Start It Visually - A Visual Experience Guide For Startups

How difficult is it to start a business?

What holds the growth of a company back and why can’t most of us sell effectively?

A plethora of problems exist when starting a company, but there’s one simple step that can be taken to prevent a fundamental problem: Bad first impressions.

It’s a basic step in selling your brand and image the first time. This is the reason why wine is poured in a wine glass and not a beer mug. It’s not just the product but also the presentation.

Visual experience does play a role in the perception of a brand or its products.

This analogy applies to startups as well and using visual experience can bolster the perceived value of what you are providing.

Do people consciously think about this?

Customers aren’t always conscious of it, but it does affect their judgement.

How about a personal experience?

Finally, Starbucks is coming to South Africa in 2016! As much as it will raise the ire of coffee fundamentalists out there, it will attract a significant audience.

In fact, a while ago in 2011, Skoobs, the bookstore located in Monte Casino, Johannesburg, used to have a coffee area where they proudly displayed a big and bold message: “We brew Starbucks coffee”.

Skoobs Starbucks Justin McCall | Twitter

They had the logo and branding to signify their genuineness of it and scores of people lined up for it. They were not registered with Starbucks and thus were requested to take down the illegal notice. The notice came down and they carried on brewing the coffee. Just like a bad, click bait article, the phrase pops in:

“When Skoobs took down the Starbucks, you won’t believe what happened next”.

People were no longer queueing like before.

Where did the people go?

It was still the same coffee. This is the revelation that got me thinking about the power of brands. The mere look and feel of a Starbucks place gave the perception to the customer that they had “good” coffee.

You might think, it can’t be that obvious?

Are people that daft?


That’s the power of visual experience.

A brand is built not by the product but by the experience behind it.

Here’s a logical test for your perceived value: Would you be willing to buy online on a well-designed website or from a terrible looking website that looks like it was designed by possible hackers / phishers?

The product may well be legitimate but the trust has been lost.

The amount of information we get bombarded with on a daily basis has actually made us more insensitive to the message being provided. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get the message across and the worst thing you could do as a startup is to lose your potential audience because you chose comic sans font.

When you build your startup, ask the following questions:

  1. Why does the Startup exist?
    This is the first fundamental question to ask. This is where you define the mission. With this in mind, the way you portray your business can then be designed.

  2. Who is the target market?
    Are you selling to mature customers, who love the finer things in life or to teenage boys/girls who are still in school?

  3. What are your products/services?
    What are you selling? Is it an experience for travel junkies or products to keep you safe at home? This question defines the visual media that you need to build up so you can be clear to the audience who need to hear it.

  4. How are you going to provide the product/service?
    Are you going to sell it online? Is it face to face? Purely on social media?

  5. What do you want the perception of the product or company to be?
    This might seem like a vague question but it will define who you end up speaking to. An example perception is: “I want to provide designer clothing to teenage girls”. So this answer means you want a specific demographic to come to you. So look the part, be the part and visually build the message that they want to see.

If you’ve clearly answered the four questions above, you can set about the plan to build your visual experience portfolio.

This is your brand story, perception, product and experience all tied into a value system to build a platform that will set you off in the right direction. This is your communication medium to send out the right message.

When your brand is presented in a particular way, you will attract a particular audience. This “visual vibe” can really mean the difference between attracting cost-conscious corporate people or a gluten-free eco-hippie. The cliché I keep hearing is that “perception is reality”. Once the reality is defined and all those who live in it will be aware of it.

There are three fundamental tools to build the visual experience portfolio:

  1. Visual Design – Consider the experience you want your customer to have when they try or buy your product? How should it look? Are you selling to mobile app junkies? Then it better be an app or at least a website that is responsive on mobile phones. I often judge a company’s professionalism based on the web site that they have. It tells me the company is serious about business and went out of their way to make sure I can navigate the site with ease.

  2. Photography – Good pictures mean the world to me. Not just because I’m a photographer but it communicates everything that you are about. Pictures after all do say a thousand words. Bad photos might actually say even more about you. If I see bad quality pictures that are put together in a site without easy-to-use navigation, I’m going to assume that you must be a fly-by-night cheap company.

  3. Video – A picture does say a thousand words but a video might say ten thousand more! This form of visual storytelling is a double-edge sword as it can make or break the brand. If video is going to be used as part of your visual tools, produce it professionally. Otherwise, it will look like a home video that should rather be submitted to Comedy Central.

Therefore, if you’re just starting out, start with the simplest and most effective form of visual selling – photography. Short of hiring a professional photographer, there are some cheap ways to doing this:

  1. Smartphones – Modern smartphones have decent enough cameras to shoot some good photos. They are mobile and you usually have it with you all the time. As the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have on hand.

  2. Learn mobile editing - Use editing tool apps and filters to good use! The trick is to keep the editing simple and give it a consistent look so it unifies your brand feel. I personally use a mobile editing tool called VSCO Cam. It’s an app that’s freely available with some filters to get you started. It is the Instagram for professional photos. The filters are subtle and it gives a good impact.

  3. Live your brand - ask how you want to tell the story of your brand. What should your audience perceive from the photos? For example, look how GoPro sells their cameras. They don’t talk much about technical specifications or the resolution but instead show people having adventure fun, thrilling rides, water sports and not to mention daredevils who love doing stunts outdoors. Thus, people associate GoPro with adventure and their sales have been very good. Competitors are selling the same products for much cheaper but they don’t sell as well.

  4. Stock photos – When you’re not able to get the photos you need, there are tons of free stock photos that can be used to get things started. Some of the stock photos are decent enough even though generic, so do use them sparingly.

  5. Cinemagraph it – Have you heard of cinemagraphs? They are basically glorified GIF’s. They have become a sensation with visual storytellers in modern web designs. The technique for making cinemagraphs are numerous on the web and if you can master it, will really up the ante on the visual experience of your brand.

How could you possibly master the visual art? It is simply a matter of practice.

Take that camera and start snapping, edit and share with the community. Get some honest feedback on them from your friends and improve on it. The more you take, the better you will get, the better the visual brand gets.

Cynefin Co