8 Steps BEFORE You Start Designing Your Brand
If you’re anything like me, you’re a big picture kind of person. You get an idea and jump straight to envisioning how you’re going to present it to the masses. You know exactly what you’re selling, and surely the crowd will love it because your idea is unique, disruptive and is certainly your ticket to overnight success. So let’s slap a logo on it and pick a launch date and do this thing!
*Record scratch* Slow down and back up. Skipping your brand development process and hopping into your brand design process is a huge mistake. Maybe you haven’t even taken the time to acknowledge the difference between those two processes. No worries! Let’s walk through some of the steps you should take before you invest good paper into a graphic designer or before you embark on DIY brand design. Trust me, it’ll save you from spending time and many pretty pennies on an underdeveloped idea.
1) BE CLEAR ABOUT WHAT’S MOTIVATING YOU TO PURSUE THIS IDEA.
I’m an avid supporter of young entrepreneurship. If you can start early on creating a career out of your own passion projects, by all means, go for it! But I always urge my clients to be very honest with themselves about what is motivating them to launch their endeavor. I recommend free-writing the reasons that you believe in your idea. If you get stuck at answers like, “a lot of other people are finding success in this field,” or “I just want to make some extra cash without working for someone else,” you might reconsider your plan. Launching a business as an independent entrepreneur is costly, time-intensive and can be stressful. Make sure that your motivation is enough to keep you committed when the going gets tough.
2) DRAFT, EDIT, AND RE-DRAFT YOUR BUSINESS SUMMARY OVER THE COURSE OF MONTHS
I keep a Google document of notes from the moment I start brainstorming an idea through its launch. I dedicate a little time each day to revisiting that document, adding to it and refining it, for at least two months before I even mention my business idea to someone else. In it, I bullet point things like other websites and brands that inspired me, language for my mission statement, ideas for names, website features, etc. The key to making the most of this sort of document is to never delete anything, even if you ultimately decide it’s not the direction you want to take. You never know when something you thought of before and scratched might come back into play.
3) KNOW EXACTLY WHO YOU ARE TALKING TO
No matter what sort of business you’re creating, it should be treated like a solution to your audience’s problem. You don’t have to act like you’re providing a cure to cancer. But you should be able to confidently articulate why your business is valuable to the audience you intend to serve. So this means knowing exactly who you intend to serve. Create a few audience personas; 3-5 fictional characters who represent your ideal primary follower or customer. How old are they? Where do they live? What do they do for a living? What do they do for fun? How are they likely to discover your brand? What will they be looking for when they do? Why do they struggle to find an existing solution to this need? Knowing who you’re talking to is invaluable to launching a brand. It guides your brand voice and reduces the possibility of creating a confusing brand message.
4) IDENTIFY YOUR GOALS
All businesses have a lifespan and function differently at different stages of that lifespan. So ask yourself where you see your brand going. If you’re a lifestyle blogger or influencer, how do you see your brand expanding past your website? Maybe your goal is to ultimately earn a book deal and build a following that will support you as an author. Or maybe your goal is to be booked as a fashion commentator eventually. Both of these are very different goals that will inform how you prioritize content on your website and what sorts of brand awareness opportunities you pursue. If you’re a maker, you might determine whether your longterm goals are to scale your manufacturing to do wholesale or to start your own brick and mortar location. Again, these two different goals will dictate how you move forward in your business and brand development. You may not have all of these answers at first, but keeping them in mind from the gate will lead you to a more intentional brand strategy.
5) RESEARCH YOUR COMPETITION AND GET INSPIRED (BUT DON’T COPY!)
Familiarize yourself with what’s already being done in relation to your idea. Sometimes we fall in love with a name for our brand and then end up crushed when we type it into Google and see that it’s already attached to a poppin’ web presence. Don’t fret. Learn what like-brands are doing by checking out their websites, reading press about them, subscribing to their newsletters and following them on social. The more you know, the more equipped you are to differentiate yourself and keep up with the most current methods that work.
6) BOUNCE THE IDEA OFF OF A TRUSTED FRIEND OR MENTOR
There is no better feedback than watching someone’s immediate reaction when you pitch them your idea. I have a handful of people whose opinions I value so much that I’ll decide whether to keep or scrap an idea based on their facial expression when I explain it to them. Keep a couple of these friends around and practice some active listening and observation. If you sense confusion or uncertainty in reaction to your pitch, it’s not the end all be all. But it might be a clue that you’ve got a little more refining to do before you pass go.
7) WRITE A MISSION STATEMENT AND ELEVATOR PITCH
By this point, you’ve workshopped your idea, identified your target audience, researched your competition and gotten some feedback and validation from your circle. You should be in a great position to articulate your mission statement. I always recommend creating a full version and an abbreviated version. In the full version of your mission statement, I want to hear what your brand offers, to whom, why, when, how and where, and a brief origin story of how it came to be. In the abbreviated version, I want to hear what your brand is and why it exists in 1-2 sentences. If you’re struggling with this part, don’t hesitate to recruit the assistance of a copywriter or a branding coach like myself. But do recognize that this is a different skill set than brand design, so don’t assume your website or logo designer will take responsibility for figuring it out for you.
8) TAKE STOCK OF THE CONTENT AND BRAND ASSETS YOU CURRENTLY HAVE AND WHAT YOU’LL NEED
When the dirty work is good and done, you can start to beautify your vision with brand design. This is the time to be clear about all the elements you need to bring your brand to life. You'll definitely need a logo, but a complete visual brand (otherwise known as a brand identity) will also include a style guide that houses your color palette, text treatments or fonts, photo or Instagram styling inspiration, etc. It's best to work with a brand stylist if you don't love being hands on with creative detail. But if that's out of the question at first, try perusing my Pinterest page for brand design inspiration so you have a reference for what's possible with your visual brand.
Building a brand is serious business. Do yourself (and your brand designer) a favor by covering your bases before you invest your coin. But, promise me this: you won’t let the workload hold you back from pursuing your vision. If your dream is worthwhile, it’s worth doing it right.