Brand Strategy: A Bird’s Eye View

By Summer Teal Simpson Hitch

I joined Focus Lab more than two years ago. My role was different then; I was a part-time copywriter with a keen interest in the greater creative process.

Brand Bird @2X

It wasn't long before I was tapped by the team for research support, which led to my greater overall awareness of project intricacies and relevance, which led to a defined need for strategy. After all, what good is design if it is not intentional? What message does an irrelevant, albeit attractive, brand deliver? I'm not saying that our work pre-2013 was way off the mark. Each designer, after all, has their own built-in strategic process, some more, some less. But we weren't always hitting the mark quite as well, or as quickly, until strategy became a core tenet of our process.

So what does Brand Strategy look like for us? More often than not brand strategy takes place in our Discovery phase. (Don't know what our Discovery phase is? This might help.) Our strategic process aims at defining a foundation and rationale for the brand, and ensure that design is specific to the needs of the client and the end user. It also helps us make recommendations on specific branding assets for the production phase. Most of the time, it spans a week to two weeks.

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Now, we can't give away our secret sauce. But here is a general sketch of our strategy outcomes. It's not a hard and fast rule as to what we define within a brand strategy document, but a good place to start is with the following:

BASELINE ASSESSMENT

This is where we define brand story, a succinct definition of the company, including historical context and introduction of purpose. Additionally, we keep our eyes on the prize by designing for the target audience. We start by defining who that is in all its potential nuances. And, a brand is built on who that company is, and then visually and verbally represents that to the world. So we start at the beginning, at the heart of the company, with values. Much of the design work will grow from this foundation.

BENEFITS/DIFFERENTIATORS/CHALLENGES

Here, we detail the customer-facing products or services, company USPs - or what sets them apart from their competition-which sometimes present design opportunities, and potential challenges. These are the barriers to entry or to success that we will try, wherever possible, to address via design.

CURRENT PERCEPTIONS

For existing brands, this presents us with an opportunity to analyze their existing vibe and visuals, and to identify opportunities or weaknesses beyond what they've brought to our attention. At times, this guides whether design will be a refresh or complete redesign.

COMPETITOR ANALYSIS

The best way to acquaint ourselves with an industry is to research company competitors. This helps us identify industry norms with visuals and voice, which can help us identify visual cues, opportunities, and things to avoid.

DIRECTION FORWARD

Where we throw out some examples of brands who are accomplishing some aspect of what we are advocating for a client's design future. This helps them to visualize what we're saying in design-speak. We also restate client directives on style, asset needs, and content. Then we outline a potential game plan of next steps, including specific recommendations on design assets for the production phase.

CREATIVE BRIEF

The above steps culminate in a statement of intent, or "North Star" as we like to call it, for the design work to come.

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Once we've compiled a Brand Strategy document and have presented to a client for their feedback and approval, the most important consideration becomes applying the strategy we've identified to the design phase. Strategy is only as valuable as it affects and informs design. We always like to warn clients that the Brand Strategy document is not as visually pleasing as other rounds of deliverables, but it sure is valuable, setting the stage for every ounce of the design work to come.

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