Something we’ve noticed this year is that brand strategy is starting to become more popular in the design industry. There are some really great designers, like today’s guest, talking and teaching about it, which means that more people are sharing that they walk their clients through a brand strategy process as part of their branding project.
However, some newer designers are curious about what brand strategy includes and how they can start helping their clients with these things, and more experienced designers are curious about how to get their clients more excited and involved in that part of the process.
So we wanted to bring Bonnie Bakhtiari from B Is For Bonnie Design onto the podcast so she can share a little bit more with us on what it looks like to start introducing brand strategy to your client process.
Bonnie tells us that she feels her journey hasn’t been exactly what she expected, which many of creatives can relate to. She fell into design when she was in college, where she studied journalism. While there, she learned about design by laying out editorials. As she started learning more and playing around, Bonnie realized she was really excited and passionate about design, and that led her to open an Etsy shop with pre-made designs in her last semester of college.
While the Etsy shop is no more, it was the big transition into what her business is today. Although she started from scratch and didn’t spend a lot of money to help her grow her business, she has learned so much about what it takes to run a business and enjoyed the journey of building things from the ground up.
What is brand strategy?
Bonnie defines brand strategy as a long-term plan designed to propel a brand toward a very specific set of goals. That looks like diving deep into a client’s vision, mission, core values, differentiators, brand message, and their ideal clients so you can take the strong foundational work and turn that into visual assets that deliver results and propel them forward in that direction.
She says it doesn’t have to be a complicated or overwhelming idea, but instead if we, as designers, break it down step-by-step it can actually be something really easy to guide our clients through so then we can transform the results we can deliver for them when we hand over a final brand or website.
Why she started introducing brand strategy into her process
She started incorporating brand strategy into her process pretty early on in her business because she quickly realized there was a lot of designers, and she was blending it with her work. So in order for her to make it when she was getting started, she felt like she had to do something different to be able to stand out. The easiest way she thought to do that was to take a look at her services and find a way to elevate them.
She started by looking at her process, and considered what it would look like if she was able to take her clients deeper into the process than just design. Because she had the background in journalism, she’s really passionate about people’s stories, and that led her to think about creating a brand strategy process that really does get to the heart of her client’s brands and then she can weave that into the visual side of the brand.
How to stand out when everyone is doing brand strategy
Bonnie mentions that it’s great that so many designers are beginning to leverage brand strategy, but it’s important that collectively as designers we’re on the same page about what brand strategy looks like. She says this is vital because so many designers think they’re guiding their clients through a brand strategy process, but sometimes we’re only scratching the surface with what we’re walking our clients through.
For people who are trying to stand out, it’s important to think about the way your brand strategy process can deliver results. In her own experience, Bonnie found that her brand strategy process really helps clients who are pivoting their business or need a new ideal client and need their brand to reflect that. So, she focuses on speaking to potential clients who fit that mold and in her messaging she shares those results of helping clients transition their business to help her stand out more from other designers who also do brand strategy.
How she starts the strategy process with her clients
Bonnie doesn’t do any sort of specific audit with her clients when she’s just getting started, which might be what most people think you need to do through the brand strategy process. Instead, she knows that her clients typically already have a business and are just needing help transitioning. Since they already have a brand and a logo, she’ll generally have her clients self-audit in a way. This means she’s asking them questions about what they’re seeing about their current branding:
- What needs is your current branding not meeting for you?
- In what ways is your current branding holding you brand?
- What do your ideal clients have to say about your current branding?
- What kinds of inquiries are you receiving as a result of what you’re putting out there?
When she’s asking these questions, it helps her become aware of the pain points that her clients have with her current branding so she can be sure to help with those. However, it also helps her realize the client’s values when it comes to how they perceive branding. These are things Bonnie can keep in mind while she’s working on designing the brand for her client.
Getting clients engaged in the process
A lot of designers struggle with guiding clients through the brand strategy process in terms of getting meaningful answers. To avoid that, Bonnie definitely recommends being very proactive and educating your clients about the importance of brand strategy so when you dive into their work, they understand that the strategy work you do at the beginning of the project will directly impact the result that they’ll see with their final work.
If you’re being proactive and are still getting clients who want to skip this step, then it might be time to try to make it more fun. So instead of asking clients to fill out a dozen worksheets, it might be worthwhile to get on strategy calls to work through the questions together. Bonnie also recommends to think about how you can encourage your clients to think about strategy outside of just your questionnaire. She’s asked her clients to create an inspiration board or a playlist of music that looks or sounds like their brand.
The key parts of brand strategy
If she had to narrow it down to the key pieces to include in your strategy, Bonnie says start with your client’s brand values, their differentiators, their long term vision for their brand, their mission, definitely spending a lot of time on their ideal clients, and their key brand message. That seems like a lot, and any one of those could be broken down into it’s own 1:1 call or its own set of worksheets. Depending on how deep you want to go with the brand strategy process, she recommends if you want the process to be cohesive then touching on each of those points along the way with your clients.
How to introduce brand strategy into their client process
It’s really important to adapt an open mindset around education and investing in yourself. There are so many great resources out there to learn more about brand strategy, so look out for places you can learn more about brand strategy. Maybe you work 1:1 with another designer who can help you expand your process a little more through a mentoring session. There are lots of great courses about brand strategy out there. However, don’t forget about the great free content that can give you the opportunity to soak up as much knowledge about the different topics within brand strategy so you can put together an approach that will work for you and your clients.
Kory here! If you’re wanting to learn more about brand strategy and specifically Bonnie’s process, head over and check out her Brand Strategy School course. I have taken it, and I loved learning more about how deep she goes with her clients in terms of brand strategy, and it gave me a lot of ideas on how I can expand my own strategy process. Doors open for the course on August 22, 2018. Also, if you have any questions about the course, please feel free to email us or ask in the Facebook group, and I’ll help you decide if it’s right for you!
Learn More about Bonnie
Hello, new friend! I’m Bonnie Bakhtiari, wife to my college sweetheart, pet parent to the most rambunctious golden retriever this side of the Mason-Dixon, and the founder and creative director of b is for bonnie design, a boutique branding studio for creatives. As a brand designer and strategist, I partner with my clients to craft brands that are an authentic reflection of their life’s best work. In addition to being a brand designer and strategist, I’m also a small business educator, and founder of the Illume Retreat, which is an intimately restful three-day retreat for entrepreneurs striving to build businesses grounded in a clear sense of purpose. I believe in living life with joy, fierce love and abundant grace as you chase what matters most.