How a branding expert approaches rebrands – and why it’s worth it
An interview with GA Creative’s brand strategist Julie Burke: For more than 20 years, Julie has helped clients tell their unique stories, by facilitating brand input sessions and surveys, and asking the right questions to unearth brand strategies that move organizations forward.
Companies can’t afford not to pay attention to their brands. It’s the secret sauce that helps prospects quickly understand what you stand for. A strong brand helps you acquire customers more quickly because your message is aligned with their experience. Ultimately, a solid brand enables you to charge a premium because the market is willing to pay for a relationship they trust. We asked GA Creative’s brand strategist, Julie, for some insights for teams considering whether to rebrand and how to go about it. Here’s what she had to say.
What is a brand strategy and why does a company need one? A brand strategy supports long-term organizational goals and objectives, which typically revolve around increasing customer retention and attracting new customers. It sets the stage for how everyone across the company should communicate who you are and what you do for customers, in a way that’s different from competitors.
Companies need a brand strategy because advertising and communications should not be built in a vacuum. Choices around messaging, imagery and design should all map directly back to the overarching strategy. When you’re up against a competitor, whoever can more clearly and consistently articulate value will win the race when it comes to engaging and closing customers.
The better your company does at following a brand strategy, the more “brand equity” you will build, making your company itself more valuable over the long term.
How should a company go about developing a brand strategy? It’s important to start by gathering as much input as possible from stakeholders across the organization, representing different functions from sales and marketing to product and customer service. Plus, gather insight from those outside your organization, including partners and customers. By conducting a brand audit and analyzing survey results, you can identify where impressions are consistent and areas for improvement.
Another key step up front is gathering data about your customers and prospects, and segmenting them into groups that personas can be built around. Personas are fictional representations of your target audience that take you beyond basic demographics. They help you dive deeper to build an understanding our audiences’ specific behaviors, concerns and needs.
A brand strategy should also identify brand attributes, or the dominant personality characteristics of the company. These are traits to be communicated through images, stories, interactions and experiences with your brand much like personality attributes permeate your interactions with people.
How do you approach developing the visual elements of a brand? Our team uses the brand strategy along with exercises on creative preferences to inform the visual design of brand elements. We may look at competitor materials r communications from those in similar industries and discuss what we like and don’t like. Do you want to be edgy or conservative? Do you want to be more real or aspirational? We also take information from the brand audit to address all the various uses, from the website to advertising to sales literature and event materials.
We typically present two or three creative options for clients to choose from. When there’s a team of stakeholders involved in selecting the visual elements, we’ll have each person rate the options against the brand criteria as a way to see if one solution rises to the top.
Your brand name, logo, color palette, typeface and photography should all work together to present a cohesive impression. By using the key elements of your visual identity properly, you can ensure that communications retain a consistent look and feel that captures your mission and culture and advances your strategic plan. Templates for commonly used communication vehicles, such as ads, presentations and case studies, can help maintain consistency no matter who is creating them.
What key things have you found can make or break branding efforts? One of the biggest mistakes companies can make after investing in a brand refresh or a total brand overhaul is not having the necessary guidance, training, process and oversight in place for developing communications that adhere to the new brand look and feel and tone and voice. Here are five best practices I recommend to keep a brand intact:
Identify who will be creating communications on behalf of your brand. This will inform the best process to instill the brand, and ensure consistency in communications.
Determine how you are going to organize, store and share brand assets. This will depend on the size of your organization, the number of individuals and teams creating communications on your behalf, the complexity of your brand and your budget.
Create detailed brand guidelines. At a minimum, include brand attributes, writing style, logo, tagline ,color palette(s) and/or combinations, typography, supporting graphics, photography/image style and examples of the brand in action.
Deliver training to those people identified in step one. You may need to host multiple training sessions to address particular individual or team needs. These can be in-person brown bag sessions or live online meetings. Either way, make sure to record these sessions–including the Q&A–for those folks that are later identified as brand ambassadors, creating materials on the company’s behalf.
Make sure there is a clear point person (or email alias) that people can contact with questions. And consider offering to review/approve creative. For some clients, we serve as a brand ambassador, responding to questions and offering guidance to in-house or freelance writers and designers.
What results do you expect companies to see from investing in a strong brand presence? We’ve guided companies large and small through everything from brand audits to logo and website refreshes and total identity facelifts. The clients who have worked with us on creating a cohesive, relevant brand presence have seen accelerated growth. In some cases, the up-leveled, polished brand has helped the executive team command a higher price when they sell the company.
Investing in a new brand—whether it’s a total overhaul or just a refresh—means a commitment in terms of time and money. When does it make sense to explore a rebrand? We advise clients that have experienced a merger, change in direction, increased competition, expansion to a new geography or audience, launch of a new product or service, or simply have a gut sense that their look and feel is outdated.
You won’t see the business results you want if your organization has outgrown your brand to a point that it doesn’t accurately reflect who you are or what you do—and is telling the wrong story.