What is branding?
There is quite a bit of information available out there on this topic. A lot of it has so much business jargon that I sometimes feel people could consider branding as the “blah blah blah” discipline… I’d like to share here my personal views on branding and what I’ve learned while working with our InfinVision clients. I hope you’ll be able to apply something from here when branding your start-up, taking your personal brand or a small business to the next level.
As you might realize, branding is a process during which we help our clients to define a brand. A brand is a reflection of the heart & soul of the company through visuals and words. It represents the beliefs and true motivations of the company (most often of the company owner :)), it’s purpose and place in the world. All encapsulated into a story and expressed in a way that appeals to one’s target audience.
You might say, “Oh, that’s easy…” It is not rocket science, that’s for sure :). From my experience, however, branding is often the most complicated and fundamental step when it comes to creating a successful web presence. It sets the foundation for all your future communication activities online. Without doing a good job at this level, it is often hard to move forward successfully.
I will walk you through the branding process which we use at InfinVision at a high-level and focus on the essentials only. It should give you enough information to get a taste of it and I hope it will serve you as the guideline on what type of thinking needs to be done before the development of the actual elements start (such as brand statement, logo, etc.).
So, as you might have guessed, being clear about one’s heart & soul is the first step in the branding process. I noticed that some people often know this intuitively, but are not always able to articulate it properly. While the others are a bit confused about the best direction and might have a few versions of this heart & soul. For the branding process to succeed, one needs to be crystal clear about these things.
A few reflection sessions to get a grip of things can really help in these cases. Asking a few questions such as “Why am I doing this?” and “Where did the idea come from in the first place?” will reconnect you with your real motivations and purpose-
“your northern star.”
When we are crystal clear about our motivations, we can then start exploring the authentic elements of our brand. What do I like the most about the things I do? What is different in my process or approach from other people (your competitors)? What have others remarked about me with surprise or praise? These questions will help you reflect on your method, approach or way of doing things. It is often a good place to start when thinking “how my company is different?” Let’s call what you’ll discover here your authentic points.
At this level it is very tempting to drift away looking too much into what others do. Try to resist it. It is important to have an holistic view of your marketplace and it is good to look for inspiration outside, but when defining your brand and reflecting on your authentic points, one needs to look inside. Ideally, also try to resist putting on the masks that others would prefer you to wear. If you stay true to yourself, you’ll be surprised how many jewels you’ll find inside. You can then instill them into your brand, making it a truly authentic one.
These steps are the hardest ones and it is especially hard to do them on your own. Some people can do it easily – good for them! But most of us tend to get lost in the vicious cycle of our thoughts. So it can help to have someone as the “sounding board” around. If you need help with this, let me know!
Good news – the next steps become much easier! It is now the time to define your brand traits & characteristics (adventurous, extroverted, introverted, etc.) and the tone of voice (contemplative, light, eccentric, etc.) for more ideas.
When you’ve done that, you are ready to approach the copywriter to help you create a brand statement: brand name, tagline, and all-encompassing paragraph or two telling your brand’s story; and then the designer to help you create the visual elements of the brand such as the logo, stationary, website, etc.
When it comes to designing the visual elements, I’d like to point out one common reoccurring problem which we find whilst working with our clients. Quite often people think that the logo is what represents the brand and then expect the logo in itself to be the brand they had visualized or imagined. But the logo is just one part of the ensemble that contributes to creating a visual world that reflects your brand. When we go to the theatre to watch a play, the curtains covering the stage create an important first impression, don’t they? But this is not the complete experience of us coming to a play – it is just one element of the whole experience. It is important to realize this because if you expect the logo to represent the brand in its fullest, then the logo design process gets stuck and starts going in vicious circles which no one likes. So, it is good to set the expectations early in the process.
Also, keep in mind that it is neither the job of the copywriter or of the designer to invent things for you on the level of defining the heart and soul of your company. We can help you to reflect on this, facilitate the definition process and then to materialize it into the words and visuals. The “raw material,” however, has to come from you/your team as this is your world, isn’t it?
Voila! I think that’s it for the beginning. I hope I have drawn for you a good enough picture of branding as I see it and as we practice it at InfinVision. Would love to hear your experiences with branding… What worked for you? What did not work? What have you found useful or frustrating while working with the designers or the copywriters? Perhaps we could learn from each other…