Designing and Branding Your Empire
Posted Apr 3, 2011

Is your brand as good as the work it represents? You have the gear, the creative eye, the drive, and the passion. It’s a great start, but now what? Will clients simply come a-knockin’ because you’re good at what you do? Maybe you’re hoping that the phone will start ringing because of your website, which actually says even less about you than it does about your work? These are some of the common pitfalls that many companies must overcome if they are going to take their business to the next level. How do you implement a successful brand strategy that will attract the right audience with pricing that matches your talent? It’s not as easy as 1-2-3, but here are some guiding principles to help you along the way.

Developing a Solid Strategy
First things first: You need a brand that is supported by a solid strategy. Not a logo or a website, but a full-blooded brand that encompasses, and clearly communicates, what your company is about (positioning, style, aesthetic, motivation, and so on). Your brand is your ambassador to the world. It’s the lens through which potential clients will see you. Your work may seal the deal, but it’s your brand that handles the early courting rituals. Without a strongly defined brand and a solid implementation strategy, you’re dooming yourself to being just another ho-hum business.

There’s a very strong correlation between branding and filmmaking. With film, your goal is to evoke a certain tone and feeling that serves and supports a greater story. Your brand should do the same thing. It’s your voice, and whether you like it or not, it speaks for you and your work when you aren’t there. So you’d better make sure you know what it’s saying.

A brand is made up of multiple parts: strategy, positioning, voice, story, logo/mark, graphic systems, color palettes, marketing collateral, and—most importantly—the team that supports it.

Developing Your ‘Look’
Many companies do themselves a disservice by employing a brand that doesn’t hold up to the level of work they create. You wouldn’t send out an incomplete or dissatisfying film to a client, so why would you send out a faulty message about your company to the world? The answer is simple: You wouldn’t, not knowingly at least. However, most companies don’t realize that this is exactly what they’re doing with their current brand materials. The work that is created may be at the height of sophistication, but the brand that represents it is wearing socks and sandals.

Does your brand truly reflect the level of your work? Does it have an identifiable visual system that has been applied across a range of collateral while still projecting your look? Too often, brands are lost in the various pieces that make up your marketing materials, and this further dilutes your message and look. The brand should be evident but not overbearing. Your branded look should be made up of a graphic system that has been developed as visual support for collateral. It’s a system with rules and guidelines to provide necessary, visual consistency for your brand. The use of icons, line work, colors, fonts, and so on, should all be carefully considered. In cases where a logo might not be present, the viewer should still know it’s your brand by the visual clues used in the graphic system.

Choosing a Name
What’s in a name? Well ... everything. Before an audience sees anything, they’ll likely hear the name of your company. So what does your name say about you? It should reflect the people behind it.

The name that you choose will inform the rest of your brand—meaning the logo/wordmark and the overall look and feel. It needs to be genuine and honestly reflect who you are and how you want to be perceived. If you screw this up, it will be a tough battle to win over your audience.

Telling Your Brand Story
However, naming is only your hello. It’s your brand story that finishes the introduction. What’s your story? How do you think? How do you create? What are some principles you abide by? What sets you apart from the competition? These are the kinds of things that should form the foundation of your brand. You need to create a voice for your brand that you can deliver on. It needs to speak a language that is indicative of the kind of work you want to attract and will also resonate with the clients that you want to attain.

There’s nothing worse than a slapped-together visual that tries to sell an incomplete thought. That’s just bad branding and, ultimately, lost opportunity. The “good enough” approach to business will cause more trouble than it’s worth. In the end, doing branding on the cheap will cost you more when you are forced to revamp your site, package design, ads, and the like, because they’re sending the wrong message. If you ever expect to improve your pricing structure and be taken seriously, your brand needs to be confident and credible.

Looking for Inspiration
Never follow trends. The trends of today are the fads of tomorrow. You’d be much better served by looking to timeless examples of design for inspiration. Take the time to understand how the voice, look, and brand in these examples have been able to stay true and yet still evolve.

You should also be looking at yourself and the work you produce. What kind of visuals come to mind? What kind of ideas inform and shape your style? Where do you derive your inspiration from? How does it position you with the target you want to attract?

Branding and Rebranding
A brand is your promise to your audience. It should be unique, compelling, and believable. It should also have room to evolve. This doesn’t mean that you should revamp it every 2 years. On the contrary, in order to build equity in your brand, you need to nurture it and let it grow. That means creating a graphic system that will allow for things to evolve over time while never betraying your core promise.

Every company has an opportunity to stand out and create its own niche in its given market. The challenge is knowing how to visually stand out and carve your slice of market share once your brand has been developed. Everyone has a website; everyone has a business card. How can you reinvent those tools and make them an asset in setting your company apart from the rest?

Developing Your Message
Messaging and strategy go hand in hand; one cannot live without the other in this competitive world. You must be ready to learn, grow, and focus your abilities to be one step ahead of those around you.

A big part of this can be accomplished with your message. You need to set your company apart and think of yourselves differently. It’s not about replicating someone else’s success; it’s about defining your own. This should be reflected in your messaging. You’re trying to get potential clients to cross over to your side of the street in heavy traffic. You’d better have a good way to get them safely across. Better yet, you should have a good idea of what to do when they get there.

Everyone has the same amount of time to make an impression on a potential client: none. In order to make an impression that will last, you need to start defining your company by the words and tone you use. It should sound like you, not like others around you. If you find that other companies are using the same positioning statement and words to describe their offerings, then you need to push further and think through all of the possibilities.

The StillMotion Rebrand
I’d like to use the brand that I’ve been developing for stillmotion to illustrate what I’m talking about. We were a company that started on the same path as many others. However, after a full 2 years of pushing our ideas, visuals, and language, the brand is now being fully realized.

Revamping our look and feel was only the tip of the iceberg. We had to delve into the language being used on the site and the marketing materials to reposition our trajectory. We took a step back to look at what we wanted to achieve and set our targets on those we wanted to work on. It was an evolutionary process that involved an update of our collateral package designs, pricing, promotional workshop material, workshop content, incoming job requests processes, and, of course, the biggest tool in this business--our website.

StillMotion Evo

Branding is an ever-evolving aspect of your business, and it’s important to keep reinvesting in yourself. At stillmotion, it was our ability to look ahead that has led us closer and closer to defining the company we are now and shaping the company we want to be.

There are no tricks or “one size fits all” solutions when it comes to branding. However, by understanding the elements that make up a successful brand, you can use them as a guide on your journey.

Tatjana GreenTatjana Green ( learned design philosophies and fundamentals while studying design at Uni-Bauhaus in Germany and working in advertising agencies in Europe. She has created and art-directed award-winning campaigns for such clients as Toyota, Movenpick, Canon, NFL Network, Proctor & Gamble, and Saar Energie.