The Branding Process [Updated]
Creating a solid brand, with strong foundations is much more than just a creative brainstorm.
The branding process is a combination of investigation, strategic thinking, project management and creativity.
This may sound incredibly complex, and for some brands, a very in-depth process is required, however there are many levels on which successful branding can be created.
A previous post talked about the word ‘branding’ being off-putting for many people and it is when branding experts go into lots of technical detail that it creates the impression that branding is daunting.
Yes, there is a lot that goes on in the background and yes, there are processes that we, as experienced brand stylists follow, but the one thing that we do, is to make sure that the branding process is kept as simple and jargon free as possible for our clients.
In simple terms, there are 5 stages in the branding process:
- Conducting research
- Developing/clarifying strategy
- Designing identity
- Creating touchpoints
- Managing assets
1. Conducting research
Research is essential to examine the current position of the brand and investigate which direction the brand should go in to maximize its potential.
Conducting research allows you to:
- Clarify the vision, strategies, goals and values of the company
- Ask key management their vision for the brand
- Research stakeholders’ needs and perceptions
- Conduct a brand audit
- Conduct a competitive audit
So the first priority is to understand the company’s mission, vision, target markets, brand values, personality, strengths, weaknesses and its USP. This can be achieved by asking key management and the key stakeholders a number of questions. For many of these, you can directly ask what they believe the company’s vision, markets etc are, but for others we tend to ask indirect questions. For example, instead of asking ‘what is your brand personality?’, we might ask ‘what 3 words would you use to describe your brand/company?’, as you will build a much broader overview of the brand.
A similar approach is given to the research of stakeholders’ views and perceptions. Questions may be asked of staff, customers, suppliers or the community, to obtain their views. As above, the questions will be more general, such as ‘why do you choose…’, ‘what is most important to you’, ‘how do you rate…’ and ‘choose 3 words to describe’. The answers from these can analysed and put together with the other research to determine the brand strategy.
The brand audit is also an important part of conducting brand research, as it allows you to look what currently works, and what can be improved. The brand audit looks at the brand identity – the logo, the tagline, the colours and fonts, and at all marketing materials and the online identity. More often that not, there will be some elements that will want to be retained to allow some continuity and to keep a sense of history and longevity for the brand.
The competitive audit is a data gathering process that looks at competitors’ brands, their visual identity and the way they are perceived. The aim of this is to be able to say ‘why should customers choose our products/services over theirs?’ and ‘how can we look and feel different?’
Once the research phase has been completed, a report can be put together to inform the development of the brand strategy moving forwards. The research does not often result in an epiphany for the brand, but those experienced in the branding field, can read between the lines, make connections and identify opportunities.
2. Developing/clarifying strategy
A brand strategy is essential in showing which direction a brand should take, in order for it to grow.
Developing a brand strategy takes a combination of rational thinking and creative imagination to create a strategy that works for the company internally and for its customers externally.
“Look into a microscope with one eye and a telescope with the other.” Blake Deutsch
So, in developing a new brand strategy, it is important to look closely at the company in terms of how you wish it to be portrayed and also from the perspective of the customers; what do they want and does your brand satisfy their needs?
A brand strategy should clarify:
- Target markets
- Competitive advantage
- Brand values
- Brand personality
- Brand promise
- Brand proposition
More often than not, a complete new brand strategy is not required. It may be that some of the elements are already defined and in place, and just need blending together to create a unified message and identity that needs to be taken through to the design process.
Narrow the Focus
A strong brand has a narrow focus and many companies make the mistake of trying to be too many things. As brand stylists, we are looking for the big idea, or the gold. It has probably been there all the time but has been hidden away. By bringing in an external consultant and allowing them to speak to management, staff, customers etc, it often brings out the brand essence and leads to one key focus, which is what your brand can become known for.
The most successful brand positioning is one which tells consumers that the brand can deliver and why they should be selected over the competition. Consumers are overwhelmed with purchasing choices, so you need to tell them “buy this from us because…”. And you will understand the reasons why they may choose to buy from you, having completed the research in stage 1.
Another part of developing the brand strategy is developing or clarifying the company name and tagline, if one is required. Naming a company is a very complex task and one that requires a significant amount of time, thought, brainstorming and research. The brand name is a valuable asset and any decision to rename must not be taken lightly.
3. Designing identity
Having read the analysis and strategy report, designers will use their experience, intuition, imagination and creativity to develop the strategy into a visual representation of the brand.
Each designer and design agency will have their own way of working, but designing a corporate identity will involve time and patience, and will start by developing several ideas which over time, will be condensed down into one final concept.
When designing a brand identity, we look in detail at a number of key areas and whether they accurately represent the values and personality set out in the strategy.
The design process begins by creating a logo, which will become the graphical representation of the brand. Colours, fonts, shapes and icons are all considered to create something unique, eye-catching and illustrative of the brand.
An overall brand identity is also created to give a look and feel to the brand. On any marketing document for a brand, you should be able to cover up the logo and still know what brand it belongs to, just from the colors, imagery, typography, styling etc.
A large part of designing identity is down to choice of colours and fonts and these are areas that will be covered in other blogs, as there is too much detail to go into here!
To make sure that the logo works as part of the whole visual identity, it has to be trialed on real documents, for example, business cards, letterhead, website, leaflet, folder etc. From these, it can be established whether it will work on different scales, on different materials, and on screen or in print.
We have a range of branding projects in our portfolio that show how the brand identities we have designed work across a wide range of materials.
4. Creating touchpoints
This stage involves taking the identity created in stage 3, and developing it over a range of touchpoints, which are essentially any point of contact between a business and its customers.
These touchpoints may include:
- Business cards
- Product design/packaging design
The key part of this stage of the branding process is to create a consistent, yet flexible look across all touchpoints, which fully represent all of the values determined in the strategy. The final look needs to work online and offline, at large and small scales, and in targeting all potential markets. In essence, it is creating a unique visual language that will express itself across all applications.
It is at this point in the process that the identity will be tested in real applications, as opposed to the hypothetical ones in the previous stage. And it is now that the quotation from Steve Jobs seems particularly fitting:
“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
Once it has been established that it ‘works’, the design of all of the touchpoints can be finalised.
5. Managing assets
Managing your brand identity assets requires a long-term commitment from company owners/directors to building and maintaining the brand. To make a brand a success, it requires ongoing monitoring and input.
There are a few key steps in this process.
An internal and external brand launch
It is important to launch the brand internally first to ensure that all employees are ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ as the expression goes.
Internally, employees need to know why the brand is important, what it stands for, what it means and how they can communicate it through their interactions with customers.
An external launch can be one event, or a gentle series of marketing messages. At all times, the brand launch should be focused on the customers, and giving them the right messages at the right time. The messages should be reinforced several times.
Communicating the new brand identity to employees and customers
Key questions to ask are:
- Who needs to know?
- What do they need to know?
- Why do they need to know?
- Does the change affect them?
- How are they going to find out?
- When are they going to find out?
Creating branding guidelines
Managing the brand and its consistency in applications is facilitated by a set of branding guidelines that are accessible to all employees. It should be made clear by management that everyone within the company is responsible for adhering to the guidelines. If everyone works together and follows the guidelines, they can help to build a better brand.
Designate roles – who looks after specific parts of the brand?
Making employees feel involved can help them to get really invested into the brand. Long term brand success is achieved by employees absorbing the company culture and therefore emitting the brand values and personality through everything they do.
Hyphen can help with all 5 stages of the branding process, so if you need any advice, please just call for a chat.
Until next time,