The State of Visual
Brand Strategy

How are brands communicating their brand identity and visual brand strategy in 2019

First impressions mean everything. In person, we take 1/10 of a second to judge someone. With organizations — especially when encountering them on the internet — we spent 2/10 of a second making our judgment and 2.6 seconds to identify what branding stands out prominently for us.

What does your branding say about your organization? How consistent is your branding? Moreover, how do you communicating your brand to those using it internally and externally?

At 1Brand, we care about effective brand communication as part of an overall brand strategy. Most branding studies focus on design trends in brand guidelines. While important, we wanted to use a data-driven approach to look at how effective brands are with their guidelines. The key questions we wanted to answer are:

01How are the guidelines shared?

02What brand assets do the guidelines include?

03What guidance is provided to ensure on-brand consistency?

Our methodologies

For our inaugural study, we looked at 517 brands and how they present their visual brand strategies. We specifically studied brands with guidelines hosted online.

We collected the guidelines in three steps:

1. Keyword research
We used keyword research tools, such as Uber Suggest, to find keywords related to brand guidelines.

2. Find guidelines
We did searches for these keywords in Google, going to results pages until we stopped seeing results for actual guidelines.

3. Auditing
We recorded the guidelines we found and visited them to audit how the guidelines were hosted and presented.

Our hypothesis being that brands without online guidelines will be harder for outside audiences to discover the current brand assets and use them in the brand-approved way. For each brand, we looked at how the guidelines were hosted, what file formats logos were provided, and whether logo usage guidance was included.

We then used the data points collected to create a Brand Completeness Score for each brand. We also reviewed each brand guideline to make observations on emerging trends and opportunities available for most brands.

The best practices and biggest opportunity
gaps in brand communication

BRAND LOGOS

Some logo file types are just superior to others; vector file types in commonly-used formats by web and print designers, ensure brand consistency.

The most surprising finding for logos is that many brands didn't provide a way to access their logo files. Two-thirds brands, with a separate, dedicated brand website, didn't allow their logo to be downloaded, or provide a way to request access. We see this as a missed opportunity to connect brand strategy and marketing tactics to create a robust and enduring brand.

Brands, who hosted their guidelines on a single page of their website, were the most likely to provide their logo assets. Looking at these pages, many were dual-purpose brand guidelines and press-focused company news pages. We think that these brands offering their logos to journalists make it easier to write about them. Smart move!

Vector Logos

19%

19% of brands offered their logo in SVG format, which is lower than expected since this is a perfect logo file format choice for web presentation use cases, such as websites and apps.

SVG
60%

60% of brands offered their logo in EPS format, which is lower than expected since this is the most commonly used print format.

EPS
1%

Less than 1% of brands provided their logo in the Sketch file format. Sketch is the most popular user interface design software. Sketch can also use SVG logos.

SKETCH

3/4 of brands offering an SVG or EPS logo also offered a PNG format. We saw more correlations for brands with SVG logos and generally observed that these brands were more likely to be doing other things right from a brand communication perspective.

Raster Logos

72%

72% of brands offered their logo in PNG, which is the standard raster file format. This is probably the most encouraging finding in the entire data set. Good job!

PNG

Logo type comparison

chart 1 percetage

1% Sketch

chart 19 percetage

19% SVG

chart 60 percetage

60% EPS

chart 72 percetage

72% PNG

Further brand guidance

18%

18% of brands offered no guidance on how to use their brand.

If a brand gave typography guidance, they were likely to provide color palette and logo usage guidance as well. We think typography guidance is a signal for higher priority being given to brand consistency internally.

Brand guideline hosting

Merely publishing a brand guideline may tick a box, but it's not necessarily effective branding. Making brand assets easily accessible and usable by people creating content that includes the brand's identity — such as partners or the media — is the real value.

We looked at how guidelines were hosted to understand whether these brands understand this practical value. Specifically, we gave a higher score to those hosting their guidelines in a web interface. Digital guidelines are easier to keep updated, leading to an overall stronger brand.

chart 17 percetage

30% of brands hosted their guidelines in inaccessible formats, such as web magazines or embedded in PDF documents.

chart 45 percetage

45% of brands hosted their guidelines as a single webpage, such as example.com/brand, making this the most popular way to present them. This choice is a smart strategy and encouraged. Hosted brand guidelines are indexable by search engines, giving extra organic search traffic, and they increase brand presence and recognition.

chart 30 percetage

17% of brands used a subdomain on their website. Unfortunately, this means branding guidelines must be thoughtfully linked from the main marketing domain to the subdomain, and most do not use their main domain navigation to drive traffic to their branding guidelines, instead burying the link in submenus or on other pages. We believe this reflects a low priority being placed on brand communication.

Emerging trends &
opportunities

We see several trends emerging, and some scenarios where brands tend to be lagging behind the broader market.

Single brand to multiple brands

We identified a few brands going through the process of adding individual product brands to their existing brand portal. These tended to be tech brands that acquired another company and wanted to create guidelines for their new house of brands or multi-branding strategy.

An example of this trend is Atlassian and their acquisition of Trello. At the time of this research, trello.design was being migrated to atlassian.design. Atlassian already has a branded house with Hipchat, Jira, Confluence, and several other product brands. A company-level brand website is an effective way to manage a house of brands.

Stand-alone brand websites

Brand-forward organizations are creating entirely separate, stand-alone websites to communicate their brand strategy.

A stand-alone website elevates a brand to be on equal footing with the product. As branding becomes more important in an increasingly crowded market, we expect this trend to expand beyond tech and to go down-market. Uber has a dedicated website to their branding efforts.

Separate brand websites are created by organizations that useumbrella branding as their architecture, where the company is the brand with products co-branded under the company brand. Most often, these were tech companies.

Emerging file types

Vector logos:

Only 19% of brands with published guidelines provide their logos in SVG format. The SVG file format is a web-friendly, vector file format that ensures brand assets are used consistently across the web. They're easy to create and highly recommended for brands large and small.

Raster logos:

No brands offered their logo in WebP format. The WebP format is a raster format similar to PNG that was developed by Google in 2010. Google claims that WebP images compress to 34% smaller than equivalent JPG or PNG logos. WebP is supported by Google Chrome and Firefox since late 2018. We predict that next year we'll see some brands offer their logos in WebP format.

CONCLUSIONS

01 Leading brands are investing in brand technology to help communicate their brand, but few are doing it well. This is a brand-building opportunity for challengers, and a risk for even the largest brands.

02 Brands aren't publicly publishing their guidelines. We should have been able to find vastly more than 517 examples, even if someone had to request access to view them or download assets.

03 Brands aren't providing the logo file types needed in the market as technologies change, potentially leading to brand fragmentation as people make the available assets fit their use cases.

04 Organizations focused on their brand are investing heavily in brand communication and building stand-alone brand websites.

05 No brand got a perfect score in our analysis, so there is room to do better across the board.

GET THE DATA

We plan to expand and improve this study every year. Our plans for 2020 include a vastly larger sample set and additional criteria. As part of this effort, we welcome feedback on our data set and our methodology. If you'd like a copy of the brands that we surveyed and the score calculations, you can download them below.