Design needs to help solve a particular problem — usually a business one. And we need to become more aware and considerate about that. Brand Strategy is one way how we can marry design and business results more efficiently. As a graphic designer, I've had a client dismiss my design concept or made half a dozen revisions to something as simple as a business card, which put me in the position of an operator. This is all part of the field and learning experience to become an expert, and I have paid my dues in this part of my career.
I consider myself to be a good designer, but an above-average strategic and creative thinker. And although I’ve always loved the practice of design, I’ve also tended to lean more on my ability to think strategically. Pretty much since I started designing my first logos, I was asking clients deeper questions. I wanted their logo to embody their brand and their unique personality. I asked them how they would want their customers to describe their business if it were a person. Somehow I intuitively understood that people connect better with other people than they can connect to a business. So if we manage to personify a brand, perhaps we can make it easier to attract more customers. I tried to apply this type of strategic thinking to any design project. Whether it was a logo, a poster, or a website. However, sometimes aesthetics overtook strategy and the final result was something that looked pretty (sometimes not), but wasn't functional.
After my initial several years as a freelance designer, creating all the projects that came my way, I was working behind the scenes to develop a way to improve my process and sell brand strategy. I remember passionately arguing with clients about needing to communicate the true essence of their brand, even if they told me they “just wanted a website.” Even so, there were still many cases where I’d let my guard down and let clients art direct me on what colors or fonts to choose. Often without any rational explanation. I started to fully understand the massive role branding plays in every aspect of a business, and how it can impact design and marketing decisions. I also started to understand the implications of not having a clear brand strategy.
Brand strategy has become an industry buzzword and a pivot for burnt out designers. Usually, it’s because of the irresistible promise of higher paychecks compared to your ordinary logo design projects. And often it’s without understanding the mindset shift that needs to happen. In reality, brand strategy means taking off the “design something pretty” hat and putting on a “let’s look at the big picture of a business” hat. Questions such as “what does the business do and why, what makes the business different,” and “what would compel customers to choose your product over another” are the bedrock of strategic thinking. Branding is not just about the logo, or the website. It’s every single touchpoint that exists for a business. It’s even the individual perceptions that customers form about a business based on those touchpoints, including their customer service interactions, the company’s reviews, and so much more. What we can do as brand builders then is start to shape those perceptions and try better align to the customer needs through brand strategy.
How do I implement brand strategy? Here are a few questions I ask my clients to drive the direction for the visual brand identity that they've hired me to create:
- Do you have specific goals you hope this will accomplish for your business?
- Tell me about your vision for this project and your business in general
- What target audience are we speaking to and what problem will we help them solve?
- What do our customers value and what other factors drive their purchasing decisions?
- What do you want this deliverable to communicate with the customer?
- How will we define and measure success for this project?
Of course, brand strategy is more than these questions. But even these initial conversations begin raising the trust between client and designer. They also open up a larger conversation about the need for a more strategic approach. And the need to think deeper about such important brand pillars as brand values, brand personality, customer needs, and solid brand positioning. All of these distilled brand components will act as a North Star, a guiding beacon driving the direction of every future branding activity. This makes the design decisions and validation of every visual component easy for both the designer and the client.
With a solid brand strategy in place, it can feel like you’ve just drawn the perfect roadmap of the hidden treasure with exact steps on how to get there. Or holding up a bulls-eye target where both parties know when it has been hit, rather than trying to aim at something in the dark. Design revisions either evaporate or become tiny in comparison to working without a strategy, saving so much stress for all those involved. Once you have a clear road map, a confirmed strategic direction for a brand, you can start thinking about the visual deliverables. Logo, website, business cards, and other stationery and promotional items. Every single deliverable we create from there on will be validated and every design decision will be guided by the strategy. These become less about the subjective opinion on the designs and more about whether they align to and communicate the brand story we want our brand and visuals to tell.
Moral of the story - I won't just make you a logo or push pixels to form a piece of graphic design. By hiring me for strategic visual branding, your value is increased and you're already miles ahead of your competition. Making an investment in your brand is the first step to success!