No matter what stage you are at in business – a fledgling designer branching out on your own for the first time, an established designer working for a big conglomerate or anything in between – branding is important. The first thing you might think of when you think of “branding” is the quintessential “logo”. Your logo is your unique marketplace identity – it’s a conveyance of your identity as a designer, as a company; it’s a representation of what you do and how you do it.
And yes, your logo is an essential part of your business, but the brand behind it is even more important. The logo is just a picture of the heart that drives your business. When the driving messages behind your brand are cloudy even the best logo in the world won’t save your business. So how can you build a bigger, better, stronger brand? Here are five steps for better branding to get you started:
Substance Over Style
One of the first things people do when branching out on their own is design their logo, after all it’s what going to signal to the consumer that this is yours, you made this, this is me. But make sure not to get ahead of yourself. Remember your logo needs to mean something. What message is your logo supposed to convey when people see it? What is the heart of your business, what do you prize over everything else? What do you want to do in the long term? How do you plan to achieve these results? What sets you apart from your competition? Focus on the substance of your company before you focus on the style ofyour logo.
The Good And The Bad
Grab a sheet of paper and divide it in half: The Good and The Bad. Under each category brainstorm all the character traits you possess. The good category should include things you excel at or pride yourself on; the bad category are traits that aren’t the best you have to offer, they should be weaker traits you wish to improve upon. Now make an action plan! How can you turn those “bad traits” in to good ones? If you’re always late make a plan to set your clocks and alarms 15 minutes fast so instead of always being 10 minutes late you’ll suddenly be 5 minutes early – good bye bad trait, hello good trait! Make a step-by-step plan of how you want to improve yourself, write what you want to change and exactly what steps you’ll take to achieve this.
Now that you’ve gotten your own individual character sorted out, take the same framework and apply it to your brand or company. For the good think about all the things that you excel at, for the bad some sticky points in the company, think about what brings out the worst in your brand. Do holidays or busy seasons lead to many mistakes? Long product wait times? What triggers stress in your brand? Once you have clearly laid that all out in black and white make an action plan. Your action plan should focus on the strongest of your brands current traits, and aim to correct the negative. Your top 3 to 5 strongest traits will be the guiding focus of your brand – you’re already good at them why not capitalize on them? Make sure these traits are memorable and able to be acted upon.
Your Target Market
The question “Who is your target market?” often leads brands into saying “everyone”. “Everyone” is not your target market – by making everyone your target market your brand will lack a sense of direction. It is impossible to please everyone, to design for everyone. I mean just look at toasters – they come in a variety of colors, slot widths, functions, base heats, etc. And that’s just for a quick breakfast! Think long and hard about your brand, think about what areas you excel in, about who is interested in that particular area, about who is your ideal customer? Distill your target market down from the generic “everyone” to the specific – these are the people you cater to, these are the people who will shape your products, who will shape your brand.
Write It Down
Once you’ve narrowed down what your brand stands for – what is at the very heart of your business ideas – write it down! Consider the childhood game of telephone; the first person picks a message, tells it to the next, they pass it on and so forth until it gets to the end of the chain. It’s often humorous to the first person what ends up coming out at the end because the message is so distorted from what was originally said. However, in business it is essential that what is said at the beginning translates into the end product. Passing a piece of paper inked with the ideals and cores of your business makes sure that everyone knows your message, what your brand stands for, and that this message doesn’t get muddled through miscommunication. Writing it down also provides a clear framework to keep you focused and help make sure that every decision you make is aligned with the core of your business.
Examine & Apply
You’ve just taken a magnifying glass to your company. You’ve defined your brand and what it does. You’ve determined its character, focused in on your target market and lastly you’ve written this all down in a clear and communicable manner. Now it’s time to examine your company and all that goes with it. Take a look at every aspect of your company through this lens you’ve just created. Make sure your brand’s core message is clearly visible in every aspect of your company, if your current processes in place don’t match up with this framework change them. Create teams of employees who perform this task and ask for input on how you can streamline or change processes and make this area more in line with your company’s objectives. Your brand image should be clearly consistent across all aspects of your business from your hiring practices to the delivery of the final product.
The key to a bigger, better, stronger brand is to have a clear, consistent message. Distill your brand down to its core and make sure that message is clearly reflected in all aspects of your operations and you’ll see just how much heavy lifting your brand can do for you.
For great tips and ways to a build a bigger, better, stronger brand check out Building Better Brands: A Comprehensive Guide to Brand Strategy and Identity Development by Scott Lerman, available from MyDesignShop.