team leader asked, “What if someone proposed a new AI chatbot as part of this digital transformation for the website? Is it a content project with a technology component or a technology project with a content component?”

The question isn’t semantics. Instead, the answer determines the process for development, the team owning implementation, and the measurement by which it’s deemed successful.

Knowing where a #content project is assigned determines its development process, implementation owner, and success metric, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

It’s not just a technology challenge, either. The company also wanted to create new brand content guidelines for the website. Is that a content team project informed by the brand team or a brand project in consultation with the content team?

Given content’s pervasiveness, you can argue it is part of any meaningful communications initiative the business takes on. But sales’ needs are different from marketing’s, and HR’s requirements are different from the demand-gen team’s. However, to achieve consistency in content and communication, it doesn’t make sense to let each function determine its content strategy.

To achieve the balance between an enterprise-wide content strategy and the unique needs of every function in the business, the leaders and practitioners must decide to whom content reports. Again, the agreement is important, not the where or what of the agreement.

3 key attributes to identify in the decision-making process

As you and the leadership ponder how to balance the enterprise content strategy and where it should sit, consider these three key attributes that play an essential role in success.

1. Develop a content operations backbone

I don’t care if you have two people and one blog and a website or a team of 50 who operate on 35 content platforms across multiple channels. A content operations infrastructure creates consistent success across your digital content experiences. Content operations is an enterprise-recognized set of integrated and shared systems (meaning technologies), standards, guidelines, playbooks, and processes to ensure reliable, consistent, scalable, and measurable content across the business.

Content operations acts as the backbone – the foundation – to ensure the content is created, managed, activated, and measured the same way across whatever audience and whichever channel the brand presents to.

2. Connect with the audience across platforms

You can no longer expect to create one optimal experience that makes up for a bunch of sub-optimal ones.No matter your size, it’s not good enough to have your blog subscribers separate from your marketing automation database and all that separated from your CRM system. This goes for all of your audiences – from new employees to external parties such as analysts, journalists, partners, vendors, etc.

In this approach, the goal is to engage, build, and develop relationships with audiences. Thus, connecting audience behavior with insights on how to communicate better is not a siloed functional need; it is an enterprise need.

3. Build an accountability framework

This attribute in one word? Standards (and a team to keep them.) In a truly fascinating way, one of the earliest activities in building a content strategy makes the biggest impact on larger businesses: Come to terms with what words around content strategy and marketing mean. What is a campaign? What is the difference between a campaign and an initiative? What is an e-book? What is an article vs. a blog post? How long should a white paper take to write? Most businesses assume these things or create meanings based on contextual needs.

At a recent client, one group expected the content team to produce white papers within a week of the request. Another group expected them to be delivered in six weeks at double the length that the other group thought.

An accountability framework – and its ongoing evolution – presents clear ownership and coordination of content standards (roles, responsibilities, processes, types) across the enterprise. This model should not detail the definitions and standards but identify how they will enforce them.

Start your content decisions by deciding together

Where should you begin?

Well, just like in the beginning, my answer is yes. Independent of where you start, the critical point happens in the deciding of the elements. To be clear, these are institutional decisions, not simply “what you think.” In other words, it doesn’t matter what you believe the definitions, roles, or processes should be if the other parts of the organization don’t know, believe, or care.

A great first step is to create that accountability framework and make people care about its existence. At first, it might create a language of content that everybody in your business understands. When someone says, “I’d like to do a campaign,” or, “I think we should write a white paper,” everyone understands what that means and what it takes to do it. Then, the benefits of an accountability framework will start to become clear.

It makes the case for a team assigned to lead this consistency easier. And that enables the team to connect those experiences and audiences in a way that makes sense for everyone.

In the end, you have found determining the where, how, and what of a content strategy implementation isn’t the most important. The act of deciding is.

It’s a strange combination. In isolation, the reason for deciding seems straightforward. So why wouldn’t anybody want a clear definition of what a campaign is or a single source of the truth when it comes to the tone of your content?

But stacked together, those decisions feel like they are bigger than the content team and really should involve the entire enterprise. (Spoiler alert: They do.)

If you want any desired consequence, you had better decide on all the things that would help create it.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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