Why do we establish our strategic approach before any creative work begins?
Creative work rooted in an ambiguous strategy is like a prescription without proper diagnosis. This has a high likelihood of being incorrect. Making wrong decisions are a waste of time, money, and tarnish credibility for both of our firms. Such a thing would be considered malpractice in the medical profession and shall not exist in our relationship. Only when we understand and define the problem, then and only then do we propose a solution.
The strategy is what will frame every decision we make. This includes every suggestion, recommendation, and conversation along the way to completion of our projects. It enables decisiveness. It guides the critique process into productive conversations and enables us to efficiently engage the results we want. Answering questions like “does this thing effectively get us closer to our goals?” and, “Is it in conformance with or support the message we wish our brand to convey?” are enabled by a competently established strategy. We must figure out what it is we want to say, who we say it to, and how we want to say it, before we say it. Less time spent unproductively (wallowing in indecision or working on many wrong solutions at once hoping to find the right one) enables the focus required for quality work.
The strategy enforces the integrity of our process and enables creative freedom. By inviting the client to participate in the forum on the strategy, It helps establish the trust that allows us to do our job in choosing how to execute it. Our recommendations must be agreed to by the client who ultimately must be satisfied with the outcome, in turn, we determine the exploration the creative work entails. It is my job to plan and execute how we achieve the goal. That strategy that is agreed upon by all parties shall become our backbone. It holds all of our projects together. It must echo in every piece; our agreed challenges and goals, and it is the measurement of our success. It guides us.
Brand strategy is what separates what we do from mere production. We are specialized thinkers and experts who solve problems relying on a diagnostic process and methodology that works. Sure, our websites and other pieces of design are pretty, but more importantly, they meet goals. Our process is why we have succeeded in meeting our clients goals enough times that you have heard of us.
What isn’t Brand Strategy?
Yes, your logo, slogan, color palette, they're all essential but they're not the strategy. They're the artifacts you're able to confidently create once your strategy is complete. A brand strategy must have lasting power. It can't change each time you release a new product or service. It can't change each time you launch a new marketing campaign. It can't just be your marketing strategy or your pricing strategy. It can't deviate between different parts of your business.
Here's what it is and why it's important.
Strategy is what enables design to be a suitable lasting business goal. It is what enables the designer and the one purchasing the design to work together and advocate for the end user most effectively. It's your “Why?” ...Your purpose. It is the reason your brand exists and why you are making works of design. The strategy is language of your brand. It is the basis of attaining brand advocacy and a lasting relationship with your customers far beyond the controlled environment.
Look at any store shelf. It's just so hard to stand out today. Allow me to cite Marty Neumeier's Zag in saying, "But today’s real competition—competition that’s so pervasive we can’t even see it—doesn’t come from direct or even indirect competitors. It comes from the extreme clutter of the marketplace."
What I'm saying applies to consumer goods, clothing, cars, even computers. Why would someone choose an Apple product, or Levis jeans, or Band-Aids over another brand or even a different use of their hard-earned money altogether? Why have you made the choices you've made? Look around your home. Think about the purchase decisions you've made and try to think about all the things the brand has done to influence you to make those purchase decisions.
In general, there are three reasons someone chooses to purchase one product over another similar product.
They have a specific need that only that product meets. (This is the most rare case, yet it's the one people most often cite as the reason for their decisions.)
They choose what's most familiar. (This is a common reason, especially for products that have amore utilitarian benefit that meets specific, mundane needs. Think about laundry detergent, batteries, dish soap. When was the last time you tried a new brand? Unless you're a rebel, I wouldn't be surprised if you're using the same brand your parents bought when you were growing up.)
They choose the product that makes them feel something deeper than the satisfaction of meeting a basic need or leveraging the utility of a product. (most common in our overwhelmingly commoditized age)
An element of the emotional connection is approval by your peer set. In other words, what will people think of you when they see you using a product? For example, a PC can do most of what a Mac can do. If you choose to work in a cafe, would you rather pull out a PC or a Mac? That decision is based a lot on what tribe you wish to belong. Brands are tribal. People often define themselves by the brands they purchase. The emotional connection people have with a brand, which is a combination of how they see themselves and how they want others to see them, is a direct result of the intentional actions the brand has taken, informed by their brand strategy. With this foundation and clear goals, your brain should be buzzing with ideas. Hopefully you're thinking about all the great brands you admire and are starting to appreciate why they're memorable. It's because they use brand strategy as a staple.