Written by: Nicholas Bilmes, Strategy Director, Scandinavian Design Group

Brand building comes with no guarantees. No magic bullets. In fact, the opposite is true. At every step of our branding processes, whether we’re Sharpies, Akerites, Kottlerettes or Kapferaris, there are dangers lurking underfoot. Chasms and canyons that need to be crossed.

Let’s assume, for the sake of (my) argument that the groundwork has already been done. You’ve crossed the treacherous ravine of project management and stakeholder involvement. Your process is anchored in all the right places; all project journeys should start on sure footing. You’ve exhausted focus groups and interviews, developed personas, built customer and service journeys, validated prototypes, and (pat on the back) uncovered powerful insights along the way. Launching yourself over the wide gorge between insights and strategic development, you’ve workshopped and head-scratched your way to a potent position. You’ve tinkered with archetypes, dabbled with personality and (as is usually the case) confused yourselves with identity models, prisms, and consultant psychobabble. Nonetheless, your identity has been identified and defined.

What next? How will you make the leap between strategy and design? What robust bridges exist to take you safely over to the banks of brand realisation. How should the abstract concept of your brand be translated into concrete representations. How can you be sure that your target group will understand your brand expression as it was intended? And who is best suited to interpret your brand from abstract to tangible? – Bridges are where the magic happens. The flashes of inspiration. The concepts. They’re like the gutters between comic book panels, where understanding is built, and the real action happens.

If, like many, you’ve failed to include design and design practitioners at the start of your journey, yes, that’s right, all the way back to stakeholder involvement (understanding your organisation) and focus groups (understanding your target), you’ve opened yourself to missed opportunities. Building creative bridges starts with understanding where you stand, before exploring expressive territories that will take you where you need to be. When creatives fully grasp the why’s of where to take a brand, the how’s become infinitely more focused.

Strategists who really “get” design, and creatives who really “get” strategy are like gold dust. On the agency side, (and dare I say in academia) it is our responsibility as brand builders to develop the next generation of brand practitioners, able to translate and transform insight into effective, on-point brand experiences. Byron Sharp and the Ehrenberg Bass Institute have given us a refreshingly cut-the-crap approach to distinctiveness (amongst other pearls), that promise at least a little shared language and measurability.

On the client side you can start by asking yourselves whether you and your customers really see the link between the starts and ends of your branding exercises. Is your brand doing what your strategy asked it to do?

In the meantime, while we’re still all searching for that magic bullet, you can start with our #5 steps to brand bridge-building. No fancy framework or meticulous methodology needed.

#1 It takes an army to build a bridge (or at least a diverse team, not a lone strategist)

Perspective and ownership each strengthen your bridges foundations. Make sure you include a broad range of key people from your organisation, strategists and design leads from your agency. And why not invite customers into your strategy work?

#2 Draw a clear line from A to B and beyond

Defining your bridges at every stage of the branding process will help you and others understand how the pieces fit together. Don’t cloud your strategy in words, cut back, be uncomplicated.

#3 Make it visual and talk about your impressions

Words are powerful but open to interpretation. Adding visual cues can add more clarity, accessibility, and fun to the process. Verbalise and discuss your impressions of the work in hand; talk about the differences you experience. Remember, not everyone experiences an image in the same way. Move forward with a common understanding.

#4 The writing’s on the wall

Put your process, discoveries, insights, choices, all your project’s moving parts, on a wall, literally. Don’t have a wall? Ask your agency to do so (if they haven’t already), or make it digital with Miro or Mural. When we can see the whole picture, we can more easily spot unexploited synergies and uncover new perspectives. What’s more, we’re sharing our work and making it easier to onboard latecomers.

#5 Invite creative practitioners into strategy and vice versa

As brand and marketing professionals, creatives and strategists, we are all problem solvers by nature. Inviting each other into every part of a branding process will help build understanding, build stronger teams, and essentially create stronger brands.

Want to find out more about how we can help you bridge the gap, from insight to output? Contact: Scandinavian Design Group – nicholas.bilmes@sdg.no