Visual Brand Language

Starbucks

Visual brand language is the unique ‘alphabet’ of design elements – such as shape, color, materials, finish, typography and composition – which directly and subliminally communicate a company’s values and personality through compelling imagery and design style. This ‘alphabet,’ properly designed, results in an emotional connection between the brand and the consumer. Visual brand language is a key ingredient necessary to make an authentic and convincing brand strategy that can be applied uniquely and creatively in all forms of brand communications to both employees and customers.

For example, the BMW ‘split grill’ has come to represent the brand. While the grill size and design details evolve over time, the underlying idea is constant and memorable. The use of color is also a powerful associative element for consistent imagery, as exemplified by the comprehensive application of orange by The Home Depot across all its brand materials.

The strategic pyramid is a four-staged hierarchical model that serves as a guideline to establish or re-establish the visual brand language of a business. With the market being flooded with new products, services, and ideas each day, it is vital for businesses to stand out from the crowd. Every brand has a fundamental need to connect with their target market and audience.

Brand personality (or brand identity) is understood as the human characteristics or traits that can be attributed to a brand. In 21st century business, it is important for a business to distinguish itself from its competitors through emotional branding. By establishing a brand personality, businesses can form emotional bonds with their consumers which in turn establishes future behaviors of brand loyalty. Brands have the ability ‘to fill a void, to take root, and to flourish.’ For example, from the very beginning, the brand mantra of Starbucks Coffee was to create a ‘rich, rewarding coffee experience.’ Starbucks demonstrates a ‘persona’ that goes far beyond their functional benefits.

Product attributes are meant to highlight and describe the uniqueness of a brand. They are the traits that distinguish a brand from its competitors. Starbucks has successfully established its brand personality through its customers who have described them as synonymous with, ‘comfort, quality, and community.’ Starbucks coffee has achieved the attributes of their brand by understanding that their coffee was not the only key driver to their success. They focused on creating a comfortable atmosphere within the store known as the ‘Starbucks Experience,’ where both employee and customer come in for more than just coffee. Product attributes are meant to ‘deliver new ideas to existing products and services.’

Design principles are specific directions and objectives that designers can refer to when designing a product or platform. Designers accomplish this by further building upon the established product attributes with specific visual concepts that help guide the expression of a brand. This is the process of taking the product attributes and transforming them into a tangible and actionable item. For example, before designers work on designing a store for Starbucks, they are required to start their careers by working behind the counter. By understanding how the store layout works with both baristas and customers, designers can better create a workspace that is both aesthetic and functional. Howard Shultz, the CEO of Starbucks, is fond of saying that ‘retail is detail’ and that if anything that goes overlooked customers become unhappy and costly errors occur.

Signature elements are a series of toolkits used in creating and translating visual brand language. This includes color, material and finish, logo, light, and sound. Research shows that elements of logo such as its shape, color, size, and design can profoundly affect how consumers interpret the brand. Even the angularity of a logo—whether the logo is visually angular or circular—can affect consumers interpretation and loyalty toward a brand. The way that color communicates to audiences is known as color psychology or color symbolism. Businesses utilize color to further establish brand personality and connect with the customer.

For example, Starbucks uses the colors green and white in their logo. Green is a color that is secure, natural, easygoing and relaxing. White is a color that symbolizes goodness, purity, and sophistication. The Starbucks logo itself has stood the test of time by evolving with the company in direct relationship to their corporate identity. The center piece of their logo, the Siren, helps tie Starbucks to its traditional coffee roots in both Europe and Seattle.

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