May 8, 2019

Brand Brief - Why Strategy Must Always Come First

The branding process should always start with strategy. If we don’t understand what we’re designing, we’re not going to be able to create something which is true and authentic.

Andy Cogdon
Andy Cogdon

Design needs direction

When I was a junior designer, I had little time or patience for briefs. We had to fill out brief sheets before starting a job and this was boring. What I wanted to be doing was creating cool designs and making something. A decade (or two) later and my attitude has changed substantially.

For me, the brief is the most essential part of the branding process and presents the biggest opportunity for creativity within the project. The more time you spend with the client, understanding the ins-and-outs of their business, their product, their people, their customers, their competitors, their USP, the better the outcome will ultimately be. 

The Brand Brief

A tool I use on every project is the ‘Brand Brief’ which comes from Alina Wheeler’s excellent book ‘Designing Brand Identity’. It acts as a perfect summary of everything you need to know about a brand, and it fits on a single page of A4 paper. 

Brand Brief

When running a strategy session, the Brand Brief is the perfect exercise to bring everything together. I always make sure to have the Brand Brief signed off before even thinking about the design concept. Then as we come to the creative phase, I know myself and the client are on the same page. When presenting the design, the very first thing I do is refresh their memory by going back to the agreed brand brief to help frame the presentation. If the client has a problem with the presented design concept, we can instantly go back to the brief and ask how we missed the mark. 


Here's a quick summary of the headings on the Brand Brief:

Vision and Mission (1/9)

What is the goal you are trying to achieve or what change are you trying to make in the world that’s bigger than money and more than simply what you make.

Key Products / Services (2/9)

List out all the different services you offer to your customers. If you are a large organisation with a million products, keep it to top level offerings and pick out the main ones.

Key Stakeholders (3/9)

Everyone who has a say or has influence in the branding project. For smaller companies it might just be the owner / manager, for large organisations there may be various managers, senior partners, and board of directors who all want a say. 

Key Competitors (4/9)

Who is in your niche that you constantly come up against, are fighting for attention with, or being compared to? List the top 3-5.

Competitive Advantage (5/9)

What do you have or do that makes you better than everyone else? Why would customers choose you? It could be a feature, a service, an ability, location, personel, etc.

Target Market (6/9)

A summary of your ideal customer. If you’re B2B, you’re thinking about what kind of companies and sectors you want to attract. If it’s B2C you’re thinking about what kind of person you’re targeting. For example;

  • B2B: Procurement Managers, Office Based Companies, Midlands, 100+ employees.
  • B2C: Mum’s, 22-35, living in Derby, with disposable income, but little free time.

Value Proposition (7/9)

How does your products and services create value for your customers or reduce their pain? It sounds a simple question, but typically I’ve found this question requires a lot of time and thought to capture.

Attributes (8/9)

What are the characteristics of your brand and what relationship does it want to have with your customers? For example…

  • Friendly / Approachable or Authoratitive / Respected
  • Clean / Modern or Rustic / Earthy
  • Solid as a rock or Flowing like a river
  • Bold / Loud or Calm / Intimate

Big Idea (9/9)

What’s your Why? It’s your purpose at the heart of everything you do and drives everything forward. Your ‘Big idea’ should be a short statement which captures your driving force and communicates in a way that’s memorable and re-tellable to both your employees and your customers. Aim for 10 words or less!

In Summary

The Brand Brief brings some objectivity to an exercise which is at risk of being subject the whim of someone’s personal preference. The more time and effort you spend on the strategy and brief stage, the more chance you have of coming to a successful outcome quickly. In fact, I find with a strong creative brief, the brand identity almost designs itself as a logical conclusion - it’s obvious what it needs to be.

Andy Cogdon
Andy Cogdon

Branding Consultant, Strategist and Designer