This guest post is written by Avril Broadley of graphic design agency Broadbase, a graphic design duo based in East London. They have worked with many retailers, manufacturers and designers to bring products to market.
“There’s tons of information about branding available online, including Design Council and Business Link guides – but as designers ourselves we still find that there’s a lot of confusion about where to start.
This is a practical, graphic designer’s guide to creating a brand strategy for any business, large or small
– what you do with it next depends on your resources but whether you are paying professionals or going DIY this is the process that will get you off the ground:
Firstly, use a blank wall and blue-tack or a big scrapbook to keep a montage of all your of ideas, words, images, names, competitor’s branding, packaging, and just about anything that you feel relates to your business.
The plan is to gradually add and remove until you have created a presentation of your brand vision that will inform everything your business does, big or small. These are the things you need to consider…
1. Who are you?
Choosing a name for your business/brand is more difficult than naming your firstborn! The important thing is not to get too precious about the final name (unless it’s a corker) – until further down the line. Approach the name as a business asset and keep your options open until more of the pieces of the jigsaw are in place.
If you are going to use your own name consider what the future implications of this are. If you have a personal relationship with your customers and your own skills are your key asset (eg you as a designer, a consultant or other professional) using your own name allows you to bring any credentials you already have with you. But it ties you to the business so if you want to expand or plan to sell it on using your own name may not be the right move.
If you need an online presence (who wouldn’t) then it helps if your name translates into a website address. This is easier said than done and many people are surprised when they find that the unique name they have thought of is already registered. Remember that a shorter URL is preferable, the following example illustrates how you could be creative with your name if you were a jeweller called Abby Burton:
- AbbyBurton.com (not available)
- AbbyBurtonjewellery.com (available)
- ABjewellery.com (available and shorter)
- ABjewels.com (even shorter)
If you then render this as abjeweller.com you can begin to see the germ of an idea starting to emerge!
As well as checking who is already using your name online you need to check if it’s already registered as a company and a trademark.There are many businesses that are not registered companies and brands that are not registered trademarks, but it’s better to check that you have an open field of play before you press the print or produce button! The good news is that you can do all of this yourself, for free, online.
2. What do you do?
Marketing terminology likes to talk about USP (unique selling point) but the truth is most businesses are not unique. One precious jeweller or photographer, for instance, is pretty similar to another in terms of what they offer and it comes down to other elements such as personality, user experience, recommendation and simple human relationships that turn a contact or meeting into a loyal customer.
So in simple terms: ‘what service do you provide?’, or if it’s a product: ‘what is it and what does it do?’
I like to credit people with a bit of intelligence and believe that they see through the hype, so keep your integrity and be truthful. Try to define your business in one sentence if you can, re-working the words until it captures you in a nutshell:
- Fair trade jewellery for any occasion
- Wedding jewellery, specially made for you, using gold and gems from fair trade sources
- Precious jewellery with a heart: beautiful wedding jewellery, hand picked from fair trade sources, made with love
Whilst all three of these descriptions are accurate the last one tells a story about the business. Precious jewellery with a heart feels a bit more romantic and emotional it implies the jewellery is special for the wearer, the maker and the planet. This is jewellery hand-made by someone who is a crafts person and really knows their stuff; beautiful and hand picked adds to this special and one-off feeling. Made with love suggests they take more time than you can possibly imagine so they are a labour of love and well worth the money!
If you find this process difficult it helps to ask a friend or partner to have a go. Seeing your business through someone else’s eyes brings a lot of clarity!
3. How do you do it?
You’ve heard about brand values and mission statements but what do they mean?
In the case of fruit drinks company Innocent their well documented mission statement is: ‘make natural, delicious food and drink that help people live well and die old’.
So they are saying they are motivated by something other than just selling smoothies, the nation’s health no less! They back this up with a list of five brand values that hang above the loos at head office and these are designed to keep everyone focused on ‘what we are, how we do things, and where we increasingly want to be’.
Innocent’s runaway success was largely due to launching the right product at the right time, it is the strength and integrity of their brand that keeps them at the top.
Not everyone can offer the potential of a longer life. But articulating the things that your business stands for helps to define your brand, you could say its like setting out your stall. Think of the attributes your business needs to convey, a wedding photographer might be trusted, reliable and a good communicator, but they might also humourous to get everybody relaxed on the final pictures, which becomes an important feature of their brand.
This part of the exercise is quite abstract and intangible (and lets face it every brand wants to project themselves in a positive image) but making a list of what your business believes in is a very useful exercise. It can become a point of reference for everyone concerned, so that if you include ethical as a brand value it needs to inform ALL your buying, sourcing and distribution decisions, from where you bank and buy power to the coffee in your cupboard, to where you source your materials and if you employ unpaid interns.
4. What’s your ‘handwriting’?
This is the logo bit (at last I hear you say!). I like to think of it as ‘the brand’s signature’: a shorthand marque that embodies all of the above. Indeed many fashion brands such as Paul Smith, Orla Kiely and Agnes B use a signature for their logo; it makes the designer a hero, hints at celebrity status and projects confidence in their individuality.
So graphically is your business/brand hard or soft? Serious or fun? Bright or pastel? Shiny or matt? Serif, sans serif, cursive, handwritten, retro, funky, techno?
Think of it as an emerging personality and gather as many images and references as you can that hit the target – refining, replacing and rejecting as you go.
Analyse your tear sheets and move things around to group themes and similar items together. It’s not unusual to find a bit of schizophrenia going on with distressed vintage type as one theme and hard geometric patterns as another.
If something feels right can you pin-point what is it that works? Is it the typography, the texture, the colour?
As you study the brand’s handwriting you need to think about its tone of voice. Is it formal or informal, authoratitive, friendly, serious, humorous or chatty? Collect examples of written copy that works in a style you feel is appropriate.
Remember that in terms of social media your business or brand’s tweets might need to sound very different from your own!
5. Who’s buying?
Are your clients trade buyers, consumers or professionals? Are they a certain age group, male or female, parents, dog lovers, runners, … the list goes on.
For example a designer making baby clothes might sell to boutique baby shops, department stores and online gift shops (trade). Ultimately their customer is also the parent, grandparent or friend (consumer).
Collect as much as you can for your wall, e.g. logos of the retailers, catalogues, examples of competitor’s packaging and branding, their products, magazine and press coverage. You are building a visual profile of your customer and your marketplace and this will help you position your brand accordingly.
This is also a good time to ask if you could increase your customer base if you did anything differently?
6. What do you need?
Business is all about meeting and surpassing expectations in terms of the service you provide or the product you supply, and your branding needs to do this too. So you need to meet minimum standards in order to be taken seriously and exceed them to stand out from the crowd.
I like the example of homemade jam for sale in a country road with a handwritten cardboard sign hanging from the fence and an honesty jar. This delights the Sunday driver looking for an authentic rural experience. On the other hand if your solicitor was to hang a scrawled cardboard sign from their door you might have second thoughts about employing them.
Fledgling businesses need to spend their marketing budget wisely, so make a wishlist of what you need, and prioritise. Decide what is essential now and what can wait; what you can do yourself and what you need professional help for.
Remember though, that saving money on design and print can end up costing your brand dearly if it is not up to scratch, in terms of branding first (and second) impressions count!
The wishlist might include: logo, stationery, signage, websites, apps, packaging, brochures, social media sites (remember you need to fill them with content so start with the one that you feel most comfortable with), exhibition stands and advertising. You might also need a pr company, photography, illustration, copywriting and other services.
7. What next?
Refine, tweak and reject. Go back through and use everything you have learned in the process to be objective (the first round was the subjective one). This is YOUR brand vision, and if you are not happy now is the time to sort it out.
After that its all about investing to make it happen. If you are creative you can invest your own time and use some of many the online print and website templates to get you up and running.
If you need professional help ask around for recommendations. Talk to several designers, and choose one who understands your target customer and shares some of your brand values. Designers are usually lateral thinkers but they also have areas of expertise, so if you need packaging, for instance, don’t choose someone whose specialism is HTML.
© Avril Broadley www.broad-base.co.uk”