If you've been in business for a long time, or even a little while, your studio will have a visual presentation that is recognized by your customers. They will associate certain colors, typefaces, shapes, patterns, symbols and overall layout with your company. Just a fleeting glance at a poster, for example, may be all they need in order to know that it comes from your studio.

In the branding biz, we call those recognizable elements your "visual equities." Big corporations spend a lot of effort establishing their brands' visual equities. They know that immediate recognition means that their ad dollars are well spent - even though you may click past an online ad in an instant, in that instant you will recognize the brand and you will start thinking about it.

Can you describe the visual elements that belong to these brands - Victoria's Secret? Starbuck's? Ikea? FedEx? Harley Davidson? Chances are good that even if the companies' name were jumbled, you would still recognize each brand because of its colors, typefaces, symbols, and so on. And the medium doesn't matter: website, packaging, television advertising, signage - all use the brand's visual equities in a consistent manner.

Consistency = Trust

Big corporations also know that you trust their products and services because their brands' visual equities are used consistently. Imagine someone handing you coffee in a cup with an olive green, oval mermaid. Would you trust that it was really from Starbuck's? If you were gifted a nightie in a yellow box, would you believe that it really came from Victoria's Secret? A brand's look and feel is call trade dress and it's so crucial to a company's identity and reputation that it's protected by law.

Are your company's visual equities working as hard as they can for you? Are they quickly recognizable everywhere they appear? Do they tell your customers - and potential customers - that you have your act together and can be trusted? Or are they slightly different every time they're used, reducing the repetition that brings familiarity and suggesting a lack of professionalism and care.

Build On Your Key Visual Equities

To upgrade the visual presentation of your company, you will want to retain those visual elements that are working for you and eliminate those that are not. You will want to work with an outside designer or design firm to use your key visual equities in establishing a consistent look and feel for all your visual communications. You may want your designer to create a permanent style-sheet to refer to, a series of digital templates to use, and a master set of digital art elements to give to all third-party vendors.

Your key visual equities might not be what you expect. In order to build on the right ones, you need to know what they are from your customers' point of view.

Ask a dozen of your customers to describe what your company looks like. Better yet, ask them to draw your logo and any other imagery that they associate with your studio. Are their answers similar? Does a consistent image emerge? You may be surprised to learn what they remember - or don't remember.

The elements they don't remember are either not emphasized enough or not in sync with what they know about your company. You can toss them out.

Of the visual elements they do remember, you need to ask yourself if those elements further or hinder communication of what your company stands for. The elements that mis-identify you should be dropped over time. Those that are both memorable and reinforce what you stand for are "the keepers" on which you will build your visual communications going forward.

For example, perhaps your customers remember two visuals: 1) a Broadway-style stage curtain that frames your web pages and posters, and 2) the cute photos of preschool children that appear in all your ads. If you have a business that focuses on high-school-age competitive dancers, perhaps the kiddie photos should be minimized. The use of the curtain image, always in the same color and style, could expand to become part of your logo.

If your customers can't associate any visual elements with your studio, then you have the chance to start from scratch to develop a brand identity and visual style that expresses the role of your company in your customers' lives. Previous articles in this series have covered branding and visual communication and will be helpful to read.