The unseen value of brand design
Over the years, I’ve noticed many people take brand design for granted. As if it was this magical, almost mystical thing appearing out of nowhere to bless your company, turning it into a loveable brand without anyone having to do anything. This misconception got me thinking and below is a summary of the thoughts i’ve had on the topic.
It’s that time at your company. You’ve made it in one country for a number of years. You’re now considering launching in another one. All the research is done and you are now able to make it all a reality. Your company hires a few key people on the ground and the excitement is palpable in the room. Time to get to work. But where to start?
In this article, I speak about my experience going from a well-defined structure through to being part of an agile team of four; at the same company. I work for Airtasker, a company that’s had a successful story to date.
We’ve launched and existed in Australia through the creation and use of a strong brand. We’re now launching the same service in a completely new territory; this means we’ve had to start it all up again. I’ll be touching on things like brand awareness, qualitative design and branding since it’s what I know the most about.
Let’s break this article down in four distinct points. They’re some of the things I’ve learned through a variety of past experiences and observations. They’re also what I take away from launching in the first city outside an initial market. Here are the four key points I mentioned above:
1. Consistency: why being consistent matters
2. Velocity: how consistency supports velocity
3. Value: what is the added value of having a solid brand
4. Opportunities: how making the right choices leads to opportunities
One of the key aspects in making a brand successful is consistency. It’s only through intentional repetition of what your brand is about that you can make a statement. Or stick in people’s minds. They have to see what you believe in, how you look or sound (voice & tone), etc. Time and time again. Only then will they start to remember you. These elements are part of what some call “brand guidelines” — it’s the glue that holds it all together.
You’ll usually spend quite some time working hard to create elements that look and feel like you. In that time, you’ll fail and succeed. A lot. At last you’ll refine your guidelines based on the learnings. Over time, you will be at a point where your users know about you and can even recognise your “touch”.
Congratulations, you are now capable of producing a set amount of work in limited time. All while being in strong alignment with where your company is going and what it stands for. Your next step will now be to navigate the unknowns of a new market.
People worked hard to make your brand what it is today. They will want to see no less than the same quality from your new team. Their expectations will be high(er) and so should yours. Nothing says going global more than being able to create new work that aligns with something established. The fact that your strategy will differ to adapt to the intricacies of a new market should not affect the overall quality.
Having existing foundations for your brand when entering a new market is a major asset. That said, it should not see you be complacent. Try to avoid conversations that sound a bit like:
“Well, no one really knows us here so I guess we’ll be fine even if it doesn’t look exactly the same…”
“Let’s just go with the flow for now and refine quality later on…”
Nothing is more important than making it all look like it fits under the same umbrella. Being new on people’s radars, rest assured they will look you up any place they can and will see what’s already out there. More likely than not, they will quickly form opinions about you. If they see big discrepancies between the existing and the new, they’ll holler.
This is one of the reasons why it should look and feel the same. It’s also the best kind of social proof your company can have. How you approach brand design can lead to two potential scenarios:
With an inconsistent brand:
“I guess it kinda looks like this other company in [insert country here] but it doesn’t quite look similar. Are you sure it’s the same company?”
With a consistent brand:
“Yeah, I looked it up, it’s already out there in [insert country here] and millions of people are using it. Must be good then, right?!”
In people’s minds, it will be as simple as that. They either will associate you with the parent company or they won’t. And if they do, that’s a very good signal. The benefits you get out of it at a trust and awareness level are worth far more than you can possibly imagine.
This will, no doubts, be one of the key requirements when entering a new market. You will want to move fast, learn just as fast, iterate and then repeat. It takes time to know a new market and having consistent ways of using your brand helps in moving faster. It provides with strong enough foundations to keep iterating until it just “clicks”.
There’s no secret about how to have the expected velocity while establishing yourself as a strong player in uncharted waters. You need to be consistent first. If you want to look bigger than you actually are come launch time, you can’t take any shortcuts — it will always show eventually.
No amount of money spent on targeted advertising alone will be good enough to make a firm stand. If you want to show what your intentions are, you need to be on par with the rest of what the company produces, not below it. Not even for the sake of earning some time here and there. If anything, you’ll spend more time refining after the fact than if you’re nailing it straight away.
So… who is the best for the job?
1. New hire.
You have a brand new team on the ground; might as well start fresh on that side too?! Well, here’s the thing: you can’t expect someone new to hit the ground running when it comes to brand. You can see them show enthusiasm and they will most likely bring new ideas too. But if you want to remain consistent and produce quality work in little time, this path could prove tricky. Why? Let’s have a look!
You need in-depth onboarding. About your company, your brand, your processes and your people too. Once that’s covered, you can still expect some latency as that person will need to put in the work. They’re new so they’ll most likely get feedback from HQ — especially if they’re working solo in the new country/city.
Before they start to produce work that has the same kind of quality, you can expect a good 3–6 months for most designers. If you’re willing to let your new hire spend such amount of time to be up-to-speed then you should do it. It will be worth it down the road to have someone on the ground — someone who knows the brand very well. It’s not an easy process, but it can pay off.
If this is not what you’re after, know that you can likely reduce the lag down to a few weeks (8–12). You can try to find someone with exactly the kind of experience you’re after. Be willing to accept the price tag that comes with it, they’re not easy to find at all.
2. Existing employee
Someone who is familiar or helped shape your brand’s direction is something you should look into. Is there someone who’s already part of your team and excited to help you launch somewhere else? Are they willing to move? Ask yourself these questions before looking anywhere else.
Walking through the mist can be scary. The peace of mind you have with an existing source of knowledge takes the pressure off everyone, big time. It also means the rest of the team can focus their efforts on what they do best. They’ll know that someone covers the brand/design aspect of things and that it won’t be an added burden to carry on.
Let’s have a look at what value a great consistent brand brings to your company when you’re about to enter a new arena.
Well, first of all, it helps you stay true to your company values and the direction it’s taking. It’s important to establish yourself as a challenger. Especially if it’s been successful before.
Second of all, since no one will have heard of you yet, it will help you look bigger than you actually are in the market. This is particularly helpful to showcase your intentions and get trust from people. Displaying that a lot of care went into making your brand standout is not a nice-to-have, it’s critical.
No one trusts a brand that looks scrappy or looks different every time you come across it. Who likes the product that has 16 different typefaces? Who expects to see original Coca-Cola cans be bright yellow when they’re familiar with the red ones? Yes, this answer is no one! This is the value that consistent quality design can bring to you in a nutshell.
Needless to say your brand is a strong advantage over your competition. If their brand isn’t strong enough or if they’re still searching for what they stand for, it gives you a real edge. You will be able to tell your message the way you want from Day 1. It will also be a lot more efficient to explain to your users what value your product can bring to them.
If your brand has solid foundations and also is adaptable, you have all you need to standout from the crowd. Smaller competitors will still be trying to find their voice. On the other hand, bigger competitors won’t have the velocity to iterate and move as fast as you can do. Being somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot you should aim for.
If you happen to work at either a small or big company, well, you know what to do next. Find ways to make it as easy on yourself as possible. Below are some of the steps you might wanna consider to turn this will into reality.
I work at a small/new company
- Discover what your brands stands for (workshops)
- Develop your brand further and create guidelines
- Move fast and experiment with your brand, a lot
- Refine your brand over time
- Pause, reflect and figure out what your needs really are
- Rediscover and/or refine your brand if necessary (workshops)
- Break down your guidelines in sections for ease of use (marketing, product, etc)
- Create design tools for your teams to move faster (design language, etc)
You made it. You found someone who knows the brand extremely well and what it takes to be consistent. That person can produce quality work at high velocity with little to no direction. They breathe and live your brand. They know all the little intricacies — the details no else sees. This is where you want to be. You’ll get doors of opportunities, which doesn’t happen often in a company’s lifetime. All you will need to do is to push those doors and see what’s behind them. It would be silly not to take advantage of that situation.
What kind of opportunities are we talking about? Well, I’m speaking about the ones that give you a chance to push your brand further — take it to the next level. It can be for your social media channels. Or your photography. It might even be simpler things that help refine your brand direction such as typography.
Whether it applies to short or long-term goals, they’re what will help take your brand from good to great. And i’m not afraid to use those words here. I’ve experienced it first-hand. I’m a firm believer that every little improvement you can make to your brand serves a bigger picture.
Once you’re comfortable enough with your brand, you’re able to try new things. All without losing what it stands for. Every little project becomes an opportunity to create new things and learn from them. It’s an invaluable position to be in.
Imagine you’re a surfer. One day, you wake up earlier than everybody else — you really know your s*%^. You hit the beach and are being served dream-like conditions. You get into the water and face some of the best waves you’ve ever put your board on. This is the what I meant above. You’ll be one step ahead, always.
It’s not easy to see the value a strong brand brings to your company. I know it’s not, since great design is something that is hardly quantifiable (at least, the way data can be). You have to see your brand as a long-term investment. Something that will give back everytime you use it and everytime people come across it.
Oh, one last thing. When I talk about brand, I don’t just mean the visual stuff. The way you speak to your customers down to the values you stand for—it’s all part of your brand. Make sure it’s all carefully considered and you’ll save yourself time down the road.