By Larissa Yu
Branding is everything in business – if you don’t have your branding sorted, you’re not ready to start selling. Branding is your calling card to your customers, end-users and the wider industry and it's so much more than just a logo and website.
Most entrepreneurs go to market not with a brand, but with an idea... thinking that everyone should intrinsically understand it, but they often don’t. That’s why you need to develop effective consistent brand messaging, brand strategy and a cohesive brand visual identity to communicate your idea successfully.. Your brand is your story, and if you can’t represent it clearly and concisely, how do you expect anyone else to be able to understand it, know it, or share it?
Recognition, uniqueness and memorability is what your aim is.
Professional branding is a comprehensive process – it can feel overwhelming and many companies don’t know where to start. So many businesses get ahead of themselves and hire a design professional to start designing a brand identity, visuals, or a logo without having answered a few key questions first. As a brand owner/founder, if you can’t clearly and confidently define your brand then you’re not ready to engage a designer or start producing any kind of visual element for it.
As Remedy Content’s Sydney-based Creative Director (and branding expert) I've got lots of tips to share on where to start your branding journey. I've worked on everything from national magazines, e-comm websites, new brand launches for startups and relaunches for established brands to all things digital, print, video, publishing, packaging, marketing and social media (and everything in-between), so I know a thing or two about what good branding looks like – and doesn’t look like.
So where do you start? Well, I like to call these next 10 steps – BRANDING 101. It’s what all qualified designers are taught as the basics of how to guide clients through answering all of those difficult questions right at the beginning. This is the best-practice start of every successful branding process: before a single typeface or colour is chosen, before a single mood board is made, concept discussed, or any collateral is planned out.
*Attention Designers* My best advice to you is to not accept a branding project or attempt to design for a brand until your brand owner/founder/client can confidently and clearly answer these questions. To proceed without these answers being clear first will result in confusion, frustrations, misunderstandings and guaranteed disappointment on both sides, plus a whole lot of wasted time and money.
*Attention Brands* These steps are the bare minimum that your design professional needs to know upfront before starting your project to ensure that everyone’s on the same page and speaking the same language. Time is money so go in with a plan, don’t make it up as you go along based purely on “gut instinct”.
1. BRAND STORY
What inspired a brand’s creation and how is that idea/force still instrumental in driving the brand today? This should be an ongoing story, not a moment in time. The more personal detail/anecdotes here the better. Don’t be scared to make your brand story personal and human – it’s what will set you apart as no two people’s experiences are ever the same.
2. BRAND VALUES
Much like your personal values, this is what a brand stands for. These are it’s core foundational principles which guide and direct everything that it does – from visual decisions and marketing messaging to product/service selection and processes. Be honest with yourself: is the brand authentically living its values? Consumers can always smell a fake, and in the new world of cancel culture you WILL be called out publicly for any hypocrisy or lip-service. If you’re re-branding, keep this in mind and make sure that your brand can live up to its new-and-improved values.
3. MISSION STATEMENT
What your business does, why it exists, what your goal is, what is your USP (Unique Selling Point) that sets you apart? Your Mission is what your business does day-to-day.
4. VISION STATEMENT
The clear ideal that the brand is aiming for. This must be aspirational, the end goal of its mission. I always advise clients to aim high here – your Vision should scare you a bit, and be so ambitious as to make you laugh out loud when you first say it. That lofty burning dream is what will keep you going during the long hours and thankless stressful times. SIDE NOTE: After years of working with many different brands, I’ve observed that most brands don’t aim high enough here with their Vision – if your Vision and Mission Statements are almost identical, you haven’t answered the question correctly. Mission is your day-to-day, where you’re currently at right now. Vision is the aspirational, best-case-scenario, king-of-the-world dream, the pinnacle of your ideal bright future.
Before you attempt to engage or brief a designer, you must be able to clearly articulate to them WHO they are designing for. Design decisions are best informed by data and knowing your defined audience – how they think, how they feel, how best to communicate with them. This must be defined on a demographic, cultural and emotional level with detailed personas – their needs, challenges, pain points, comfort zones, preferences. A brand cannot broadly be all things to the widest common denominator – that is a recipe for mediocrity and failure. Don’t be scared to get specific and niche down.
This is how you nurture a brand’s identity in such a considered way that it occupies a distinctive place in the minds of its audience. Your designer is the professional gatekeeper of your brand’s positioning, through creating/maintaining a considered and consistent brand identity for you. Constant competitor and industry analysis is part of this process.
7. BRAND VISUAL STRATEGY
If you do nothing else when kickstarting your branding process, do this one exercise. Choose three to five words that encompass what your brand’s aesthetic stands for. These words must be able to be visually represented (e.g. Bold, Dynamic, Energetic, Refined, Elegant, Feminine). This will become the basis for all your visual research and decisions made by your design professional – it starts with mood boards, choosing typefaces and colour palettes, then the design mock stages, prototypes and process, from concept through to final artwork or product.
8. BRAND PERSONALITY
If your brand was a person – what personality traits would it have? These characteristics are the personification of your brand. Defining clearly what a brand stands for will help determine its personality. Then this personality will determine how it looks visually, its tone of voice and attitude, and all subsequent visual and messaging decisions.
9. BRAND PROMISE
This is an extension of Positioning. This statement is what a brand does, defined in a way which is simple, authentic, measurable, unique and inspiring.
Whenever I take on a new branding project, these are the steps I guide my clients through – the journey is different every time. Sometimes it’s a highly collaborative process and we come up with the answers together, other times I am very much leading them to answer these questions clearly enough or, on rare occasions I am turning down projects with the proviso that they come back to me when they are able to answer these questions for themselves. Our role as professional creatives is often to interpret and present somebody else’s dreams using our talent and tools – but designers are not mind-readers. This is a proven step-by-step formula to delivering results that everyone will be happy with. Once these answers are agreed upon and clarified collaboratively, there’s one very important last step…
10. ONCE DEFINED, SHARE THESE WITH YOUR ENTIRE TEAM – YES, EVERYONE.
No matter what someone’s role is in your business, if they do not know the brand’s answers to the previous nine key questions they are flying blind while they work for you. They will be unable to add value, contribute and execute within their respective roles to the best of their ability for the good of the business. You want everybody informed and on the same page – "One Team, One Dream."
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