This post is part of a 7 part series, check out the first post here for a listing of all 7 in the series.
Before you start designing your product, it's very helpful to have a good understanding of what your brand is really like. Many people start with a logo, but then find it difficult to create the logo or find themselves dissatisfied with the logo they've found. This is because they're not really starting with a brand, and then creating an identity (including a logo) for that brand. Below I'll share a few tips I've picked up on how to get a sense for your brand.
For the sake of this article, I'm assuming you are the founder. Ultimately, your brand is going to be very heavily based on you. The way people experience you is going to come out through your your choices and behavior, the people you choose to hire, their work, etc. It all traces back to you.
This is going to present a challenge for you in understanding the brand because you'll have to be very introspective. You can do it yourself, but I highly endorse hiring a professional to help you with brand strategy up front if you can afford it. If not, there are exercises you can do to get a good head start, and you can always do it later, you'll just have more catching up and fixing to do. There's no "one right way" to do this, but this is one way that has been very effective:
If you're just starting your company, then it's important to think about your end goal. For most startups, that means you need to work towards and exit. If you're running a business without venture capital, you may want to run it for forever or to keep it in the family.
Wherever you picture your company being in the future, consider what that company looks like and work backwards from that future state.
A great way to think about what's driving you is to work on defining your mission, vision or values. I say or because, if you're like me, then you've read about "mission, vision, and values" before and it sounded like fluff, but you may find one of them easier to start than others. I don't think all three of those tools are important for every business anyway.
For example, our brand started taking on form when our team started to grow that as a group we were taking on a culture that was defined by values we shared. As owners, we started taking a deliberate approach to developing shared values and it really helped define our culture and solidify our brand.
As another example, while we don't really have an explicit mission as a company (but we do have lots of our efforts do have well defined goals), a company like The Futur has an explicit mission of teaching 1 billion creatives. If you feel called to a big mission like that, it's a great place to start. Start with the one that feels most natural to you, and if one or two of them never seem to fit, that's okay.
You're very likely already behaving, communicating, and feeling a certain way about your product or company. For us, we were already behaving as integrated parts of our client's teams, communicating with transparency and honesty that caught people off guard, and feeling empowered, direct, and open about our company and clients. We hired a company to help us define our brand a few years in, and they immediately identified all of those traits and put them into a framework that I'll share here.
We started by brainstorming every word that related to a category of our business, and then they chose the word that seemed the most important or unique to us. The categories for us were Culture, Voice, Clients, Feeling, Benefit, & X-Factor. Our final selections, then, looked like this:
If you can't afford to hire a brand strategist, you could invite a few close co-workers or friends over to help you identify how you behave, communicate, and feel using a similar process.
Next up we'll talk about how to build a prototype without a designer! If you'd like to get a start on your own, this post will be full of tips for how you can start learning about your product right away.