designing a brand

08/06/2010

hand print - brandingDeveloping an all-new company identity – or brand image – in a competitive marketplace can be a very daunting task. What really constitutes a good versus a bad logo design or brand image?  Well, it really depends on your product or service, how you deliver on your promises, and the relationship you as a business owner develop with your clients or target demographic.  Yeah, I know that’s not what you meant.  You want to know what’s the best logo design out there, what company can I mention that really hit the nail on the head?  Well, I’m sorry to tell you that the answer is just not that simple.

A true brand is developed through several key factors in a client-to-business or business-to-client environment.  The success of a brand or logo design will ultimately depend on how you identify your business strategy, your marketplace competition and your goals for your new identity – to name a few.  Every business has it’s own persona – it’s own approach to doing business, and this needs to be inherently translated through your branding efforts to help bolster your business philosophy and marketplace approach.

The first area of focus as a brand is being developed should be defining your business persona.  Understanding who you and your business are vital to the success of a brand.  What three characteristics would you use to describe how you go about doing business?  How would you define your business strategy with regards to service, sales and support?  How do you think your customer base might define you as a business entity? These must first be defined in detail before a brand can be developed around you.  Doing some basic market research and soliciting participation from past customers can help you determine the answers to your questions without a great deal of effort.

The second aspect to define is how you and your business are different from the competition in your marketplace.  Have you developed a product or service that is like none-other?  Have you identified your business attributes that make your business more appealing to a client base that cross-shops other brands and businesses?  If not, I suggest you do so.  Again, with minimal effort (and some introspectiveness) these key elements can be determined.  If not, then there may be some opportunities to rethink your business approach to gain attention from those you wish to attract by adding features that you now know your competition simply doesn’t offer.

The third key element to developing a strong brand is to know your target demographics.  Identifying their spending trends, their ‘hunting’ triggers, how they shop, their age ranges and socio-economic stature can be crucial information to factor into your visual brand.  Without knowing who you’re targeting, the visual identity you design/have designed will never appeal to their spending triggers.  Define your target, aim, then shoot.

The final aspect to consider while developing a new brand identity is what sort of impact – or impression – do you wish to instill on prospective clients when it comes to the visual identity package you seek to have designed?  What emotions, key drivers or instinctual “triggers” to you want your identity to conjure up? Whether we choose to admit it or not, we all experience intrinsic emotional reactions to visual stimuli on a daily basis. Some of it occurs on a cognitive level, but most on a sub-conscious one.  So, on a daily basis, we react to brands without even recognizing it. Colors, shapes, imagery and unrelated personal associations can have an immediate impact on how we perceive a brand and whether or not we may eventually do business with said brand.  Being aware of all these elemental and influential factors will also be of paramount importance as you design your identity.

Although these are not the only determining factors in developing a strong brand within your marketplace, they are certainly key determinants to the over-all success of  brand development – not to mention how your clients will associate your brand with your product or service.

scm designs

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Logo design is a uniquely finicky business, considering the entire process is based on the ever-present, double-edged sword of subjectivity. The common denominator for so many designers is the bridging of design principles to a clients needs without breaking down the trust. I have read blog after blog on this, ranging from utter frustration to sheer elations of the rare finding of an “ideal client.”  In most scenarios, there is often a gap (large or small) between the creative and the client in terms of direction and construction of a design.

So what’s the source of the problem and how do we as designers find the happy middle ground? How do we knock our clients socks off while still giving them something that reflects their initial ideas in a fresh, creative way?

Well, there’s no elusive or self-evident answer here. Many factors come into play right off the proverbial bat that begin to emerge from the first client consultation.

First, in todays “The World is Flat” age of technology that knows no boundaries, creatives often result to email, facebook, twitter and sometimes phone or Skype – even texting to communicate ideas and thoughts with their clients – and visa versa. The inherent problem with this as a sole approach to contact is that it does not allow for the designer to truly get a sense of the personality and identity of their client.  Without building a strong client profile, the design process will most likely discover significant gaps between the designer’s renderings and the client’s desired look.  As we all have witnessed, many of us take on a distinctly different personality (good or bad) in our email voices compared to our true personalities.  So, ultimately, nothing replaces quality face-to-face time with a client when possible.

Second, we need to look into whether the phrase the customer is always right is truly applicable to your business or not. Frankly, it’s a meaningless rule on its own.  If a client was always right, then they simply wouldn’t seek out your services now, would they?!  Many designers hop on the ego train and can’t adjust their vision to better suite their client’s desires.   Others will simply render anything the client throws at them.  Either way – you’re doomed to fail in your client’s eyes!  Ultimately, the best recipe for success is to listen to, and utilize the input from your client while providing creative insight and adjustments to eventually present your client with a design that wows.

Finally, the most common error in the design process is not taking the time to explain the mechanics behind designing logos, brochures or whatever it is your putting together for them.  The more time a designer invests in describing their process, their tools and their normal steps of operation, the better off all will be.  Designer’s should avoid getting caught up in becoming a “yes” man/woman and focus on how to cooperatively coach a client through ideas that allow for a reasonable work flow and well-constructed design in the end.

The more either side understands each other’s intentions and undertakings the stronger the outcome will be.  Mutual understanding are often significantly under-appreciated.

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A colleague came to me today and asked me provide any input I might have on a summary she was presenting on Baby Boomers and marketing strategies to a group of co-workers.  I’ll be the first to admit I am certainly no statistician or marketing guru regarding Baby Boomers, but after combining some pre-gathered info with a brief web search I was surprised at the insight I found.

As a graphic designer, I came across certain aspects of my brief digging worth sharing.

“…some companies may have to reinvent their images because boomers don’t want anything that smacks of being stuffy or stodgy. More youthful models should be selected because boomers relate better to younger images” —

“…baby boomers seek immediate gratification, but seek it out in products and services that are well packaged, reflecting sophistication, a green slant and simplified”  —

“Boomers will always try to act much younger than their chronological age.” —

“They also want products designed to fit their individual needs, so customization, or the illusion of it, is important” —

“Environmental and social awareness will strike a responsive note in some boomers, so they should be highlighted” —

I particularly took note of the second quote as this is directly related to how a company, big or small, decides to promote themselves and their products and services in an era when Boomers will become a significant spending gear in the marketplace.

Business as usual is no longer the norm as this generation will be changing the competitive marketplace in how they choose to spend their money.  Boomers do not like to look at themselves as aging, and they will emphasize this by how they chose to identify with brands and products.  They see themselves as special, unique and are driven by instant gratification (as are the Gen Y’ers). The more youthful, green and value-added a brand image is, the better off you’ll be, according to many sources.

So, companies may want to rethink their brand images, logo designs and even print and online promotional materials to meet the needs and wants of this new significant spending power.

A refreshed logo is the first place to start as it is your brand “stamp” in your competitive marketplace.  It will differentiate you from you competition.  Creating an “ageless” image through your logo, Boomers will better identify with your company and product/service as they are a very selective demographic.  Small companies and start ups can really benefit from this as they are inherently more flexible with branding ideas and how they choose to brand themselves.

The more a company can create an image as a “specialty-niche” and not a “do-everything” identity, the better off you’ll be at reaching out to the Boomers.  A clear, sharp and unique brand image is a vital key in absorbing valuable market share.

Steve Muth
SCM Designs

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logo stories

08/03/2009

Henry Ford once said,

Every object tells a story. You just need to know how to read it.”

When designing logos, the same should apply. Not for the sake of the designer, but the the benefit of the client and their customers.

We all know the reasons behind our designs, but does a story emerge when discussion arises about it?  It should.   Logos don’t only serve their purpose in the few split seconds that they’re seen by the average viewer, but add real value and identity to those we design them for.   If a logo can be developed with a tangible meaning to the client, the inherent value of that design jumps ten-fold.

For a lack of a more decorative manner of expressing it, the logo should take on a personality similar to the culture of the company it represents.   To use the poor analogy that dogs always seem to resemble their owners, logos should also reflect the key elements of a company’s personality and culture to the point that when they’re not seen together a viewer would still interpret the similarities in tone, character and mood.

Granted, the inherent challenges of making a typelogo or graphical image to all this is significant. Each concept, each company name, can either help or hinder this effort depending on it’s relation to it’s parent company.

Conceptually, a logo really appeals more to your client’s ego then their intented customers and this needs to be kept in consideration throughout the design process.

In most cases, designers should only present their strongest concepts, but this lucky company in the video had a handful to chose from.

Steve Muth
SCM Designs

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