Don’t Even Contemplate A Branding Project Until You Read This…

Lela Barker

I’ve been working one-on-one with several creative brands of late, each of whom is in the early stages of a rebrand. And I’ve noticed a pattern among them: they’ve tagged in a professional graphic designer (a deliciously smart move) but they believe that since they have that designer in their corner, they’ve covered all their branding bases. Not so…


Here’s the thing: a skilled graphic designer can create a jaw-droppingly beautiful brand: innovative color palettes, interesting typography, a compelling logo, and thoughtful packaging elements. And I’m declaring a resounding “hell yes!” (complete with fist pump) to all of that. But beautiful doesn’t necessarily equal effective, and the most successful maker brands blend a heady mix of both charming aesthetics and spot-on strategic thought. And most graphic designers aren’t as skilled or as comfortable with that strategy piece.


Enter the brand strategist. These peeps are another type of branding professional altogether: they’re charged with drilling deep into the very heart of your brand to help determine the core concept you want your brand to ultimately own. Once you lock that down, a succession of key questions follow. Think of your brand as a wheel: that singular “stake in the ground” is the hub at the very center of that wheel and a myriad of other elements extend outward from that core similar to a series of spokes.


  • Your target audience
  • Which products you launch (or retain, in the case of a rebrand)
  • Your brand voice
  • Which brands are complementary to yours
  • Which brands are competitive to yours
  • Your customer service policies
  • The desired sales channels
  • The most appropriate price point
  • The content concepts for your blog + newsletter
  • Which social media platforms you decide to develop
  • The unboxing experience, and yes…
  • Your visual aesthetic, including: your color palette, logo, typography, product photography, and site design.


Brand Strategist vs. Graphic Designer


While graphics designers are accustomed to informing + guiding that visual component, the strategic concept behind a brand generally falls outside the realm of their work. Which means you could plow thousands of dollars into a beautiful brand that doesn’t have any real resonance. And that’s a recipe for excessive drinking (ask me how I know!). Imagine launching a hot-damn-that’s-gorgeous brand, whose development consumed a few months of your life, only to realize that it’s completely missing the mark with the audience you planned to serve.


If you’re investing in a professionally-executed brand, then I hope you’ll chose one of two paths:


1. Hire a skilled brand strategist. Interview them to inquire about past work, get a feel for their work ethic, and see if there’s synergy there. Browse their portfolio of past work. Ask for the contact information for a few of those brand owners and reach out to see if they’re ultimately pleased with the work performed. Even better, take your due diligence a step further and touch base with brand owners whose contact information the strategist didn’t offer you: are they as pleased as the other clients? Look closely at the brands they’ve worked with in the past: Can you quickly ascertain the core concept at the heart of those brands? Is that core concept consistently articulated through the product collection and all verbal + visual communication?


No doubt… a brand strategist is an additional cost, but they’re one of the smartest investments a creative entrepreneur can make, because they ensure that the heart + soul of the brand is viable before you plow money into the articulation of that heart + soul. I realize that startup cash is finite, though, so there in an option B…


2. Become your own brand strategist with the support of a pro. There are some great classes out there on brand building (and *ahem* I happen to offer a particularly good one, if I do say so myself) and you can potentially DIY your brand strategy, provided that:


a) You’re willing to invest the time to learn the mechanics of branding principles. Any class that promises to teach brand-building in an hour or two isn’t drilling deep enough to be meaningful.


b) You’re open to doing the work.  Authentic branding requires a great deal of soul-searching at a depth that can sometimes be uncomfortable. If you’re working on a DIY solution, then you must be able to motivate yourself to plunge as deep as needed to get to the real core, and then invest more time determining how to consistently articulate that single stake in the ground.


c) You’re amenable to running the brand principles you ultimately craft for yourself through a professional brand strategist. As creatives, we’re often so intimate with our work that it’s hard to pull back and see the bigger picture and connect the dots. A skilled strategist can provide an objective perspective and ensure that your branding elements are aligned before you tag in that  graphic designer. An hour or two is usually sufficient and, yes, I do that kind of work for clients on a weekly basis, if you find yourself in need.


By engaging both a brand strategist + a graphic designer, your project should move more swiftly to completion with stronger results than you could yield on your own or when flying solo with a graphic designer.


I’m mulling over a follow up to this post which details how to successfully engage a graphic designer to get the most out of a branding project while keeping the dollars in budget and your sanity intact. Give me a shout in the comments below if you believe a post along those lines would prove helpful!


About the Author

Lela Barker

Lela Barker hails from the deep-and-dirty south (ATL, represent!), where she spends her days helping makers and product designers navigate the pitfalls of product pricing, brand development, and wholesale strategy. She launched her apothecary brand in 2003 and bootstrapped the hell out of that little business to cultivate a portfolio of 1500+ stockists worldwide, generating $12million in revenue and establishing successful distributorships in the Middle East, EU, Scandinavia, and South Korea. Lela is the keeper of a well-worn passport and the maker of the finest lemon meringue pie you’ve ever put in your mouth.

5 responses on “Don’t Even Contemplate A Branding Project Until You Read This…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *