Q&A: How to Communicate Brand Strategy to Clients

I’ve been consumed with gathering all the branding tips I can. My hyperfocus on everything branding might be a little obsessive at the moment, but that’s because I’m reevaluating my own personal brand. Plus, it’s always beneficial to be informed of the best branding practices.

In the process of devouring all the branding information, I found this Q&A transcript from HOW Design University’s Certificate of Branding. However, it’s not entirely focused on personal branding. It hones in on another tricky subject in regards to branding: how to communicate brand strategy to your clients.

The transcript is from a workshop with branding experts Marcia Hoeck and Ed Roach. It contains the questions students asked after completing the workshop along with Marcia’s and Ed’s answers. I find this immensely helpful for those who are currently working on branding projects and who are struggling to communicate their branding strategy to the clients.

View the Q&A transcript below. And to become a branding star, I suggest enrolling in the Certificate of Branding program on HOWU. It combines their branding courses into one comprehensive program – and at a discounted price versus buying all the courses separately.


Q+A with Marcia Hoeck & Ed Roach: How to Talk about Brand Strategy

Questions from the live workshop:

Q: I’ve been working for a client (as a graphic designer) for close to 20 years. They are finally ready to rebrand their product with me. I know they value my “expertise” but am having a hard time pricing this, repositioning myself as a “strategist.”

Ed: I, too, have found this difficult for an existing client who already has a ‘designer perception’ of me. The only way I overcame it ( if I did ) was to have a process and to approach it as a consultancy service.

Marcia: There’s always a transition period, especially with existing clients. If this is a new service for you, you may want to offer them a one-time-only, totally transparent special price for them. This can be positioned to them as an appreciation for past work, but it benefits you too, as you get a first case history to show others.

Q: We went from traditional ad agency to branding agency a few years ago. I find we spend an inordinate amount of time educating clients on what branding is /does. Do you deal with this problem/challenge… if so how?

Ed: I use a case history that they can see real-world examples.

Marcia: How you talk bout branding can make all the difference, and whether the client sees it as a solution or a pitch.


Q: Much of this work is a combination of Marketing and Visual Design. As an independent designer with an understanding of marketing, but no extensive experience of how to develop a marketing program, how do you begin to introduce the marketing strategy aspect with little to no experience in marketing?

Ed: Our process doesn’t involve marketing OR design. Those items follow the branding process in the implementation phase. If I had no experience in the marketing side, I would either sub it out or pass it over to someone who has the marketing experience.

Marcia: I had a marketing expert on my staff. If a marketing plan was needed, she would lay one out. But many times we did not add this.

shutterstock_307576307Q: If you do not have agency experience, how do you develop a process that can rival big players like IDEO or Sterling?

Marcia: Depending on where and how you compete, many times you will not be head to head with companies like this–you will be competing against other designers who are just offering logos. And you will blow them out of the water if you offer strategy first. Our best advice is to not try to rival the big players. There are many clients of all sizes who do not want to work with the big guys.

Q: I do a 3-hour “kickoff,” step-by-step branding “workshop” for either a startup or an existing firm that wants to re-energize their brand. This session is followed by a written summary of observations and recommendations. How can the client then implement all these recommendations? The sessions are great, and we uncover/surface a lot of great understanding and exploration of their brand and where they want to be, but then it’s a matter of actually *doing* all the tasks on the resulting “branding punch list!”


Marcia: Don’t take responsibility for all of the client’s problems. Help them with the ones you can, and list the ones you can’t help them with. They will be grateful for the list. If your process uncovers a need for them to (for example) revamp their sales process and you’re not a sales expert, it’s good for them to know this, but obviously you are not the person to help.

Q: A lot of branding firms like to brand their branding with names like MindSpring, Emotional Value, Springboard, ValuePlus, ThoughtCraft etc. When these “unique” approaches are examined, they’re all saying the same thing, i.e., “We delve deep into your company. We ask a lot of questions. We ask you where you have been, where you are and where you’re going. We do a brand audit of your company and your competition. We ask you what your unique selling proposition is; what your business philosophy is.” These are all valid statements, naming the process aside. However, they do not differentiate your firm from the competition. Do you have any insights on how to significantly differentiate one’s own selling proposition?

Ed: I believe naming your process differentiates you and as well as having a process will differentiate you. We’ve noticed that several competing firms have no process. They consider the activity fluid. In other words, they’re faking it.

So true. They say these things on their sites, but it’s all an outward push. How they actually help the client remains to be seen. We think what differentiates us (and designers as branders) is our reluctance to push marketing. We prefer to use pull marketing by getting clients excited and interested in the process, and how we can actually help. In other words, instead of talking about us and our process, we talk about them and their challenges. We educate and inspire and try not to pound our chests.

Master the branding process with HOW Design University’s Certificate of Branding program.