I mean, isn’t it just about making pretty logos and letterheads? Why don’t we just call it graphic design?
Well, not exactly. A good branding strategy doesn’t start there, but it does go there eventually.
The word “brand” is hard to pin down. In the 1800s a brand was simply a way for cattle ranchers to identify their livestock, but it soon grew in meaning.
A basic and generally accepted modern definition is that a brand is “a person’s perception of a product, service, experience, or organisation.” It’s the sum total of all the impressions people have about you.
So, the graphical elements that a business uses are effective inasmuch as they support and promote a positive identity. Branding is the art of shaping perceptions, and helping good impressions stick.
We don’t buy products, we buy brands
A strong brand can be incredibly simple, and incredibly valuable. A few classics come to mind very easily when we consider some famous logos:
Logos strengthen brands by suggesting the nature of the businesses they represent. Through repetition they remind us of the impressions we’ve developed of them.
The development of a good brand starts right at the very beginning of a business, way before any ideas about names, logos and typefaces: it starts with the story behind the business, and it unfolds with the business plan.
A Brand Strategist’s art is in capturing and communicating the identity and vibe of a business, then designing a simple and pleasing communication style (and all that goes with it) that encapsulates and echoes that identity.
Curiosity never killed the cat #fakenews
Brand Strategists need to understand what makes the business tick almost as well as the CEO. They need to get into your boots, to understand the culture of your business from the inside out and to feel any pain-points you may be experiencing. As things develop you should feel like your Brand Strategist “gets” you.
That’s why a good Brand Strategist starts by asking questions. Creativity flows from constant curiosity, so you can expect a Brand Strategist to badger you with questions early on in the project. If they don’t, they either already know your business very well or they need to be fired!
They may ask questions like:
- What’s your vision for your business?
- What words would you like your ideal customers to use when they describe your business/products?
- What words would they use right now?
- If your ideal customer saw what you had to offer and chose not to buy from you, why would that most likely be?
Some strategists like to start with a questionnaire, but I find this impersonal. Sometimes people also need a hand thinking things through or there may be something about their business that they undervalue or a pain-point that they’ve gotten so used to they no longer notice it. I prefer to meet with clients to talk things through as it helps both parties really understand the company and the brand development process.
What should I expect a Brand Strategy to include?
It depends on the scope of the project, but generally you can expect the following:
- Name, slogan and example intro copy
- Messaging guidelines describing the tone of communications. This will impact what the company writes about, what photos they use, what tone they say things in etc. Expect values-language here (e.g gritty, authentic, bold, or elegant, premium, lush)
- A logo, possibly including both a logotype and a logomark;
- Various iterations of the logo for different applications (e.g wide format, social networks, smallprint etc), and perhaps example visuals showing it in various contexts.
- A graphic design guide dictating typefaces online and in print, colours, spacing and how typography, images, logos and other symbolism should be used
You could have the best product or the greatest cause in the world, but if your tone of communication suggests otherwise, you may find it very hard to cut through.
Branding can be a bit of an ethereal idea but when branding material aligns well with an organisation’s values and identity and is backed up by regular good service, it can become an organisation’s greatest asset.