What goes into a branding project?
Often when people hear “branding,” they immediately think of logos. The Nike swoosh. The Apple icon. The Google ‘G.’ So when they see the price tag that’s associated with strategic branding projects, they think “Holy cow, there’s no way that logo was worth that much!” or “They could have just used [agency or logo generator website name here] and paid a fraction of that price. Sheesh!”
The reality is that logos are only one expression of brand—albeit the part that often becomes most recognizable and memorable. But there’s a lot of deep thinking and process that goes into a full branding project that the vast majority of people never get to see.
Let’s start by forming a working definition of “brand.” Branding experts like Philip Kotler and Gary Armstrong say that brand is “a name, term, sign, or symbol (or combination of these) that identifies the maker or seller of the product.” Marty Neumeier says a brand is “a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or organization.”
At New Kind, we see brand and reputation as one. It’s the full expression of your company—built on the foundation of your perspective (your mission, values, and story) and your personality (how you look, sound, and act). And while you can control how you express your brand, your reputation is more or less out of your hands. Which is why it’s so important to create an authentic external representation of who you are and what you stand for.
Brand is an authentic expression of your company out in the world—built on the foundation of your perspective and your personality.
Some people assume the purpose of a branding project is to have a new logo to slap onto merch or a website. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a highly involved process that (if done correctly) can help fully inform and align your organization around your cause. It’s also an opportunity to re-establish and re-articulate why your company exists, what you stand for, and what makes you stand out.
At New Kind, everyone on our team has a role to play in almost every project we work on. Branding is a multidisciplinary task that demands a multifaceted approach—from research to project management, content to design, and everything in between. So let’s dive into what really goes into a full branding project.
The misconception around the simplicity of branding stems from the fact that much of what goes into it is never actually be seen by external audiences. Research falls squarely into that bucket.
If branding were an iceberg, research would be the huge frozen mass beneath the surface that no one ever thinks about.
At New Kind, we believe that in order to articulate your brand in the most authentic, future-proof way possible, you must start on a firm foundation that’s grounded in research.
Our research sprint often includes performing internal and external interviews, fielding and analyzing surveys, and performing brand and competitive audits to find key themes that could help inspire our story later in the project.
It’s important to put all of this research into the context of both the current state of your brand and the future state you hope to achieve—having one foot in the present while still being aspirational. It’s also important to bring all of your stakeholders along on this journey and to get their input in the early stages of research. That means taking the time to talk to your internal stakeholders, as well as trusted customers and partners externally. Depending on the brand and the scope of our engagement, that could mean fielding surveys and interviews with a small handful of people—or upwards of four, five, six hundred (or more) people.
This research sprint can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months depending on the size of your data set and the complexity of your project, product, or company. At New Kind, we read every survey response we receive (yes, even when we get feedback from hundreds of respondents) and use qualitative analysis techniques to analyze the research for key themes and inspiration. After all, these folks know your brand better than anyone else—so it’s important to listen to what they have to say.
Long story short—don’t skip research. Ever.
Once all of our research has been analyzed and we’ve started to uncover key themes, we dive into strategy and positioning. Positioning helps you understand your market and where you fit in. It helps you solidify your differentiators so that you can start to use them in your favor. And it helps you reaffirm your purpose.
Before we put pen to paper on crafting brand stories, we make sure our positioning strategy accurately reflects who the brand is and where it wants to go. That means revisiting the research and making sure everything we’ve done to get to this point supports the brand’s positioning. So we mark up our notes. We highlight and bold and underline salient points. We go crazy with stickies.
When we’re working through positioning, our goal is to be able to answer the following questions with total clarity and confidence:
What are all the possible competitive frames of reference for the brand? Which one is most important? Who else competes in those markets? What makes the brand stand out from the crowd? What does the competition do well that the brand also needs to do well in order to compete? How do we articulate who the brand is today and who it wants to be tomorrow?
Positioning comes as close on the heels of research as possible, and can take a couple of iterations to nail perfectly. But getting this part right is vital to the success and longevity of the next deliverable—the brand story.
Story + Messaging
With the brand’s positioning and strategy in place, it’s time to craft its story. A brand’s story is kind of like its love letter to the world. It’s all of the stuff that’s important to the brand—who it is today, who it aspires to be tomorrow, the vision and values that have helped shaped it. It’s your poetic raison d’être.
Brand stories don’t have to be epic novels. In fact, some of the best brand stories are short and sweet—but they pack a punch. Your brand story should help bring your brand into focus and make it memorable. It should authentically reflect why you exist, what you stand for, why what you have to offer matters, what makes you different, and the future you aspire to create.
Story is your brand’s poetic raison d’être.
At New Kind, messaging also lives inside of our story sprint. Clear messaging helps you articulate and share your story with the outside world in a succinct but memorable way. It translates your full narrative into soundbites you can use in pitches, presentations—even cocktail parties.
Creating a brand story is no small task. But if you’ve done your homework (you didn’t skip over research and positioning, did you?), it should be a fun and exciting process. Grounding the story in the great work that’s already been done—and in quotes and examples from the research—means we’ll have a good idea of where we’re going before we even start writing.
Nailing a brand’s story and messaging can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months—depending on the number of iterations needed and the feedback we get from key decision makers and stakeholders. And while the story is being finalized, the next sprint gets underway.
We firmly believe that the strongest brands come to life at the intersection of story and design. Here’s why.
A brand’s visual identity is the simplest possible expression of who you really are as an organization. It’s what everyone will get to know and recognize as you. It’s the representation of your brand that people will eventually wear on a shirt and crave on branded swag. So all of that groundwork—research, positioning, story, messaging—culminates to inform and shape your visual identity.
Your brand’s visual identity is the simplest possible symbol of who you really are as an organization.
We often begin our visual identity sprint with a short survey for key brand stakeholders to understand what visual elements resonate with them and what they want the brand to look like moving forward. From there, we create mood boards inspired by key story threads. This initial study of story tie-ins, typefaces, color palettes, textures, and imagery helps pave the way for further exploration.
Once we’ve determined the general visual direction that feels most true to the brand, we create a handful of options for a visual organizing principle. This is an internal dynamic concept—an overarching idea pulled from the brand story. It’s a powerful inspirational tool that guides the visual representation of the brand. It’s the statement we continually come back to to make sure we’ve created a system that’s true to the core of the brand.
But we’re not done yet! Visual identity is more than just the logo. There are fonts, colors, collateral, templates, and a slew of other deliverables that go along with creating a new visual system.
And of course, there’s the process of getting your new brand out into the wild.
As you can imagine, it’s not a great idea to just hurl a new brand out into the market without any explanation or education, especially if you’re interested in creating alignment among your community—those who care most about the brand.
You need to be strategic about introducing your new brand to the world. If you invite people along on the journey, they’ll be more likely to embrace the destination.
That’s why having a rollout strategy is so important. This process involves figuring out how, when, and where to announce the new brand—as well as creating a game plan to phase out any remaining legacy brand materials.
Your stakeholders should be given every opportunity possible to understand the process (we call this “showing the math”) and fall in love with your brand—just like you did.
It’s easy for those not in-the-know to get sticker shock and be up in arms about the cost of branding. But now you know how much the journey asks of brands and the people charged with creating them.
The next time you see a new logo or tagline or the outcome of any company’s branding project, try to look at it through the lens of this full process.
Know that what you’re seeing is probably just a tiny part of a much larger, more involved process that’s been months—or even years—in the making. And know that if the brand was executed well, a great deal of time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears went into bringing it to life.
Want to learn more about how we approach branding projects with our clients? We recently worked with Weaver Street Market on a full rebrand and rollout (and we’re pretty jazzed about the outcome!). While you’re here, check out some of the other amazing brands we’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years.
And if you have a branding project you’d like to discuss—get in touch. We’d love to help.