It goes without saying that design and branding needs to be visually attractive, but great design needs more than just good looks. It must have strong foundations, purpose, differentiation and vision – and this only happens when strategy plays an essential part in the creative process. While it’s not difficult to find a designer with the ‘operational’ skills to design a logo-shaped object, the best design agencies balance creativity with strategic thinking to uncover what is truly unique about a brand.
Before we even think about hitting the drawing board, we immerse ourselves in a client’s business and their broader industry context to allow us to start defining what their point of difference is. What’s even better is when a client’s willing to join us in that process. We encourage the key stakeholders to come together for a strategic workshop, where we drill right down into the brand to identify its ‘brand essence’. It’s not always easy to persuade a client to add this extra step to the process; often they’ll have a brief ready and just want us to get on with it. But getting the right people in a room to focus on nothing but the brand can sometimes be the closest thing to alchemy!
Getting under the skin of your brand
Of course, we would never present a new brand identity without having a strategic rationale behind it, but a brand workshop gives us so much more to work with. When you’re face to face with somebody, getting under the skin of a brand, their reaction to a word or sentence can give a depth of insight that takes you to a completely different place strategically. It’s truly satisfying when you help a client to discover what it is they really want to say, when all too often they say what they think they should say. Strategic workshops have the potential to create real ‘Eureka!’ moments that can have a huge impact on not just design strategy but business strategy too.
We’ve watched clients who were cynical at the start of the process find a new depth of clarity from the workshops that reinvigorates their thinking and truly excites them. Taking this extra step makes a massive difference to the results – we are able to produce an outstanding piece of work that really brings their brand’s essence alive, rather than simply responding to what the client thinks we should be doing.
What makes your customer come to you?
We always start by asking a client “Why should a customer come to you rather than anybody else?” Nine times out of 10, they can’t tell us. A strategic workshop helps a company to define what makes them unique. In the majority of cases, it will reveal a raft of fantastic material that highlights the brand’s point of differentiation. With this insight we can create work based on a more strategic understanding and appreciation of the client that really does change the quality of the output. We may create three or four creative directions for them, but we know that strategically, they are all 100 percent spot on. Then it’s down to the client to overlay the subjective desire for one solution over another.
There have also been occasions where we’ve started a piece of design work and come to the realisation that we need to run a strategic workshop to get it right. The workshop may well confirm that some of the work is on track, but it also helps us to identify and throw out the wrong routes. By taking a step back and refocusing on what’s really important about the brand, we’ve been able to come up with the perfect response to a brief.
"Strategic workshops have the potential to create real ‘Eureka!’ moments"
Crafting your brand positioning statement
Once we’ve helped a client to uncover what’s unique about their brand, they have the beginnings of a communication strategy that will drive the graphic design brief. The next step is to get the words absolutely right to create their brand positioning statement – we help them to craft a single sentence that encapsulates the brand and its proposition. This creates the first tangible piece of collateral for a client – something that, if they had just asked us to design a logo, they would never have had.
From that, we can develop a very powerful checklist of the values that we’re trying to communicate. It could be anything from choice of colour and use of photography or illustration, through to tone of voice or ‘edginess’ of design. If the process has identified that the client is thinking one thing and presenting something else, we will have the tools to pull those pieces together. Rather than just creating a brochure because that’s what the client thought they needed, we can feel confident interrogating the brief to ensure that every piece of collateral is doing the job it should be doing.
For a designer, understanding the true essence of a brand – its unique selling points, ethos, culture and values – is essential to defining its creative identity. Only then can we create a tangible programme outlining where the client is visually, and where they need to be. Whether we’re looking at a logo as part of a brand identity system, a sales brochure or a website, executing this strategic process allows us to ensure that every manifestation of the brand is aligned, working hard and, most importantly, telling the right brand story.