Howdy’s guide to planning a new brand identity

Featured

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mean that your existing identity and communications are no longer relevant or is it that your visual branding is tired, outdated and ready for an update?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.

Advertisements

Buy it cheap, buy it twice

This wise old adage may seem redundant in today’s throwaway society but we think it still offers some valuable lessons in the design and marketing world.

As marketing budgets continue to shrink, the temptation to scour the market for a cheap solution is inevitable, but we believe that when it comes to design, working closely with good designers and careful planning, are better ways to maximise your budget…

Know where you’re going
You need to have the internal focus right before you can brief an external supplier. All branding and marketing should be steering an organisation towards its long-term vision rather than just meeting short-term needs. This helps to give branding and marketing communications a longer shelf life and make them more effective. Quick fix solutions are tempting but are rarely the best way to communicate the bigger picture.

Learn from past mistakes
Plan carefully to ensure that communications tell the right message, to the right people, at the right time. Regularly audit marketing materials and all manifestations of the brand to assess the effectiveness and value for money. What works and what doesn’t? Don’t just produce things out of habit. Sometimes one communication can replace three. If you really need three, can they be printed up together to save on print costs. A few well thought out, engaging, relevant and well designed pieces will be more effective than lots of unfocussed, poorly produced ones that end up in the recycling bin.

Get your designers problem solving
Develop a dialogue with your designers. Tell them what you want to achieve and invite their input on format and content, as well as on layout and design. Ask them to suggest smart solutions to save money in production and distribution. Don’t be over prescriptive or limit their creativity at the outset. Tell them what information you need to communicate, and who to, and let them propose solutions. Consider different technologies and distribution methods? Does it really need an envelope for mailing or can it be designed to negate that? Sometimes a powerful single colour piece can have more impact than a  full colour one? Be open to new ideas.

Pick our brains 
Draw on your designer’s industry knowledge. As designers we really understand print and production – from presses to paper sizes and how jobs are planned up. We can help plan jobs economically to minimise waste. Some papers bulk up more than others so they appear thicker but are lighter in weight – useful to know when considering mailing costs without compromising on quality. A few millimetres trimmed off an edge could save a lot on distribution costs.

And finally, the ultimate false economy…
Free-pitching may seem a good idea – after all, who doesn’t like something for nothing? Putting a job out to many companies as a free pitch may at first appear to yield lots of exciting glossy options, but will they really reflect your organisation and future vision? Did they spend hours of unpaid time researching your organisation, your marketplace and your target audiences – probably not. The fact is that a free job will always be at the bottom of the pile behind the fee paying jobs in any design studio, so even if you get something you think is OK just imagine how good it could have been if you’d paid them to give it real time and effort. Find a designer or design group you respect and trust enough to pay them for their time and you’ll get the right design solution without the wasted time – after all, time is money.