So, you’ve signed on a new client that needs branding help. Based on initial conversations, you have a general idea of their vision, key offering and company goals. But before you can provide any guidance based on their initial needs, you’ll need to do some serious detective work. At Any Studios, we call this vital strategic first step of the branding process The Discovery Phase.
Having completed dozens of branding projects, we’ve developed a time-tested methodology for crafting and executing scaleable strategic roadmaps. The first and most important stage of The Any Method is where we distill the insights necessary to lay the groundwork for a successful project. No matter the scope or scale, we always insist on establishing a firm strategic roadmap to start — ensuring we build a brand that’s not only beautiful, but will perform. Once a solid and strategic foundation has been laid, the creative execution falls into perfect place.
Below, we’ll outline key steps to a well executed Discovery Phase, with insights from our chief strategist, Assaf Dagan.
First, listen—to everybody. Meet with anyone you can that has a touchpoint with the product: from CEOs, CMOs and founders, to sales personnel and clients. Set up as many interviews as possible.
“Founders and CEOs often have concerns about their business, expansion and their accountability to investors along with a sort of ‘tunnel vision’ idea of how to make their brand work. This results in them having a view of their own brand that’s invariably skewed from reality. They rely on their own instincts and experience to deduce the brand and how it ‘should’ look. Our main objective in the discovery phase is to distill a clear view of how stakeholders see the company & what they want the brand to be, then compare that vision with a true market analysis and the view of real users.”
During each stakeholder interview, you’ll want to ask essentially the same questions in order to establish the brand’s baseline. If you notice a gap in perception of each player in the brand, congratulations—that’s exactly what you’re looking for.
“Ask the CEO and the sales representative to tell you the brand story, for example. They’d have two different brand stories to share. Ask enough questions like this, and you’ll begin to understand what the brand is all about.”
In short, the answers you seek in your initial meetings are the ones that will help you understand each individual player’s perception of their brand, industry and audience. From there, your bird’s-eye view of the company will help you strategically move forward. Here are a few questions to consider asking, bearing in mind product, audience and industry:
Next, you’ll need to understand how your client’s brand fits into market context. Isolate their core product offering and study their industry top to bottom, noting where their competition lies, and where you might be able to best penetrate the market.
“The goal is to create your own ‘blue ocean,’ or a niche without competition within an existing niche. This is the first step in dominating that specific corner of the market.”
Instead of directly competing with another brand within an existing market, isolate a unique brand offering only you can provide that’s not currently found in your industry. Eliminate any offerings that feel dated, or overdone. By finding your brand’s “blue ocean,” the competition will become irrelevant, as you’re offering something novel.
A clear example of a brand that successfully established their niche using the “Blue Ocean Strategy” is Cirque du Soleil. In a time when the circus industry was suffering from declining attendance and profits, Cirque spotted an uncontested opportunity: appealing to adults and corporate clients through high-end, world class French performance art and entertainment. While the Ringling Bros. and other traditional circuses were suffering, Cirque took a new approach — opting for mind-boggling human aerialists with a contemporary spirit. Cirque positioned themselves confidently in an upper price tier and made it worth the extra spend. They even named one of their first productions “We Reinvent the Circus.” With that in mind, ask yourself… how can you strategically reinvent your industry?
Distill best practices from industry leaders. During this part of the process, don’t feel confined to staying within your specific industry; there’s often a lot to gain by broadening the scope of your research.
For example, you may have a client in fashion retail. Have you noticed that a brand you follow offers an amazing virtual shopping experience? What can you learn from how they interact with their customers? Can you adapt concepts such as styling sessions or wardrobe consulting via text?
“When working with a jewelry brand, we might borrow practices from the fragrance industry. You can’t smell the internet, much like you can’t feel or see a jewel online — so seeing how leading fragrance brands solved those challenges might lead to valuable insights that can be applied to our specific project.”
From what the stakeholders think about your brand and research on the market, competition, and best practices, you can begin crafting your initial communication strategy: a brand story, a reason to exist and brand values. Consider those assets alongside the competition’s best practices in order to understand and imagine how your brand story might come to life. You’ll start to draw parallels, borrowing key ideas.
Start by making very small common sense leaps from your initial interviews to best practices to strategy. These will become your personalized “rules of engagement” for communication, moving forward.
“Say we’ve decided that we want to create content, so we look to a brand that is doing a great job on Instagram. Through our stakeholder interviews, say we establish that one of our values is integrity. We borrow the brand we love’s best practice of not ‘over-photoshopping’ images, and to enforce that point, some Instagram content we create will be about how we don’t use photoshop in our ads. For Mother’s Day, we’ll articulate a real story of a mother and daughter wearing our product, while our competition might just throw “25% off” into a caption. It’s content that fits our values based on our interviews, inspired by the best of the best.”
As you move along in the strategy and design process, continuously refer back to your insights—ensuring each element is aligned throughout all touchpoints. Brand story, mission and values should shine through in elements like photography and word choice. Acknowledge the weight each word carries and always ask yourself “why?” when creating content, thoughtfully reinforcing your brand through a specific, clearly defined verbal and visual language.
“If we decided to concentrate on ‘union’ as a leading value, while writing the shot list for the website, we might decide that there can be no photos with only one person in them: only two or more, and hands should be touching. When conceiving of product names, with the theme of ‘union’ in mind, the name might have two beats: ‘soft & smooth’ or ‘lavender & vanilla,’ in order to reinforce this same principle.”
Once you’ve established the brand’s baseline, analyzed the competition, researched best practices and begun turning your insights into strategy, you’ll be ready to move forward in the branding process.
Stay tuned for the next article in this series, where we’ll delve into the second step of “The Any Method”: Strategic design.
For more design agency insights, check out A Legacy Brand’s Guide to Navigating the New Luxury Market.