Focus First on Your Brand Message, Not Appearance

Focus First on Your Brand Message, Not Appearance

Focus First on Your Brand’s Message, Not AppearanceSeveral years ago I took a Harvard Business School course on business thinking for design leaders. Toward the end of the course, one professor told us that what we do as brand strategists and designers frightens some CEOs. Why? Because what we do, while vitally important to their success, is not always directly quantifiable. It’s hard to measure emotional connection with a number.

This unsurety and discomfort can cause business leaders to judge brand expression solely on its aesthetics, rather than on the idea the expression is meant to represent. Ironically, this can increase CEOs’ discomfort; what sits before them does not appear to be immediately satisfying. Without a clear understanding and appreciation for the meaning behind the brand expression, executives will miss out on the value brand thinking can create for their organizations.

Easing Your Instincts
Our team begins each identity project by clarifying the meaning behind a brand promise—the core idea that creates a unique perception in the minds of critical audiences. While we ensure both business rationale and leadership buy-in behind this idea before we start to work on the visual expression, there can still be a tendency to focus on aesthetics. The brand’s message and the process of creating it can be a powerful tool for building both consensus and understanding.

Going Beyond Emotion
Most executives typically haven’t gone through the identity development process before. Because of this, it’s easy to instinctively respond to something based on appearances. These critical questions can help get you back on track:

  1. What is the problem we’re trying to solve?
  2. What is the promise we want to communicate?
  3. Does this communicate what we want our audience to know?

We used this approach in a recent project we completed for Caltech. We needed our client to focus on their primary objective—raising overall awareness of Caltech’s impact on science and technology. We steered our discussions to focus on which new design most accurately communicated the school’s new direction, rather than fostering talk of subjective opinion. As a result, we were able to update the school’s design to highlight the strength of its name, as opposed to extraneous symbols. The final identity is stronger, more memorable and more impactful.

If it comes time to re-examine your brand message, frame your project around these questions and focus on the meaning of the message instead of its appearance. This will prevent the process from turning into a beauty pageant and instead help you develop a brand that matters.

Taking a new approach to finding your brand’s message can also help. Read more in our blog post “Stuck in a Creative Rut? Reframe Your Approach.”

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