It’s not uncommon for clients to blur the difference between visual identity and brand strategy. Yes, there’s a difference in how much time we spend on a logo or a mark vs the time spent in ideation of how your brand is perceived by its receivers and the unique pieces that all fall under the big umbrella of image, quality, values, mission and purpose. The execution of a logo could take a couple of hours. The idea behind a brand is immeasurable and is usually the result of an extended dialogue between a team of designers, visionaries and authorities of a company. The beginning stages could take months but once the foundation for a brand is built and the design of the experience is in place, it could take years for a brand to develop culture. Culture is an organic connection between your company and your customers. Culture is the trust and memories you build to support future growth and loyalty. A strong brand has deep culture and a clearly defined message, supported by its identity. Next time you’re  at your local coffee shop, take some time and have a look around. Notice the signage before you walk through the door. Once you’re inside, look around the space. Notice the furniture, the lighting, the textures and any interior signage that may be hanging from the ceilings or hung from the walls. It should feel consistent and methodical. It doesn’t have to be visually stunning. No one said that good branding falls in the category of fine art. But it should feel thoughtful, deliberate, and systematic. It should also be inviting. Chaos could very well be the theme… but at least it’s a theme. Steven Heller and Veronique Vienne included a short story written by Brian Collins in their book “Art Direction Explained, At Last!”. I think it sums up the difference perfectly.

A Donkey and a Banjo

  Once upon a time there was a raccoon who made his living making and selling banjos to the animals in the forest. One day a donkey entered his shop. “How can I help you?” asked the raccoon. “Well, I would very much like to play the banjo,” said the donkey. So the raccoon sold him a basic, but lovely starter model. The donkey went his way, rejoicing in his new purchase. The raccoon was also quite pleased, reckoning he had just gained a repeat customer, as the donkey would certainly be back for a banjo case, strings, finger picks, a pitch pipe, sheet music and – eventually – a top-of-the-line banjo. The donkey went home and flailed away at the instrument for several days. But, as the timbre of his playing did not meet his expectations, discouragement soon set in. He stashed the banjo under his bed and did not revisit the raccoon’s shop. Soon after, the raccoon was lamenting this circumstance to some of his friends. Frankly, it was not the first time a promising customer had failed to return. Business was flat. “Your logo is outdated,” said the mole, a branding consultant. “I will spherize it for you!” “I will write you a clever tv spot!” said the bear, who was a copywriter. “I’ll hire Pytka to direct it! Or Brian Buckley!” “You need a scalable, trans-media, cross-channel, socializable marketing strategy!” said the rabbit, a web ninja. “Time to prosolution results monetize all of those eyeballs!” The raccoon felt paralyzed. Then the fox – who had been listening in the corner – spoke up. “Perhaps what your customers really want,” he said, “is not the banjo itself, but the magic of banjo music. So, perhaps you should be in the art of delivering them that magic.” “What?” said the raccoon, but dimly comprehending. “Look, why not let me make some posters offering banjo classes? Then allow me to redesign your shop so it feels more… inviting. I will set up some chairs, put on some hot coffee and ask everyone in. Then you can hold jam sessions in your shop, where new players can mingle and hone their skills? And I could invite a visiting virtuoso to give a recital. I’ll create a little newsletter that explains what you do every week. I can also film the sessions and create a website to make it all available online for creatures living in the outlying hollows.” “In this way, you’d start giving customers banjo…joy,” suggested the fox. “Consequently, I believe the demand for your instruments will blossom.” “Capital!” exclaimed the raccoon, catching on. And that’s just what he did, following the fox’s suggestions. In no time, his shop changed from a mere banjo store to a hive of banjo action. The donkey, hearing that lessons were to be had, came back. And he told others. Who then told others. Demand skyrocketed. The raccoon hired assistants and opened a recording studio. Customers came from everywhere. Best of all, the dells resounded with the dulcet ding-a-dang of the banjo. When the raccoon went to pay the fox for his remarkable services, the raccoon asked him what line of work he was in. “You are not exactly a writer. You are not exactly a poster maker. You are not a brand consultant. You are not a web guru. Yet you did all of these things for me” “Well, that’s because I am… a designer”, answered the fox. And soon after the raccoon came to see himself not as a banjo builder, but a “maker of musicians”. And so did everyone else.

This story “hit a chord” with me. Mostly due to my experience working on projects with new business owners. It’s usually the clients that have had their business in place for a longer period of time that end up realizing that their logo isn’t the icing on the cake. In the end, you can’t slap a carbon fiber BMW badge on an ’86 Buick and call it fancy. It’s everything under the hood that matters most. Often, when we start working on a new project, we begin with a stage we call “discovery”. This is where most of our hours are burnt up. It could be coming up with ideas while reading, searching the internet, writing, listening to music, driving, taking a shower, visiting local establishments, etc. This stage focuses on culture mostly and there are many layers of culture driven by objectives, subjectives and variables. Objectives: Names, language, writing, symbols, color, sound Subjectives: Aspirations, Emotions, humor, expectations, feelings Variables: Societal, economic, spiritual, religious, intellectual, ethical These layers ultimately end up becoming what most brand strategists and designers refer to as “The Big Idea”. It’s a culmination of properties and critical components that communicate your culture to the world and becomes the brand or customer experience. The feeling you get once you’ve paid for your coffee and you’ve left the building is you’re brand experience. And hopefully the coffee is good. This being said, and hopefully you took the time to read Brian’s story, good branding doesn’t need to break the bank. Your business is a long term investment and it’s up to you and your designer to decide what the key elements are and what pieces need to be completed, initially, in order to set the stage for a solid foundation. The rest falls under brand management and consistent strategy so things don’t slip through the cracks and simply fall apart over time. It’s important that the key elements are followed through with, beyond the delivery of a pdf. Your designer should be working closely with the signage designer, print facility, interior decorator, construction / fabrication team, etc. There’s nothing worse for a designer than to see a logo they’ve crushed over for days on end – hanging in a window on a shitty vinyl banner, creased, unevenly hung, and pixelated because the owner gave the wrong file to the printer. Yes the client got a nice logo, but it doesn’t mean much if the final execution was cut short because of budget constraints. In the end, before you go searching for someone to “brand” your business… know that it’s not just the logo that completes your image. Be prepared and do your homework before you take the plunge into brand discovery and identity creation. There’s a good amount of value at stake and if you think things through and plan ahead, the process will be much more satisfying for not only and your designer, but your future clientele.