Lots of people, many designers included, think a “brand” is just a nice looking logo. Wrong. So, so wrong, designers. A brand is about a lot more than simply a logo, or a stationery set, a cool t-shirt, etc. As a branding creative director, I’ve accumulated a bit of knowledge about what, exactly, goes into a successful brand that users truly connect with.
Today, I’m going to take you through the 5 essential things I believe a brand needs other than a nice looking logo, which is also important, but it’s also sort of a given, right?
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1. A Mission
The brand you’re designing has to have a reason for existing. If it doesn’t, run far, far away from that project. A mission doesn’t have to be anything especially complicated. It can be as simple as a dream or an ideal that the founder had to reach out to more people through their business, or perhaps they want to continue a family business started by a parent or grandparent.
But, if the business owners have no motivation or guiding principles that inspire them to work hard on their business, how are they going to expect you, the designer, to do the same?
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Some entrepreneurs have lost the “spark” they once had, that motivation that made them start the business in the first place, and they are looking for outside help to try and get it back.
That’s all fine and good, but you usually don’t want to be in a situation where you’re the only one who’s passionate about the business. What tends to happen is actually the opposite of what the client hopes: their “meh” attitude will actually infect you too, and you’ll soon be dreading going in to work every morning.
2. A Target Market
You don’t just create a branding strategy because you want some cool looking stationery. Your client’s brand needs to have a target audience, people who get the main message and will respond positively to it. This legwork will likely already be done by the client, but not always. Sometimes, it will be your job to be market researcher as well as designer.
How do you go about researching a target market? First, you have to know something about the industry. If you don’t, now is a great time to familiarize yourself and do some rooting around. Talk to potential users of the product or service and get a feel for the kind of people they are. What are their likes and dislikes, their expectations when using a website, software, product, etc.
3. Something Of Value
Brands provide value. Usually, this value is of an emotional nature – making people feel happy, safe, secure, entertained, etc. The actual product itself may not be worth much, financially speaking, but there is a lot to be said about people’s perception of a brand. If a user believes that something has value, then it does. This is both a good thing for designers – and a bad thing.
On the one hand, it means that you only need to come up with that one, great design that really connects with a large number of people and your reputation is basically set. On the other hand, it means that you need to be discerning about the exact kind of value you choose to provide your users.
More accurately: users have to Know, Like, and Trust your brand’s message if they are going to continue to value it and support your client’s business. These are the basic fundamentals of branding that every designer needs to be aware of. It’s not just your client’s responsibility; if you’re going to build a niche and have only the best clients on your roster, you have to become a mini-brand expert yourself.
First, people need to know the brand exists. That’s where marketing and spreading the word comes in. Next, if people don’t like a particular brand, they aren’t going to use it. This may be a matter of simple perception.
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The bread on the bottom shelf may taste the same as the top shelf bread, but people are going to assign a lower value to it regardless. Or, it could be that they genuinely don’t like the product or service. There’s nothing you can do about that – no brand can please everyone, nor should they try.
Finally, if people don’t trust the brand, then all the fancy logos in the world aren’t going to fix the problem. This is more a problem with your client, and how well they convey trust, not only to their audience, but to everyone who works for them – including you. If you don’t trust them, there’s no way users will.
5. Genuine Communication
A brand needs to speak its target market’s language. If it comes across as phony or artificial, people will pick up on it immediately, and the brand will be a source of ridicule. This is related to trust – people have to agree with your message and trust that you know what’s best for them.
Nowhere is this more apparent than the social news site Reddit. The Reddit community is famously selective – not just anything can make it onto its coveted front page. Many marketers have tried to crack the code, failing miserably because they don’t understand how Reddit works and what Redditors value in a brand. Because Redditors have the power to “downvote” posts, it creates a purely democratic experience that proves the sincerity of any marketing attempt and keeps brands honest.
What Do You Think?
What else do brands need to have (other than a logo)? How important do you think it is for designers to have a solid understanding of brand creation?