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Step 3: Translating Brand into Visual Identity

Here we are at the point where the rubber hits the road in the brand development process. We’ve learned all about your company and described your brand in detail. This is the arty part: creating an identity that reflects all the chatter.

Between the core values and the personality we’ve defined for your brand, we usually have an idea of the general direction the creative needs to go. In the case of Green Jay below, we knew we wanted to do something very specific — utilize a bird, which reflected the company name as well as the concept of “ecological landscaping” from the brand frame. We offered one option that diverged from this idea, if only to show that our concept was the right direction. And we wanted to use green to reflect the sustainability value of the company. Anything else felt “off-brand.” In the case below, we nailed the logo on the first round and were able to complete the identity design very quickly.

Example of Logo Development

First Round of Logo Concepts for Green Jay Landscaping

How does the design process work? I usually start by writing down keywords that must be incorporated into the design. They will reflect the brand frame, of course, but go a little beyond so they are more aspirational. I will also do some visual research at this point, to get inspiration from images across the Internet (see our post about And then I play around with the typography and experiment with color until it just feels right. Next come sketches of the logo, combined with some vector work in Illustrator until the logo options feel real enough to present to the client. We shoot to present three to five initial logo design options. Sometimes there are more if they are coming very easily. We never want to overwhelm, but we do like to share a variety of looks for our client to react to.

From here, the client chooses one direction. We’ll iterate on that a few times until the logo is finalized. Then it’s time to move on to designing the stationery and marketing collateral. Easy!

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Step 2: Creating a Brand Frame

So far in our investigation into your brand, we’ve done a Deep Dive into your company — learning about your core business, mission, vision, and culture. This included our R&D process (reviewing your collateral, conducting interviews with key stakeholders, checking out your competition), and the very interactive Branding Workshop.

Next we move on to creating a “brand frame” for your company. The Brand Frame is a description of the gems we uncovered in our R&D process, distilled into a narrative that’s meant to capture the essence of your brand. This is a simple, internal document to use as a guide for building the brand over time. It’s also a living document, so it can evolve and grow as does the brand. Adherence to this document is what creates a consistent, recognizable, authentic brand.

I’m happy to open the kimono here, and share the Brand Frame I’ve developed for my little company. [Yes, even a teeny little design agency should have a brand frame. It’s how you know what you are all about — not just what you think you are all about.]

1. Mission & Vision

We start with defining the purpose of the company, and your big audacious vision for the future.

2. Core Values

We determine what are the most fundamental guiding principles of the brand. These are distilled down from a much more exhaustive list. The test is this: if you remove one of these values, it will not be the same company. Distilling down to just three is probably the most challenging part of this exercise.

3. Brand Essence

This is probably the most critical part to get right, as everything is built upon these few words. The question is: what does your brand boil down to?


Can you guess which big brands these belong to? (answers at bottom of this post)

Authentic athletic performance = ?

Rewarding everyday moments = ?

Magical fun = ?

4. Brand Promise

This is basically the mission, stated in a more meaningful way. I like to think of starting this statement off with Above all else, we promise to…


5. Strategic Targets

We also like to include the Strategic Targets in the Brand Frame, so we know who we are talking to. These are usually potential (and existing) customers, but they can also be others like press or staff.

In my case, I like to develop brand for small business owners and non-profit organizations, but I also like to work with other marketing consultants to help their clients build brand. So these are who I’ve determined are my targets.


6. Brand Metaphor

This is where the words begin to form into a more creative concept. The brand metaphor is a visual or symbol that captures the essence of the brand. While you should be able to explain why you used this, you also should not have to explain, Caterpillar.

I wanted my metaphor to express beauty, the concept of making perfect sense, and symmetry in good design. I also like the concept of scalability in this image and that it’s “pure” and of nature.


7. Key Brand Attributes

These are more practical adjectives that describe the brand. These are key attributes that draw your Strategic Targets to your brand and thus what the key messaging in your communications will be built on.


8. Code of Conduct

The code of conduct is where the rubber hits the road — where your brand syncs with your company culture. These commitments are a guide for how you and your staff behave to strengthen the perception of the brand internally and externally. It’s sort of the table of contents for your Brand Bible. You should be able to respond to “Why?” for each one. There can be as many of these that make sense.


9. Communication Style

You can see that we are getting into more and more realistic applications for the brand at this point. The further you get into the Brand Frame, the more these tenets can evolve as they are tested and the brand evolves. These guide the tone of the writing and the look and feel of the design for the brand.


10. Proof Points

And finally…why should your Strategic Targets believe all that the brand promises? These are actual “company sparklers” that are measurable and provable. They should support everything you are saying about the brand. This list can also be exhaustive, and can be a resource for your communications content.


You can see that all the parts of the Brand Frame work together to tell the story, so the words should not be re-iterative, but descriptive. We spend a great deal of time mulling over the words that are chosen for these 10 “simple” ideas. You can see how important it is to say more with less, so that deep understanding of your brand can grow from within.

Interested in learning more? Contact me.

Authentic athletic performance = Nike

Rewarding everyday moments = Starbucks

Magical fun = Disney

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Step 1: The Branding Workshop

13-1022-WorkshopRecently, we looked at the 6 key elements of successful brand deployment, which gave an overview of our process for developing brands. The first two elements were “Company Definition” and “Corporate Strategy” — makes sense to start with the basics. But how do we get to know the company so well we can define it? That’s where our Branding Workshop comes in.

A workshop! Doesn’t that sound fun? Yes, you may have to bribe your team into participating. And you will need to speak up and share your ideas and opinions (harder for some than others). But we’ll all work hard, collaborating as a group. All this work will be well worth it in the long run when everyone is on the same page about exactly what your brand stands for.

Here’s how it works.

1. Preparing the Workshop: Where is the opportunity?

While preparing the Workshop, we gather a lot of information about you — interviewing key internal and external stakeholders, throughly reviewing your marketing collateral, looking at your competitors, and more. But we want to identify any gaps in our knowledge about your company. This could include gaps about your business, your brand, or maybe your audiences… all the relevant details that go into brand building. We recognize that these gaps could be symptomatic of the information you aren’t communicating about your biz in general, so we pay special attention to them. Then we design the workshop specifically for your biz, building upon the knowledge you’ve shared with us and working to bridge those gaps. The goal of the workshop is to get a deeper understanding of your brand and all the specialness about it. This is how we’ll be able to successfully translate your biz to crisp clear communications.

2. Scheduling the Workshop: Who’s around the table?

Scheduling the workshop is easy…maybe. It depends on how many people need to be in the room. And let’s try to get them all into the room — a workshop in person is far more efficient than a virtual one via video or telephonically. In my experience, a working group of five brings enough diversity and knowledge into the room, but is still a manageable number of voices. These five should be chosen carefully — they should be dedicated staff who can bring insight and expertise about your biz. A diverse perspective is very important here, as is choosing team mates who get your core business, brand and company culture, along with a shared vision for the enterprise.

3. The Workshop Agenda: What does it look like?

Workshop agendas are all different, as each Workshop is designed specifically for the client. The focus of the Workshop is typically on those items that are still not clear after our research — the elements of brand that the company needs the most help defining.

A presentation deck will outline the Workshop; it is distributed to the working group several days beforehand so that folks can consider things before we all meet up to discuss. Typically designed for three hours or less, we try to keep the agenda chunked in a way that is not overwhelming.

What follows is an example of a workshop we did last spring for a client who was looking for refinement due to a major shift in their core business which was never reflected in their branding.


Keeping it to 5 items or less makes the most efficient use of our time.


We try to cut to the quick of your core business.


Discovering your big audacious goal.


We spend a chunk of time discussing your customers and other strategic targets.


Getting to the core of “what you are all about.”


We are sure to discuss the visual and tonal qualities of the brand, which inform the creative direction.

4. Workshop Outputs: What do you get?

Workshop Notes

We distribute our raw notes immediately after the Workshop, and get going on the Brand Frame.

After the Workshop, we send out our raw notes from the event. This is just to remind you of what we discussed. Our next big task is to start pulling together the Brand Frame, which holds the company definition and the brand DNA. We spend a few weeks iterating on this fundamental piece. It’s the critical document that pulls together all of the ideas from the Workshop and lays the foundation upon which we’ll build our brand. The whole point of the Workshop is so we can make a really great, relevant Brand Frame. More about that in the next post in this series.

5. The Take-Away

There are a few key things to keep in mind about the workshop:

1. The prep pays off, in spades. While it may be a hassle to get the right people together to put their thinking caps on about the company and the brand, it’s critical to building a successful brand. Hone your leadership skills to get them excited about the process, and be sure your team is on the same page when it comes to the goals and the direction the company or organization is taking. There’s nothing worse for a Workshop than when the internal team starts arguing about where the company should be going.

2. 5 people, 3 hours. The majority of the work is in the preparation. Once the structure of the workshop has been defined by the prep, your team is free to be creative and think “outside the box” about the potential of the brand. You’ll be surprised at the awesome ideas that will come out of these three hours of interaction. And your team will find itself energized by the process.

3. Keep your team focused. It’s easy to get distracted by other business initiatives. Brand building may be lower on the priority list, but it will get done faster, and better, if your internal team stays focused and responsive through the duration of the project. Do whatever you can to keep them motivated and psyched about the project. Scheduling regular meetings will help move things along. And keep it fun!

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Infographic: The 6 Key Elements of Successful Brand Deployment

We know that a brand is much more than just a logo. There’s a lot of research and thinking that also goes into creating crisp, compelling brands. You may be creating a new brand from scratch, or refining an existing one. Or even making a complete overhaul of a tired old brand. Here’s a breakdown of the basics we go back to in order to think through the essential nature of your company or nonprofit. From here we can mine the gems that will speak to the audiences you want to draw in and create a brand that feels real and looks great. (click for bigger)

Deployment of Brand Infographic


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Demystifying “Brand”

Demystifying "Brand"Some folks have told me that the term “brand” is negative and that it’s a bad idea to sell my creative service with such a label because small business and nonprofits — my two favorite clients — will be averse to it. Well, I’ve been weighing my response to this. I can understand why developing a “brand” may seem overwhelming to companies and organizations with fewer resources, but I believe this is due to a lack of understanding of exactly what’s involved in the process rather than the actual effort required to build a solid brand. So I’ve decided to write a series that begins to demystify and describe what a brand is, and how to get on the right track to building a great one. Here’s the first post in a series that I hope helps clear the path.

What, exactly, is a brand?

A brand is a communication tool. It enables companies and organizations to effectively market themselves and their products and services. Brand is expressed in visuals and language through all points of contact with your audiences. It can also be expressed in other ways: the attitudes of staff (ie., customer service); locations; scents; etc. Brand is way more than a logo and color palette.

Why is a brand important?

A brand it humanizes a company (or nonprofit or product or service) so that a person can relate to it — “get” it on a human level. Ultimately, the goal is that this person will become a customer (or funder or constituent) and buy the product or service. Thus, developing a strong, authentic brand is the most direct path to building a relationship with a potential customer. Simple, not scary. Right?

A brand unites its company or organization. The second reason why a brand is so important is that the very act of going through a branding process quickly gets all the internal stakeholders (Board, staff, etc.) on the same page as to what the company is all about. The documentation of the brand foundation is how everyone stays on the same page. This can be done without a brand, of course, it’s just quicker and easier (read: cheaper) to do it through a branding exercise.

So a brand is important for internal and external audiences to know the company. That’s because a good brand accurately and dynamically expresses what a company is all about. Which brings me to my next point…

Melissa’s Brand Truths

Over the years, there are some basic things I have come to believe about branding:

  1. A brand is an authentic reflection of the company or product it’s representing. A good brand positions your best qualities. It shows the true beauty inside, it’s not just makeup on top.
  2. A strong brand is built by consistent execution of a strategy over time. This doesn’t necessarily require additional effort, it just requires focused effort.
  3. It doesn’t cost more to strengthen your brand. In fact, it costs less. A consistently executed brand creates efficiency, it makes decisions easier for your organization because they are all coming from a central strategy. It’s your marketing effort that will direct your dollars.
  4. Every company or organization needs a brand. I’m not just saying this to get more biz. A company or nonprofit doesn’t have to be a certain size in order to have a brand. My little company of two has a well-defined brand that we follow. However…
  5. A company needs to know itself before a strong brand can be expressed. CEOs, if you haven’t done some soul-searching on your mission, vision, audiences, corporate culture, and goals for the future — that is, if you don’t really know what your company is all about — you are probably not ready for a brand. That said, a branding workshop can help you get there more quickly by raising all the questions you can’t answer.

Those are the basics. Stay with me for the next post in this series, an infographic: The 6 Key Elements of Successful Brand Deployment. We’ll get deeper into breaking a brand apart.

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