When I started to design 10 years ago, I always felt like the brands I was creating were incomplete. There always was too much of “pleasing the client” and too little of “making things as proper for their industry/market”.
The truth is, when you don’t have the backing of a strategy, your work is left without a justification. Your choices of colors, shapes, fonts and even words will end up being controlled by your client who will feel like (s)he understands your job better than you.
But before getting enraged, consider this: when you create a brand without strategy, you leave all the analysis and the part that will make the creative work behind. Well, you can’t really blame the client, right?
Now, let’s bust a myth together:
A questionnaire is not strategy
First of all, ditch the questionnaire altogether; not only are you giving your client work that is your responsibility, you are missing the opportunity to do a strategic workshop and really ask the relevant questions. No, what brands they identify with the most, or if their brand was a person what it would be like are not relevant branding questions. Sorry. Been there, done that.
It is rare a brief that you receive that doesn’t need to be explored and actually prodded around with a fresh stick of curiosity and a hint of annoyance. That is the only way to ensure you will get down to the real problem and understand if you are solving it or just putting a band aid on a whole.
The purpose of a strategy workshop is to determine the roadmap of the project, and reveal insights about the business (and owner).
A brand workshop’s purpose is to help you deliver the research findings as well as gain context to the client’s problems, and help get them to a satisfactory solution.
But before you can jump into a workshop, we need to look at what you will need to have in your framework in order for it to be successful.
General elements in a framework
There are a bunch of different frameworks out there, some being more extensive than others. However, they all have a few things in common:
- An overview of the business
- The current brand identity
- The current brand perception and image
- The market
- The ideal clients
All strategic frameworks need a basis to give you context, and there are ways to get that context that are both biased by the company and unbiased. You should have a healthy mix of qualitative, quantitative and empirical research to give you ground and understanding, such as:
- doing research on the market (trends + insights)
- discovery sessions
- feedback from the audience and customers
- site visits (offline and online)
Some of these things should be done before a workshop, or at least in between sessions so that you can start developing and paving your way towards tactical solutions that make sense for the team that will be working on them.
However, a strategist’s role is to define the what and come up with an exciting how, that will yield surprising results for that company.
You aren’t the point, the client isn’t the point
This is my favorite quote from Strat It Up!, because it sums the idea of our job really well. A lot B2B businesses (and hey, creatives included) will do their work based off what their client’s want or what we think it’s best, completely ignoring the real consumer here: the client’s clients.
Let’s change that to a more H2H approach, where we serve the humans who will be directly consuming the content of the strategies we create.
Research: navigating information
That’s the single most important part of the start of any strategy: research. The data you collect will give you the necessary overview of the work you will create.
You will be making assumptions based off what the staff and the directors, what you can find on the internet and the things you will read in between the lines of analytics. And that can be a daunting and overwhelming world to step in.
There are tons of great sites where you can get market reports, trends and insights as well see what people are searching for, and how they are consuming products and services. Sometimes, they will be behind a paywall, and you can pitch a report or two to your client.
When a business doesn’t have analytics, though, you will need to get creative and use sites like Reddit and Quora to dig in the way that people consume the product / service you are working with.
Brand positioning vs Brand salience — positioning is dead?
You read it right! Did you gasp? I know, I had that same reaction. No, positioning is not exactly dead, it still is useful, to an extent.
On the book How Brand’s Grow, Byron Sharp of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science proves a point (of which if you want the full details and research insights, read the book) that brands are consumed differently by customers as is, specially now with social media.
They buy from brands they know, like and trust, and not because they are positioned in a certain way. Positioning statements are still useful internally, if to keep your staff focused and motivated. But clients and customers? They care about the benefits and the relationship they have with that brand. A brand doesn’t occupy a person’s mind — a person is reminded of a brand due to heuristics and mental connections it makes with it, by being exposed over time. Take a look below.
Brand strategy development
It’s not a monster of 10 heads, really, just having your checklist ready will help you monstrously when it comes to the process — like with everything else.
A strategy has to be 5 things:
My framework is rather simple, but developed over the years as I learned and applied it. We use this framework at my studio as well.
The diagnosis takes us back to our brief and our first contact with the client. This when we realise whether our expertise will be welcomed, if we are a good fit with our client and if we are facing a problem we can solve. But that’s a topic for another day!
Brand Salience: what’s known about the brand matters
And that takes us deeper into researching our client’s business, and understanding the way they are perceived. What is the relationship the customers have with our client’s brand, products and services?
Those mental triggers are to be taken in consideration, because the last thing you want to modify them too much and undermine a whole product.
Here’s a zoomed and stretched view of the development process, taking salience and the creative into consideration.
I hope this introduction to the brand strategy framework was interesting and informative! The download includes a deeper view into the whole model and includes worksheets for you to apply in your day to day!