A great brand design agency understands that creating an identity is a bit like being a love-sick romantic. The emotional rollercoaster can feel like a tear-jerking chick flick. There’s a discovery phase, where you come to a new realization or understanding and life (or the brand positioning) seems so clear. And then there’s the it-couldn’t-get-any better-than-this phase – in the identity development world, this is where it feels like all of the juices are flowing, and the collaborative design and client team couldn’t be more in sync. After the high comes the heart-wrenching scene where the happy couple has an angry, yet passion-filled knock ‘em down blow out – not too dissimilar from an identity review meeting with the C-suite where upon leaving you feel like you’re stepping back to square one in your quest to find the one true, beloved identity for your brand. But in the end, the stars align, the clouds part and the answer emerges. You might not have taken the path or “process” that you expected, but you got to a better place than you could have ever expected.
Developing an identity is about capturing the feeling, the spirit, and soul of an idea (tangible or intangible) in a way that people will eventually come to fall head over heels for. But you have to be receptive to finding that idea at any point while gathering insights as well as shaping and changing it along the way. It might not look like what you originally anticipated, and it can’t be forced out of the end of a process.
That’s why iterative design thinking is so important. At times, you might feel like you’re failing, but if you’re rapidly ideating, quickly prototyping ideas into real-life context and gathering feedback to vet and refine ideas, you’re closer to the right brand identity with each iteration. Nurturing an approach where the team works to rapidly develop a solution, gather feedback, and embrace shortcomings or failures in order to become more informed for the next iteration results in a stronger, tighter identity in the end. And because you’ve attempted to solve, rethink the big picture and solve again, you’ll naturally fall into a fluid rhythm where you may even shape and reshape the overall essence of the brand. In a typical stage-gate approach, one step is completed and agreed upon at a time, each step building on the previous.
In theory, it feels like it should be a solid approach, but it doesn’t allow for the pieces at the beginning (like the strategy) to evolve fluidly as the team continues to learn. Plus, it takes a heck of a long time to actually get to the fun design part of the engagement. If you think about it, most of the characters on Lifetime that attempt to force love versus letting it evolve naturally end up being psychopaths – just saying. A good agency will understand that developing the personality of a brand physically, visually, socially and verbally is all in the approach of ideating, shaping, gathering input and continually evolving versus a rigid process.
Collaboration between client and design partner as well as a third party audience not close to the development is important. In most rom-coms, we see the back and forth struggle of a relationship, each pushing the other to be a better “him” or “her,” but it usually takes an outside party to help the couple realize when they need to put personal issues aside and think differently about the situation.
A smart agency knows how and when to include the third party. Sure, you will come up with an idea, a need, or an opportunity (the insight) on which to base the brand, but it takes a third party (a consumer or audience) to give you true perspective and to validate whether the intended brand meaning actually means anything to them in the way it is presented.
Nike and Tupperware both promise performance but it couldn’t be served up more differently. Other brands like Google and FedEx have a promise to deliver in a timely manner, although one comes to your door and the other you can never touch. What is important to note in each of these examples is that the people behind each product or service believe in what they do. In many ways, they are ambassadors of the brand and are important to the success of proliferating the trusting benefits of WHY each brand exists. If the people behind the insight are not involved in the development of the brand, its true meaning will be lost in translation. Working collaboratively, or co-creating is the only way to deliver holistically on the promise.
Your agency’s job is not just to develop, design and deliver. Their job is to listen, gather insights from stakeholders, understand the true meaning of where an idea originated and expertly interpret that initial thinking without losing the essence of the spark that created it. If you are working with an experienced agency partner, they will not be pushing, but rather pulling ideas and co-creating, working in true collaboration. Your agency should have an approach, not a process for uncovering insights, visually interpreting those insights (some form of prototyping) and quickly getting feedback from stakeholders including end-users.
All initiatives start with ideas, assumptions, hypotheses that need to be realized, visualized and tested, again and again. Each time, going about the approach smarter, more informed, building a team of cheerleaders and fans that understand and support the work. It’s not about building consensus, it’s about building on ideas and allowing for failure to strip away the parts of the approach that don’t align with the vision.
And like a romantic comedy, in the end the brand identity will live happily ever after – or something like that. Once the identity is created and your company rallies around it, your work doesn’t end. You’ll need to ensure your brand identity is proliferated through your company culture and your external channels. Does your website reflect your new identity? How about your social media channels? Does your interior space reflect your brand and what it stands for? Do your internal policies mirror the attitude of your brand? Even an expertly crafted brand identity is powerless if not applied and embraced by your entire company.
What do you think? Are process-driven agencies hindering creativity and brand development? Share your stories in the comments below! Learn more about our co-creation process.