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How to start a branding project - Brand Discovery.


Sean Lee-Amies

Over the past few years a lot of people have come to DF to seek advice on how to improve a logo or branding project that they are currently working on. I have tried to help on every occasion that I was aware of, but the same issues kept arising and it's something I'd like to go into a bit more detail about today...

Most of the problems I've read about were to do with not being able to produce something that makes people say "Wow!" or to get their client to choose something they like; often a client will asking for a seemingly endless number of revisions and even then, they don't seem to be in love with the the end result.

The first thing I do when someone is asking for help is ask what steps they have taken to understand the client and their business. Some times people have asked a few questions, but failed to receive sufficient information from their client. Some times they don't ask any questions and some times they have a load of meetings but focus on the wrong things.

Do you remember creating your own brand? It probably took you an excessively long amount of time, compared to most other branding projects - because it was something that you cared about a great deal and wanted to get right. Could you imagine giving that project to a complete stranger and them expecting them to be able to give you something that really highlights your core values, expresses your specific style and ultimately be something that you're going to absolutely love? Would this be possible without them actually sitting down with you, getting to really know you, your beliefs and goals, design preferences and all about your business? No, and so it should be the same for your clients projects.

The first thing I do is sit down with my client(s), face to face, and I get to know them. What are they like as human beings, (this is also a good opportunity to discover if there are any future opportunities such as outsourcing agreements, partnership opportunities etc) and what makes them tick? This is best done in an informal environment, but it does depend on the type of project and type of client. I always try to make friends with my clients, so the less formal the better.

My next goal is to find out why they're passionate about their business and what they want to achieve with it. Having already done as much homework on their business at this point helps because you can talk about specific events that have come up in their history, or lack of - you get more valuable insights into their thought processes and they realise you care about their project, win win.

My next step is to take them through my brand discovery process which involves summarising all of their requirements and finding professional examples of similar brands. Once I've compiled a nice list of examples (minimum 3 - depends on the budget) I will have another meeting with the client and we will analyse as much of the work as possible in order to understand their views on design. What fonts do they like, what colours appeal to them and their brand etc. This is also a very good opportunity, for web projects, to show them features they might want to use on their own site, or specific layouts. The goal here is to find out why they make these decisions, so that you can produce something that they will love the first time around, and not have to spend weeks going over painful revisions.

Once you've got that knowledge, it suddenly becomes a lot easier to produce a stunning piece of work that not only you will love, but the client will love it too - and they will love you for giving them something they didn't know they loved! Think of the referral opportunities.

So that's my process, what about everyone else? How do you make your clients love your work? We've got plenty of established professionals and newbies looking to break into the world of design, so it's a great opportunity for everyone to learn or discuss!
Interesting stuff Sean. I think that is the way to do it and I think it would definitely allow for less awkward customers if it was done like this.Do you enjoy it when they are specific, or is it more fun when it's completely open?

I don't really get to that level, unfortunately. Clients at work are looking for a cheap logo so we have to make do with just going with some logo styles they like off google images or something. As far as it goes for my freelance work I still haven't had one that has a 'normal' budget, which is fine as I can't really offer such a service because of time.

Sean Lee-Amies

I just think there's too much guess work going on with these type of jobs, usually with lower budgets of course, but I think in a lot of situations a company can afford bigger budgets and really need better branding but don't seem to value or understand it enough to commit more. There are also a lot of start-ups and even more people in business with no plans to ever really expand on what they currently have; it pays their bills, feeds their family, that's enough for a lot of people and expansion/growth strategies don't really play much of a role in those situations.

So, to answer your question, I enjoy working with a client when I know what they want. You can never really be too specific when it comes to this stuff, the more I know about the clients thought processes and preferences, the better the project outcome will be. Of course you will always get the micro managers, the ones that either can't or won't trust another professionals judgement or worse, the ones that think they know best. But some times just by exploring professional designs with them, they quickly begin to realise that they don't know very much about design, and that they had no idea what was actually possible - this is when they start getting really thinking about it all and become much more receptive to guidance and advice. Realistically though, the ones that can't be helped are not going to be able to afford my level services anyway, so it's not something I have to deal with very often.

That is an interesting subject in itself - and something I have had to explain on many occasions to other people, clients and prospects. Not all design services are equal! There is a big difference between the level of work, and more importantly the results, for example between a £10 logo service and a £400 logo service. For the longest time I thought it would be fairly obvious that there is a reason why some people charge more for the same type of service - but actually when you talk about prices a fair few people react in a way that implies you're just trying to con them when you ask for anything more than amateur rates. Oh well :)
Nice info shared ..For branding products and business ,it's always better to prtomote it on Social media networking website as it helps to give targeted traffic .

Tony Hardy

Sean Lee-Amies said:
The first thing I do is sit down with my client(s), face to face, and I get to know them. What are they like as human beings, (this is also a good opportunity to discover if there are any future opportunities such as outsourcing agreements, partnership opportunities etc) and what makes them tick? This is best done in an informal environment, but it does depend on the type of project and type of client. I always try to make friends with my clients, so the less formal the better.
I understand what you're saying here, but what happens when face to face isn't always possible? I've had clients from the USA and Canada as well as Egypt and the Far East. Skype is great, but it doesn't offer the same "face to face value" as meeting someone and shaking their hand (and normally buying their coffee!)

And, as far as making friends with your clients go, so informal is better, I think that's only suitable in certain scenarios. I think you need to gauge this situation as early as possible. I've made the mistake of turning up quite informal, when it should have been formal and as a result lost a job.

I also don't think all clients will want things to be kept informal, or be treat as "friends." When I dealt with clients such as Sure Wind and Skitracer, they certainly weren't interested in becoming friends. Yes, the chats were informal and yeah, I could probably see them as friends if there was no work involved, however, when you put that dividing line in the middle, it's really difficult to develop a close friendship out of it. If one side messes up, you need to be able to say, "look, you're wrong, x y z" and not have a friend fall out with you.

That said, I felt a close connection with Ali who owns The Neutral Corner when I first met him and over the last year we managed to make quite the blooming friendship out of what started out as a working relationship. Good things can come of treating clients as friends, I just don't think it's the right thing to do in each and every scenario.

Sean Lee-Amies

When a face to face isn't possible, you don't apply face to face meeting techniques. You can do it over Skype but it's not the same, I would probably only advise it for smaller projects. It's not that bigger projects can't be done over Skype, it's just more difficult and there's not much you can do to get round the fact that you are not in the same room as them. I designed and managed a mobile app project where the developer was based in the US. I've recently built a website for a sport writer, also in the US, and in the past I've worked with a polish web developer creating a new social media platform. Everything is just a little bit more difficult to do.

As I said, it depends on the type of project and type of client. In my opinion if you can make a friend out of them, then I would strongly recommend trying to do so because both sides will reap the benefits. Some clients wont want anything more with you than to finish the project they've hired you for, and that's fine - but I'd rather have a personal network of friends and people who are actively looking out for your best interests (and of course vice versa) than work only acquaintances that you talk to once a year.


New Member
Great post... I think we can synthesise as: more care with the briefing. Communications strategies are like a gun in our profession. That's why I'm graduating not only in Graphic Design but also social communication. And for those kind of clients, I consider make a trip. I'll be in Argentina and Curitiba (Brazil) next month only for 2 clients I have from there. The job is done, but I kept the contact with them, they will introduce me to other companies and everything that a network has as consequence.