I recently wrote about a fictional technology startup that I called RidicuTech and how they could go about branding their business. In this current article, I’ll get into the nuts and bolts of how I might approach a branding process, starting with an initial client interview and ending with presenting and discussing the finalized brand with the client. My hope is to show you a generalized process that you might expect when helping a client develop their business identity.
The typical process for me is to start with an interview of the client. In this scenario, RidicuTech is asking me to help them brand their startup. Like most businesses, they want customers to know they can do anything. But from a branding standpoint, you can’t brand yourself as a company that can do it all; that doesn’t distinguish your company from any other. When you’re researching a company or resource to solve a problem, you typically have a very specific problem in mind. You wouldn’t Google “who can fix every problem for me” (Google had zero results for this, by the way).
What Is a Brand, Anyway?
Let’s step back and establish what we mean when we talk about a brand. In my opinion, in terms of branding a business, a brand is the general impression that a customer has of a company. It’s how they perceive you, not necessarily how you present yourself. So, anything we do with our branding efforts should be focused on positively influencing the perception of the company.
Differentiation and innovation are the keys to standing out. If you don’t differentiate, you’re just one more company in the crowded marketplace. If you don’t innovate with your brand message, you’re not establishing your own unique values.
It takes both differentiation and innovation in the brand to be successful, and it’s your job to discover how your client can pull this off.
Sample Client Interview
The following is a very brief version of a fairly typical interview with a branding client. Sometimes I’m sitting face-to-face and other times this is over the phone or even Skype. My goal is to come away understanding the very specific value that the business brings to the table.
This can be difficult because sometimes small business owners don’t understand my goals from a branding perspective — they sometimes perceive a narrowly focused brand as potentially limiting their customer base. So, just be aware that you sometimes run into “pushback” from clients. Ultimately, you do what they want, but I don’t shy away from a direct discussion for educating my clients on the importance of a focused brand.
…after a few minutes of chit-chat:
Me: So what does RidicuTech do, exactly?
Client: We design custom websites.
Me: Okay, so do you specialize in any kind of designs or back-end development?
Client: No, we can do everything.
Me: So if the Russian Federation called you today to handle their government websites, you’d be good to go?
Client: Um, we don’t speak Russian and that would definitely be a bigger project than we’d want to handle, I guess.
Me: So, maybe a company with about 250-500 employees, a basic e-commerce setup, built on a WordPress theme?
Client: Actually, that would be our ideal. We’re really good with WordPress.
Me: Would you say your specialty is more in designing the front-end or working with custom PHP and developing plugins?
Client: We actually prefer designing over development. That’s what kinda got this whole business started — we made some crazy, cool designs that people liked and got busy enough to quit our day jobs.
Me: Alright. So you’d say RidicuTech’s real strength is designing ridiculously cool looking websites?
Client: Yeah. We can do everything though…
So, that’s where you’ll probably have to cut them off, because they may be slightly vexed that you’ve narrowed their message down to a small part of their overall capabilities. What you may have to tell them is, “Look, everybody can do everything. Nobody will hire you to do everything. They want someone to do something specific.” I’ve had this conversation on many occasions. Sometimes it goes well. Other times it goes well later, once they’ve had a chance to think about it (or their mother or spouse tells them that I’m right).
Hopefully, that little interview process shows you a generalized but fairly common part of the initial branding process. Startups tend to overestimate their capabilities. They’re excited, the bank gave them the loan, now they’re ready to own the world…like a boss.
But, as the branding consultant, you got what you needed — you determined the firm’s specialty. In this case, it was crazy looking web designs, and that’s something specific and marketable.
Crafting the Message
We know that RidicuTech is a design firm with web development capabilities, and we want to highlight their penchant for extreme design. We have a fairly focused marketing message that we can build upon now. So, I like to start with a tagline. Some of the ideas that come to mind:
- “Ridiculous Web Design”
- “Web Design for the Ridiculous Mind”
- “Ridiculous Web Sites”
Now, the idea of putting a word like “ridiculous” into a tagline might make you queasy at first, but it’s a great way to get attention. With a little branding, we can connect the tagline to an interesting visual concept.
With a tagline in place, it’s easier to get into the details of a company description — you know, 140 or so characters (note the correlation to the length of a Tweet) that describe in more detail what the company can do.
Here’s what our fictional company settled upon:
RidicuTech makes ridiculously creative web designs that attract customers and inspire engagement.
That’s 97 characters and establishes a clear value proposition. So, we have a tagline and a brief company description. From here, it’s a lot easier to start building out the visual aspects of our brand package.
Remember, it’s critical to differentiate and innovate with the brand. I think the word “ridiculous” is an excellent concept that helps separate my client from the pack. And, by injecting the phrase “attract customers and inspire engagement,” we are offering a complete, innovative value statement: that RidicuTech will use creative web designs to drive business and brand engagement.
The Brand Presentation
I don’t want this article to be about how to brand a business so much. I want to focus on the process of engaging the customer, identifying how to differentiate them, and using the brand to position themselves in the market.
How you present your brand concept to the client will vary wildly. I like to piecemeal the process. I engage the client throughout the process — I might send the tagline and description ideas I have and get their ideas. There’s usually some discussion and we’ll finalize those two pieces.
Then, I’ll work on a logo and other general brand elements like typography, brand color schemes, and the like. All the while, I’m engaging the client directly as we go.
Other designers like to work independently and then hand the client — without any milestones or meetings — a complete brand package, like some of these:
This isn’t my preferred way to work, simply because in my experience, the client rarely takes the recommendations exactly as I present them. Instead of spending a lot of time on a presentation, I’d rather just work in tandem with them as we go. This helps me make minor corrections that keep the process on a proper, efficient path towards an effective brand that the client loves.
Eventually, I will create a brand portfolio that establishes the exact colors, how the logo is supposed to be used, the fonts for the firm, and any other specified brand elements.
Differentiation and innovation are what make a brand initially successful. Once the company has work, it’s up to them to establish strong relationships and excellent customer service. But, if you don’t stand out in the marketplace with a specialty, you don’t get that opportunity at all.
How do you approach working with a new client? Do you use surveys or forms to collect information on a brand initially? How do you approach educating clients? Any horror stories?