What Is Visual Strategy, and Why Does Your Marketing Campaign Need It?

Josh Miles
Sep 17, 2019 · 7 min read
A visual strategy is essential for creating goal-oriented, results-driven content.

Every marketer knows that a campaign sees better success when proper planning is in place. But many brands fail to plan for the strategic use of visual content — both across their company communications as a whole, as well as in particular marketing campaigns.

As is the case with any marketing content you produce, quality is key, but it’s not the only consideration. Your visual content needs to be specifically designed to meet your goals and reach your target audience. If you don’t create a visual strategy that will help you achieve this, you’re unlikely to see the results you were hoping for.

“The reality is what you made actually may have been something great,” explains Eugene K. Choi in his article about building better marketing campaigns, “but it didn’t get the reach you were expecting because of how you were sharing your message.”

So how can you design a visual strategy that ensures your brand is communicating in results-driven ways? Let’s take a look.

What Is Visual Strategy?

Brand communications occur across a broad variety of platforms, mediums, and contexts. A visual strategy can help you plan for each.

Put simply, visual strategy is 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 into a codified visual identity, including the brand’s:

  • Purpose
  • Values
  • Ambitions
  • Characteristics
  • Promise

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.

Visual Strategy for Particular Product Groups and/or Marketing Campaigns

Specific marketing campaigns can have visual strategies
Specific marketing campaigns can have visual strategies
Individual marketing campaigns and product categories can also have uniquely defined visual strategies.

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.

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 is a plan designed 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 identify two core elements:

  • A content map
  • A visual language

Let’s take a look at how to deploy each of these elements.

A Content Map

A marketing team planning their visual content production
A marketing team planning their visual content production
A visual strategy helps you plan your content to achieve your defined goals.

Where is your audience — and through which channels or platforms can you reach them ? 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 we already have their 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 the landing page in order for this to be successful. To that end, we develop two related initiatives:

  • A multi-tier email campaign targeting specific existing customer groups.
  • A variety of well-designed emails are created within a variety of responsive tracks. They 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.

A Visual Language

A visual language defines the creative direction for a particular campaign.

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.

Every visual language attempts to define, at minimum, the above parameters for a given campaign.

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.

Learn more about to design a visual language for your next marketing campaign in “Visual Language for Marketers: 2 Steps to Higher Campaign Engagement.”

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.

So take the time to plan a brand-wide visual strategy today — or experiment with one in your next campaign. I expect you’ll see a huge improvement in engagement and conversions. Share your experiences with visual strategy in the comments below!

If you enjoyed this post, check out The Visual Marketer for more actionable insights on how to implement effective visual communication in your organization and your marketing department.

Want to learn more about how to create visual content that will drive high engagement and great results for your next marketing campaign, training session, internal meeting, or conference presentation? Check out the Killer Visual Strategies website, which offers hundreds of blog posts, free ebooks, and inspiring examples of visual content.

The Visual Marketer

Visual content is a tool marketers can no longer live without. Learn which types of visual content are best for your next campaign, how to optimize that content for better returns, and much more from the expert team at Killer Visual Strategies.

Josh Miles

Written by

President & Chief Creative Officer at Killer Visual Strategies | Contributor to The Visual Marketer | killervisualstrategies.com

The Visual Marketer

Visual content is a tool marketers can no longer live without. Learn which types of visual content are best for your next campaign, how to optimize that content for better returns, and much more from the expert team at Killer Visual Strategies.

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