Creative Services

How Inspira Financial Told Its Brand Story with Illustration

The Challenge: Tell a Clear, Compelling Brand Story to Support a Major Merger

Last year, Inspira Financial approached WillowTree for a new website to announce a merger between two former entities — a huge moment in the company's brand story. With their new site, supported by Adobe Experience Manager, Inspira was debuting a strong, new visual identity to replace the trusted brand identities they were leaving behind. Upon launch, their unique brand had to be coherent across many high-concept web pages and other digital touchpoints, and they had to differentiate themselves from their competitors. 

The Plan: Use Custom Illustrations to Create a Coherent Brand Story Across Digital Touchpoints

The Inspira team had developed core elements of their new brand up front. “They came with a set of brand guidelines that included pictograms, iconography, photography, and tone for the content they wanted included,” said Ane Schutz, lead illustrator on WillowTree’s Brand & Experience Design team. “But their guidelines didn’t cover how the brand would adapt to digital platforms.”

Digital brand coherence is critical. Customers use an average of nine touchpoints to engage with companies, and 60% of those touchpoints occur online.1 WillowTree worked with Inspira to understand what business goals they wanted to achieve with their website redesign and helped them develop solutions to make their digital debut successful.

After discussing Inspira’s needs, we determined that Inspira’s visual identity needed to:

  1. Make abstract ideas concrete
  2. Enable scalability
  3. Discern between business and consumer audiences, and most importantly,
  4. Differentiate Inspira from its competitors

But how to pull it off?

Together, WillowTree and Inspira decided to combine photos and other design elements with custom illustration, which allowed us to achieve all of the client’s major objectives.

Here’s how:

1. Make the abstract concrete

The illustrations needed to do more heavy lifting beyond what photography could provide. They needed to depict complex corporate financial benefits — like health savings accounts and dependent care benefits. Schutz needed to draw custom illustrations to help users understand how these services benefit them.

For example (as depicted above), in a 1031 exchange, a user defers taxes on the sale of a home to use that money as a down payment on a more expensive home. While issues like tax deferral may feel complex or overwhelming to some users, Schutz’s illustrations bring these to life for B2B and B2C audiences.

2. Enable scalability

As part of a revised set of digital brand guidelines, WillowTree and Schutz delivered a visual identity library to the client that not only codified how the visual system would be applied across digital products but also defined the meanings of a series of new pictograms (“Abstract shapes”) Schultz designed and embedded in broader illustrations. For instance, in the 1031 illustration example, pictograms referencing Investment, Growth, Journey, Strategy, and Balance all subtly appear.

This visual language ensures coherence across products on the site. As a result of this replicable design system and the new visual guidelines, any internal or external designers working with Inspira’s digital identity can apply Schutz’s visual system for maximum coherence, clarity, and cost-effectiveness.

This scalability extends beyond the website, with Inspira incorporating the new abstract shapes library and custom illustrations in other branded assets, like conference booth displays, videos, and social media images.

“The custom illustrations helped us take our brand design elements to the next level,” said Maggie Tomasek, Inspira Director of Communications and Brand. “They’re visually striking, even incorporating subtle animations to make them come to life, and the thought and care WillowTree put into creating the entire system was amazing.”

3. Discern between B2B and B2C audiences

Brand consistency is crucial to business outcomes. Two-thirds of businesses credit brand consistency with revenue growths of at least 10%.1

Again, Inspira’s new site had to communicate to two distinct audiences: a business audience (the Inspira clients who would contract Inspira to provide services to their employees) and individuals (the employees receiving Inspira benefits through their employers) while retaining the look and feel of a consistent and unified brand.

For Schutz, this binary set of audiences meant two sets of visual branding that served distinct needs while ensuring the look and feel remained consistent.

"We already had a set color palette paired with meanings behind them, and Ane did a wonderful job leaning into those to give the illustrations an added layer of brand continuity and meaning," said Lisset Patel, Brand Design Manager. "Ane assigned our primary indigo with hints of gold to the B2B illustrations, signaling our integrity and intelligence as collaborators and experts. Meanwhile, the B2C illustrations more prominently featured gold and our medium indigo for a warmer feel, symbolically expressing our ability to enrich lives.”

In addition to assigning colors, Ane also approached the elements differently for each audience, focusing on the solution for B2B and highlighting individuals for B2C. “This combination of color and elements truly made the illustrations meaningful," Patel added.

4. Differentiate Inspira from competitors

One of the biggest challenges of visual identity in financial services is humanizing investment products — beyond stock photos of people looking at devices. The client wanted every aspect of their brand to communicate that the benefits extend beyond easy transactions: they wished to express how health and financial wellness impact the entire life of real human beings. This is their brand story; this is what differentiates them from their competitors.

Schutz’s images depict this brand story throughout the site so that users can understand Inspira’s competitive advantage at a glance and connect more easily to Inspira’s brand purpose.

A New Brand

Inspira is a new brand that reflects major growth for an evolving organization. Custom illustrations from WillowTree help Inspira depict abstract financial concepts, retain coherence as they grow, communicate differently to core audiences while maintaining brand consistency, and differentiate themselves from other financial services agencies. Schutz’s illustrations weave Inspira’s new brand into subtle, humanizing images that tell the client’s story across the site, delivering consistency, coherence, and delight to this transformational moment in the company’s history — when new and longtime customers meet Inspira.

Work With Us

Your brand is the sum of every customer touchpoint, from your marketing campaign to customer service onboarding. Since your customer experience is your brand, that experience must be seamless.

At WillowTree, we begin every brand project by understanding your customer experience and the business behind it. Through stakeholder interviews and brand workshops, we uncover a brand story that uniquely describes you and your offerings while differentiating you from the competition — and that includes delivering a visual system to help you achieve your business objectives supported by coherence and beauty.

Our cross-disciplinary team of designers and engineers can apply your brand to experiences across the customer journey, from digital touchpoints to print collateral to environmental installations.

Connect with WillowTree's Brand & Experience Design team to learn how we can deliver a unified digital experience that delights new and existing customers and transforms your organization.

Sources

[1] Salesforce. “The Fifth Edition State of Service Report.”

[2]  Marq. “Brand Consistency Report.”

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