Screw “why?” start with “who?”

At the start of a new branding project, it’s common enough for many teams to spend most of their time diving into what the product is, why it’s being brought to market, and who they can get to endorse it – looking internally for influencers when ultimately they should be looking elsewhere. The customer: the ultimate user of the product.

The meaning of being a customer-focused branding agency, as we describe ourselves, seems obvious right? But what we’re always keen to explain is the customers we focus on, and craft brands for, aren’t our direct client but our customer’s customers. Axiomatic, yes, but I am still amazed to discover how many businesses discount or fail to prioritise this.

But it’s mine…

Far too often people neglect the one most crucial factor: who is this brand actually for? And by that, I mean those who will buy, use and invest in it. And don’t just consider an existing client base – look beyond, be ambitious.

On a few occasions in the past, I’ve had to remind clients that their shiny new brand isn’t actually for them, it’s for their customers. The fact that they and their Marketing Exec like orange and the rustic look, when we’re designing say pet food, for example – sorry, but that may not be what appeals on the shelf.

What I want to know is: who are your potential customers, and what are they going to like?

A customer in the eye of the [brand] beholder

As a branding agency customer profiles are a cornerstone of our work; we continually refer to them during the strategic and design process, frequently sense-checking concepts against the realities of their worlds.

Building profiles based on research, ideally a combination of qualitative and quantitative, allows us to create more accurate profiles and therefore determine what will and won’t work more accurately.

There’s a famous quote often found within branding journals: “a brand is not what you say it is, it’s what they say it is”.

I’m not sure who wrote it – hundreds have taken claim – but it’s a perfect illustration of the need to remind those commissioning brand work that however much a project may be their baby, this brand isn’t made for them. And you can guarantee that the people it is made for will be discerning, decisive, and absolutely merciless when it comes to your brand.

Decisions, decisions

Having a clear understanding of who your customers are is not only paramount when creating a brand, but can really help at stickier moments when decisions are difficult.

A project we undertook recently ran smoothly up until the point of deciding which packaging design concept to proceed with. The Managing Director wanted one direction and the Marketing Director another.

The first thing I reminded them of was who the brand actually was for. Previously we had created three customer profiles. I asked the client, ‘What design do you think Jane, Kyrsten and Marcus would like? What one would they buy?’ (these being the profiles we’d held in mind for this work). In an instant they pointed to the same concept – happily, it was our favourite too!

Of course, a brand needs to reflect a company and/or product’s values, essence and beliefs, but at the end of the day, the customer will be looking at what’s in the box. If a brand is merely constructed on abstract concepts, it won’t resonate with customers – in today’s increasingly digital world, we crave a tangible connection.

Adam Arnold

Founder & Creative Director of award-winning branding agency Brandality.