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Your brand is not your baby.
Okay, it kind of is your baby — in how you nourish it, support it, invest in it and stick with it on both good and bad days. But what I mean is, you don’t necessarily want to treat it like it’s 50% of your DNA.
While your company should be tied to your passion and dreams, the company brand doesn’t have to be an exact extension of you. It doesn’t need to (and sometimes really shouldn’t) reflect your own style or your personal brand.
I get that you might want it to. And it might make sense for you. You can have a company brand that is a complete reflection of who you are — your ethos and mindset, your individual taste and who you are as a consumer — if and only if your research findings line up to reveal that your brand’s target consumer is in fact you. But … it might not.
Often, you’ve got to make a choice. Do you want your brand to appeal to you or to the customers who are most likely to buy it? Do you want your product to belong in your shopping cart or in theirs? In other words, would you rather your brand be focused on your preferences or would you rather it be profitable by focusing on your core audience?
Follow the research
If you ultimately want it to be profitable, you’ve got to follow the research.
Research is the essential first step in impactful branding; it helps you truly understand your customer, giving you a vital foundation to design from. Research might lead you to a brand that reflects your own tastes, or it might not. But with it, what you’ll have is the groundwork for creative, effective magic.
The importance of groundwork and preparation cannot be overstated. It’s like what any five-star chef would tell you: You must start with the mise en place.
Mise en place is a French culinary phrase that means “putting in place” or “gather.” Before making an amazing meal, you get everything together and ready. You julienne the carrots. You dice your tomatoes.
With branding and brand design, your mise en place is doing thorough creative, consumer and strategic research, then organizing that information and agreeing on what elements (ingredients) to leverage.
In the research stage, an agency should ask:
Who is your consumer audience?
What other brands are they buying?
What does their lifestyle look like?
What brands will be next to your product on the shelf?
What area of the aisle will feature your product in a store?
What are other brands who have invested heavily in the same space doing well?
What consumer challenges are you solving?
What makes your brand unique?
Why should people care?
And (sometimes most importantly) why do YOU as an owner care? What is your brand’s reason for existing?
Once these buckets of information are clearly defined, an agency or designer will then turn them into pieces of information that can be used in the creative process. They will outline and identify which elements can contribute to the brand’s success.
How to successfully navigate a consumer-centric brand design
From here, the creatives, strategists, and client work together to agree on what key aspects to use in brand design to create a consumer-centric (not brand owner-centric) road map. As a brand owner, this can be exciting but unfamiliar territory. Here are some ways to navigate it strategically and successfully:
If you’re working with an agency, realize that the multiple viewpoints they offer work to your benefit. Approach ideas with an open mind.
Using the research-driven possible elements, see what resonates with you for your brand, keeping your audience in mind first.
If you love elements that also align with the research, this part of the process should be easy. But maybe it’s not that simple. For example, maybe your consumer loves pink — wears it, decorates the house with it and uses it in their Instagram stories — but you can’t stand the color. Then you have to ask: Can you live with it anyway, if you know it will help your brand succeed and be profitable?
When evaluating potential design concepts, be sure to take elements out of their silos and picture them within their natural home. For example, if your product is a frozen food product, don’t just look at an image and react. Picture it in the freezer first. This is essential because what pops and speaks to a consumer in the frozen food aisle can look a little weird when considered out of context.
Do consumer testing. There are many ways, including a number of online tools and consumer research companies, to get real-time, quick feedback. If you are unsure which design will perform best, spend the money to do the consumer testing and find out. And just to be clear, I’m not talking about surveying your friends, 20 investors, or your family members. That is not a good idea (even if they are designers). You need real consumers without a vested interest in your feelings giving you real, hard data. Sometimes the truth hurts, but it can also set you free.
If you go through this process, know that while it is not always a straight line, you’re on the path to creating an incredible, consumer-centric brand.
And when your team presents their first ideas to you, keep in mind that these are the ones they’ve determined — through research and expertise — will have the highest impact. The process is definitely iterative and sometimes it takes a while to find the best option, but remember it’s also a common experience for people to initially reject the first ideas just because they’re too far from their own taste. But then find their way right back to those original concepts once they realize they want branding that drives profitability.
This research-driven process builds a road map and foundation for branding that may or may not reflect your own creative preferences. But what it absolutely can do is help build a brand that grows and remains profitable — and has the impact on the world you intend it to. And for most of us, that’s ultimately the most aligned and deeply desired outcome.