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Your Brand Book is Outdated — Get Over It & Start Testing

February 6, 2022

Last week I mentioned a podcast I did with Levels where we spoke about growth levers. You can listen to it by clicking here.

Between the clients we work with from a very early stage and a couple of internal projects at Sharma Brands, we've done a lot of work fusing performance marketing and brand identity, brand strategy, visual identity, etc. — the stuff you'd go to a Red Antler or a Herman Scheer for.

For context, let me share two examples before I enter into the rant/learning of today's email. We've had 2 brands that were very early stage. Instead of the branding agency working in isolation to design the brand's identity, we worked in tandem with them to test and validate ideas. If there was a certain hypothesis of who the customer is, we built landing pages, drove paid traffic, validated that demographic on the ad platform, and then re-validated it using analytics tools like Quantcast Measure. 

If we had a hypothesis of what kind of models, visual assets, messaging/copy, or what would appeal to this customer... all of it was validated using small, but effective, tests. If we were spending between $80k and $250k on a brand's visual identity, we should validate everything so that:

  1. The branding and identity can last a much longer time.
  2. Our soon-to-be customer feels connected to us from the beginning.

If it's helpful to write an email solely about that process, reply with an emoji. If 628 people reply with an emoji, I'll make it next Sunday's newsletter with a detailed overview and how-to.

Another project was for an internal brand, we built an entire brand strategy deck, which is completely different than visual identity. With the brand strategy deck, we are focused on everything including:

  • The brand origin story
  • Why does the brand exist
  • Who does the brand serve
  • Mission statement
  • The tone of voice/personality
  • Internal brand mantras (if the brand was a person, what would be their mantras)
  • Love language
  • Dream partnerships
  • Customer profile
  • Demographic
  • Interests
  • Neighborhoods of residence
  • What do they watch, listen to, read, drink, eat, exercise
  • Apps they spend the most time on
  • Favorite follows on social media
  • Retweets & IG story shares
  • etc.
  • Large incumbent competitors/threats
  • Startup competitors/threats
  • etc.

With brand strategy, you might add or subtract things based on your specific vertical. With the two scenarios, you can see the difference. One is focused on if the brand was a person, what are all the aspects of it. The other is focused on visual identity.

The important thing to note is your brand strategy shouldn't change. The best brands, from a mission standpoint or core identity standpoint, don't deviate from that unless there's something alarming that causes it. Whether it's McDonald's, Eight Sleep, Apple, Haus, AngelList, or Native, they all have the same values, identity, etc. as they did on day 1. On the other hand, the visual identity can evolve, change, be altered, be revitalized, and you shouldn't be romantic about adapting to the market.

Even when you run tests to validate your thinking with a visual identity, it's very possible that the market can change, and you'll need to update parts of the visual identity. If the brand wasn't designed with data, and just "vibes", inside of a conference room by people who don't actively see the data, learnings, market for what you sell, then you should absolutely not be romantic about what is in your brand book.

Sticking to visual guidelines simply because "that's what is inside the brand book" is about as supported of an argument as "because I said so". There's no reason you cannot update your visual identity as you go along, test, learn and see what works better. And, for the sake of you doing the best you can as it relates to your own return on investment, you should absolutely be open to the idea of testing new things which might yield you (& maybe your investors) a better return. When something works, double down, and understand if it's something that should be universally applied.

This can be how your photos are taken, your videos are edited, your tone of voice speaks, your copywriting educates someone, or your brand's personality makes someone feel. Test, understand, apply learnings, repeat.

The punchline for today: Be okay with changing how different elements look as it relates to your visual identity, especially if it's a small and isolated test to see if you can get a better return.

Reminder: If it's helpful to write an email solely about that process, reply with an emoji. If 628 people reply with an emoji, I'll make it next Sunday's newsletter with a detailed overview and how-to.