What happens when you realise your brand isn’t truly reflecting who you are…but you know the process of change will take a long time? And you’re not sure if you’re ready (with everything else you’ve got going on right now)?
Your brand is, at its core, the summary of who you are and who you serve. In a sense it’s invisible – wrapped up in culture, team, attitude, and values – and in the branding process you look at how you communicate these invisible things, in a visual way.
So in branding there’s a lot involved. There’s a lot of you, personally, involved.
And you feel a little overwhelmed.
You look at your website, your logo, your content, your social. You’ve got signage or pop up stands or leaflets or all of the above. You look at it from the eyes of a prospective client and realise there is some confusion – and it needs to change – but it’s a lot to change.
How long will it take? How much will it cost? How much time and effort will you need to put in? How many other things will have to change? How long will it take until everything is consistent again? What if you change it later? What if clients don’t like it?
These are good questions. Some of the best questions you can ask – about any project, particularly a foundational one.
“Which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (The Book of Luke)
The cost isn’t only financial: you know that.
The return isn’t only financial either, and you know that too. You’re willing to invest (and even invest big, if you need to), but you want to know when to start so you finish your tower, and don’t leave it half-built with a lot of bricks lying around useless.
So is now the right time to start, or is it better to wait until you’re ready, until you have the head space for it?
Here are a few foundational principles about brand, if the one you have doesn’t truly reflect who you are (and who you serve):
You are losing business (and time) because of your current brand.
If your current brand doesn’t completely reflect who you truly are (and who you serve), and isn’t instantly appealing to them, you are already losing business.
You’re not only losing some new clients (people who look at your website or social or other marketing and decide not to bother, without ever getting in touch), but it’s very likely those people are the very best kind of clients. The dream ones, the ones you wish you could find more of.
Even if they do get in touch and maybe even decide to work with you in spite of the mismatch, your brand is still making the process take a lot longer than it needs to. So, you’re already delayed, and every day you wait you are delayed a little further.
There is never a good time to start a project of this intensity.
Now, I’m not saying this means you need to start everything now. If we all did that we’d never get anything done. I’ve had to say no to a lot of things lately – a lot of good things, amazing opportunities and people – and I’m sure you’re the same. But if you’re using the old “i don’t have time” excuse, remember time is never the core problem. It’s a question of priorities.
IS this a high priority for you right now, and you just feel confused about how high a priority it is? Or is it not a high priority, but you feel frustrated because you know the potential your firm has?
Stop thinking about whether you have time, and start looking at where your time is currently going, and why. If branding is truly a critical priority, you will find the time.
Your branding project will move in phases, not all at once.
Starting a brand project does not necessarily mean you commit to spending £25k or £50k. There are some firms who have spent at this level by the time the full branding project was complete, but there are also others who spent a few grand for an interim solution that delivered everything they needed without going to the highest level at that stage.
This is why we created the “branding workshop”. It’s several sessions online with our team (or in person, depending on what we recommend for your firm), and the goal is to determine what your situation is, what your options are, and what the “minimum viable project” is for you right now.
You may have a decent logo that needs a little refreshing. Or you may need to change everything – name, logo, company name, website domain, website, marketing materials. It’s always your choice: but right now you’re paralysed because you’re fearful it’s going to be at the highest level, and that sounds exhausting.
The way to get rid of that paralysis is to know exactly what your options are, and feel sure of the best choice for you right now.
You need to be confident in who is leading this brand project.
One of the reasons accountants hesitate to start a branding project is because they’ve had a bad experience before.
You’ve worked with an agency who didn’t seem to ‘get’ you. The logo options didn’t feel right, but you’d spent a bunch of money so you figured you would just go with it. Maybe you hired someone from People per Hour, or your cousin’s nephew, or a friend who’s “great with Photoshop”, and you got something thrown together. And they listened to you and created what you said you wanted and… something was missing. You didn’t have confidence, and you weren’t being led. You were the one leading the project, and deep down you knew that’s not how it’s supposed to be.
You have to have confidence in the person or agency leading the branding project, because they have to actually lead.
One of the principles we share with anyone who is committing to a branding project with us is that we share literally ONE design concept.
We spend hours, and do research, and listen, and talk about your target audience (because it’s ultimately for them, not for you), and craft a concept behind which is the weight of our years of experience, and what we know about your audience.
You still have a choice: we’ll still tweak it a bit, and discuss colours and styles and how it will be used, but our primary question will not be “What do you think?”, but, “Does this reflect everything we discussed about who you are and who you serve?” That’s what leading looks like.
The 8 phases of brand development (and the time required from you)
We’ve listed out the 8 phases of brand development below. You don’t have to commit to all 8 phases straight away, and actually we’d recommend you don’t commit to any of them until you’ve completed phase 1 (the workshop).
At each level, we’ve indicated a rough estimate of the amount of time you may need to put in. This varies a lot depending on you, how much time you need to mull things over, how detail orientated you are, how clear you are in terms of your business and its strategy, values, focus, people.
Everyone is different. Some people like to take days to mull things over, and think about it and send emails and Slack messages, and take their time. Others make decisions really fast and don’t want to ask too many other people for their opinion. Neither one is wrong: it’s totally okay for you to approach branding with your own personality. But it’s good to know who you are and recognise whether you’re on the faster or slower end of the scale, in terms of the time required.
(And bear in mind we insist on building “rest time” into every creative project, no matter how fast you want to move. Read about that here.)
1. Brand exploration: What’s the current state of your brand? Who do you serve, and why? Do you have a niche? What does your audience care about, and how do you solve their problems? What are your values? How well does your current brand represent all of those things?
Your time: Minimum half a day
Do this when: You have a feeling your brand isn’t quite right, and you want to find out what your next steps could be.
2. Naming: Does the current name reflect everything about who you are and why? Are you proud of it? Is it dated or boring? Are you beginning to doubt your business name, looking at other businesses (or firms) and feeling a little envious? Does your name have a story you’re proud of, and enjoy telling?
Your time: 4-8 hours (at least 2 online sessions (1-2 hours), plus time on your own to brainstorm and explore options)
Do this when: You definitely don’t like your firm’s name, and you’re not proud of it. You feel it doesn’t represent you well, and is holding you back.
3. Research & strategy: What can you use and not use? Are there names or concepts you’re leaning towards which are out (for trademark or IP reasons)? What domain names might you be able to use (website and social) or not use? How much of your marketing materials will need to change, and when? What’s the battle plan?
Your time: 4-6 hours (reviewing research done for you, meeting with trademark lawyer, making next step decisions)
Do this when: You’ve identified a new name, or have committed to a brand change of any kind
4. Concept design: What concept will best reflect everything you are – everything you’ve been sharing with the agency you’re working with? What story is behind that concept, and how will you tell it? How can you be incredibly proud of that concept? What else is that concept capable of (ie how can it be used in different ways visually to enhance the view of your brand)?
Your time: 2-4 hours (reviewing the concept the agency has provided, giving feedback, and giving the go ahead for next stage)
Do this when: You’ve moved through phases 1-3, and you’re ready for the big change.
5. Logo design: What’s the final logo and how will it be used (and not used)? What are your brand colours? What fonts and typography will you use? What are all the files you need (logo, favicon, icons, images) and in what formats?
Your time: 2-5 hours (reviewing all the files you’ve been sent, making sure you understand them, confirming this is a go)
Do this when: Concept design is approved and you’re preparing to launch
6. Website changes or build: How well does your website reflect your true brand – messaging, imagery, stories, style? Do you need a slight refresh or a full new site? What’s the cost of not changing it (or not changing it much)? How will you track the results of your new site? What’s your conversion rate and buyer decision process right now, and how will that change?
Your time: This is a whole new project and would be comparable to this full brand process in terms of time, if not a little longer. Most website projects take 6 months at least.
Do this when: Your current website is not reflecting the awesomeness of your new brand
7. Marketing materials: What else needs created to reflect your new brand? Leaflets, printed material, signage, social and website imagery, email templates, proposal imagery, stationery, swag…
Your time: 3-6 hours plus admin (review and agreement, then you or someone on your team doing the actual ordering)
Do this when: You’ve agreed the type of launch for your brand, and have identified the priority order of these items
8. Launch preparation: How will you share the change (soft launch or hard launch)? What content will you create (or have created for you) – blogs, videos, announcements, images, social posts? How will you tell the story of your new brand? How will you communicate to clients and when? How long will the process be?
Your time: 2-4 hours if you outsource it and review what’s done; upwards of 15+ hours if you do it yourself
Do this: At least six weeks before you launch a new name and/or logo (and longer if possible)
Adding up the minimum amount of time for a project like this, you’re looking at 20-40 hours of your time, and in our experience brand projects last 4-6 months at least.
So, if you can make 5-7 hours per month available to focus on this foundational area of branding, you’re all set.
Best of all, we still recommend the half day branding workshop to start – so you’re not going all in yet. That gives you a lot more insight about how much more involved the project will be (or won’t be).
We created those branding workshops because we learned the hard way that no one really knows what direction a brand project could go until we start talking about it. The last thing you want is to kick off with a big branding project, get one or two sessions in, and then discover you want to go an entirely different direction. Or even discover it’s not really that big of a project – it’s a few small changes, and you could have done it months ago!
If it’s even slightly possible a brand change could be on your radar in the next six months, start with the workshop and decide on the remaining phases after that.
In a year’s time, you’ll be so glad you did.