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Five tips on using design to build your brand

This was originally published in Startup Smart.

If you’re serious about seeing your startup succeed, your brand identity and communication design strategy needs to be front of mind from the get go. Having a strong and consistent brand builds customer engagement and enhances the overall customer experience – ultimately leading to positive business outcomes.

Understanding and maximising your brand power could be your point of difference in the marketplace.

Here are five tips on how to make design part of your business plan from day one and maintain this focus while your business grows.

1. Call on the experts

Running a business means you are constantly wearing different hats – resources are often limited and choosing where to prioritise your efforts is a challenge, forcing you to become an expert in everything. From a brand perspective it’s hard to underestimate the value of getting a designer on board to help you cut through the ‘brand fog’ and complexity that can accompany where your product or offering fits in the market and understand this from a customer perspective.

Like you wouldn’t go to an architect and ask them to build a room, and then come back in a few months’ time and ask them to build another room – designers need to have the full picture to be able to provide you a design solution that speaks to you and your brand. You will need to find someone you trust enough to be able to open up about your whole business, not just where you’re at right now. When engaging a designer, make sure you talk to the vision and goals of your business so your brand identity and strategy reflects this.

2. Think outside the box

While a designer may not be the first person you think of for bouncing around business ideas, it’s important to keep front of mind the value they can add by providing a unique perspective and solutions. For every great idea there are a hundreds if not thousands of smaller ideas and sources of inspiration. If you want to be a real disrupter in your market, a designer may just have that out-of-the-box idea you need to make a real difference.

3. Build the customer experience

Designers paint the experience for the customer by taking all elements into account in the development process. It’s not just the logo or the product; it’s the narrative that comes with it. Think about the tone of language, the behaviour such as the mood, the colour, the look, the smell, the symbolism of the product or service. These elements are all vehicles that communicate your brand’s story.

4. Communication and design go hand in hand

Your designer, the relationships you build and the identity and look of your brand is nothing without a clearly defined design communications strategy. This allows you to communicate to your customers the key points of difference your brand has to offer. Developing the communication direction of your brand and its identity to consumers is a process that you and your designer should work through collaboratively to ensure that all elements, visual, tone, behaviours, interactive media all communicate in one voice.

5. Rome wasn’t built in a day

Building a brand doesn’t happen overnight – it’s an evolving process. The value of getting in early with a designer is that you will be able to build a brand and brand values that have longevity and is consistent with where your business is heading. Having strong brand values from day one will build your profile and recognition with potential customers, helping your startup move from strength to strength. Design is about relationships and trust.

When choosing a designer to work with, understand that you do not just want a logo or the most competitively priced logo. You are looking for a relationship that is long-lasting, in which an underpinning strategy can be developed.

The best communication design strategies are built up over conversations where ideas and aspirations can be work-shopped and planned for. The best creative endeavour is always achieved through an informed design process which includes open and transparent relationships.

Dr Nicki Wragg is the Program Director of Design at Swinburne Online and Senior Lecturer of the Design Honours program at Swinburne University.