The designer’s view of the client’s branding strategy
Note: This is an adaptation of a video tutorial made for MediaBistro.com.
A brand displays a cumulative experience of a company in the minds of its customers.
It is built on consistent, multi-sensory messages that reveal what the company or product stands for and its position relative to its competitors. Marty Neumeier says in his book, The Brand Gap, “Brand is not just a logo attached to a product or company. Brand is not an identity. Brand is not a product… Brand is a symbol of choices made on behalf of a product: philosophy, experience, quality, lifestyle, aspirations, status, desire, power, and achievement… A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or organization.”
Brand is not what you say it is. Brand is what they say it is.
- How is the company trying to express itself?
- How does it see itself and how does it want others to see it?
- What is the client trying to express?
- Where do they fit in the marketplace of competing products and services?
- How in that milieu do they want to think of themselves?
- How do they want others to think of them?
Brand perception is measurable, writes Martin Lindstrom in his book, Buy-ology. MRI brain scans from 2,000 subjects from around the world show that the human brain perceives and reacts in the exact same way to images of religious icons as widely-known brands, logos, products, ads, and television commercials. A German study in 2008 shows that familiar brands are processed in a part of the brain that processes positive emotions. Unfamiliar brands take more effort and are processed in an area of the brain that handles negative emotions. Getting your clients’ brands into the positive part of their target’s brains takes time and money, but proves well worth the effort and expense.
Difference between Brand and Logo
“Brand” is more like “identity.” It is a calculated cumulative perception based on various contact points, including your use of the product, your experience of the product, the history of the product, and the way your friends think of the product. Brand is the difference between the actual cheese inside the wrapper and your perception of the difference between Cabot, Lye Cross Farm, and Heluva Good.
The logo is part of the brand: it is the icon of the product. “Logo” is the visual description or interpretation of a brand. Logos are flags representing the sponsor. In advertising, they promise the advertiser has approved the ad, that it gives an accurate presence of the company, and that the advertiser stands by what the ad says.
Client needs and preferences
As an outside consultant, get to know your client’s business as well as you can as soon as you can. Ask for tearsheets of likes and dislikes – and don’t limit it to other logos they’ve seen. More examples are better than few.
As a member of the staff you already know what is wanted, though that may be as much a limitation as an opportunity. The better you understand what they want, the faster you’ll hit the sweet spot.
Organize a brand audit to identify what is being done and whether it is effective. Assess the company’s strengths and weaknesses of their brand-building tools.
- What is the brand’s promise?
- Who is the primary audience the brand identifying?
- How can the brand be positioned more effectively?
- Is the brand projecting a consistent voice?
Brand equity is the value of years of investment in building and maintaining a brand. While it must be protected, it may also be exploited for evolutionary growth, but cashing in this valuable equity for frivolous reasons is not a good idea.
Compliance — Consistent use of the logo and all visual elements is the cornerstone of building brand recognition. It is this aspect of designing on staff that becomes most tedious in the corporate environment. But it is necessary for the development and growth of the product’s visual presence. Establish a “compliance cop” whose job is to ensure consistency.
Developing a creative brief
A thorough job brief causes its own solution. A creative brief is a written document that comprehensively and concisely defines the business problem which you will solve. A creative brief is a business plan for a single project. Its purpose is to reduce subjectivity.
Creatives should take an active role in the development of the brief. The designer’s role is to add life to the business choices described in the job brief by progressing from a single strategy to a few concepts to multiple executions.
Parts of a creative brief
Background information on company, product, or service
- User and target audience groups
- Brand attributes, promise, and mission
- Competitive landscape
- Who are we selling to?
- Who are we selling against?
- What will our product do for the user – what are the key benefits?
- What makes our clients different than people in general as an audience?
- What makes our clients respond?
Business objectives and success criteria
- Creative strategies
- What is the key fact, the one thing the design must accomplish?
- How will the design affect the user’s attitudes o behavior?
- How will the design’s success be measured?
- Testing requirements and measurement of success
Functionality & technical specifications
- Contribution & approval process
Legal considerations to branding
A mark loses its value if it is appropriated by others. This happens if it isn’t protected from infringement. However, if a mark is not sufficiently distinct, it can’t be protected. The more differentiated it is from its competitors, the better.
Branding elements that can be trademarked are: a name, a visual mark, tagline, package, product design, page treatment, shape, color or combination of colors, and even a sound that identifies and distinguishes the source from those of others.
® indicates that the mark has been registered with the U.S. government. This is the strongest legal protection available.
™ stands for “trademark” and is a claim of ownership for design that does not need federal recognition for its use. It is therefore comparatively weak, but is useful in case of legal action.
SM stands for “service mark” and, like ™, is a claim of ownership for a unique service.
© stands for “copyright” and protects artistic and literary work;
Patent protects an invention.
Clients typically intend for their mark to be been reproduced thousands of times. Developing a brand requires that its elements can’t be snagged by competitors, so legal claim to its parts is essential, too.
Preferences, musts, and must nots on handling clients
- What clients say and what they mean are generally very different. They don’t know what they want until they see what they don’t want.
- Show examples consistently. Like an optometrist flipping lenses, ask, “This… or this?”
- Focus the process by defining the number of rounds of revisions and a single point of contact who has authority to make decisions.
- Be ready to describe in words the visual ideas you are presenting. Your work should not be judged on whether it is “liked,” but on how well it fulfills the objectives agreed on ahead of time in the job brief.
- Be politically savvy by taking what you think is a bad client suggestion and making it better. There is a kernel of usefulness in everything: find it and craft it into something useful. Twisting an externally-sourced idea into something new is a great route to a fresh result.
- Unless you are designing for designers, there are going to be important differences between what you think is good and what your client will find persuasive. Those differences, once uncovered, will provide terrific grip when starting your sketches: defining this problem’s unique requirements leads to unique solutions.
- Because of cultural and language differences, global audiences may need a more abstract mark than local or national audiences. Large branding companies have specialists that research and avoid errors like the famous Chevy Nova introduction in South America: “no va” is Spanish for “won’t go,” which is not a helpful name when marketing cars.
© Copyright Alex W. White