Branding is about more than just a logo or a website. It is the very essence of your business. It is how your business exists in the minds of others. One of the best ways to influence the way people perceive your business is through brand strategy and design.
As a branding specialist I handle every aspect of branding a business. From brain storming and strategy, to design, to management. One thing that clients get wrong is that they only need the design side of branding. They also think that creating a brand strategy should be fast and require little effort, but the truth is it takes hard work and a lot of time. But I promise it’s worth the time and effort, in this blog post you’ll get a sneak peak of what all goes into a brand strategy with Cam Fowler Designs.
Photo Credits: Cameron Fowler via Cam Fowler Designs
At Cam Fowler Designs we believe that in order to have a good brand you need to take the time to develop every aspect of branding. We also have spent countless hours researching what is needed to create a strong brand and have determined that branding has four necessary primary pillars: 1. Visual 2. Voice 3. Personal 4. Product/Services.
These pillars are the end result of the strategy phase of creating a brand. But brand strategy is not a one size fits all process. There are some different ways to do this but writing about all of them in one post would turn this into an eBook that would take hours to read. Because of this I’m only going to talk about my favorite method.
When a client comes to me about creating their brand I usually send them a couple of questionnaires to see what they are actually needing before getting all the details about their business. This way both I and the potential client can see if CFD would be a good fit for them. You can see one of these questionnaires here [just scroll to the bottom of the page].
Now I know 8 pages may seem like a lot but trust me, the questions on this questionnaire are just the tip of the brand strategy iceberg. And to be completely honest this questionnaire helps me a lot when it comes to deciding if I actually want to work with a potential client or not.
Usually the questions on the first page will tell me if this client will end up being difficult or cheap and from there I can ask qualifying questions in our meeting about what their answers actually mean. If anyone reading this is thinking about using questionnaires to help their client onboarding process I highly suggest including some of these questions. In recent times it has helped me avoid awkward situations with people who are not my ideal clients.
After I get back the questionnaire I will typically draw out a plan of how we should tackle the project and get a rough schedule up for each strategy section. Usually it only takes about two weeks to get a schedule set up for the whole project. But sometimes it takes more if the client is completely unprepared or has scheduling issues.
Once the schedule is finished I will put the days and times for meetings with the client into my website calendar, that way those dates and times are blocked off ahead of time and I avoid running into schedule conflicts. At the moment though all projects are being scheduled around my class schedule so as not to disrupt my senior year’s grades. I know I will choose money over grades so it’s best to not put myself in a situation where I actually have to make that choice.
Our first meeting is typically for discussing the answers to the questionnaire and more questions about how much the client has already done on their own to start (or run) their business. During this meeting I will also get an idea for my project proposal and pricing as well. Once the first meeting is done I will typically send in a more concise version of my notes from the meeting and a time estimate of when the client can expect my project proposal to come through.
Usually a project proposal will only take me a few hours to create and then I will sit on it for a day or two before sending to the client just to make sure it actually looks good and everything it is correct.
After the client approves the project proposal and we go over some details or questions they may have I draw up the contract and send for them to sign. In the next blog post I will be talking about my design contract and what I think is most important to include and why. And not to brag or anything but I haven’t once had a project proposal turned down or a contract not signed by a client. Personally I think that’s because my onboarding process is so thorough.
Now we are finally to the first official meeting of the project. This meeting consists of creating their brand message and business purpose, vision & values. This is the core of any brand. If you do not have a solid foundation you won’t have a coherent brand for your business. For example my message is that I want to help small business owners make their business the best version it can be. My purpose is to make small businesses successful and my vision is to do so through good and thorough branding and my values include working with integrity, continuous research of my industry and the industries of my clients, effective and timely communication, and equality of treatment. The last one means that it doesn’t matter if I am being hired for a $75 logo or a $5,000 full branding project, I will be treating each client with the same dignity and respect of the $5,000 projects. This is something that I don’t really see a whole lot, especially with marketing agencies and so I wanted to include it in my values to make sure that I never lose sight of one of the main reasons why I wanted to start Cam Fowler Designs.
Photo Credits: Cameron Fowler via @DesignsFowler on Twitter
After this meeting I will make more notes on what was discussed and refine the wording better and place it into the brand guide book under the About Us and Identity sections of the brand guide. Usually this will be edited more as the brand gets developed more.
The next meeting will be discussing who their target audience is. In this I usually will ask if they are b2b (business to business) based or if they are b2c (business to consumer) based. After that we will talk about who they think are their target audience and what the target audience behaves like. This step is either the longest or the shortest depending on how much research the client has done before hiring me to help with their branding. After the meeting I will create a few ideal target audience/client profiles to help keep the information concise and easy to read. For me it took about 6 months to fully research and developed my ideal client profiles. But that was also because I was just starting out and researching how to do all of this. Now this part usually only takes about 3 weeks to fully understand, unless it is an industry that I have zero basic understanding of (which is rare).
The next meeting/step is talking about the competition in the target market. This is where the client and I will talk about any business that they think may end up being in direct competition with them. Now this step is a bit different with me than it is with other strategists. I personally believe there is enough room at the table for everyone, so his step is more about how we can do things differently rather than how we can take customers and clients away from the competition. For example, one of the things that sets my business apart from other strategists is customizability. A lot of brand designers tend to have pre-packaged designs where people will just plug in their own names and details into an already created brand. My services are different in that I work with my clients to create something entirely unique and specific to their business.
The next couple of steps and meetings are about characterizing your brand. This method is where you treat your business like a character in a book and build that character out with it’s personality and voice. We’ll discuss things like the age of the brand, gender bent (masculine, feminine, or neutral), type of person (like are they mainstream, alt, cottage core etc.), and any other details needed to create the brand’s character. Sometimes if I have a very visual client I will turn all of our notes into a character design. To kind of give a more clear picture of this, if my brand was a character in a book it would be a woman in her early 20s who has a more new 2020s style with a bit of a vintage vibe every now and then who also really enjoys nature walks and dark academia aesthetics videos on Instagram.
From there we start working on the visual aspects of the brand and work on it all until it’s done and they’re ready to launch or relaunch. A typical branding project like this will usually take anywhere from 3 6 months or longer depending on how well prepared the client is at the start.
Photo Credits: Cameron Fowler via Cam Fowler Designs