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How to Synchronize with Your Client on the Design Direction for the Brand

As a brand strategist, your main goal is to make your clients happy. They’re excited about creating a new brand or leveling up an existing one. It’s up to you to deliver a package they’ll love.

All too often, however, when you present what you think was agreed on during the branding workshop you’re met with blank stares. Or worse… flat-out rejection.

You interpreted their, “colorful, upbeat, friendly, inviting” brand identity as neon colors and graphic shapes. They sheepishly say they were thinking something more like coral-colored peonies. 

Suddenly you see your valuable time (and profit margin) flying out the window, along with their confidence in you. Ouch. How did it go so wrong?

Even more important… How can you prevent this from happening again?

It Starts with Uncovering the Brand’s Essence

We’ve written before about how a full Brand Strategy Workshop should include identifying certain key components, including beliefs & values, core message, and positioning statement. This process susses out the organic essence of the brand, which is ultimately what attracts the ideal customers. 

When a brand tries to copycat a successful competitor or generate a fake identity because that’s what’s on-trend, it won’t resonate even if the product is excellent. Consumers want authenticity. 

During a branding workshop, this unfolds as you guide your client through verbal exercises to elicit the statements that best represent the brand. This valuable information is the key to everything else – it acts as the core of all marketing efforts.

But here’s where things can go awry. That’s because…

Words Are Subjective

Even the most carefully worded phrases are subjective and can be visually illustrated in many different ways.

Maybe a designer reads a brief that describes a brand as, “strong, confident, leader, high-tech.” That could be Apple or Microsoft, but those two brands are quite different visually. 

Neither of those brands would accept a “close enough” or generic visual style. Especially in today’s crowded (and ever-growing) marketplace where brands are niching down so tightly because they know it’s imperative they stand out for who they truly are. 

Putting words into visuals can feel like a game of chance. But it’s one you don’t want to roll the dice on if you’re interested in being efficient with time and money. 

Instead, let’s look at some ways you can make sure your visual style presentation will wow your client every time. That starts with using the right tools during the branding workshop so you can synchronize with your client on what exactly they mean by the words they’re using to describe their brand.

Effective Ways to Use Visual Tools as Part of a Branding Workshop

After years of experience running branding workshops, we’ve found that it’s best to discuss the visual style of the brand at the very end of the workshop. It will always be tempting to throw ideas around at the beginning: Jane likes blue and Harry thinks a big wave shape is right.

Maybe. But you need to guide participants through the entire process before make-it-or-break-it decisions like that are made.

It’s essential to make sure the visual style of a brand naturally builds upon its authentic personality and tone of voice. Only when those pieces are crystal clear should the discussion about visual style take place.

Let’s say you’re at that point of the workshop: Everyone feels confident that the tone of voice is on point and the personality shines through. Both embody the feeling the brand generates, the feeling that consumers will respond to. 

This is the sweet spot that sets up pinpointing the visual style. Here’s where it’s crucial to introduce visual tools. 

Ideally, you want to give participants a wide range of images to play with. You can use an assortment of printed stock photos, magazine clippings, color chips… whatever spurs the imagination. The key is to make sure each participant can physically choose and set aside images that represent their interpretation of the brand. 

Our Brand Cards include 200 Style Cards that feature a wide range of images, colors, patterns, and quotes. It makes it easy for participants to make choices, move images around, and engage in fruitful discussion. 

There may be great differences in what individual participants choose. That’s fine and expected. Ultimately though, the group needs to come to a consensus on a cohesive group of visuals. 

The Power of Images

Going back to the Apple or Microsoft example above – “strong, confident, leader, high-tech” – look how differently they can be interpreted visually. Can you guess which set of images goes with which brand? 

Group A

Image Author: Haolin Zhang Image Author: Allan Revah Image Author: Pearl Studios

Group B

Image Author: Cloudandco Design Studio Image Author: Owi Sixseven Image Author: Deokhee Jeong

Clearly Group A more accurately conveys the Microsoft brand and Group B is more aligned with Apple. (This comparison is for illustrative purposes only and these images are not actually part of either company’s branding.)

(All images above from The Brand Cards)

Tips for Using the Brand Cards

  • Make sure all workshop participants can see and easily access all of the cards.
  • Ask every participant to select 5 images that they think represent the brand and 3 images that don’t represent the brand for them. Sometimes it’s easier for people to choose what is least representative of the brand in order to clarify what is most representative.
  • It’s not always the content of the image that matters, but the overall feeling that the image projects. Ask the participants to clarify why they have chosen the images.
  • Keep things light-hearted so no one is worried about getting it “wrong”.
  • Create a shortlist of cards before finalizing choices.
  • Make sure all participants agree on the final selections.

As you can see with your own eyes, words are essential but images are what will lead us in the right direction and create satisfied clients. When you go into your branding workshop prepared with the right visual tools, you’ll be well equipped to synchronize with your client in the right way so you create a win-win for the team and a tantalizing brand experience for consumers. 

Good luck!

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