There have been plenty of times where I have been asked, “Hey, can you design me a simple logo.” Actually, more often than not I”ll get asked: “Hey, how much does it COST for a simple logo design”... but that is a question I’ll get into at another time. The former question alone is loaded and it’s hard to know where to even begin.
A lot of times people come to me with a general idea of what they want their logo to look like. Now that might be fine, but usually I have to question, how do you know that’s what your target audience, users, or customers want to see? (What metrics are you using to determine that you need a new logo at all.) That’s right, we’re designing for your audience, and not necessarily for you. If you want to reach your target market it is imperative that we meet them where they are at. Before designing a logo it’s imperative that a business’ brand is really fleshed out. It’s from a solid brand strategy that an effective identity can be designed to its fullest potential.
With that, I’ll begin with a statement that might be bold, but I think there’s a lot to it that I believe: Designing a logo (or marketing materials) without any sort of strategy is potentially dangerous for your business. I think strategy is very important. In fact if you haven’t fully strategized your brand you might actually change the trajectory on the success of your company in a negative way. Creating a logo without your ideal target audience and customers in mind could be bad for your business. If you like X but the customers who are ideal for your business like Y, then you’ve probably missed the mark. You’re not going to attract the leads, or right kinds, or even the amount of customers you want. On the flip side having a sound brand strategy will more than likely impact your businesses in extremely positive ways.
1 - Good strategic design of your brand is all about how you want people to feel about you.
We can go a little deeper and say that having a good strategic design of your brand is all about how you want people to see you. It’s about how you want them to feel when they’ve interacted with you, seen your logo, heard your advertisement on the radio, or read your post on instagram.
To quote one of the masters of branding himself, Marty Neumeier, from his book The Brand Gap:
“A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company.”
You can’t always control perfectly how you want your customers and users to feel about you, but you can influence it. This process is often referred to as Brand Strategy. I feel that if a business hasn’t really strategized their brand, their marketing efforts will potentially be wasted. A lot of their business efforts might be wasted. Brand strategy is your roadmap for how you want to get into the minds of your customers using the appropriate channels, messaging, visual design, audio design and then the way they feel once it’s in their mind.
I don’t think that a good brand strategy is “manipulation” either. With a good strategy, you’re not trying to convince anyone to buy stuff they shouldn’t or don’t need. I think it’s important to be genuine, and try to sell people on the ideas that you truly believe yourself. It’s to share with your customers the personality of your company, why your product or service is special, how it will improve their lives in some way, shape or form, and why you do it better than anyone else. It’s important that your business communicates what you value. Simon Sinek says “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it and what you do simply proves what you believe.
Also just a side note, in case any of you were wondering. Marketing and Branding are different things, but they overlap. In my opinion having a clear brand strategy at the beginning will determine a lot of your marketing strategy. In effect, you save money on marketing in the long run. You have alignment on your team, in your messaging, and in your design, so your efforts in marketing are not wasted.
2 - Clear Direction
This leads me to my next point. Brand strategy gives your designers, copywriters, and marketers a clear direction. Really it gives everyone in a customer facing position a direction. It helps your employees get on board with communicating to the right audience, using a more unified voice and tone. A solid strategy helps ensure that the people that would be interested in your product, service, or company are being spoken to.
A good brand strategy will deliver a brand style guide, or graphics standards manual. This is a document that will help all designers in your company get on board with delivering products and materials that have a unified look, feel, tone, and voice.
3 - Minimizes Subjectivity
A good brand strategy eliminates a ton of subjectivity. Gone are the days of “I don’t like this” or “Change the color to this because I like it.” When you are working towards a goal of aligning your brand, target audience, and business objectives, the process leaves little room for subjective opinion. Objective business metrics and results are what we are looking for. Instead, we now shift the focus to questions like: “will our current customers like this?” or “will this packaging design increase sales of the product?” or “will placing this button here/there encourage more users to click on it, therefore increasing transactions?,” etc.
4 - Determines Who Your Ideal Audience Is
“When you speak to everyone, you speak to no one” - Meredith Hill
And Seth Godin’s says “Everyone is not your customer.”
This speaks to everything I have been learning about the importance of niching down. It’s impossible to do everything for everyone. There are gigantic corporations that have a great multitude of industries, markets, and audiences, but for the rest of us it’s important to focus on the one thing that we are the master at, and speak only to the people who need what we have and care. We can’t serve everyone.
Speaking directly to your “tribe” and ideal customers is going to be far more effective than casting a wide net hoping that someone listens. What are the psychographics going on? Where are the people that believe what you believe. What are the compelling events that would cause these people to look for a solution that you provide.\
When you produce a commercial, or post an instagram ad, what kind of language are you using? Is it the same kind of language that your audience uses? Is a TV or instagram even the right channel to be using when delivering your messaging? All of these things can be determined in a solid strategy.
Knowing your target audience helps also align the culture with what business category you are in. It’s imperative to do research on the context
5 - If your brand was a person, what kind of personality would he/she have?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Brand strategy is partially like a personality test. I just talked about how you can’t be for everyone. That’s true even in personal friendships and relationships. Not everyone gets along with everyone else. Most people choose to hang out with people that are like them, or believe in the same things (psychographics). Thinking of your brand as your businesses’ personality type is a good way to simplify some things.
6. Knowing your Competition
What makes you different from others? The first step in answering this question, is to know your competition. If you want to strategize how others are going to, not only tell you all apart, but choose your company among the others, it’s important to know those others.
So, how do we strategize my brand?
There are many people utilizing lots of different processes. I will talk about some of the important things that I consider in my own brand strategy process. First I’ll credit some of my sources of knowledge. I’m a huge advocate of these brands myself. A lot of my process is based on the “Core Discovery” framework from the design business education organization called The Futur. I also use elements from their Brand Messaging Kit. Other features that I have incorporated in my brand strategy process come from Douglas Davis book “Creative Strategy and the Business of Design”, along with some elements from Seth Godin’s book “This is Marketing.” Other books that have shaped my thinking include “The Brand Gap” by Marty Nuemeir and “Designing Brand Identity” by Alina Wheeler.
I have meshed a lot of these frameworks together to create my ideal product that serves my clients. Most of these items are hashed out in a collaborative work session:
Brand Positioning Statement - The positioning statement is a key factor in that “roadmap” I mentioned earlier. This is an internal statement that a business can use to help craft website headlines, design a logo, find audio to use on an educational video, or photography on instagram. You can pretty much ignore perfect grammar or the idea that run-on sentences are “bad” with this. This statement is built on attributes of the brand. These attributes include: the product/service itself, culture, target audience, tone, feel, impact (benefits), and X-factor. I’ll probably go more into this in another blog post.
StoryBrand BrandScript - This is a fantastic framework for setting up your customers as the hero in their journey so we can communicate how we can solve their problem.
Onliness Statement - Sort of like the brand positioning statement, but this one dives in deeper at what makes you different from everyone else.
Customer Profiles - This looks at who our ideal customers are, and brings personality to them. This really narrows down who we are speaking to and what they need from us.
User Journeys - This is a step by step add on to the customer profiles. We walk our customer through the purchase funnel, to see where we can meet their needs.
Marketing and Business Goal Prioritization - This helps us align on what order we need to work on what projects, and in what timelines.
Competitor Analysis - If possible, this research should be both qualitative and quantitative. Who’s winning in sales?
Other processes and/or deliverables that are usually involved include, but are not limited to:
Brand Immersion - Understanding your existing brand if you are not a new company.
Context - of the Culture, your business category, and table stakes.
Consumer Interviews - I will talk to a handful of people about their relationship with the product/service, category, and competitors they usually go with. This can be a huge foundation for insights in the strategy.
Identity Design - The creation of your Logo and other important brand elements.
Graphics Standards Manual - Or brand style guide. The roadmap for others to follow going forward.
I hope this helps in understanding why brand strategy is important to your business. Before designing any marketing materials, or a logo, it’s necessary to have a roadmap of what the brand is. Unification and consistency is critical. Target audiences must be reached in the appropriate channels using the correct design styles to help your business succeed. I love brand strategy. It helps align goals, customers, and employees. It helps us all understand why we should all get on board with the values and benefits that your organization has for us.