How Strategic Design Can Help You Build a Brand and Gain Instagram Followers

For 14 years Nicte Cuevas has helped small businesses develop a strong visual brand with her boutique creative agency Nicte Creative Design. She uses strategic design principles to help business leaders communicate their stories and missions through strong visual elements. A recognizable visual brand is even more important in the age of social media, as platforms like Instagram drive discovery and engagement through visual media. Who hasn’t discovered a new restaurant, yoga studio, or personality through the rabbit hole of hashtags?!

As a result, Instagram offers the perfect place to experiment and build your brand while also connecting with your audience. When done right, you can take your community on a journey of your business and mission through what you share and how you connect and in the process develop a visual voice that’s all your own. Recently Nicte took over Spark’s Instagram account to offer a week of branding tips. Illustrating that design is much more than how something looks, she offered insights into how to build a brand while engaging your community on Instagram. In case you missed it in real time, here are her branding tips as well as learnings from our first Instagram takeover:

On Nicte’s Instagram Strategy

nicte creative design instagram takeover
Nicte’s Instagram account is a virtual treasure trove of gorgeous images. But there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. Nicte notes that she always makes sure her top grid of six speaks to her style and brand. Instead of pushing out unrelated images, she’s a fan of creating a big story like the image above she shared with Spark over the course of the week. This method not only ensures that her top grid of six always looks fresh, but it helps her think holistically about the messages she shares via individual Instagram posts. It also helps her boost followers and engagement because people will be more likely to visit her page to see the whole image. Nicte uses the new Instagram Stories feature for more casual connections with her audience and to reveal her workflow, which in turns helps drive users to her page. Instagram Stories is a lightweight way to boost engagement with your brand and extend the shelf life of your posts.

The major takeaway: Each Instagram post should be able to live on its own. After all, that’s how most people will see it in their feed, but if you can have your individual posts work like puzzle pieces toward a larger message, you’re on your way to creating a unique visual brand.

On the Importance of Having a Mission

Nicte Cuevas: Many successful brands have a clear intention to their product or service. They fill a sense of belonging and/or they define a purpose to their mission. How they standout is key!

Simon Sinek perfectly described the power of an authentic brand when he said, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy WHY you do it.” If you want to stand out from the market, focus every element of your brand around your WHY.

Mission-driven brands have a clear intention on how they present their brand—both their visual and verbal communication align together to support the WHY in their mission. You can’t have stunning designs with copy that feels robotic. Just how you can’t have brilliant copy paired with designs that are so confusing your audience gets lost.

On Remaining Classic

NC: Tell your story with a purpose, not a trend. Creating a brand based on a trend could harm the longevity of that brand.

Now, the types of trends I am referring to are visual trends. For example: hipster style logos or hand lettering have been trending, and you may feel tempted to follow along because everyone else is doing it. BUT if your business is targeting high-end clients and your selling point communicates tailor-made solutions, following a trend is contradicting.

A hipster logo is not something that would align to that market. It’s trendy and more fashion focused. The hand lettering on the other hand, may or may not work out. It all depends on how you use that to communicate your message. Let’s say you are using hand lettering to tell a visual story on how your tailor-made solutions start right from the drawing board.

There are some trends that become beneficial, like when responsive websites started. It was a trend that became an industry standard. Trends can be inspirational, but make sure it’s about YOUR brand not the trend.

On Typography

NC: We started by writing on tablets, and later evolved into manuscripts. Manuscripts were done by specialists and available mainly to the elite. Woodblock printing was helpful until Johann Gutenberg invented movable metal type. Each letter had to be set one by one, but it increased the printing quality. We later had the typewriter, which certainly sped things up. And then came digital type.

With thousands of fonts out there, it can certainly be overwhelming finding one to choose, but you can’t think about type like a robot. So, I wanted to help you all with some great combinations using the app fonts. All of my posts here use the app for type!

Here are some combinations worth trying and what they communicate:

MONTSERRAT & LORA: high-end, legible, confident yet approachable.

PLAYFAIR & BICKHAM: elegant, classy, feminine. (just be sure to use Bickham in larger form as it can get hard to read when its small).

CANTATA & LATO: a balance of modern & classy.

MERGRIM & FUTURA PT: modern, unique. (Mergrim can connect to forms/shapes found in cultural art).

FLOOD STD & LATO: fun, slightly edgy, digital yet organic (Use Flood STD as headlines or short words).

On Establishing Continuity

NC: Famous brands like Apple, Starbucks, and Coca Cola have successfully established world-wide brand recognition throughout the years. This didn’t happen over night—you can look at the history and evolution of their brand to see it. But from the very beginning, they had a clear intention of what their products were about, who they were serving, and how it was to align with design.

These brands never put out a bunch of different design styles and a rainbow of colors for their designs. They all had a certain aesthetic that was consistent. Even simple signs around their facilities are consistently designed. This consistency over time, generated brand recognition.

Humans will naturally connect to visuals first, before they even see your copy. This is why design needs to align with your brand. What you communicate verbally should be consistent with what you communicate visually.

For example, if you say you are an expert in helping people structure their lives, you need to lead by example. This means using graphics that have a clean aesthetic and to the point. Don’t go using a bunch of fonts and colors because you thought it was cool—this actually communicates that you have confusion.

Design is incredibly valuable for your brand. Don’t let it become an afterthought.

On Knowing Your Competition

NC: Brands and business owners can learn a lot from competition. You can see what they are doing right, and finding ways that YOUR brand can be unique from the market. Remember how on day 2 I talked about building brands on visual trends? Well, this applies to your competition too!

If all of your competitors are doing something but their brand life is short, why match what they are doing? You don’t want to burn your brand early. Focus on being authentic to your brand values and mission. Just because everyone is showing up as something in the market doesn’t mean that you should too.

This also applies to how you show up on social media. Having thousands of followers doesn’t mean much if they aren’t converting or remain engaged. So don’t let that stop you from showing up with your brand. Always give value first and sell less. This shows you have the best interest for your audience. With time, you build powerful connections and an engaged community.

Be proud of your brand! Don’t hide behind the masses. Find ways where you offer something unique and true. And execute it in a way that aligns both your visual and verbal communication.

On Being Consistent

NC: To create a memorable brand you need to maintain focus on your goals. These goals should be around your mission and vision. Branding is a continual effort. Not just a one-time thing. It takes constant action, learning and evolving with your brand. You can’t really expect to start with a solid direction then fall off the track.

Every component of your brand is important. How you develop a brand continuity can affect your brand’s perception in the market.

As you create new products, promotional marketing, or just new content make sure that you maintain focus on how these all express the essential values of your brand.

Consider how it will continue to carry your message across. How it communicates your unique factors visually and verbally. And don’t be afraid to explore new ideas that are clever. Think about what we talked about on day 5. Don’t match the competition.

Even when you try new ideas out and they don’t work out, don’t loose the momentum. Learn from what worked and what didn’t and move forward.

Remember branding is a continual effort.

On How to Evoke Emotion Through Color

NC: How you tell your brand story needs to be supported with strong visuals. From photography, type and even color. Make sure that these elements align with your brand and aren’t so busy things get lost.

Out of all these design elements, #color is so often undervalued with brands.

Did you know that hospitals use specific colors to help patients undergoing treatments? Or even how certain colors can entice appetite? Think McDonalds’s golden arches—that golden yellow actually makes you hungry. But color can change it’s meaning depending on what other colors surround it. For example, Caterpillar uses yellow and black for their brand. These colors communicate strength and visibility—not hunger. If you want to learn more about color, make sure you stay connected with me—it’s my favorite subject.