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Six common “patterns” that can affect design and brand identity

Keltie Munro – No Comments

We were asked by a consultant recently if there were certain patterns and common assumptions that we’ve noticed with regards to repeated application of marketing/design knowledge to similar clients when developing brand identity. Discussions amongst our designer and partners ensued and we came up with six common themes.

1. We are not (insert your specialty here), and you are not designers.

Designers need to acknowledge that the client knows their business the best, and the client needs to understand that we (should) know how to solve the problem the best. It’s a two-way relationship that is best served when we recognize each other’s strengths and trust the proven process to unfold properly during a branding process or brand audit. If you cannot get past this basic initial step, which is quite common in any field, it is probably not going to be the most respectful union you’ve encountered.

2. The best things in life are not free. At least in this case.

At Industrial Brand, we accomplish an overall brand identity that is done through design, layout, colour, even paper stock (i.e. die cuts, printed shapes, lamination etc.). We use these different approaches where appropriate and only where budget permits.  Corporate identity output is always driven by budget and we have never had a client that says “hey, we don’t care what it costs, just make it awesome!” Design can go to different levels of “wow”, using certain technologies and by having a better understanding of ways of appealing to a specific audience, like online for example, you can be subtle or dramatic.  Your site can be ultra responsive, you can have some unique button attributes or user interface that causes mild bewilderment or a high level of impressiveness.  All of this has to work within the brand identity that has been created. Photography and copywriting are also budget-driven and depending on what direction you go, it can elevate or denigrate the mood or quality of the output. We always work with what we have, but it’s always good to have options.

3. “My way or the highway” doesn’t work.

Some companies we work with have marketing coordinators who are already on staff. We can use them with no extra cost to anyone during a brand audit or process. Smaller companies tend to be more personally and financially invested in our process, so it can be challenging for them to let go of control.  Large companies have likely been through the design or branding process before,  so they tend to not be as risk averse. The key is that we want clients of all sizes to trust and respect our opinions about things like a brand positioning statement or other key elements of the process.

Making all clients feel valued and heard is critical. Pitching another idea or viewpoint can help. People come to the table with preconceived notions of how things should be solved, and often we just need to talk it through.  This allows clients to see how another direction might work better through examples that open them up to options they might not have otherwise considered. Too often we can get caught in a rut and sometimes can only see one vision because of our personal values and our predisposition to our own vision.

4. Everyone is a designer, or at least they think they are. But not everyone is a good one.

On a pure creative level, most people are opinionated about brand and corporate identity. Part of the reason is that it is fun to comment on what color you like best and how a certain logo makes you feel. The other reason is that people feel they can do a lot of it themselves. We sometimes hear things like “Uncle Bill has photoshop so he can design it himself”!  There is an inherent flaw in this way of thinking as it doesn’t change the fact that Uncle Bill is not a trained designer and he is probably not aware of the brand strategy behind it. See our approach here for more detail on our approach.

Architects and engineers go through a similar process in their business when it comes to getting approvals,  so they can relate to what we are saying here. They are able to separate the “I just don’t like it” comments from the “why don’t I like it?” that lurks behind it. The key is to always stay on strategy and stick to the branding process.

5. Let’s agree to disagree.

One of our partners attended a brand identity workshop once where 20 people had to agree on a certain direction. They came up with the term “creatively aligned” which means that you may have a personal opinion that differs, but you can still align with it on a strategic direction. Are you able to see that the strategy can and will work, and are you willing to agree to this overall direction even if it is not exactly how you would do it?

The process that is required for approving the work often affects the design. If it is a large body of partners that need to approve the work, and we need consensus from everyone, this can be challenging during the branding process.  Especially if we are dealing with a client who needs to be concerned about public opinion (i.e. new recreation centre in the community). People need to stick with the strategy or the waters get muddy very quickly.

6. Strong opinions should not be showstoppers.

A bigger challenge presents itself when people not involved in the marketing and communications department get involved. This is usually because they are typically less informed about the branding process and the strategic thinking behind the overall business direction of the company. Sometimes it is because of youth or lack of experience in this area. Sometimes it just comes down to personal taste. In all cases, it is important to have a decision-maker who will listen to everyone’s opinion and (we cannot stress this next point enough) will sincerely value everyone’s input, while at the same time be willing and able to move forward by basing decisions on what is right for the company strategically. Stakeholders and partners typically have more understanding and depth/breadth of business knowledge, and are not as easily swayed to a solution based on personal opinion.  People can and should express their thoughts and viewpoints, and it is worthwhile and important to address them, but it is not, and should not, be a conversation that derails the agreed-upon process.

As always, call us or email anytime with your experiences or feedback. We love to hear from you!

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