Each design has its own story. The typography. The colors. The words. The graphics. It’s our job, as designers, to make sure that each element reinforces the overall brand message. Some assignments are easier than others. Decision makers who come to the table with open minds and fresh ideas are always a joy. Not all decision makers, however, understand the creative process. They want miracles. Or worse – they want something ugly.

When a decision maker is pushing for something that is dead-out wrong for their brand, is it possible for a designer to avoid failure? Unfortunately, there is generally a point of no return in the field of discussion between creators and decision makers. Sometimes, we have to give the customer what they want, even if it’s wrong.

Unlocking the secrets behind a great branding campaign begins before the design process is underway. In fact, the genius of branding begins with a few key conversations.

What is the client hoping to accomplish?

Vague guidelines can complicate a relationship between designers and decision makers. Though decision makers are generally great communicators, they are often unable to express an artistic vision for their brand. They simply lack the experience and vocabulary to do so. Even if a customer puts all of their trust in you, it is important to dig deeper to find out exactly what they want. Instead of focusing on aesthetics, start with a goal-oriented conversation that establishes the bottom line.

During the initial consultation process, ask decision-makers a few key questions, such as:

  1. What new audience are you trying to reach?
  2. What is your overall message?
  3. How has this message changed from your past message?
  4. What mediums will your brand span?
  5. How do you plan to measure the impact of your branding campaign?

These questions will help you understand any major transitions that an existing brand is currently undergoing, and it will also help you identify key areas of focus for your design. Shifts in target demographics or change in message will be considered a rebranding initiative and will need to be approached differently than a campaign that is launching from scratch. Also, understanding in advance how the success of the campaign will be measured will help you focus your design in a specific area such as social media, banner advertisements or web design.

Always attend these conversations prepared to share your opinion. Some decision makers will have pre-existing marketing strategies, while others will look to you for answers. Prepare appropriate materials and examples to reinforce your opinions and gather feedback from your clients.

What is the story behind the brand?

We must first distinguish the difference between the history of the brand and its story. Though some well-established brands can call upon their roots to supplement their branding campaigns, stories that capture the hearts and minds of consumers are emotionally or culturally inspiring, not anchored in fact. The story behind a local bakery can draw upon elements of family, nutrition and artisanship.

When possible, the best way to get a feel for a brand’s story is to meet with decision makers on their home turf. Not only does this give you a feel for the real-life atmosphere of the brand, but it also introduces you to the customer’s perspective. To determine the story of the brand, ask the following questions:

  1. What is your company looking forward to in the future?
  2. What makes your company different from the competition?
  3. If you could describe your company’s most valuable asset in one word, what would it be?
  4. What are some unchanging elements of your business model and/or customer service approach?

These questions are designed to help your client formulate a long-term vision for their brand. Branding that is created with the company’s future in mind will prove much more stable and adaptable than a campaign that is launched to accommodate a singular problem. It is your job to interpret these elements artistically and within a designated space.

What are your client’s ongoing resources?

Your client might want to launch a new social media campaign, but he needs to understand the time commitment of his initiative. Even if you aren’t a marketing specialist, working with your client to form the right campaign platform is essential to its success. The more resources your client has, the more diverse the campaign can become.

Before drafting a campaign strategy, ask your client about his marketing plans.

  1. How much time can the in-house marketing team commit to promoting the brand?
  2. What is the annual marketing strategy and how will you need to adapt your design?
  3. What are the different platforms the company hopes to use?
  4. Are there any demographics that need to be approached differently?

By understanding the bigger picture, designers cannot only offer more suitable designs, but they can also drum up possible follow-up business. For example, when discussing a yearlong marketing strategy, you may uncover the possibility of holiday campaigns or special campaigns for a target demographic. Understanding the level of commitment from the company’s marketing team is important to gauge a realistic maintenance level.

This guest post comes from Rachel Sanders, an artist who writes for webdesignschoolsguide.com. When she’s not writing, you can find her covered in paint or experimenting in Photoshop.