Given a choice for what to play on the office iTunes, when is the last time somebody in your office played KISS? At our studio, it hasn’t happened once in 10 years. That’s because nobody in our office likes the music KISS made. The only time you hear a KISS song is when it’s played on the radio.

But KISS will always be there. In comics, movies, video games and popular culture because whether we appreciate them or not, their legacy is that long after their music is popular their brand has endured.

KISS is justification on why your brand needs to stand out visually. In fact, KISS even tried to drop the iconic makeup and fit in with all the other bands. Things didn’t go so well because they struggled with their own identity and the fans weren’t as into it.

Any visual designer worth his/her salt will tell you to create visuals that speak to your audience. They’ll tell you to cut through the clutter and pinpoint your target market with a design that’s accessible and easy to understand. You’ve probably heard it all before and you know it’s true.


If you look around at most of your competitors, you’ll probably notice – they all got the same memo. While you’re all trying to figure out how to differentiate your business, you keep running into similar solutions – A beautifully designed website and collateral that’s conservative, on brand and says, “We fit right in with the rest of the professional services and products out there.”

And why wouldn’t you? You’re competing for similar market share, and no matter how strictly you’ve defined your niche, others are competing in the same space.

Many musicians start this way. Ignoring style and stage visuals because they believe that their music is good enough. For a small percentage, this is true, but once the record company is involved visuals become a priority. Hence photo ops, video production, and new stage designs. Video Killed the Radio Star.

You’re looking for a purple cow and as Seth Godin says, “The leader is the leader because he did something remarkable.”

Remember David Bowie? Of course, you do. Many of us can only remember a few songs, but we’ll never forget how he looked.

I’m confident if you look hard at your competitor’s visual branding, you’ll reimagine an opportunity to stand out. An opportunity to rise above the noise and get your message seen and heard without interference.

What’s crazy to me – everybody else is using a design that is intended to be devoid of character with stock photos and conservative colour splashes in the hopes of staying within the limits of good taste. In reality, they’re just creating a visual Pablum. Your business could be the outstanding flavour simply by adding illustrations to create style and sophistication to your communications and branding.

I’m not saying you need to be as extreme as KISS. But it might help. If you were to look at all the leading brands – Nike, Google, Dropbox, Vans, Rockstar, and others, you’ll see that they embrace illustration as a part of their brand. Whether it’s front and centre, like Disney, or as part of the theatre of their shops, like Starbucks, you will notice that they incorporate art into the customer experience.

Here are a few ways to reimagine how illustration can help your brand.

1) Drawing enhances brand personality.

I’m not talking about a mascot. I’m talking about the human touch. It seems that so many companies are only trying to blend in with everybody else through their visuals. Cold graphics, stock photos and stamped on logos tell the world how powerful and untouchable you are, or intend to be, but customers want to know real life personalities are working there.

We overdose with quick graphic solutions that prize efficiency over communication. You’ll know your stock photos are meaningless because when you take them out of context, nobody associates them with your brand.

Stand out by telling your customers every part of your business is about them. Including how you get their attention or explain important concepts with great illustration.

2) Illustration connects with people on a more human level.

People relate to drawn characters and concepts because they know a machine is not solving the problem.

A drawing naturally infers a creative person took the time to make something that communicates with us. And a professional illustration takes both you and your market into consideration to figure out the best way to make that connection real.

Consider technical products like cars, robots, computers and software. All things modern, cold and without personality.  Any company that wants to change the way their customers view them – needs to invest in illustration.

3) A well thought out drawing can elicit the emotions you want in your clients.

It’s proven that, when judging brands, consumers primarily use emotions rather than logic in the decision-making process.

Using illustrations that focus on specific emotions will help make your customers have positive associations with your brand. Long before they buy, you can show your unique, quirky, fun, emotional personality, making it easier to position yourself in the market.

4) Illustrations make us feel comfortable.

For most of us, cartoons were our first form of entertainment. That doesn’t mean that illustration is just for kids. It means that we naturally feel comfortable when exposed to those types of graphics. There’s a reason Disney makes movies for the whole family.

Make your customers feel good about you, by using an illustration that speaks to multiple generations.

Cartoons are often our first and most comfortable experiences with media. They feel safe no matter what your age.

5) Illustrations create hype – photo’s document it.

When is the last time you saw a music festival poster use photos instead of art to advertising their next show? These posters are sought out because of the amount of excitement and nostalgia they create around these events.

The timelessness of the artwork makes them collectable, and they become a part of the fan experience. This is true for almost any business that invests in illustration as a part of its image.

If you’re trying to turn your customers into fans, give them the fan experience. Use artwork to hype up your special events and promotions.

Bands are great at using art to create hype for their music. It’s more interesting than a photo and tells their story.

Don’t just stand out – Be remembered and identified by using illustration in your visual branding.

You don’t have to redesign everything, you might want to start slow and straightforward. Maybe add an illustration to your next blog post or newsletters, simplify an instruction manual, or it could be a decorative element like a mural. You could have your product reimagined in a unique style that fits your customer’s impression of you.

If you’re looking for a new way to stand out and any of these ideas are interesting to you, if you can picture KISS in your mind and you want to brainstorm that level of visual impact, feel free to give us a call so we can chat with you and figure out a custom solution that fits your brand and your business.

Michael Grills

Author Michael Grills

Michael Grills is an Illustrator, Artist and Designer working internationally at Union Illustration Co. from Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

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