Style-obsessed fashionistas turned fashion designers spot a trend long before it becomes mainstream and urge teams to push through deadlines and production cycles with no air to spare. The roller coaster speed of fashion can make it seem like jumping on a trend or niche fashion opportunity is a business opportunity that doesn’t have time to wait for the branding process. As long as there’s a logo and a website, fashion designers turned brand founders are content with what looks like a brand. But can a style or trend really be the heart of a brand?
To create a truly lasting brand, fashion designers need to know how to create a brand that will outlive a fad or a trend. The branding process must start by looking within.
What makes your brand “beat”? Why does it exist? These questions can be answered through a story. The story should have a few themes and these themes can be the inspiration for the core values. Ultimately, the heart of a brand is the brand story, brand purpose, core values, brand essence (or tagline), and mission statement. Without a solid, clearly defined “heart”, the other pieces of the brand will not function properly. To illustrate, the brand idea resides at the center of a brand’s offer, brand’s capability, brand’s presence, and brand culture. Clearly, the brand influences all aspects of a business.
Your brand needs to be in a place it can breathe. Where should that be and how do you find out? You need to analyze your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, conduct market research, and develop a few target personas. To solidify your brand’s presence, your service or product needs to provide something in a very unique, or better, way that can’t be found elsewhere. At this stage, it’s important to keep in mind that what you as a founder care about the most isn’t necessarily what your customer cares about the most. That’s why it’s critical to determine what needs to be done in order to meet the needs and desires of your target customers.
Your brand’s personality will influence the way it speaks and the experience it provides. Measuring out the right dose of humor, sarcasm, professionalism, or seriousness is key to speaking your customers’ language. The way your brand speaks and acts will shape your brand’s experience pillars. The customer journey should be well thought out and consistent across all channels. The direction your “head” is facing will guide the next steps.
THE HANDS AND FEET
The team culture. This is a big one. The temptation is to skip the step of defining team culture, and go straight into designing a logo and website. But if your employees can’t tell how they fit into your brand’s vision, or they don’t feel like a valued part of the brand, how can you expect them to support and believe in your decisions? The team is responsible for more than just “getting the work done”. You need their passion and commitment to the brand in order to succeed. And before you can show your brand to the world, you need to make sure your employees understand what you stand for.
Obviously, this stage addresses what the brand looks like on the outside. The brand identity— look and feel—can only be determined once the philosophy of your brand is established. This includes creative direction for all design elements, from the logo, to the packaging, and website. Your brand’s “skin” is what will catch your audience’s eye. But to keep their attention, your brand needs to be more than skin deep. That’s why this is the last step. The work you do here will be much easier once you’ve gone through the other stages.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Your brand is an organism; it breathes, it moves, and it thinks. Your brand is not just what you show to your customer — it’s who you are on the inside that will determine what your brand looks like on the outside. Cliché, but very true. Of course it’s hard work finding answers to tough questions like, “What is our mission statement,” or “What is our purpose?” That’s why it helps to have a brand strategist guide you through the process. An outsider can point out things you haven’t noticed or considered. The brand is never completely static; it evolves and changes along with the customer, competitive landscape, and other internal and external factors. Just like you, the brand’s founder, your brand refuses to be defined by looks that will fade and trends that won’t last. That’s why branding needs to start with the heart.