Instagram is a powerful marketing channel for ecommerce businesses. It allows in-app purchases, effectively curates ads, and boasts over two billion monthly active users.
It’s also a visual-first platform. Because Instagram feeds feature images over words, brands rely on unique, engaging, and cohesive visual identities to stand out.
As it leans so heavily on images, marketers often refer to Instagram branding as an Instagram aesthetic. The goal is to create a recognizable overall style and design that resonates with your target audiences. A cohesive Instagram aesthetic can help you harness the power of the platform by increasing brand recognition and loyalty, and inspiring purchases.
What is an aesthetic Instagram?
Inspired by the linguistic innovations of Gen Z, today's content creators use “aesthetic” to mean “having an intentionally curated or pleasing design.” A thoughtfully styled bedroom might be called an “aesthetic bedroom,” and a visually pleasing Instagram presence might be referred to as an “aesthetic Instagram.”
If your Instagram account is carefully curated to accurately represent your brand personality and provide visual pleasure to viewers, you own an aesthetic Instagram account. If you aren’t there yet, there are a few simple steps to curate the look and feel of your feed.
How to create a unique Instagram aesthetic
- Revisit your brand guidelines
- Define your target audiences
- Define your Instagram brand
- Choose your colors
- Choose photo styles
- Create a mood board
- Create an Instagram style guide
- Plan your grid
- Apply your aesthetic broadly
1. Revisit your brand guidelines
Your Instagram aesthetic is an extension of your brand’s identity. Although it might not exactly replicate it, brands with successful Instagram aesthetics create cohesion between Instagram content and other marketing materials.
Start by revisiting your brand guidelines, including your visual style guide, brand voice and tone guides, core values, and mission statements. Identify key words, images, and values. You’ll use this information later to set parameters for your Instagram aesthetic.
2. Define your target audiences
Next, identify the target audiences for your Instagram strategy. Instagram’s in-platform analytics tools can provide insights into your current follower demographics. You can also use these 2022 Instagram user statistics from Hootsuite’s 2022 Digital Trends Report to see which of your target audiences segments are most active on the platform:
- 61.2% are 18 to 34 years old
- 16.5% are 35 to 44 years old
- 8% are 45 to 54 years old
- 3.6% are 55 to 65 years old
- 50.7% identify as male
- 49.3% identify as female
Consider how much of your target audience is using Instagram. For example, if you're seeking to reach women ages 25 to 45, your Instagram target audience will be younger than other platforms. Although you can still find users in the 35 to 45 age range, you’ll reach a greater proportion of younger users on Instagram.
3. Define your Instagram brand personality
Use your target audience information to define your Instagram brand personality. Your brand personality represents the human characteristics associated with your brand. It will be the shorthand for how you’ll market your company on Instagram.
For example, if your brand is compassionate, trustworthy, witty, and cutting-edge and your business’s target audience is women between 20 and 65, you might decide to highlight your wit and cutting-edge approach to connect to the younger audience segments on the platform.
4. Choose your colors
Once you’ve defined your brand personality, you’re ready to start making aesthetic choices.
A cohesive Instagram aesthetic requires a focused color palette, so start by selecting three to five of your existing brand colors. To create a consistent color scheme, select your logo color (or colors) and identify complementary accent colors based on your brand personality.
Color psychology—the study of how color affects emotion and behavior—can help you select meaningful accents. For example, color psychology research suggests that pink communicates kindness, that blue inspires trust, and that green is associated with harmony. Shade matters too—pastels can be calming, and brighter shades suggest energy and creativity.
An energy drink business with an Instagram target audience of men between 20 and 34 might select bright shades of yellow and orange that communicate energy, joy, and excitement.
5. Choose photo styles
Consider the following factors to identify a consistent look for your Instagram photos:
- Colors. The colors in your photos should reflect and complement your Instagram color palette. For example, if your color palette is warm and bright, look for photos that use similar tones.
- Editing. The editing style for your photos can also reflect your brand personality. For example, a high-energy exercise gear company might opt for saturated, high-contrast photos, while a reassuring organic sleep supplement brand might choose low-exposure, soft-focus images.
One way to create a cohesive aesthetic for your photos is to use Instagram’s filters feature, which has preset photo treatments that can mimic professional photo editing techniques. For a cohesive look, choose one filter and use it consistently.
6. Create a mood board
A mood board is a visual brainstorming tool that can help you define your “vibe” or aesthetic. Creating one involves a few steps:
- Select example images. Pick images that complement your color palette, inspire you, and reflect your brand personality. You can use images from your asset library, a search engine, a stock image library, or even photograph magazine spreads, inspiring trees, or your morning toast and jam. This phase is all about finding visuals that speak to you (even if you don’t yet know why they feel right).
- Compile them alongside your color swatches. Use a digital mood board tool to take a step back and assess the board’s overall aesthetic. You might find that many of your inspirational images have a similar feel. Remove outliers and confirm that the overall feel is consistent with your brand personality.
- Identify the aesthetic group that feels right. If your mood board doesn’t feel cohesive, don’t panic—it’s normal to be pulled in multiple aesthetic directions. Just group your images by overall feeling and select the aesthetic grouping that best reflects your brand’s Instagram personality.
7. Create an Instagram style guide
Write an Instagram style guide that will outline the dos and don’ts for new posts. Note your color selections, fonts, photo styles, filter choices, and voice and tone parameters. You can also use your finalized mood board as a visual complement to the written guide.
Your style guide can also identify the Instagram post types you plan to use, specify frequency, and link to pre-built templates. For example, if you incorporate text posts (i.e., graphics that contain text), you might specify that one-third of your content will use this post type and design two text-post templates.
8. Plan your grid
Aesthetic Instagram accounts use post-sequencing to create a pleasing profile layout. When a user visits a personal or business Instagram profile, the platform displays a scrollable gallery of recent cover photos known as “the grid.” Grids are three photos wide and don’t include text.
To create an aesthetic grid, you might alternate between a graphic and a photo for every other post or choose graphics with minimalist backgrounds to reduce the level of visual noise on your profile page. You can also use a social media management tool with a grid-planning feature to test different layouts before publishing.
9. Apply your aesthetic broadly
An aesthetic Instagram doesn’t stop with your Instagram feed. Update your Instagram page profile picture and bio to reflect your new brand. If you post Instagram Stories, make sure these are also consistent with your overall aesthetic.
5 examples of Instagram aesthetics
There’s an infinite number of possible Instagram aesthetics—if you can dream it up, you can make it your own. Many brands, however, use variations on a handful of successful Instagram aesthetics. Here are a few popular options:
1. Bright and bold
Energetic, vibrant brands can use bold, bright colors to catch an audience’s attention and communicate creativity and fun. For example, “Proud + Loud” spice company Omsom pairs pink, yellow, and orange with high-energy graphics and photos of people and food. The result is engaging, eye-catching, and consistent with their product marketing.
An all-pastel palette can be both soothing and attention-grabbing, providing a sharp contrast with bold, loud, or dark colors that show up elsewhere in a customer’s feed.
Beauty brand Pixi uses calming light pinks, greens, and yellows in both its packaging and Instagram palette for a cohesive aesthetic that focuses heavily on product photos.
Minimalist aesthetics are simple, clean, and uncluttered. Brands can use this style to reflect or play against their product styles. For example, home goods store The Citizenry uses neutral colors and photos of calming interior spaces to mirror its minimal products, while clothing designer Jonathan Simkhai uses plain, light-colored backgrounds as a contrast to the brand’s decidedly maximalist clothing.
The unicorn aesthetic is colorful, whimsical, and just a bit kitschy. Cereal company Magic Spoon (which describes its product as “childlike cereal for grown ups”) embodies it. The company’s Instagram account features saturated pinks and purples, colorful gradient backgrounds, highly stylized product photos, and fanciful graphics that depict semi-fictional creatures.
A bright, inviting Instagram aesthetic can inspire purchases by making customers feel welcome. Dark, moody Instagram accounts pursue the same goal through an opposite approach, creating a desire to belong by withholding an overt invitation.
Moody aesthetics are popular with luxury or aspirational brands. Furniture company Fyrn Studio uses shadows and spare styling to create drama. Accessory company Vitaly uses dark colors and models with neutral expressions to create a sense of exclusivity and communicate power.
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Aesthetic Instagram FAQ
How do you curate content for your aesthetic Instagram feed?
These tips can help you curate your brand’s Instagram content:
- Create a mood board
- Create a three- to five-color Instagram palette
- Use your color palette to select photos
- Design custom post templates
How does lighting affect the aesthetic of Instagram photos?
Lighting can affect the mood, saturation, and color temperature of an Instagram photo. Dim lighting or shadows can create drama while warm lighting can create an energetic, uplifting feel. Cool lighting can be either calming or gloomy, depending on the photo’s subject and editing style.
Can you create an aesthetic Instagram without a specific color palette?
No. Color is a primary variable in Instagram content and aesthetic Instagrams use limited color palettes to establish a consistent theme.
Should you use the same filter for every photo to maintain an aesthetic Instagram?
Yes. Using the same filter on all of your Instagram photos is a great way to create a cohesive look without spending a lot of time editing photos.