Stare at a blank page long enough trying to visualize your next big branding campaign and you may start to feel ill. Creeping illness and blank page aside, building a brand is no joke – it takes creativity, insight, and vision.
Which is likely why I’m staring vacantly too. I’m no Picasso. My stick figures elicit more laughs than oohs and aahs. And my imagination? It’s got as much depth as a kiddie pool.
But that’s not going to stop me. As an entrepreneur building my third business (after a microgreen farm and knitting pattern Etsy shop – but who’s keeping score?), I’ve learned a thing or two about cultivating an image. Sure, hiring a professional graphic designer may seem ideal, but it’s often cost and time prohibitive when bootstrapping a startup.
Like most DIY skills worth learning, creating quality custom illustrations for your brand can have a big payoff if you put in the time. Building a cohesive visual identity across touchpoints like your website, packaging, newsletters, and ads reinforces recognition and connection with your audience. It differentiates you from competitors and builds authority and trust when done well.
So grab some colored pencils and that brand style guide you’ve been avoiding and follow along as I share my journey towards enhancing my brand identity with custom and commissioned illustrations, learning a few skills along the way.
Start with stock and build on custom
When I first launched Mountain Top Kombucha (artisanal craft ‘buch – it’ll grow on you), I kept costs down by relying on inexpensive stock illustrations. Now that I’m seeing traction, I’m ready to invest in unique designs that better capture my brand’s earthy feel and ingredients. Turns out AI illustration platforms can create original, custom designs built on my brief for less than $20 per image – way better bang for buck than generic stock that everyone uses.
Once I have some custom illustrations, I plan to engage a local illustrator to develop a few hero pieces. Commissioning original illustrations for your logo or signature product, even if you use custom or stock visuals everywhere else, goes a long way towards manifesting that intangible brand connection we all chase. And supporting another indie artist feels good too!
Don’t forget the details
When envisioning imagery for Mountain Top, I considered beyond just depicting my product – I wanted little details that reinforce my brand personality. Kombucha bubbles dancing with wildflowers or bees hovering over an herb garden. Granola mountains and foxes tucked into woodland scenes. These little visual delights help tell my story while keeping designs fresh after repeated views.
I also learned to include diverse representations of people where relevant. After all, fermented tea belongs to many cultures and people of all ages enjoy ‘buch’s unique tang. Illustrating diversity nurtures inclusivity – an important part of my values. After nailing down illustration styles and details that feel authentic to my brand, it’s time to implement across touchpoints.
Spread your wings While illustrations definitely dial up a label design or website’s visual interest, brands shouldn’t stop there. Custom patterns inspired by your illustrations open amazing possibilities too. Think social media banners, packaging tape, notebook covers, stickers, or channel art on Youtube.
When Matthew’s Beard Butter hit 10K Insta followers last year (yes, artisanal beard products are a thing), they celebrated by creating illustrated patterns for limited-run socks and underpants. A brilliant and hilarious way to reward their fans if you ask me! For Mountain Top, I fantasize about commissioning the ultimate Mt. Kombucha mural for my brewery wall – maybe after a Series A funding round comes through. A girl’s gotta dream big!
The world is filled with brands doing bare minimum in terms of visual content. But customers connect most where they see clever, novel visuals infused with personality and care. Dedicating resources towards quality custom illustrations reflects devotion towards crafting exceptional experiences from product inception to consumption and beyond. Plus, as businesses scale, visual systems become efficient branding assets easily adapted across global markets.
So, even if you can’t yet draw beyond cubes and crosses, don’t dismay! Hiring help for hero pieces plus leveraging emerging tech means establishing custom illustrations for your brand is more viable than ever. The impact meaningful visual content has in delighting and dazzling customers can’t be overstated. Just take it from this artistically challenged founder who’s determined to manifest her dreams one custom kombucha mural at a time. Now, to grab another tea…Cheers!