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Branding, Design, Social Media

How to apply a visual identity on your social channels (and when to break the rules)

Your visual identity is often the first chance your customers have to engage with you. It works hand-in-hand with your wider brand - your vision, mission, values and tone to convey what you stand for.

This visual identity usually comes with strict guidelines and stipulations that help your teams understand your colours, fonts and styling decisions. But how firm do we need to stick to the rules when it comes to using our identity on social media?

What are the visual elements of a brand identity?

Of course, your brand is made up of many elements. It is built on a solid foundation of your mission, vision, values and personality, among other elements - much of this work is done internally.

The way we encourage others to perceive this work is through our personality, tone and visual identity - the outward facing elements of the brand which the audience engages with. In turn, this builds an awareness, understanding and ultimately a basis for trust.

The visual elements of your brand include any video content, graphics and imagery you choose to use to make your point(s), sell your products/services and appeal to your customers.

We know the importance of visuals in today’s online world, so let’s look at why we have rules for visual elements of a brand and when it’s ok to ignore them.

Why do we need visual brand identity rules?

Brand guidelines are an important part of utilising what you’ve created in the most effective way (most of the time). Visual identity guidelines ensure you retain consistency and what you set out to achieve. Things such as colours, fonts and style of imagery can be a huge part of what makes your audiences recognise you.

This is why you’ll find lots of advice on how to apply these elements and the people behind creating them might be upset if you don’t follow those rules!

It’s also fair to say that the guidelines tend to fail when it comes to covering everything we are expected to produce as marketers in today’s world. Your brand guidelines will tell you how to speak, take pictures, what colours to use and what the colourways and marks of your identity are.

But they cannot - for example - tell you how to film a TikTok.

When is it okay to break brand guidelines?

We’re not talking about throwing everything away entirely. So, brand managers, relax. What we are talking about is knowing when to be flexible (sometimes it’s essential - more on that later) and when not to be. For example, you can make lo-fi video content if it serves your brand, but you wouldn’t be likely to create a new, unrecognisable logo for a single post for example.

However, there are increasingly changes to ‘the rules’ in our fast-paced social media world. You see, it's one of the places where brand guidelines can get muddiest - because sometimes the app or the platform dictates the style, or perhaps it’s a current trend for a certain type of content that tells you what you should come up with next. All of these factors mean that sometimes sticking very rigidly to your brand guidelines means your content may miss the mark or fail to ‘stop the scroll’.

TikTok is a great example of where managing to be part of trending content means leaving some of the rules behind. No, it doesn't mean you need to take part in a dance challenge, but you may want to tap into a trending sound or filter that your audience can relate or engage with, even if the end result doesn't look like something straight out of the brand book.

Another key point here is user generated content (UGC) - no one sells better than satisfied customers. So, although these videos, posts and mentions may not have your brand colours or fonts in tow, they are able to help boost and enhance trust in your brand through relatable, realistic content that speaks to other consumers.

Examples of brands ‘breaking’ their visual identity rules

Okay, so we’ve looked at when and why we might ignore the brand rule book, but who is doing this well and how? There are lots of brands that have sub-brands or a social media presence that is slightly different to their main site or campaigns and it’s working out great for them.

These examples include everything from relaxing tone, to using sounds and trends, as well as maximising the use of influencers, creators and even ‘brand characters’ to build awareness, recognition and engagement.

So, who’s throwing out the rule book - and how?


This budget airline is known for its non-nonsense, no-frills approach and we bet you'll recognise that logo and those colours anywhere. However, Ryanair is great at stepping outside the box on social media, and no better place than TikTok, where their social team’s witty responses, hilarious videos and clap-backs are as famous as their flight prices.

Illustration showing how the Ryanair brand has departed from strict visual brand identity guidelines to succeed on TikTok.

M&S and Percy Pig

Percy is a fun-loving, lighthearted character which may have once seemed very different to the M&S brand, but his popularity among shoppers has meant his growth into a whole sub-brand complete with merchandise!

The M&S TikTok is another great example of how they are leveraging a more relaxed approach on social media. Many individual stores have great success with Percy-themed, or fun/topical content that pokes fun at the brand’s ‘posh’ roots.

Illustration showing how the M&S brand has successfully departed from strict visual brand identity guidelines with Percy Pig content.


Innovative pasta straw and edible cup and spoon specialists know that they need to make noise to be heard, so they have filled their social media feeds with fun, socially relevant jokes, memes, videos and more that make their point - but just to make users laugh too.

They happily embrace trending sounds and the use of in app fonts, yet they maintain some visual consistency through the use of colour.

Illustration showing how the Stroodles brand has successfully departed from strict visual brand identity guidelines with humorous content (whilst still retaining colour consistency).

Need a helping hand building an incredible brand?

Does this all sound great, if not a little bit intimidating? Not sure where to start with relaxing the application of your identity on social media?

We’re here to help. From strategy right through to creative planning and content creation, our award-winning experts will take you through every step, with excellent results.

Drop us a message by clicking the button below. You can also reach us through our contact page, by calling 01423 396 959 or by emailing [email protected].

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Post by

Team Amy K


Head of Brand & Content

Amy joined in 2014 to set up our Content department. She now heads up a growing Brand and Content team, utilising over 13 years’ experience to deliver brand awareness through targeted, multi-channel copy. As well as engaging content for websites and blogs, Amy delivers PR strategies and tone of voice exploration, helping clients to communicate the purpose and values of their brand with maximum impact.

Post by

Sally W headshot cropped


Social Media Designer

As our dedicated Social Media Designer, you'll find Sally behind either behind a screen or behind the lense capturing the essense of all the brands we work with. As Extreme's star baker, you might also find her in the kitchen cooking and styling dishes to look mouthwateringly delicious. If you ever find yourself drooling on your phone, that's probably one of Sally's creations!

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