Confession: Smack Bang Designs is no longer just a bunch of graphic designers. Goodness, no! We have evolved into a robust and multi-faceted team of mind-readers and mentalists too. We do like things that look nice and are nice, but we don’t solely create nice graphics: we extract the thoughts and dreams of others to make their brand a reality.
Glad I got that off my chest! After years of studying, practicing and absolutely immersing myself in my one true love, graphic design, I’ve metamorphosised into someone with a new set of psychic skills, a killer team of ninja creative geniuses and a fully-functioning branding agency servicing a range of brilliant clients. Oh, all of that and a seemingly insurmountable pile of bills to pay. As the owner and creative director of Smack Bang, I’ve had to enter a cocoon of maturity and rapid growth in order to catalyse into an individual with broadened superpowers and a few extra notches to my belt.
In our quest to create each brand as though it were a direct reflection of our clients’ minds, we need to dig deep to ensconce ourselves in the psyche of others. I often find myself burrowing into the depths of my client’s brain, heart and dreams in order to produce work that is a true reflection of who they are as a person: their loves, desires, needs, quirks, idiosyncrasies – the whole shebang.
After all these years though, I still find the art of mind-reading such a complex task. I consider it to be the hardest part of my job – figuring out who my clients are, like who they really are. What do they want to say? How will I represent them perfectly and succinctly? As I ponder these things I am acutely aware of how paramount it is that a brand is a direct reflection of the person standing behind it.
I often compare building a brand to building a house. It is absolutely crucial to set the right foundations in order for it to be a strong, long-lasting masterpiece. What’s frustrating, or what I often see, is people laying down bricks that don’t belong to their building. Perfectly decent bricks. Totally groovy bricks. Bricks that could stack atop one another to create a structure. Just not their structure.
It is hugely important to build your own brand, not a patchwork of other people’s.
Let’s say you are opening up a bakery and your solution is simple, delicious baked goods. Good for you, Sir Ben the Baker, but I can swing a dead cat and hit ten bakeries in my immediate neighbourhood, so what is going to make me wanna buy your cinnamon scrolls over the ones two doors down?
Us customers already know what’s on offer at a bakery. It’s your task to sell them a certain type of “experience” or “feeling”. You need to create memories, emotions and relationships that connect to your bakery. This is the process of building a brand. It’s not something that should be rushed. It takes time, a lot of thought, strategy and elbow grease. The aim of the game is to build such a strong connection and such a strong belief that the customer will actually wear your brand identity as their own. They will use your brand to help define who they are as a person.
So, here are my hot tips to building a brand that’s truly yours.
- FIND YOUR GAP/ ZAG, DON’T ZIG
Hot diggity dang! There’s a lot of noise in this big bad world. Getting noticed amid the avalanche of advertising can feel near impossible at times. How does one stand out?
Be unmistakably different. When everyone else is zigging, you’ve gotta zag!
Our brains are hard-wired to notice what is different. It’s crucial that you identify the traits of your business that separate you from everyone else in your marketplace. What do you offer that no one else in your market can? What’s your ‘zag’? Narrowing this down will enable you to emphasise your unique value proposition while constructing a brand that is truly yours.
- FIND YOUR NICHE/ YOU CAN’T BE EVERYTHING TO EVERYONE
When you’re sipping on Pimms and lemonade while enjoying a spot of archery, what comes first: aiming your bow or releasing the arrow? For your safety and that of your pals, I hope aiming the bow is your first port of call. The same goes for your business, you need to identify your focus before shooting your offerings out into the world.
You can’t be everything to everyone and frankly, I’m 100% sure you don’t want to be. A strong brand can’t appeal to every single potential customer, it’s just not the way the world works.
Know your audience, the reason why your brand exists, and customise your brand for maximum appeal to those legends circulating within your target range.
- FIND YOUR VIBE/ DECIDE WHAT YOU ARE
Know what you do and do what you know. In our initial briefing, I always guide my clients through a branding questionnaire which outlines their values, vision, offerings and what they want people to think of when they hear their name. I get them to write down a set of keywords that define the brand they’re aiming for and really nut out what their ‘zag’ is. Once we’ve got this crucial information I now know who they are and what their business vibe needs to be.
After researching, finger-tapping, coffee drinking, super thinking and plenty of brow-furrowed contemplation, we create a brand. Not just any brand, but a focused, polished, positioned brand. A brand that knows exactly what it is, why it’s different and why people want it. A brand of such calibre has a magnetic force field that draws the right people to it. The biggest faux pas one could commit here is to create a no-man’s brand – that is, a brand that doesn’t know up from down, or who it is talking to. We first and foremost develop brands with brain.
- BE BALLSY ABOUT IT/ YOU NEED TO GROWN A PAIR
It takes balls to roll out a bangin’ brand. When Virgin CEO and entrepreneur Richard Branson left school, his headmaster told him he would either wind up in prison or become a millionaire. Joke’s on him; Branson is a billionaire. A ballsy billionaire that launched a brand at the age of 22, expanded it from a record label to include a global airline conglomerate and telecommunication giant. He took big risks and big leaps. He won big and failed big – remember Virgin Credit Cards, anyone? No, you don’t, because it went bust very quickly and Branson acknowledges the lessons learned that only failure can teach us. His current project is seeing him develop a most outrageous idea – Virgin Galactic – literally taking people to outer space!
Branson’s dead set crazy ways and appetite for pushing boundaries is inspiring and counter-cultural. What is now revered and celebrated was once received with caution and uncertainty. When was the last time you swam upstream against the current? Doing something ballsy and bold will at least provoke some sort of outcome – you may as well give it a go!
- KEEP IT SIMPLE
If I had to sum up my thoughts on branding in one sentence it would be something like this: The simpler the brand, the clearer the message. The clearer the message, the bigger the response.
Simplicity allows for better decision making. When your brand communication is crystal clear, your message goes straight to people’s brains without them having to think much about it. That’s a win. A report by Siegel+Gale lists brands based on things like simplicity of their offering, accessibility of engagement, and ability for the consumer to place trust. Based on the study, those brands that didn’t razzle dazzle themselves into confusing the customer had a much greater chance of recommendation. Simple brands for the win!
- PERSONALISE EVERYTHING
You are your brand, which means your brand should scream “YOU!”. Your customers are real humans with hearts and souls and they want to connect and interact with real people, not ‘businesses’. To nurture this sense of connection and loyalty, it is crucial to inject your brand with personality and character that your customers can relate to. Find ways to start personalising not only your brand communications, but everything you do. Be fun, send gif files, make memes, use colour, make your logo a picture of a giraffe with its tongue out, send delicious free food to your people, make them laugh – do whatever it takes! From your products right through to customer service, to the quirky ways you caption your instagram images of palm trees on a beach with promises that Summer is juuuust around the corner – be you.
Your personality should flipping shine through your brand, almost as though you sneezed and the brand came into being. Gross, but you get the gist. You know it, but I’ll say it anyway: to build deeper branding connections with your customers, you need to create your brand with them in mind! If your brand reflects you, then it shouldn’t be as difficult to decipher what sort of experience your customer wants and needs, because you’ve already considered it at length – heck, that’s why you started this baby to begin with! Developing an emotional connection over time with your customer is a sure way to realise that level of followership that is every marketer’s dreams
You’ve got the tips, you’ve got the passion, now grab a massive Sharpie pen and get scribbling! Put yourself on paper and begin to see your brand come to life with all the countercultural rebellion, distilled vision and personalised gusto you can muster.