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 Visual Identity Design – Social Media

Visual Identity Design – Social Media

September 13, 2019

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I totally get that the logo must be used in a consistent way (because, for example, you’d risk losing your trade mark if the logo you’re actually using is different to the one you’ve registered). But why post a consistent and uniform colour theme on social media – what does it achieve?

Being a trade mark specialist I always look at brand from the perspective of what can be protected and therefore I like a strong visual hammer, like the bull that I had added to my old branding before I rebranded to the current look, because you can protect it and then by consistently using such a symbol you can signal your identity without even using your brand name logo. Think of the Rolls Royce or Mercedes Benz symbols for example.

What can go wrong if you’re not then consistent with the way you use your registered symbol is evident in a trade mark case between Lacoste and Crocodile  in New Zealand.  These two are often locked in a dispute over their Crocodile logos. So, when Crocodile International spotted an opportunity to apply to revoke Lacoste’s trade mark they jumped at the chance.  Lacoste had not been using a consistent crocodile design.

In its defence, Lacoste argued that it should not lose its trade mark for lack of use because while it didn’t use the crocodile logo in the form it registered it, it did use the trademark in different ways and therefore it was still using the trademark. However, this broad argument that any use of a crocodile was the use of their registered crocodile trade mark was effectively claiming a monopoly over the concept of a crocodile. The court said no, that’s too broad and revoked Lacoste’s trademark.

The same concept applies in the EU. Once a trademark is registered, if it isn’t used in exactly the form in which it is registered it can be revoked after 5 years’ of non-use.

So, it goes without saying that if you have any registrations you should use your marks in the form in which they’re registered.  If you’re then using a symbol such as the crocodile symbol in Lacoste’s case, in a consistent way, you keep your registration alive, and if a competitor makes cynical use of a similar symbol which confuses people into believing that it’s your identity that is being used then you can take effective action to stop them. They don’t need to be using an identical crocodile logo for you to have a strong case against them.


Use of Colour

When it comes to colour, although in principle, a colour combination and even a single colour can be a trade mark you need to be able to prove that the colour or colour combination is, in fact, distinctive of your business, by producing evidence that the public recognise that colour as identifying your goods or services. This is not easy to do, so colour trade marks are rare.

In practice if you can’t protect a colour why would you want to use it as the way you’re recognised on social media?

Restricting yourself to using a small number of brand colours and fonts on social media so you’re recognised by those colours and fonts seems to me to be rather like using a descriptive name that is too generic to function as a trade mark for your brand. There’s no point trying to get recognition by such a name, much better to use one that you can protect if you want to associate it with your brand.

Some people say that it would be jarring if you were using pink colouring on a post on social media and then they visited your website and found altogether different brand colours. Really? Would they be so surprised unless you had trained the market to expect all your visuals to be in your brand colours?

I personally question the wisdom of using an identifier for my brand that isn’t capable of protection.  If I love colour and want to make use of the full range of colours on social media then why not?

I’ve read a lot of books about brands and branding including major academic works, but nothing I’ve read so far has persuaded me that it’s necessary to restrict oneself to just using one’s brand colours on social media. It seems there was a time when “brand” was all about image but that is no longer the case.  Maybe the notion that everything you do, even on social media, needs to have a uniform look and feel emanates from that era?

I’d love to hear from readers if you know of any authoritative source that discusses this question of consistent use of brand colours everywhere including on social media.

In the meantime, I’m inclined to believe that the important issue is to ensure that your messages, content and use of logos or similar visual identifiers that can be protected are ‘on brand’ rather than trying to create a uniform visual imagery by way of colours on social media.

However, I am not a designer. Until someone points me to something that persuades me otherwise, I intend to not set rules around the use of colours and fonts for my social media team to follow.


Different views from others

The general view from people who responded to my question was that a deliberate strategy is needed, even if that strategy gives you scope to use the widest range of colours.

As one person put it, your logo will partially inform how you show up, but there’s lots more that goes into how you define your brand and form a part of your brand strategy (tone of voice, style guide, etc..). One person or business may take a strict purist approach another may be more flexible depending on the level of importance you put on how strong you want your brand to be. Strong brands tie everywhere they show up back to brand elements. It’s totally possible to use a variety of style approaches (graphics, colour photography etc…) that work with your logo and form your overall identity but needs to tie into how you set your brand and thereafter be consistent with it.

Another individual said that the beauty of sticking within your brand colours is that you are leaving a psychological imprint on your ideal customers mind, meaning that every time people see a colour that’s similar to yours, they think of you because you are already renting a space in their head. Effectively you are owning that colour in their mind, even if you don’t officially own it as a trademark! If you use too many colours, you’ll lose that imprint completely.

Yet someone else thought that using colours that aren’t consistent with your brand values simply dilute your brand, which dilutes your credibility.

I tend to question everything. I don’t follow the conventional in anything I do, and I know that there are a lot of people spouting “truths” about brands and branding who haven’t necessarily questioned things to find out whether the truth behind what they say belongs to a different era perhaps– namely the era when brand was all about image?

In the meantime, I say why not use the full range of colours on social media? Why put yourself in the straight-jacket of your one or two brand colours? What are you trying to achieve?

It’s the notion that there needs to be some sort of strategy about colours and typography that I’m challenging. The content and use of logo and visual hammer I totally understand. I just don’t know that there needs to be any rules around colours for social media.

If you’re a Coca Cola who might well manage to get the colour red that’s one thing. But most small businesses are never going to be able to trade mark a colour and so why try to become associated with colours? I think I’d understand a brand’s messages just as well if they didn’t use the same consistent background colour on their social media updates.

At the end of the day if you can’t stop a copycat passing themselves off as you then why store up problems for yourself by making yourself identifiable in a way that you can’t protect and stop copycats emulating?

Someone else then said that consistency leads to invisibility. Branding best practice of old placed a heavy emphasis on following the rules to the nth degree. It was all about logo clearance zones, grids, font tracking ratios, colour profiles and margins. A creative’s efforts would be judged not against imagination but administering the holy guidelines.

Fast forward to today and consistency has been replaced by accessibility.

Identities need to function across a spectrum of environments and anticipate the developments on the horizon, hence the trend of logo simplification. With consumers’ limited time and attention spans, brands need to proactively interrupt patterns of content consumption by switching up the creative on a regular basis. How many times have you followed a brand, intensely, on social media, then a few months later find yourself tuning out? The consistency is counterproductive and leads them to becoming invisible.

Nevertheless, this person did go on to say that this doesn’t give brands a licence to dish out unpredictable creative at will. You need a system that has ‘gears’; a series of levels underpinned by a common design theme. You can design your identity to be wildly inconsistent yet consistent at the same time through the use of common themes. I think if I rebrand again this is the approach I will want my designer to take.

This discussion has got me thinking, what if the branding identity work that was done for clients began by making strategic decisions about what designs to create and use so as to be identifiable AND legally protected for those elements? Really intellectual property is too late to the party when it comes to branding, yet in today’s digital environment, given the difficulty of finding available names to use, surely it should lead the brand identity design thinking? Just a thought for you to consider.