Building a brand from scratch
We believe the answer to why anyone should care about your business is simple. It’s your brand. Your brand is the key to the heart, soul, and personality of your business and if done right it has the power to connect with your audience. But your brand isn’t simply how you look or communicate.
We believe in branding by doing, at the end of the day your brand is a promise to your customers and what really matters is the experience and perception people have that interact with your brand and your products. From our first days as an agency, our own brand played an essential role in building a relationship with our clients and setting us apart from competitors.
On the way to building our brand, we’ve learned so many valuable lessons by failing in the process and trying again until eventually, we got to the bottom of who we are as a brand. Today we want to share these important lessons and experiences on how we built our brand from scratch.
After strictly dedicating our first few meetings to align our expectations and to build a lasting team culture, our journey on the way to becoming a proper agency was by far not over. We had set a foundation of friendship, trust, and empathy but the real challenges of starting a business had just begun. As firm believers of purpose we once again found ourselves reflecting: Why are we even investing countless late nights in the cold of the Swedish winter when everyone else is enjoying their Netflix & Chill in the warm coziness of their home?
“Why the hell are we doing this? We believe this is the essential question and starting point to build a brand.”
It takes a lot of deep reflection and digging to uncover your purpose and what brings a group of people together to start a business. We believe there are few things more powerful for a business than building a strong and meaningful brand. The brand sits at the heart of your business, it is in a very emotional and human way the personality of your whole team and it is the connector between your business and all people that interact with it. Your brand has the power to touch people, to build loyalty, to build trust, and eventually, your best users will be those who believe in what you believe in. Building an outstanding brand takes a clear vision and relentless effort but at the end of the day, it is what sets you apart from your competitors. Why should anyone care about your business? Your brand is the answer and promises you give to your customers, don’t take it lightly and invest the time in building a meaningful brand.
There are different models and approaches to building a brand. We’d like to take you through the journey of building our brand in several meetings from brand strategy to visual identity. Where it all starts is the purpose that drives your team to come together and create magic. From writing down our personal purpose and sharing with each other we quickly identified common drivers that united us as a team. This was the magical moment where excitement started to overwhelm us and unconsciously we had already started building our brand. We then established a process and used various tools in a collaborative approach supported by deep conversations to define all the different characteristics of our brand. Let’s walk through it:
1. Defining values
We find it very helpful to spice things up when working on critical tasks like formulating our values. Our method uses a visual approach to defining the values of a brand. In past experiences, we’ve found it difficult to verbalize the emotional aspect that values contain. This is due to the fact that the limbic part of our brain is responsible for feelings and behaviour but not for language.
Therefore we use a huge load of images from animals, items, characters, brands, environments. Important is to have a wild and big mix of stuff to spread out over a table and then screen through all images individually for about 15 minutes. We then select any image that we feel speaks to us. When we pick up an image we say out loud to the team why we chose it and collect all selected imagines at the end of the table.
In the next step, we go through the selected images together with the goal of creating a maximum of 5 clusters of related images. We then put different words that come to our mind on post-its that are placed on the clusters.
At last, there should be a maximum of 5 clusters of images with different keywords on them. Now ask yourself what do you want to be recognized for? With this question in mind we discussed and defined our key values. At the end of the day, it’s crucial to formulate a paragraph to define what your values actually mean to you and ultimately live up to them.
2. Formulating a mission and vision statement
Working on a concise mission and vision statement follows a straightforward method, just write it down. In practice, it’s not as simple as it sounds and needs a constructive discussion and time to process. Here’s how we did it.
A mission is a statement that provides direction and purpose for the organization. What do we fight for? As a starting point for our mission statement, we individually noted down our answers to this question. In a constructive discussion, we evaluated different aspects of each statement that we liked to formulate a concise mission statement that should be one sentence short and very clear. We then made sure to let it sink in and revisited the statement a few days later to see if it stuck. After some retouching we had arrived at our mission statement:
“We create digital first solutions that make Millennials fall in love with your brand.”
In a similar process, we took on the challenge of formulating a vision statement. In the beginning, it can be fuzzy to differentiate your vision from your mission statement. Don’t panic, we’ve also been there but with some practice, you’ll get it right. In contrast to the mission which follows the current state, the vision is a set of ideas that describes a future state. Vision statements typically provide a sense of aspiration that should stretch your team’s imagination. Ask yourself what do we want to achieve?
“We aspire to positively impact people’s lives and enable businesses to build meaningful brands and products through design.”
3. Giving our brand a personality
Just like a human person strong brands have a distinct personality that leads and guides their actions. Working on defining a brand’s personality in a team challenges everyone to go from individual personalities to aligning the whole team into a unified character. What helped us a lot is thinking of so-called personality archetypes. Is your brand’s personality more of a rebel, an explorer, a networker. You’ll find plenty of typical characteristics with examples of other famous brands which show a distinct character. This helped us get started on tracking down our brand’s personality.
Another approach that triggers the imagination is to use a metaphor and think of your brand as a real person in a typical situation like a party or an event. How do you want to be perceived as? Remember to think about the company’s personality, not your own.
From this step on you should be able to get close to what your brand personality is. Use the archetypes as a starting point but then look into the unique traits of your brand’s personality and always keep the “roots” or foundations of your brand in mind.
We found ourselves circling around two personalities that are based on the hunger to explore and be curious while striving to constantly add a twist and emotion to design. We felt these personalities complemented each other and perfectly describe our company’s character.
4. Defining our tone of voice
Managing written tone of voice is a key part of achieving a unified character across all communications, internal and external. It’s just as desirable as having a consistent look and feel in design terms. The written tone of voice is simply the ‘personality’ of the brand as expressed through the written word. The tone of voice governs what you say in writing, and how you say it — the content and style of textual communications, in any setting and in any medium.
In order to figure out your tone of voice a good starting point for us was to choose a point on the following continuum to decide where the tone of voice sits between these extremes: Formal vs. Informal, Savvy vs. Simple, Calm vs. Warm, Serious vs. Humorous.
Once we had aligned ourselves on the positioning we took it from there to define a more distinct aspect of our tone of voice. Ultimately the way for us to establish a tone of voice is by application, lots of writing, revisiting and figuring out the style of our tonality through practice. Once you’ve nailed down your tone of voice be sure to add written examples to make it tangible and easy for everyone in your team to find guidance and to work with your tone of voice.
After defining all aspects of your brand it’s time to get your hands dirty. We knew what our brand stands for and from this understanding, it was a natural step to move into more specific manifestations of our brand. The right moment to give our brand a name.
It sounds simple but trust us, to this day this has been one of the most exhausting processes we’ve gone through and we sure as hell don’t have the magic key for creating a kick-ass name. At the end of the day it had to feel right to the whole team and it was most important for us to find a name that everyone could connect to. This can take lots of time.
To come up with our name we used the following method. Get a load of post-its with your team and start out individually to write down possible names or just words that come to your mind. Then swap places read through other names, get inspired, note down new names, and continue doing this until you’ve read through all of them. Then freely start moving around the table for 10 or 15 minutes and make dots on the names you like. In the next steps find your top 10 picks and put them on the wall. After that start checking for domains and keyword competition on Google. Is there a reasonable domain available? How much competition is there to rank with your name? Eliminate names that don’t make sense. Usually, you’ll end up with a few left. Now start an open discussion in your team and let everyone have 2 votes to see if you end with a name that everyone can connect to.
For us, this didn’t happen on the first try, not on the second, and not on the third. Sometimes even if you have an established process the outcome can be frustrating but despite the feeling of being stuck, we didn’t give up. We gave it a break, revisited it a few days later, started with a blank canvas, mixed it up a little bit, and step by step we came closer to a common understanding of what we were looking for in our name, and at last, we ended up with a name that we felt representative of our newly born agency: Serious Business.
6. Visual Identity
The last hands-on step of bringing our brand to life was to establish a visual language and design our visual identity. We won’t go very deep into the design process as this would be a chapter for itself. What we do believe is important to first define your brand before going into a visual design. It helped us to have a much better common understanding of who we were as a brand which made a translation into how we wanted to appear much more natural. In this phase it was important to us to give trust and courage to experts in our team who took it from there to establish a visual language through countless sketches, feedback from the team, iterating and ultimately designing our visual identity and design of the website.
We spent around 3 meetings to define our brand and then another few meetings to come up with a name and iterate on our visual identity. In whole it’s a process we did in the timeframe of about a month and we believe it is important to give time for breaks and letting things sink in. Obviously, there is not only one way to define a brand, different models are existing, some of them go even deeper such as the Brand Triangle model to define the consumer and market truth to define your brand within the whole space it acts. However, we do believe our approach is a simple, straightforward and strong starting point to defining a brand.
At the end of the day, your brand represents the heart and personality of your business and has the power to attract your most loyal users and set you apart from your competitors. Take the time and take a stance for what you believe in and why anyone should care!