I’ll kick this off with a quick personal story: When I first started brand design, I was working on my music duo’s brand, The OK Factor. We had zero strategies for our designs — in all honesty, we just wanted them to look professional so people would take us seriously. The result was a brand that was focused on us and who we were, rather than speaking to our audience and inviting them into a musical relationship.
We didn’t know there’s a difference between design that works and design that converts. Our designs ‘worked’ in that they looked fine and convinced people we were ‘professionals,’ but people always asked, but, like, who are you? What do you sound like?
Those questions are obvious indicators that something about how we were presenting ourselves wasn’t clear.
Enter, strategy. Strategy is queen, always. Strategy helps you figure out exactly who you are and why you do what you do and who you do it all for so that your designs provide that clarity immediately rather than your clients having to ask you what you’re all about. Your visual identity should tell them that right away.
Brand strategy is a part of the first phase of my design process. We’ll meet for a virtual or in-person conversation to map out your business, your goals, dreams, audience persona, positioning, competition, and more. This collaboration is the foundation for the rest of the design process.
So, maybe you’re like, I see how strategy is helpful, but like, what’s big deal about it? Why can’t I just make a frickin’ logo and be done?
Glad you asked. Here are three reasons for you why strategy is queen (and why I always start any new brand project with an extensive strategy before designing a single thing):
1. It solidifies the connection between your visual brand and your ideal audience.
When you know who your audience is, you know what they’re looking for. You know them on a personal level – where they shop, what they want out of life, what scares them. This makes designing for them 10x easier because you can craft a brand all-around their interests, desires, wants, and needs. The same pain points your products or services are aimed at relieving are the vital pieces of information that inform your visual identity.
Let’s use my brand as an example.
I am a brand designer. I like working with artists and entrepreneurs who are just getting started or pivoting in their business. My ideal client is very much like me — they have a passion for her work, they love shopping at both Target /and/ small-town boutiques. They choose a coffee shop to work at based on the inspiring atmosphere rather than the quality of beverages. They have an affinity for beauty, seeking it out in all ways in life from their home to their clothing, even if they can’t quite define their own style. Their home is cozy and full of meaningful items. They listens to a little of everything, from classic rock to ambient instrumentals, folk music to jazz. They are a family person, enjoys a close circle of friendships, and probably has a pet of some kind. They seeks validation, permission, and most of all for someone to simply look at their work and recognize the magic that is so difficult to see from her side of the business.
So, when they are looking for some to collaborate with on their business branding, they’re looking for an instant gut feeling, a spark of recognition that yes, this person gets it; they will understand what I do and why I do it.
How do I create that intuitive connection?
By crafting a brand that is first and foremost warm and artistic through a defined aesthetic, color palette, and typography choices.
My visual identity needs to simultaneously inspire and promote a sense of coziness and comfort, of understanding and openness. Focused on a semi-industrial + artful aesthetic of black iron, brown leather, and white space, I chose comfortable colors with charcoal greys, creams, and rusty browns for stability and confidence. These colors will also provide a neutral backdrop on which to showcase my client’s brands.
I use artful font combinations — a hand-written script establishes intimacy and authenticity paired with a bold sans serif for the rest of the logo to provide contrast, professionalism, and authority. That same script font acts as an accent throughout the brand to provide that instant artistic association. Overall, it’s slightly feminine in style, which speaks to my ideal client’s personality, but it’s also just masculine enough to act as an invitation to the curiosity and collaboration I strive to promote in my brand.
When my ideal client sees my own brand identity, (I hope) they sees someone who will partner with her, help them craft a visual identity that not only works but feels good, and is artistically aligned with their personality and the personality of her audience. A strategy helps us get there.
2. It makes the design process simple and straightforward.
As shown above, it is easier to choose fonts and colors with a defined aesthetic and clarity on who your audience is. Without that information, I’d be grasping at straws and/or just designing something that might look good but wouldn’t really help you attract your audience.
Rather than face multiple rounds of revisions, starting with a strong foundation of strategy provides a clear path to the right design solution for your brand.
3. It creates a through-line of consistency from your visual brand to all the other touchpoints of your brand.
Part of your brand strategy is understanding how your brand will be implemented — will you need business cards, a website, keynote slides, merchandise, social media graphics? Establishing the potential collateral needs during the initial discovery phase of the design process ensures that the final designs will work across all of these various items.
If we didn’t start with any kind of strategy, the final designs could probably be finagled so they work in various capacities, but the result would feel incoherent and forced and might leave your ideal client with mixed messages. This is why we spend so much time on the discovery phase of the design process so you end up with a consistent message for every aspect of your brand.
Are you convinced that strategy is queen yet?!