What Is Visual Strategy, and Why Do You Need It?

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With our recent name-change here at Killer Visual Strategies, you might be wondering what we mean by “visual strategy.” Put simply, it’s the thoughtful and skillful application of key visual communication tenets to solve communication challenges. For our purposes, visual strategy encompasses the creative and analytic decisions that inform any visual expression of a brand.

In order to successfully connect with today’s audiences, all marketing choices must be guided by the principles of visual communication. Developing the right strategy to direct your content efforts will ensure your audience is engaged and moved to action.

On a grand scale, this could mean the strategic visual choices made to translate a brand’s identity — its purpose, values, ambitions, characteristics, and promise — into a codified visual identity. Just as any branding endeavor will require robust brand strategy (exploring target markets, competitive landscapes, future challenges, etc), so too does the visual component of branding require a similar approach.

Narrowing the focus somewhat, a visual strategy could also be developed to produce a style guide or visual identity specific to an individual product group within a brand. 

Even more granularly, the right visual strategy will drive success for distinct marketing campaigns. It will define what content you should produce, how you should produce it, and where it should be deployed. All of these decisions are made after thorough consideration of the marketer’s brand, audience, and goals.

“But I already have a set of brand guidelines; why do I need to develop a visual strategy for my marketing campaign?”

Brand guidelines, no matter how comprehensive, can’t account for every possible visual deployment of a brand. This is because brand guidelines are intended to define a brand’s visual identity in the world, and provide guidance for how content should be designed in order to abide by that identity. 

However, accounting for every possible piece of content a brand would ever produce would require a set of guidelines thousands of pages in length. That’s neither feasible nor efficient. Accordingly, it requires skillful creative and content strategy to interpret a brand’s visual identity in order to produce a marketing campaign that connects with an audience and achieves targeted goals that are more specific than brand guidelines can address. 

An effective visual strategy will design a plan to ensure that every piece of collateral — either in a single campaign or across your organization — accurately conveys your message, properly embodies your brand, and effectively connects with your audience. For a digital marketing campaign, the visual strategy will identity 2 core elements: A content map and a visual language. Learn more in our latest eBook.

Content Map

Where is the audience — what channels or platforms can we reach them through? How many pieces of content should be produced for each of those outlets, and what types of deliverables should be developed for each (video, motion graphics, static, interactive)? Should a primary landing page be developed, with ancillary collateral driving audiences to that landing page? 

Let’s imagine a SaaS brand has created a new product they want to market to existing customers. We know who the audience is, and have access to contact information. A large share of these customers are also followers of the SaaS brand’s social media channels. We determine the right path forward is to produce a product landing page that provides multiple tiers of information about the new product: 

  • A motion graphic will live above the fold that provides a high-level introduction to the new product
  • A series of illustrations and data visualizations live below the motion graphic, providing more granular information
  • A PDF product brochure can be downloaded behind an email gate to provide even further information
  • Multiple calls-to-action are interspersed throughout that landing page

Clearly, we want customers to move through the landing page and convert. But we need to produce collateral that will drive customers to this landing page in order for this to be successful. To that end, we develop 2 related initiatives:

  • A multi-tier email campaign targeting specific existing customer groups
    • A variety of emails are developed within a variety of responsive tracks, which will be sent to each customer depending on their interactions with the emails.
  • A variety of static and shortform animated social media content pieces, customized and deployed across each of the brand’s social channels.

Each of these ancillary pieces of content are intended to be “doorways” for our target customers to open in order to bring them to that central landing page.

Visual Language

Now that we’ve identified what content we need to produce and where it should be deployed, we need to determine how we want the content to be produced.

Our imaginary SaaS brand has a recognizable visual identity. However, we want to push these pieces in a somewhat new direction, to highlight that this is a distinct product within the larger brand offering. Because of this, we focus on developing a visual language that remains true to the brand’s visual identity, but offers a fresh direction to highlight that this is a new offering.

We choose to rely heavily on the brand’s secondary color palette, aligning specific colors to key pieces of messaging. We develop a suite of data visualization stylings that feel unique to this new product. A fresh approach to photography, typography, animation, video, illustration, and iconography is developed — all while remaining true to the brand’s overall visual identity.

Curious what visual communication can do for you?

The visual language is, in essence, a set of “brand guidelines” for this specific marketing campaign. All collateral we produce must adhere to the creative direction outlined in this guide in order to achieve consistency, aid in recall, and project the message that our SaaS customer prioritizes quality over all else. And that visual language must abide by the brand’s visual identity tenets.

The right visual strategy ensures you’ll never produce a piece of visual content that improperly portrays your brand or message. Instead, every campaign you launch will be strategically positioned to achieve your particular goals.

Josh Miles

Author Josh Miles

Josh Miles is president and chief creative officer at Killer Visual Strategies. After a youth spent in the farmlands of NW Washington, he moved to Seattle to study English and philosophy, during which time he developed a passion for storytelling and narratology. He put this passion to work with a Seattle-based film production company, working on multiple award-winning productions before joining Killer Visual Strategies (then called Killer Infographics) in 2012. He has since held numerous positions within the company, always driven by the passion to craft visual communication that helps clients better connect with their audiences. He now works with the executive and creative teams to define Killer’s creative and strategic vision for the future, while also meeting with clients and project teams to identify creative solutions and build lasting partnerships.

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