May 2017 On The Cover Special Section

Our 5-Step Process For Building A Powerful Brand


Written By: Matt Steel

In Simon Sinek’s excellent TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” he describes what Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Wright Brothers had in common — instead of promoting what they produced or how, they led with why.

Branding is the most powerful way your organization can show its “why.” Good branding matters because people will support what you believe much more than what you do. Well-crafted brands select and magnetize the right audience for decades.

At Parisleaf, we’re dedicated to sustainability. Beyond environmental stewardship, we believe you either buy nice or buy twice, as Dann Petty says. Our work is built to last. This is why we chose to build our practice around the core service of branding.

What exactly does the brand-building process look like at Parisleaf, and what do clients get? Over the years, we’ve developed a five-step process in which we discover, position, identify, activate and refine your brand, starting with your “why.”

Let’s look at what each of these steps entails.

1: Discover
In discovery, we seek to uncover your organization’s reason for being — your “why.” After getting acquainted with you and your challenges, we identify key voices within your organization and key representatives within your audience. Through qualitative interviews, we put together a clear picture of who your audience is, what they want, and how you are seen internally and externally. We research and develop buyer personas and learn how your beliefs — your “why” — are understood by your personas. We document and distill our findings and review the stories we’ve heard with you.

2: Position
Positioning includes mission and vision statements, brand strategy, and tone and voice. Once we know your “why” and how people see you, we write a mission statement rooted in what you love and believe. The mission articulates your purpose, tells why people should care and addresses your “what” at a very high level in order to provide context.

I’ll share real examples of positioning statements I wrote for Ampersand Creative, a client in Atlanta. The company’s mission is: “To make delightful design, images, and media that remind people what it means to be alive.”

Next, we articulate your vision statement, or how you imagine your future impact on the world. The vision often reads as a mandate and can serve as the springboard for your tagline. Ampersand Creative’s vision is:

“A world where people are no longer viewed as markets. Let’s be human, together.”

Once complete, mission and vision help us develop brand attributes and values that will inform all the ways you communicate. We start to see the tone and voice of your brand. What’s the verbal personality? Is it bold or subtle? Humorous or sincere?

Finally, we plan how your brand’s position will be brought to life through a strategy document describing your challenges and opportunities and how we might address them.

3: Identify
Next, we develop all of your brand’s distinguishing features from name and tagline to logo, typography, color and imagery. This is where things start to get visually exciting.

We conduct a design workshop with you, looking for sources and scraps of visual and conceptual inspiration relating to your brand. Together, we develop a creative consensus and assemble brand guidance boards.

We’ve found time and again that by doing this work side by side with clients, it takes the teeth out of the creative process for you, the buyer; saves time otherwise wasted in rounds of revision; and focuses our team’s energy in the right direction.

At the end of step three, you’ll have a brand starter kit that gathers all positioning statements, logos and supporting elements.

4: Activate
A logo means nothing without context, and a brand is worse than one hand clapping if no one sees it. Activation can be as simple as basic stationery and a three-page website or as complex as a multi-year engagement involving videos, print collateral and marketing campaigns.

5: Refine
Activation and refinement often bleed together as we continue working with clients. After all, branding is an ongoing conversation between you and your audience. We study how your brand is received by your audience, pivot as needed and refine over the course of time.

Some firms deliver brand standards manuals at the end of step three, but we find it makes more sense to compile guidelines over time by testing our ideas in the real world.

In truth, the process of branding never ends. But, when you complete the work of building a strong foundation, you’ll have a brand that can grow with you for many years. It even does the hard work for you, selecting the right audience and yielding solid returns on your investments. 

MATT STEEL is a designer who writes, father of four and husband of one. Since 2003, he has designed and directed creative initiatives with clients ranging from small startups to Fortune 500 companies. Matt loves giving good stories the visibility they deserve. He enjoys reading, surfing, yoga, running, hanging punctuation, serial commas and drifting from philosophical musings to ridiculous impersonations.

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