There are many theories and lots of bluffs when it comes to brand strategy. And this is understandable given it is a relatively new tool in the design practice. Some might think that brand strategy is unnecessary or merely a way for designers to charge more. But take heed of history. Design is constantly being implemented and updated because our job is to progress with society. It might have been sufficient enough for an ad agency back in the 50s to come up with a tagline and call it a day, but it will not work on the over-stimulated and tech-savvy audience of today. One of the things I love the most about design is that we are forced to constantly reevaluate the way we do our business, and the birth of brand strategy is one of the many examples where we must embrace this evolution.
I'd argue that developing a brand strategy is an important and healthy process for any branding project. Many times start-up clients come to me with a cool idea, and nothing else. They might have the funding, the resources and the passion, but they don’t usually have a clear definition of who they are and what they stand for in the market. Many established companies are facing the same problem too- they've become out of touch, too large or too slow in reacting to market changes. Developing a brand strategy gives the client a chance to take an important step-back to define (or redefine) themselves.
Here are the few steps I take before diving in into design.
This step is about gathering information and research. There are many types of audits, and they should be tailored to your client. I'll cover two common types:
One type is a visual audit of the competition. This involves market research on what’s out there and what language and tone they project in the client's industry, and we call it the Competition Audit. A similar audit is done on the client's peers- these are not direct competitors, but they might be an aspiration to benchmark against.
A Verbal Audit is a direct survey to align the expectations of the company’s stakeholders. In this step, I will usually ask a series of questions regarding the perceptions you have of your product and service, what you see as the future of your brand and what you see as the difficulties. A Behavioural Audit can also be done with an existing brand, to observe how employees speak, talk and interact with the customers and the message they give off about the brand.
2. Strategy workshop:
This can sometimes be a long process but it is no doubt the most exciting and fun part. (Yes more exciting than the actual “ designing”). Many designers find their inspiration from their clients, and I am one of them. I find the more I talk to clients, the more I dig in, the more ideas I have for the creation process.
This is the step when we all sit down- the designers, clients and their key decision makers- ideally face-to-face, and we discuss what we have in mind for the brand. Through the guided workshop, we aim to unveil the purpose of the brand, what does the brand offer and how, what makes the brand different, who are the target customers, what is the brand’s personality and what do we value.
With step-by-step questioning and exercises, we establish the DNA of the brand and identify its core value and its attitude. This makes the design process more rational and on-point to the client’s goal.
What is the brand's core value and what is its DNA?
In my last blog post, I talked about comparing a brand to a person. Your brand's core value is really what drives your service and your product. What does this brand believe? For example, and I will take the most popular example, Steve Jobs’s Apple: When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he felt that Apple lacked value and personality at the time, so he re-asserted an ambitious reason to be, and created with the help of his ad agency the ‘Think Different’ manifesto and campaign, which became the DNA for the Apple we know. It also unified Apple’s industrial design and branding to work toward the same core value.