Marilynn Deane Mendell

How To Brand From Scratch: A Foundation Full of Case Studies That Provides a Structure for Successful Visibility

Presentation at DesignDC: Thursday, August 25, 4:00 PM - 5:30 PM, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center

Assume a first-year startup begins to think about where to find more work. Developing a larger web of clients or an audience of constituents becomes a key motivator. Getting more work. And how do you get more work? Well, in your world creating a great design helps. I would argue that you need more. You need to become known. You need a recognized brand. Branding, in my opinion, encompasses much more than graphic design and a logo. To me, branding says it all. It must remain central to the core of your mission and remain consistent for the entire life of your business. A hard thing to accomplish. The foundation of a company therefore revolves around its brand development.

My favorite brand that exudes perfection in message and image would be Coke. It has sustained the same colors, logos, and beverage product for 130 years. In the world of architecture few companies have been in business as long as those in the production of disposables. In the built world some firms have succeeded as the flag bearers for the umbrella approach where they have passed down a formidable brand identity and a visible legacy, but it’s hard to do.

To build on the foundation of core goals, firm values, and mission statements a structured plan needs to be in place. A written plan, not one in the ethereal world of the mind. Then the boring drudge work of creating tactics, the one foot in front of the other approach, that creates opportunities for sound bites of success that then can carry and motivate a startup to the next tactic that needs to be accomplished. Developing an identity runs through every department of a firm. Branding takes courage and the willingness to persevere when it seems as though no headway occurs. Building a name takes time. And, I might add, a brand can die in a much shorter time if it isn’t carefully maintained.

Let’s talk about what doesn’t work for a brand to get traction because that’s usually where I, as a consultant, have the most difficult time transforming mindsets, and where I work the hardest to get clients to agree that indeed certain issues that appear to not be in my job description, in fact, do have a strong influence on the ultimate results regarding brand imaging and success. I’ll go into greater detail in the session, but I’d like to mention a few here to see if the shoe fits. Is it my job as branding steward to care about what everyone wears to events, how well they know etiquette, or what their photos look like? Yes. Would you say that a strong database that’s fully integrated falls into my world? Yes. How about how the receptionist greets people? Yep, mine too. And mine too--the finger prints on the front door, the piles of garbage everywhere, and the three-day old coffee cups strewn over drawings. An image is an image is an image. It doesn’t work to just send out a press release, to make a nice logo, or to go to events occasionally. It just doesn’t. You have to work a plan that covers everything from a project’s style, to which clients you’re trying to attract, to who you employ. It’s all connected.

I like to give the example of General Eisenhower’s plan for his invasion on D-Day (For those of you not familiar with that incredible strategic plan and accomplishment, here’s a Netflix link to one of the best movies ever created about the invasion: Branding’s in the details and it can take a great deal of finesse and maneuvering, along with patience and mammoth amounts of organization. Brand building succeeds if you have a design sense. That’s helpful. However, not all marketing people can make the same claim nor do all business development directors have the same ownership. As a company grows and the brand becomes known, principals often delegate portions they think are less billable. Not a good idea to get too far away. Principals understand the less is more concept and it’s their place to make sure it percolates to the top and that clarity reigns. A great deal of building this structure called “branding” entails a sophistication that requires a delicate balance. If a new graphic designer comes in and decides black is the new white, well then, a brand image can shift radically.

In so many ways brands can be compared to buildings. Sometimes they’re like historic preservation efforts where 30 years of rubbish needs to be removed and core values upheld again. Other times they need a facelift – or a rehab – that’s called a re-image. And other times you get to design the whole thing right from the beginning and watch it take on this glorious new life. It’s an exciting part of business and I hope that you’ll join me on August 25th at DesignDC where we can discuss some of the finer points to building a brand from scratch.