Posted on: 13 October 2016
Executive Vice President
The UX of Branding – How a user focused approach can benefit your brand (PART 2)
For a branding project to be successful, you need to understand your organization, develop a sound brand strategy, and then execute that strategy successfully. A user-focused approach can help to both organize and strengthen this process.
In my last blog post I discussed the importance of your brand and the value that Brand Experience thinking can bring to your redesign project. This time, I’ll explain how to do it.
Who to Involve
Once you have decided that a brand redesign project is in order, that effort will need a leader with a vision—your brand champion. Who in your organization is going to take this on? Who has the vision and the drive to make it happen? Who cares about the minutia and has the wherewithal to stay in it for the long haul?
Secondly, you should plan to bring all parts of the company together: product, customer service, C-levels, marketing, etc. You want to hear from those in the company who are passionate about the company and the customer to help create the vision and to work together to keep perspectives balanced. For the reasons mentioned at the beginning of this article, you don’t want to involve only one or two design team members in your branding project. Information and expertise from multiple groups within the company—and from experts outside it—is key.
Any brand activity is rooted in understanding the essence of your business. Analyze your brand against your experience lifecycle. What phases are in your product lifecycle? How does your audience learn about you? How do they set up and use your product? What do they do to communicate with you if they need support? Identifying your lifecycle will help you identify your touch points.
Brand workshops that incorporate private one-on-one interviews with key internal stakeholders are excellent ways to draw out this information.
Conduct a Brand Workshop
You know your brand, services, and culture best, so it makes sense to bring together a working group of stakeholders that consists of members from various parts of the organization. Typically C-level, marketing, business and technology leads should be represented. Together, the group will identify the brand vision (where you’re going), the mission (why you exist), the voice (how you talk to your customers) and your personality (values that define your culture). These foundational elements should be captured and shared so that they are front and centre in all activities.
These sessions are key to:
- Probing deeply into organizational goals around the brand
- Understanding the future of your business
- Defining what your organization is and isn’t
- Defining your culture
- Defining your brand promise
Analyze Your Competitors
A competitive analysis provides an in-depth look at the brand experience others have in the marketplace. It helps you identify your unique brand experience and separate you from your competitors. In order to more deeply understand how to position your company, you need to analyze the competitive space. Research the brand strengths and weaknesses of organizations similar to yours, and review how competitors rate in regards to messaging, quality, appearance, content availability, marketing activities and visual approach.
You should also consider international brand perceptions and take the cultural values of your target audiences into account. This comprehensive review will help you define your distinct competitive advantage and create an original brand presence.
Perform Customer/User Research
Research opens the door to meaningful insights. Uncovering hidden expectations, needs, and desires, and learning from those that interact with your brand, provides a better understanding of your customers and users. To get the most out of your brand, audience goals must be aligned with organizational goals.
It’s here that a solid understanding of UX principles and methods is extremely helpful. At Akendi, we use moderated interview and/or focus group sessions to help clients draw out key customer insights. We typically:
- Walk through the current experience to gauge interest level and perceived value from customers and potential customers
- Discuss opportunities around the next generation of the brand
- Discuss specific elements of the brand to obtain qualitative feedback
This exercise helps to validate whether your vision resonates with your customers. You can also gain tactical insights such as what sort of imagery they expect and what that imagery portrays, while also gathering feedback on how those users view the brands of your competitors.
All of the information gathered above needs to be objectively analyzed and combined with industry knowledge. Bringing the research, analysis, and consultative components together into a coherent strategic roadmap that guides future executions of the brand experience is critical to your success.
Create Your Brand Strategy
With data from your stakeholder workshops and inputs from your competitive analyses, you will be in a good position to create your Brand Strategy. This strategy should be captured in a clear, strategic document that outlines a one to three-year roadmap. This roadmap shows how, where, and when to improve the brand experience. The brand strategy captures your vision for the future and is a key document that ensures all stakeholders are aware of how the brand will evolve to align with the organization’s strategic direction.
Only after you have understood, defined, and captured the true essence of who you are, should your design teams start to create actual visual artifacts such as logos, product redesigns, and other communications materials. There are many materials that will ultimately be produced to support the brand—things like employee manuals, physical spaces, such as your office environment or storefront, your website, and marketing collateral for external audiences—and they will all benefit from the research performed above.
Develop Brand Guidelines
A brand guideline document will capture your brand essence and describe how to execute it through the creation of actual artifacts. It prescribes how to execute on the brand essence consistently across all touch points. A brand style guide is required to ensure a consistent and intended brand experience when individuals are implementing and conveying the brand to your audience. It documents the brand essence and conveys it in a compelling and easily understood manner. It provides instructions for visual implementation on any communications materials, including the website, and describes appropriate use of images, graphics, illustrations, and video. The brand guidelines document is one of the many ways you communicate your brand essence to those who work with it.
Typically, a brand style guide includes:
- Brand essence (who you are, brand promise, vision, values, culture)
- Elements of the brand (logo, colours, typography, imagery, iconography) and their rules
- Example applications of the brand for both print and web
Once the brand essence has been communicated, it will finally be time to update the visual look of your products, print collateral, website, intranet, advertising, physical spaces, and social media channels to reflect your evolving brand essence and the innovative services that are being developed.
An Integrated, User-Centred Approach
This process may seem logical—and it is! Unfortunately, it’s not often followed in a brand refresh. It’s all too easy to skip the internal and external research detailed above and move right into the more exciting design phase. But the customer, user, and stakeholder knowledge uncovered during the phases outlined in this post is critical to developing a strong brand that actually resonates with your audience.
By thinking about “the whole package,” involving multiple groups within your organization, and following a user-centered process, you can dramatically improve your chances of establishing a brand that supports your vision, is envied by competitors, and is truly appreciated by customers.
Executive Vice President
Athena believes that function and beauty are not mutually exclusive. A principled and creative leader whose biggest passion is finding solutions to client problems, Athena strives to build teams that intelligently integrate UX processes and best practices with product development. Her long and winding journey from the United States to Canada has given her a unique combination of strategic design skills and broad industry experience.