Howdy’s guide to planning a new brand identity

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We’ve put together this basic guide to help you prepare and plan a new brand strategy, identity, implementation and management.

1. Why?

Of course if you’re setting up a new organisation then the reason you need a brand identity is straightforward, but if you already have an established identity which you’ve decided to change, or refresh, what’s the reason and intention driving the decision?

Is your current identity out of line with your brand values and mission? Maybe changes within the organisation mean that your existing identity and communications are no longer relevant or is it that your visual branding is tired, outdated and ready for an update?

Whatever the reason, this forms the core of your design brief and should be one of the checkpoints that you later evaluate the proposed strategies and concepts against, asking, ‘Does it meet our original objectives?’. Without referring back to these original objectives, the project can drift, and ultimately fail to do what you set out to.

2. Identify the scope of the project

Consider the full range of applications and environments (current and anticipated) that the visual branding will need to work across from the outset, to ensure an appropriate design solution. Beyond on- and offline, think about different media and environments, as well as specific applications, ie. signage, interiors, liveries, uniforms, products, etc?

Audit current marketing and communications materials. What works and what doesn’t?Do they add value and reflect the brand values? Are some things produced out of habit and due for a rethink?

Be open to new ideas for formats and ways of communicating.

3. Engage and manage stakeholders

A brand identity is a significant investment and there may be some resistance from some stakeholders.

Put together the case for the change explaining the reasons behind the decision. Outline the benefits of a strong, cohesive and well-managed brand. Get feedback from contacts and staff on the existing identity: how effective it is; what it says about the organisation; recognition levels, etc. This helps the decision on whether a change is needed, and provides valuable background for the design brief. Look at what competitors and peers are doing.

Invite stakeholders to contribute thoughts and opinions to the brief. Engage them from the outset and keep them informed throughout the process so they feel involved and support it going forward. Ensure key stakeholders sign off the brief.

Identify who will have final veto on design sign off to avoid stalemate and design by committee. It’s valuable to get wider feedback and opinions but ultimately someone needs to retain overall control and ensure the design answers the mutually agreed brief.

4. Consider the resources available for the project and post-project management

This means both time and money. Consider how much time you, and colleagues, can realistically commit to managing the brand once the new identity is delivered: updating the website, feeding social media, writing copy, etc. This helps ensure your communications plan is appropriate and achievable.

Have a ballpark budget in mind. Get quotes to help guide this figure. Don’t get sucked in by unnecessary whistles and bells that blow your budget without adding real value and benefits. Having already identified the scope, objectives and challenges, it will be easier to stick to clear parameters.

5. These things take time

Allow a realistic timeframe. If you have a specific launch date then discuss this with your designers and put together a detailed schedule broken down into stages. Ensure everyone involved is available when required, for presentations, sign offs and to provide copy and content, etc.

Don’t expect to see your new logo within the first few weeks. The pre-design stage is crucial to getting the right outcome. Research, strategy development and getting the brief right are the key to the success of the whole project.

You may have already done some degree of research, agreed the brand personality and purpose, and developed a brand strategy but this still needs to be tied into a cohesive design and communications strategy and brief by your design and branding specialists.

Ideas need time to develop and evolve beyond the obvious. There’s no short cut command on the keyboard for the creative thought process. You’ve chosen your designers for their creative thinking – hopefully – so  give them the time to develop the best ideas and design solutions.

Allow sufficient time for the implementation and production. It goes without saying, the more this is rushed, the greater the margin for error.

6. Find the right design group

You need to work with someone that you feel is the right match for you, someone you trust to do a great job and that you’ll enjoy working with. We’d like to think that’s us of course, but sadly it isn’t always. There are many many designers out there and finding the right one may seem overwhelming.

Look around, find out who produced other materials you like. Don’t restrict this to your own sector. The point of design and branding is to differentiate and create something unique that’s relevant to your brief. A fresh approach and open mind from someone who may never have worked in your sector can bring a different perspective helping you to stand out from your competitors.

Take time to meet face to face with the people you’ll be working with – those who will actually be doing the project. Ask lots of questions and talk the project through. Make sure they are good listeners! Essential if they are going to get to the heart of your organisation and produce the right solution.

Don’t ask them to free pitch or do any initial rough ‘ideas’. If they offer to, walk away.This issue is a whole other blog in itself, but trust us – free pitching doesn’t benefit clients or designers. These visuals will bypass the pre-design planning, research and strategy stage,  be done in a rush and by whoever happens to be free at that time. At best, you’ll get an ‘it’ll do’ compromise.

“If you don’t understand the issues, you’ll end up creating fantastic solutions for the wrong problems.” Michael Johnson (I think! Apologies if I’ve mis-credited this quote)

7. Protect your investment

Great identities are quickly destroyed by misuse and misrepresentation. The job’s not over when you get your master artworks and guidelines, and everything’s looking beautifully ‘on brand’. The ongoing implementation and brand development needs to be managed and policed to protect everything you’ve carefully crafted and invested in.

Ensure at least one person is responsible for policing the brand and checking that everything adheres to the guidelines. Supply brand guidelines to anyone producing anything related to the brand, and ensure they understand the importance of them.

Familiarise staff with all aspects of the brand identity and explain why it’s important it’s protected and managed. Make it part of the company briefing for new members of staff. Details matter, from email sign offs to the way staff communicate with clients.

Forward planning is key to maintaining and building a strong brand. Communications created as knee jerk reactions to an immediate need tend to serve a short term role and are less likely to be as effective over the longer term and therefore are less cost-effective. Have regular planning meetings to look at forthcoming requirements and marketing opportunities to allow time to plan and schedule projects.

Need any help? 

As well as design, Howdy offers a design planning and management consultancy service for organisations who don’t have in-house communications and design expertise. We help with all aspects of brand strategy development and communications planning including design reviews, communications planning, managing individual projects, budgeting and scheduling, as well as independently helping source designers and suppliers. This can either be on a project-by-project basis or on a regular retainer basis for ongoing planning and support.

If you would be interested in finding out more about this service please contact Sharon by email or call 020 7720 8111.

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Election special

Remember when things could only get better? Neil Smith and Sharon Clampin can. They look back at their time working with a relaxed, raven-haired Gordon Brown and a precocious David Milliband at Millbank Tower on Labour’s 1997 election campaign. Below is some of the work we produced (as part of the GIANT team) during the campaign.

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Mandelson (doesn’t) take the biscuit
We’re in a design studio in Wapping – it’s the early hours of a Tuesday (or was it Wednesday) in 1996. The artwork has to go to print now if we’re to meet the launch deadline. We’ve got Peter Mandelson and Pat McFadden and half a dozen Labour policy wonks in our meeting room, putting the finishing touches to the ‘Road to the Manifesto’ document – Labour’s dry run for the real thing the following year. One of Mandelson’s flunkies appears at the door “Do you have any biscuits? Peter wants biscuits”. “Ok, we’ll see what we can do” I say. Sharon offers to go into the Wapping night to find Custard Creams. Nowhere is open, not even our local garage. She comes back empty handed. “We have a slice of bread left from this morning – we can toast it, although we’ve run out of butter” she says. It’s 1996 and we’re doing our bit to help Labour end 18 years of Tory government.

Pushing Prescott around
It’s now early 1997. We’re in a rented photography studio in Kennington. The Labour Party have hired war photographer Tom Stoddart to shoot portraits of Blair and Prescott. I’m there to direct the shoot, and to make sure we get plenty of usable pictures for the various publications we’re working on. We’ve got 30 minutes. Tom and I are up on a mezzanine shooting down at Blair, who is reaching up to shake my hand. This is the picture I want for the front cover of ‘YOU (deserve better)’ magazine that we are designing for the Party. I get the picture, although most of the pictures on the roll look like Blair is doing a slightly camp Nazi salute. We lock these pictures in a drawer in case the press get hold of them. The second shot involves Blair and Prescott together. They stand facing away from each other. I ask Prescott to turn towards Blair. He turns the other way. I say “No, rotate clockwise, and move closer to Tony”, he says “Bloody ‘ell, just come and put me where you bloody well want me”. I grasp his shoulders and yank him towards Blair. He doesn’t punch me, and we get our picture. I shake Blair’s hand and say “Good luck Tony”. He smiles, and says “Thanks”.

Labour You magazine

Moving to Millbank
In the final couple of months before the May ’97 election we move a small team of designers and artworkers into a corner of Labour’s Millbank HQ. We design the newLabour newBritain logo. We churn out manifestos, leaflets, magazines, flags, badges, stickers, caps and anything else that can be branded New Labour. We get bored of red and start using purple. Everybody loves it. We start work on the main manifesto and they need a family to appear on the (Tory-sounding) ‘We will strengthen family life’ page. I volunteer mine – hoping the press don’t decide to come sniffing around my bins. Our lycra-clad artworker, Alan, points out to David Miliband that there’s no mention of cycling in the transport section of the Manifesto. Miliband says “Well, put it in then”. We did.

Festival Hall
The night’s going well. I’m standing in front of a huge screen at the Festival Hall surrounded by party workers and celebrities (although the only one I recognise all evening is John Peel). David Mellor has just lost his seat – look at his face! Portillo loses his seat now! How we laugh and cheer. D:Ream, the second rate dance band with the astrophysicist keyboard player, arrive on stage and remind us again that things can only get better – they certainly do improve when they finish playing. We stagger bleary eyed onto the terrace to greet the dawn and to greet Tony, who’s just flown in from Sedgefield to shake our hands. I cross Waterloo bridge in the sunshine and head for the District line. London has never looked better.

The Honeymoon years
I’m standing in the Lobby of number 10 next to a mountain of photographic equipment. It’s a few months into Blair’s premiership and he’s still popular (he hadn’t declared war on anyone yet). We’ve been retained as Labour’s designers, (originally as GIANT, then as Howdy) and have been asked to produce the centenary brochure for the NEC (Labour’s governing body) which involved getting a portrait of Blair at his desk in Downing Street. While number 10 is surprisingly grand and cavernous, the prime minister’s office is a slightly tatty and disappointing room set just off the main cabinet office. The Oval Office it isn’t, although there is a red telephone on the PM’s desk with ‘Washington Hotline’ dymo labelled onto it (I kid you not). Do you think Clinton had a London Hotline phone on his desk? I think probably not. While Blair is in the next room sorting out the Troubles with David Trimble, I’m doodling a very childish and quite obscene picture half way through his note pad. I often wonder if maybe he was on that Washington Hotline, a few weeks later, when he turned the page to reveal my ‘art’. Maybe it brightened up his day – maybe one of his office cleaners or ‘interns’ got fired. Guess we’ll never know.

The Prime Minister's office in Downing Street

The Prime Minister’s office. Neil and Jocelyn Hillman, Labour’s communications manager

Is bigger always better?

Since setting up Howdy in 1999 we have worked for a wide variety of clients of all types and sizes, from global multi nationals through to lone entrepreneurs. During that time we have never had more than six staff at any one time, yet we have met many crazy deadlines, developed global brand strategies and identities, and produced suites of literature, exhibitions and signage programmes. We have delivered each job within the timescales and budgets agreed at the outset.

We previously worked at some large global branding companies, where we worked in equally small teams. It often appeared to the clients that the entire design department were working on their job, therefore justifying high fees from seemingly endless hours of work having been spent their jobs. Sadly, that often didn’t accurately reflect the reality.

Before client meetings and presentations we would spend an hour updating an extended team of people on the project’s progress since the last meeting so that they could all turn up and appear to have been fully engaged and a productive part of the process throughout. We would then negotiate a tricky path throughout those meetings as the peripheral team agreed to unrealistic deadlines and unachievable deliverables, while we tried to rein in expectations and agree appropriate and realistic goals while still meeting key client deadlines and budgets.

We left that world to set up Howdy, knowing that we would be able to build honest and transparent relationships with our clients, without hidden fees or an illusion of extended teams of people behind the scenes.

Careful planning and preparation, in partnership with our clients, ensure that clear, achievable deadlines and fees are agreed and managed by the people directly involved in the projects. Maintaining a dialogue directly between the client and the designers throughout ensures that there are no chinese whispers, and reduces the risk of things getting missed or overlooked.

We do the work and discuss issues and suggestions directly with the clients, giving them the benefit of our design experience and training. We’re not ‘yes’ men. We explain why we’ve done things a certain way, say when we don’t think something will work, and then discuss the options to reach a mutually agreeable solution. We believe that this direct dialogue between clients and designers makes the process more efficient, less frustrating for both sides and ultimately more cost effective.

Five tips for writing a design brief

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It goes without saying that the first step to getting the right design solution is getting the brief right. Your designers can help you to write a design brief but the basic information that you need to provide is outlined in the five steps below.

  1. Outline your objectives clearly.
    Why are you commissioning this project? As with any marketing exercise you need to set clear goals outlining what you want to achieve. Typical examples might be to raise awareness, increase sales, reach a new audience, etc.
  2. Give as much background and supporting information as you can.
    No one understands your business as well as you do so make sure you tell your designers about it. Good designers will engage with your business and share your enthusiasm. Tell them about the culture and personality of the organisation as well as a factual overview. Share what’s good and bad, what is and isn’t working. Be honest. Recognising issues and addressing them is key to business success and design can help reflect changes and alter perceptions. Tell them about your competitors, industry and audience.
  3. Clearly state any specific requirements.
    What are the deliverables? Try to give a guide budget and timescales. If you have brand guidelines ensure that you supply them. If this needs to work alongside other marketing materials ensure that you show them.
  4. Don’t be overly prescriptive.
    Try to involve your designers as early as possible in the process before too many decisions have been made. They can recommend formats, distribution methods and production options that you may not have considered. Try not to influence the design solution too strongly with your own ideas at this stage. You’re paying designers for their creativity so don’t stifle them at the start of a project even if you have to rein ideas in at a later stage. This leads to more exciting and innovative design solutions.
  5. Supply any examples of designs that you like or think are effective.
    While you don’t want to copy what others are doing it’s a good starting point to see examples and get an indication of what you do and don’t like. If you have any examples of materials that you have produced previously it is important to show these – even if it’s to show what you want to change or feel isn’t working.

These are all discussion points to develop a dialogue between you and your designer and help them gain a deeper understanding of your organisation and create something that is unique and relevant to you and specific to your brief. The more information you can give the better the outcome.