Creating a brand or re-branding your business can shift between exciting and frustrating with every other emotion in between. It’s a time-consuming process that takes a lot of thought and decision making. It can be filled with “ah ha” moments and sometimes tears.
But it’s worth the journey. Because in the end, a defined brand will keep your business on track for growth, help you connect with the right clients, and establish your business in the market through consistent visuals and messaging. All that should add up to more revenue for your business.
Whether you’re working with someone or DIY’ing your brand identity, here is a checklist that you can follow along to help you complete your project and set some expectations to make it less stressful.
Before you start the branding process or hire a designer or agency, there are some things to think about.
Get a team together
Branding doesn’t happen in a bubble. You’ll want people around you to help with the process and provide feedback. Sometimes you’re so in your own day-to-day business that it’s hard to see the forest through the trees. Having a small team will help you see and think about things you maybe didn’t notice.
- Gather the decision makers and determine what stages they should provide input. This is especially important to define if you have a board of directors or multiple partners. The more cooks in the kitchen, the harder it is to get anything done. Try to keep decision makers at a minimum and have a decision process that provides the least barriers.
- Have a small team of trusted advisers to bounce ideas off. Ideally, you’ll want to have a mentor or business peer be part of your review team so they can provide industry-specific feedback.
- Your team should not be a public forum on social media. Never take an unfinished logo to a public forum without permission from the designer. Until you’ve paid your final balance and the designer has submitted finished files, the design is usually still the property of the designer and not intended for public viewing. But even if you do have permission to share an unfinished logo in a public forum, random people in a social media group may not have enough backstory or experience to provide helpful feedback which means you’ll just end up with conflicting comments which won’t move you forward.
Review your market
Your market is where buyers and sellers interact. When referring to your market, it usually includes your ideal clients, those who aren’t buyers but may see or hear of your brand, the places that you’ll interact in like social media or physical places like retail outlets, and your competition.
If you’re working with a professional branding agency or an experienced designer, they probably do this research for you. But you should still have a good sense before working with them because they will ask you about these aspects before starting their own research.
- Know your target demographic. These are the facts about your ideal clients and customers that your product/service is perfect for. Things like age, gender, socio-economic status, kids, pets, etc. For most businesses, the more niche you are in a viable market, the more success you’ll have as a business. Try to avoid being too broad in your demographics because you’ve probably heard the old saying “if you market to everyone, you’ll sell no one”.
- Uncover the psychographics of your ideal client. Psychographics are a little less tangible than demographics because they include thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This one can be a little harder without experienced help. But dig down as much as you can into the psychographics of your ideal client. You can start by asking or observing people in your demographic. When working with an agency or data-driven marketers, they may do things like surveys and focus groups.
- Review your competition. Have a good sense of what others are doing in your industry in terms of look, feel, and where they invest their time and advertising dollars. This will help you fit in and stand out in your industry. But don’t be overwhelmed with comparison! It’s very easy to paralyze your own progress with envy or be think everyone is better than you and you’ll soon be found out as a fraud. Everyone has these feelings. Recognize that you’re aware of your competition, but often your client is not. Because your client is not in your industry day-to-day, they have a very limited awareness of all the competition or the nuances between companies. So even if your competition seems like they have it all together, there’s a million reasons why a client might work with you instead.
- Understand where buyers and seller interact. Knowing your target client, where does it make sense for your brand to show up in their lives? Think beyond just social media to in-person places your brand might be featured, and conversations around your products/services.
Think about your business
Regardless of whether you work with a branding professional or not, you’ll need to clearly define some aspects about your business in order to match the overall look and feel of your brand with the way you do business.
- History of your business. The story of your business and why you do what you do can have an impact on your branding. For example, if you have a rich history with deep roots, then you’ll want that to be apparent in your identity. Think about how your experience and expertise can tie into your branding.
- Products and services. It seems silly to say, but you really do need a clear idea of what your products and services are to build the right assets for your brand. And you want to temper that info with where you might be in the future. For example, if you’re thinking of offering online courses in the next couple of years, you’ll want to consider how your brand elements will reflect that.
- Core values. The business’ core values are the foundation of your entire brand. I won’t get into it too much here because I have a handy worksheet coming soon that you can download to uncover your core values. Stay tuned for that on the blog.
- Your mission statement. Don’t worry about nailing this one perfectly before branding because you may fine-tune it during the branding process. But you want to have a sense of what your business is trying to achieve in the marketplace and be able to communicate that with your designer.
- Where will your brand be in 5-10 years’ time? I believe that we should brand our business based on where we want to be. If you’re making socks in your garage for craft shows but you imagine having a million dollar sock empire, then brand for the sock empire. The whole idea of a brand identity is that it speaks to your ideal market. That means it may be craft shows today, but eventually it will be on the shelves of Costco if you brand with that in mind (assuming you have a great product and business sense).
Decide what you want out of this process
You’ll want to think about what you want to achieve from branding (or re-branding), and some potential uses for your visual aspects. Especially before hiring a designer or agency. If you want to get in-depth psychographics or data-driven marketing then that will influence who you choose to work with.
- Think about what elements you want in the end. Branding can happen at many different levels. You can work with a designer who just does the logo, or you can go deep and have an entire communications strategy for your brand based on data and extensive research. Decide what is within your budget and what will have the most impact. For those who didn’t pay much attention to the visual aspects of their brand when they started out and have a small budget, sometimes working on a professional logo and visuals are enough to see better marketing results. But for those with a healthy budget where small improvements in marketing can see big gains, going for a research and data centric approach to branding would be the best option.
- Think about the potential uses for your visual brand assets. How will your logo be used? Will it need to be a stamp, on a billboard, or die-cut? How will your colours and fonts work with your social media or printed material? Those are only a few questions to ask yourself. There are a lot of things to consider before starting your branding project. It’s good to imagine how all the elements of your brand will be used, both online and off. For example, if you want your logo to be a stamp, then it doesn’t make sense to have a pretty water colour background because a stamp is carved rubber without colour and wouldn’t be able to showcase your water colour mark.
Choose a designer or agency
Choosing a basic graphic designer vs a full-service agency is going to boil down to your budget. At the low end, you can DIY most of your branding and just find a graphic designer or a friend to digitize your logo for you. At the high end, you can spend thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars on branding. For an idea of how expensive it can get, the Olympic logo (which is arguably pretty basic) cost $300,000.
But don’t just go for the lowest bigger. Your branding sets the tone for your entire business in the marketplace and is not something you should cheap out on. If you need to save up to invest, then do so.
- Review samples of their work or case studies. If you want a certain style for your logo, then go for a designer that typically produces that style. If you’re not sure what type of style you want for your logo, you can go for a designer or agency that shows versatility in their work.
- Read reviews from their past clients to get a sense of what working with them will be like.
- Have a clearly defined scope. Outline what the process and timeline is like and what the deliverables are before working with a designer or agency, so you know what to expect.
- Get a service agreement. It should include an outline of how many concepts you get initially, how many revision sessions are allowed, what kind of file formats they’ll deliver in the end, and what the procedure is if you don’t like the initial concepts they present.
- Review your copyright license. You’ll want to ensure that you have the copyright license for all the elements of the design which is usually granted after you’ve paid in full. This includes the fonts, icon if it was purchased from a stock site, permission to edit the logo in the future, and that they release their intellectual property over the logo to your organization.
During the branding process
Now that you’re ready to start the branding process, here are some things to keep in mind if you’re working with a designer or agency.
- Be crystal clear. If you’re confused, your design team will be confused. Giving conflicted information to your designer or brand team will get unwanted results. A few times I’ve had clients say they don’t want certain elements to represent their logo, only to suggest we use those same elements later. That’s not to say you can’t change your mind. But you should be clear in what underlying reasons your decisions are rooted in, so you can share those reasons and bend the rules when necessary for best results.
- Over communicate. Don’t assume that your designer or agency will know what you’re thinking. If they get something wrong, then it’s likely because there was a lack of communication. Don’t take it personally, and don’t be shy about it. Speak up if something is wrong or needs adjustment. I once worked with a client who never expressed their concerns during the project. In fact, they were always very agreeable during our meetings and said they liked the direction. Towards the end of the project, they sent a lengthy email which revealed they’d been angry the entire time. But because they never said anything and had expressed they liked what we were doing, we were totally clueless and spent weeks going in the wrong direction without knowing it. If you don’t communicate your thoughts and objections, you’ll end up wasting valuable time and money.
- Be patient. Don’t rush your decisions or expect glorious results overnight. Branding should take time in researching and allowing space to make decisions when concepts or direction is presented. Remember, this is an investment in your livelihood. There is no need to rush. That’s not to say you should delay decision making or drag a project out. When you do brand, you should make that your focus for the time being. I typically recommend at least 3 weeks to develop your brand, more if you’re doing surveys and in-depth data research.
- Colours look different depending on the medium. The perfect blue/green is different for everyone. But you’re not only dealing with your own perception of colour. Often you’ll review colours in a digital format which means you’re dealing with how your screen displays the colour on top of how you see it. The absolute best way to decide on colours is to work in CMYK as the base. Then view the proposed colour on multiple screens and print it off on a colour printer. If you’re having trouble conveying your colour choices, use a tool like coolors.co to fine-tune what you’re looking for.
- It’s not all about what you like. Branding is a funny dance between what will work in the market, and what you like. If you are your brand, then your brand should reflect elements of you. Don’t make your brand grey and bland if you’re really all rainbows and sunshine, because your clients will feel bamboozled when they work with you. But if your business is beyond just your name and is something you plan on growing and/or selling in the future, then remove your wants and focus on what your ideal client will resonate with. That’s where using data or having a team to help you through this process will help.
- Trust the pros. Branding professionals are up to date with the latest trends and market research. You should let them do their job so you can do yours. It’s good to voice your concerns, but have an open mind about their advice on certain elements.
You’ve made it to the end of your branding journey! Hopefully you’ve got a wonderful final product to accelerate your business forward. Here are two things to keep in mind.
Before saying good bye to your designer, you should have all the visual assets associated with your brand identity. Always keep backup copies of your files and make sure the appropriate people in your organization know where to access them.
- Editable logo files, usually in .ai or .eps format
- Images files of your logo in various iterations, including transparent, monochrome and isolated icon
- Copyright license for your logo if you worked with a designer
- Font files and their licenses where applicable
- Colour palette with colour codes
Update your marketing assets
Now it’s time to update all your marketing assets with your new brand. This includes your website, social media profiles, and any printed materials you may have.
You might even consider taking this time to draw attention to your business by announcing the new look and feel to your brand.
Consistency is key
Be sure to stay consistent with your brand visuals and communications.
The point of your brand identity is to project the same visuals and voice across multiple platforms for a long time so that people learn to associate those visuals and communications with your business. If you’re consistent, then when people scan their inbox or their social media feeds, they will subconsciously register your post with your business, even if they only saw it in the corner of their eye. But this only works if you’re consistent and diligent in sticking to your brand assets, include the fonts and colours.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a business have a perfectly good brand identity and then use whatever old image and colours and fonts for a social media post. They’ve lost that post into the sea of obscurity because it’s not working to help compound their brand into their market.
If you take anything away from this branding checklist, it is always be consistent with your branding! Until you re-brand of course.
Best of luck!
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