Branding Beyond Design: Content & Context

 One of the biggest mistakes made by business owners and inexperienced designers is to attempt to build a brand in a vacuum. It may seem a bit odd to hear this coming from a designer, but to focus on visuals alone is foolish.

Unfortunately, the design field is filled with people who don’t know what design for business really is – and they’re selling this lack of context to business owners taken in by a flashy (but ultimately meaningless) portfolio.

Graphic Design, or Corporate Design?

When people ask me what I do for a living, beyond my position in owning the company, invariably I describe my line of work as ‘corporate design’.

The term ‘graphic design’ has devolved into something that no longer represents our work. It’s been adopted by hobbyists and graphic artists and students and just about everyone with a pirated copy of Photoshop. Although Corporate Design requires a solid foundation in graphic design, it goes quite a bit further.

Design is communication. Corporate Design represents a strategic solution to business communication problems. This requires a working understanding of organizational and consumer psychology, branding, copywriting, positioning, marketing AND graphic design.

The Nike swoosh without all of the supporting branding efforts would be meaningless. Nike has done an excellent job over the course of its lifespan in creating a super-brand, instantly recognizable across the globe. Visual materials are incredibly important, but they are still just one ingredient in the cupcake. A logo, no matter how brilliant, cannot sustain a brand without the support of consistent and relevant content.

With that in mind, business owners need to invest equally in the content being conveyed alongside their visuals.

Define Your Message in Your Audience’s Language

Strong brands succeed because they successfully convey why company or product X is a prospects’ only solution. Failing that, a good brand needs to communicate how you are at least the best solution.

Strategic, purposefully written copy tells your prospects why they should buy from you – in a way that is personal, relevant, convincing and enticing. The words you choose need to convey real value.

Bad Copy: “Only the best.”
Sure, it could be true. But it could also be true for your competition. It’s generic, presumptuous, and unconvincing. It’s no hook.

Good Copy: “Savor the world, one cup at a time.”
A bit more enticing, no? This simple, eight-word phrase promises an exotic new adventure with every visit. Not only does it invite you to try the coffee in the first place, but it inspires you to sample all the flavours.

If your writing can in any way differentiate you from your competition (offer something that none of your competitors can claim to offer), it can even disqualify them outright.

Communication Defines You

Through branding, we form a personality, set a tone and create expectations… for better or worse.

When speaking in person, our words are given context through our body language, facial gestures, personal grooming, wardrobe and physical appearance. Consistency between the two is key. The same words coming from a well-groomed CEO behind a podium will hold more weight than they would coming from the mouth of a vagabond on a street corner.

Between the lines, the words you choose should project a clear verbal identity, reflecting who you are and who you strive to be. The sum of what you wear and what you say represents what you stand for, and what you promise to deliver.

When a potential client visits your website, for example, you have less than one second to make a first impression. If the design is effective, they’ll want to hear more about what you have to say. When you do open your mouth, make sure the words that come out are both compelling and consistent with what they expect to hear from you.

In branding, copy is the conversation, and design is the context. If one neglects the other, both become irrelevant.

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