I’ve spent a lot of time the past couple of months experimenting with new or updated additions to my design process. And as promised, I’m ready to share some of what I’ve found with you all, starting with the importance of brand strategy. This is something that I’ve struggled with for years, mainly because I wasn’t sure how far to go. I saw some designers keeping things simple with a short (but important) list of questions for their clients to answer, while others spent months digging in and getting to know their clients inside and out, complete with an elaborate presentation, all before the actual design began. Everyone has their own way of doing things, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about branding a business, it’s this: the better you understand your client and their business, the better you are as a designer. It’s as simple as that. If you are genuinely invested in your clients and doing what you need to do to understand their goals, it’s going to be THAT much easier to help them create a brand that works + lasts. So what exactly do I do? Here’s a step by step overview:
01. CLIENT QUESTIONNAIRE The first thing I do in any branding project is send over a comprehensive client questionnaire via Google Docs so that my clients can edit directly within the document itself (no sending back and forth necessary). My questionnaire is divided up into several parts. The first part asks fairly obvious questions about their business (so I can better understand what they do). The second part has them define their target market as well as competitors. The third part is where I have them describe their brand in a more visual way so that we’re both on the same page about their overall aesthetic + vibe. The questionnaire isn’t terribly long, but the questions have been carefully tailored over the years depending on what has given me the best response. I feel like client questionnaires could be a post in and of itself, so I’ll save that for the next few weeks. ;)
02. DIGEST Once the client questionnaire has been filled out, I set aside a couple of hours to fully immerse myself into their answers, all in one sitting. I’ve found that in order for me to truly dig in + understand a business, I need a no distraction environment where I can spend time with who they are, where they’ve been, and where they’re going. And as I’m running through everything, I jot down words, phrases, and anything important that sticks out. I always end up with a few new pages in my notebook filled up with scribbles, circled words, and a really rough plan of how to move forward.
03. STRATEGIZE At this point, many designers “strategize” differently. Some simply send a list of brand buzzwords. Some get on the phone and go over the questionnaire + findings. Others put together a thorough presentation. While there is certainly no right or wrong way, I’ve found that putting together an actual presentation has been the most rewarding solution for me and my clients because it forces me to really dig in and ensure that we’re all on the same page. Here is an overview of what I include:
• THE GOAL This is where I define what the goal of our project together is. For example, maybe our goal is to rebrand an existing business so that it better reflects their target market.
• MISSION If my client already has a mission statement, I like to reiterate (or even tweak) it here. If they don’t, I’ll work with my clients to develop a short + sweet phrase that better defines what they do as a business.
• TARGET MARKET I also like to define WHO my client’s target market is. I try to get as descriptive as possible here instead of resorting to simple phrases like “young females” or “millennials.” You gotta dig deep and explain what these people are like. Where do they live? What do they enjoy? What are they looking for? Be creative. That’s what we’re good at anyway, right? ;)
• COMPETITION Once you’ve outlined the target market, it makes sense to go over who the competition is as well. This is usually specific brand names or a more general niches description. I also like to give suggestions for how a client can stand apart from said competition. For example, if a client of mine is focused on locally made products (and their competitors aren’t), that could be a big selling point. Something to highlight!
• BUZZWORDS Remember when I talked about jotting down words and phrases while learning more about my clients? Those very words and phrases are the ones I typically end up using for brand buzzwords, which is just a simple way of capturing a brand’s overall vibe. Check out the image above to see how I share buzzwords with my clients within the presentation.
• MOODBOARD I’ve been putting together moodboards for clients since I began freelancing. But recently, I’ve started including them in my brand strategy presentations instead of having it be a whole separate thing. This way, the moodboard is a special surprise after the client has been reading through their goals, mission, target market, etc. It’s kind of like icing on the cake, where what you’ve been digesting is visually displayed at the very end.
• OVERVIEW Before I close off my brand strategy presentation, I like to include a brief overview that highlights the important pieces from the strategy as a whole. In reality, it’s kind of like the conclusion you’d would write in any old paper back in school. Remember those? Restate the mission. Summarize. Close it off nicely.
Remember, a brand strategy can be whatever you want it to be. Seriously! My presentations are simple, but informational … typically 12-14 pages with small bits of content on each page. It does take a little extra time to put these presentations together, but after testing them out over the past few months, I can already tell that it’s a straight up game changer. Everyone feels that much more invested and on the same page, which is a beautiful thing when you are visually helping somebody else share their own story.