Sometimes,it isn’t immediately clear why branding might be important for the success of a business. Everyone is always talking about “brand”, but why is it so important?
Branding combines in-depth research, creative thinking and effective, well executed design to create identities that are memorable and that connect with an audience - ultimately to sell. Just like the people we call our best friends, great brands have qualities, traits and a presence that we align with and feel connected to. We are unlikely to forget our friends (hopefully) and it’s the same with brands. If we feel connected to or impacted by the way a brand is showing up, we are unlikely to forget them. What to know more about branding and why it matters? Check out this post.
Only by investing in a professional branding process and putting in the time to develop a cohesive story, can businesses begin to put out the right message at the right time to the right people.
In the world of business it is preferable that things move quickly. Decisions have to be made, the bottom line needs to move and it is common that the expectations are similar for the branding process. However, it is one aspect of a business (hopefully not the only aspect) that absolutely has to be done with care, intention and the appropriate amount of time.
It is of course impossible to state how long this process should take, as it completely depends on the business in question as well as the designer/s taking on the work. In an ideal world, most projects that involve the 5 core steps can wrap up in about 6-8 weeks. However, in the real world, this process is usually closer to 3 months, sometimes more. It is also a misconception that branding is a once-off process that is done and dusted and can be checked off the to-do list. Branding as a whole is an ongoing commitment that requires time and energy to remain strong and effective.
So, while the initial process of establishing the basics may take 1- 4 months, it’s something that should be seen as a long-term commitment if you’d like your business to succeed beyond its first year. If you want to see behind the scenes of a real-world brand design process, take a look at the case study video I recently did on the Flux YouTube channel, and then come back and let’s get into the process.
Before any visual work is done, the branding process starts by establishing a strong foundation. Much like building a house, without a strong foundation, the walls and everything on top are far less reliable or sustainable and definitely won’t last as long. This foundational phase usually includes two aspects depending on the business involved and of course, the brand designer/agency/studio working on the project.
We always start with some kind of research - this phase involves understanding the audience, auditing the existing brand’s identity to find gaps and opportunities, making sure we understand the competition and market landscape we’re playing in as well as considering what the company’s goals and intentions might be. Sometimes, this is combined with the brand strategy phase and is done over a series of workshops or work sessions.
Defining the brand’s strategy
A brand strategy is a roadmap. It is simply the tool that helps clearly define and consolidate all the findings from the before step. Here we work to define the core message of the company and turn it into a well-articulated purpose, vision and mission statement as well as define some of the brand’s values and goals for its future. It should help keep the stakeholders of the company aligned and focused on a united plan and vision. I like to include more formal user personas as well as a customer journey map which helps plan how a customer may come to know the brand so that later on, we can craft messaging and marketing to help validate that journey.
Now that you have a roadmap, you can use design to bring it to life. Design is the tool we use to translate ideas into the visual world - to make ideas seen, felt and heard. Back to the house analogy - design is where we start seeing the home taking shape with paint colors, trimmings and details that make it unique.
Before we can decide exactly what that visual language is going to look like however, we need to explore all the possibilities at our fingertips. This usually involves some kind of mood board process (also sometimes called stylescapes) and is the part of the process where the designer will bring together references and found elements to paint the client a picture of what the end result could look like. This is a vital part of the process as it ensures that the designer and client are on the same page visually from the very beginning. It’s also an incredibly fun and creatively expressive phase and can be done collaboratively in person or just by the designer and then presented to the client.
I dive deeper into this process in our Brand Design Mastery course, so if you’re a designer looking to create the most epic mood boards for your clients, check it out 👉
Now we bring all the ideas together and begin creating tangible brand elements. This is where we begin crafting the logo itself, supporting marks and visual aspects that will tell the story of the brand. The logo, while not the brand itself, is still just as important. It acts as the identifier for the brand - a symbol by which customers will remember the business and what it stands for. It;s important to remember that a brand’s logo is not intended to do ALL the work for the brand - it shouldn’t be a mish-mash of every idea and story behind the brand. All it should do is identify the brand in the minds of the customers.
Beyond the logo, the brand needs to show up in multiple places - be it online or in the real world, when designing an identity we also need to consider how it will be used. From business cards to signage and social media, the visuals of a brand should be flexible and diverse so that customers get a holistic experience all round. There’s no point having a fancy red front door on your house if there’s no furniture for your guests to sit on when they come around, right?
This phase includes the strategic application of the brand’s visual language to elements that are relevant to the business. Some might need business cards, some might not. It’s key that as designers, we’re adapting how we apply branding to who our clients are and the nature of their businesses.
Finally, the Brand Style Guide. No longer optional, and now more than ever needed to help companies keep brands agile yet consistent. By now, we’ve put in a ton of work to develop a cohesive brand identity and system - it would be such a shame if it were to be used incorrectly. What’s the point of owning a nice car if you can’t drive it?!
Style Guides (or brand bibles, brand guidelines etc) are a technical tool that should be adhered to at all times in the usage and lifetime of the brand. They usually include:
If you’re a designer and you’re unsure of where to start, you can have a look at this super useful guide on creating solid Style Guides.
Often forgotten, the roll out of the new identity is almost as important, if not more so, than the identity itself. This phase involves careful planning and isn’t always the role of the identity designer to implement - sometimes this falls to a marketing team or brand manager, but it is always key to factor in this phase as a vital part of the branding process.
This is an ongoing process as well and often spans content creation, web and social media.
Depending on the business and goals, this phase can take a few weeks or a few months and even as long as a few years to implement and grow. But as with any part of branding, it should be seen as a continuous commitment, one that is worth the effort for great, long-lasting results!
To wrap it up, the process of developing a brand can take many forms depending on the individual process of the agency or designer, but it usually entails these 5 core aspects (or at least it should). The branding methodology is one that has evolved over many years and will continue to evolve, as do businesses and markets. It’s always important to keep a finger on the pulse and adapt with the times to ensure your branding process as a designer is effective, and then as a business owner, to ensure your branding is top-notch at all times.
Don’t forget to check out our branding course, Brand Design Mastery, where we teach you how to craft solid brands from the ground up. Or if you’re just exploring we have a free workshop on branding available here. Be sure to check out our YouTube channel for all the latest on Design and Freelancing too.
Happy Creating friends!
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