Target audience, company mission, culture, tone of voice? Here's how to decode your options.
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For start-ups, contacting a branding agency for the first time can feel like a daunting step – and when that initial chat is over, many are left confused by the agency’s proposals.
Talk of target audience, company mission, culture and tone of voice, etc, can come as a shock when all you thought you needed was a logo and a little website development.
Perhaps one of the reasons that confusion exists is the word itself. Branding. It implies a stamp of some kind, a marque, a label, a logo. It doesn’t give you a sense of the wider, deeper role that branding plays, and the advantages that it can bring when it’s done the right way.
Think about Nike. The brand is so much more than its Swoosh. Its remit has extended beyond athleticwear into the realms of activism.
The decision to feature Colin Kaepernick demonstrates the brand’s understanding of who its consumers are – people who want to see brands align with their personal values and take a stand on important issues.
It also demonstrates that a brand is not a one-stop shop. It’s an ongoing thing – you need to communicate your brand in the right way over time, always shifting and reviewing and evolving. It informs how the world sees you, so you should never underestimate its power and importance.
Recently, we were approached by an artisanal gin distiller looking to develop a website. They already had a brand, they told us – but it quickly became apparent that what they actually had was a logo.
We took a step-by-step approach to get them where they needed to be, starting with a visual identity, which formed the basis of the website. That work was later used to develop a wider communications strategy to underpin the whole brand.
Of course the process can seem intimidating to someone starting out, and people understandably get a little nervous around potential costs. But get it right now and you won’t have to start again further down the line.
You’ll have a holistic, robust structure that can flex and grow and see you through, which will be easier on budgets in the long term. And remember that it’s possible to build great results in stages.
So what are the most important things for start-ups and growing businesses to consider before they approach a brand design agency? Here are a few pointers to help you get the most out of that initial chat.
Speak in your own language
Talk in terms that you understand and ask the agency for exactly what you want – even if at that point it’s simply a better-looking website.
It’s their job to understand how the brand of the company shines through, and how it develops, grows and strengthens as a consequence of that website design work. And never be afraid to ask what might seem like a basic question.
Decide what you want to achieve and why
Think about your intended outcome. For example, are you approaching this work in order to appeal to investors or new consumers? It’s important because it will dictate how things progress and ensure that the work is tailored to the right task and the right people.
What a brand needs to achieve from a wealthy, middle-aged investor will probably be different to its purpose as a product or service once it has achieved that investment and is targeted at the consumer.
Be upfront about your budget
Putting all your cards on the table removes any unnecessary back and forth. There are lots of ways to make your money work hard. Those on a smaller budget might start out by investing in the visuals, which appear across everything and are so important.
A full roll-out of the central tenets, tone of voice, brand guide, digital development, etc, can follow. A good agency will prioritise so that you get maximum return on your investment, with a progress plan in place for when more funds become available.
But they need an honest appraisal of the budget from the outset if they’re going to make your money work as hard as it can.
Don’t get hung up on finding a sector-specific agency
It may seem a little counterintuitive at first: you’re in FMCG so surely you should recruit the services of an FMCG-focused agency? Not necessarily. You may be better off if you broaden your search. Employing an agency that has experience in other sectors could encourage you to think outside the box and avoid looking like all your competitors.
It may feel like the safer option to stick to home turf, but ‘safe’ rarely elicits the most exciting, notable results. At ShopTalk, we work across technology, FMCG, the restaurant trade and agriculture, to name just a few – keeping it varied helps us come up with the best results for every sector.
Understand that logos don’t work in isolation
Successful brands are about so much more than their logos – they’re layered and imbued with meaning and resonance built over time.
It’s hard to remember an age before Amazon, Starbucks and Nike, et al. But all these brands have one thing in common – they’ve been on a journey and no steps have been skipped. A quick Google search throws up how their logos have evolved and their brands have developed over time to get to where they are now.
Successful brands work on a deeper level because they understand that the logo is just one small part of the identity and that strong foundations are essential. Short-term thinking is the enemy here; building understanding and focusing on values as well as visuals will get you where you want to go faster.
…and that the best value comes from a long-term relationship
It doesn’t have to be a scary, intimidating process. But it should be joined up so that whatever you decide to do with your business, the brand will make sense and ring true.
A good relationship with your brand design agency, where you act as partners rather than customer and provider, will make for a smoother, more fruitful ride, too.
Thinking of ‘brand’ as an umbrella term that encompasses logos, values, visuals, style guides, palettes, tone of voice, positioning, personality and expression is a good place to start.
Establish with a designer what your goals are and he or she will help you focus on developing the brand elements needed at every stage to engage appropriately with your audience.
Ultimately, brand design is an investment in your business that, done well, will build equity, earning you interest on every conversation you have, and making you stronger, whatever your size or stage of development.