Why You Shouldn’t Rush Branding

By Will Straughn

The short answer for why you should never rush branding is this: Your brand encompasses every touchpoint your organization has with its users. It will outlive any marketing campaign, website design, or even product UI.

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Summer, Focus Lab’s brand strategist, wrote a great post in 2015 about this very topic. I still reference it with potential clients regularly. But a lot has changed for us since then — we’ve grown, first of all. With time and new teammates come new skills and insights, which means we’ve enhanced our branding process quite a bit.

Focus Lab is a full-service branding and creative services agency. That means we don't just create logos, we help our partners establish an all-encompassing brand experience. Our process is highly methodical and prompts our partners’ involvement at every step. At a high level, it looks like this.

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Brand Discovery

All branding projects start with a kickoff meeting. We will conduct a stakeholder meeting and, potentially, follow-up meetings, to help us understand our partner's goals, strategic efforts and needs, audience, and metrics for success, and to identify the roles and responsibilities of all dedicated and ancillary project team members and stakeholders.

After this, we conduct a baseline evaluation of our partner’s existing brand. This includes an analysis of their full brand experience, defining a brand story (or who they are), the boiled-down benefits their organization offers, their internal values, and the target audience.

After getting the lay of the land, we chart the path to transition. This is where we define our expectations, discuss what sets their organization apart from others, identify the challenges to establishing a strong brand, conduct an analysis of their competitive landscape, survey similar demographic landscapes, and start to put their organization in context.

Brand Strategy

Once we’ve completed our Discovery process, we’ll work to define a foundation and rationale for the brand experience. Here, we draw from the above section a direction, which will guide the creative work to come. 

Our goal isn't to create the coolest brand ever, but instead clearly define where opportunity lives and start to work towards it intentionally.

 An uninformed design process might yield a cool look, but cool doesn’t solve problems. At Focus Lab we create things that promote growth and enrich lives in organizations and communities, and a well defined strategy significantly feeds the creative process.

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Concepting

This stage is the bridge between strategy and design, where we apply what we've learned about our partner during Discovery and Strategy and brainstorm different concepts that apply to the defined strategy. Sometimes these grow from brand values, other times to address the challenges being faced.

These concepts assist in two ways: they provide direction for forthcoming creative decisions, and they provide a foundation for design that is rooted in the company and that richly offers storytelling and continuity.

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It’s important to note, this isn’t a siloed exercise. At Focus Lab a majority of the team is involved during concepting. This helps to ensure multiple points of view and maximize our chances of hitting the best directions.

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Brand Ideation

Now that we’ve concluded concepting, we can boil down the long list, sometimes 100 plus, into the top contenders. From there we build early visual mood boards and rough designs to bring the words to life. We never take just one concept into design. Instead, we move forward with three to five. It’s important to push each of these as far as we can to determine which will hold the most weight as we stress test each against our Statement of Intent from strategy.

This process is very iterative and takes place over several weeks until we're finally working within one conceptual direction. This is where we bend, break, challenge, hug, fight, and perfect the direction (whew). The outcomes of this phase are traditionally the core visual identity. Including assets like logotype, mark (if needed), color palette, and secondary typography.

Now that we’re clear on the visual identity, we can start to expand on the all-encompassing brand experience. This is where we will focus on a brand’s verbal identity and start to bring the brand to life through a variety of media like illustration, photography, motion, collateral, etc. A Verbal Identity, even in its most basic form, can address long-standing communication questions that will arise as a brand grows. A brand’s voice needs to be as an intentional as a brand's looks: the right words wield serious power that can make your brand. The wrong ones do the opposite.

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Brand Guidelines

We did it! Wait . . . things don’t stop here. It’s important to bring brand projects to a close by creating brand guidelines. This document will include all of the elements we created including rules and use application guidelines—to create a consistent tone, look, and feel for the brand. We ask our partners to absorb this information and reference it often to become an informed keeper of the brand. Follow these rules strictly to maintain brand consistency. If you don’t do this, then what was the point.

Now that you have the lay of the land, each project is different and comes with it own set of challenges and opportunities. I hope it’s clear that we can’t create a brand in two weeks, heck not even in four. I’m not sure how long it will take to establish yours, but if we apply the process above you’ll truly have a fantastic brand that will position your organization for growth.