We build confident brands with language and design. So what does it mean? What is a confident brand? How is it built? Who does it? What are the pieces, or deliverables, of a Bullhorn brand? I get these questions, and others like them, all the time.
Creativity is a process. That’s what Adam says. Sometimes I’m Virginia Woolf, sometimes I’m James Dean. That’s what Margo Price says. Process isn’t sexy. But it works. That’s what I say. When we approach a branding project, we’re trying to solve specific business problems with language and design. (That’s what Brad says. I say it a lot, too.)
We follow a process because our clients don’t come to us for the “Bullhorn solution.” They’re seeking true, authentic answers to longstanding, unanswered issues. Often, we start with one problem, uncover more issues during the branding process, and solve them all by the time we conclude. By following a process, we build trust through stages of creative understanding and execution. So, ready to dive into the exciting world of the Bullhorn branding process? Hold on to your hat:
This is a collaborative process. For a brand exercise to take root, it must be fully supported internally, within our clients’ organizations. We begin every project by getting organized, internally, at Bullhorn. We believe our clients should have a single point of contact, which is usually a Project Manager. A team is assigned and roles are clarified. Then, after discussing the project and bringing the team up to speed, we’ll discuss scheduling and logistics with key contacts in our clients’ organizations. Often, a project’s success depends on our ability to understand, from outset, how decisions get made. To ensure that we hit all deadlines, we seek to emerge from the Onboarding phase with a set calendar of meetings with and presentations to all necessary decision-makers and stakeholders.
In the Exploratory phase, we’re identifying the problem(s). We – designers, writers, strategists, developers – meet with our clients, first, to develop a shared understanding of their internal culture and external perception. After learning values, vision, and frustration, which we do through surveys, one-on-one interviews, and moderated, large group exercises, we do research. To work across the wide range of our clients’ industries, we must be familiar with branding trends. We dig deep in research, uncovering examples of both similar problems in your industry and unique, relevant, universal branding solutions that match our recommended strategy.
The conclusion of this phase is a great point to reassess the exercise. If the process isn’t working for you or for us, we can walk away and refund your money.
The Strategy presentation is the first time you’ll see our work. Our brand strategy recommendations usually include three pieces. First, a presentation of our research. Second, our recommendation for foundational language and other appropriate messaging applications. And third, a visual brand strategy. We’re looking for deep feedback at this stage. Think we’ve missed the mark? We’ll refine and re-present. Because we’re not going anywhere near fleshed-out creative concepts until the strategy works to our clients’ full satisfaction.
After weeks (sometimes months) of working together – of listening, learning, researching, and strategizing – we begin to prepare concepts. This is where our clients begin to see the language and design come together. We present a range of brand concepts that incorporate the brand strategy. Don’t think of logos on a sheet of paper. Think of specific mock-ups of language and design on your day-to-day collateral, on your wall signage, on your uniforms, website, and vehicles. In this phase, we want our clients to begin to see themselves in their updated branding. And, after some feedback and refinement, we’ll move into the Launch phase after the selection of a single concept.
Now, it all begins to come together. A brand identity is, usually, a new or refined logo and/or logotype, fonts, colors, tagline, headlines, about summary, and core values. These are kept in a brand manual, or digital style guide. Here is Bullhorn’s. We built this digital guidelines tool to help clients (and us) keep everything organized. This tool can be made public or private. It can grow without limit, allowing our clients to store their brand standards and collateral items and brand standards for easy-to-find usage.
We always conclude this phase with a launch checklist. There’s always a point where we need to begin slipping into the background. At this point, we’ll have worked together, lovingly, for a few months, at least. This list covers everything we’ve discussed and everything we recommend to push a brand out of the nest.
Launch is often the end of our time together, which is fine by us. But sometimes, we stick around to work on things that have either come up during the branding process, or because a relationship has emerged that just makes sense.
No two partnerships are the same. For some, we’re building a video and photography bank. For others, we’re designing signage and uniforms that weren’t discussed originally, but are now an important piece of the brand. Think of a Partnership as making us part of your team. We meet regularly, working to accomplish a set (or rolling) list of deliverables, all of which are built in concert with the established brand strategy, and, in compliance with your brand guidelines.
We have one measurement of success: Adoption. We build brands for the purpose of use. If our clients’ employees, stakeholders, and audiences use and adopt the visual and verbal identities we build, we’ve succeeded.
Up next: a post on branding themes across a few industries in which we’ve worked.