Customer personas and archetypes are usually vapid and prosaic lists of generic attributes. “What car does your ideal customer drive?” is a hackneyed favourite of marketing consultants everywhere. I prefer to work with a “customer narrative” that forces me (and the client) to really think from the customer’s perspective. We can’t have meaningful empathy for an anonymous customer persona. But we can feel the pain of the lead character in a well-told customer story.
An end-user narrative is a semi-fictional story of an idealised customer. The point of the story is to create a shared understanding across the design team of the audience’s emotions, behaviours and motivations. As in any good story, the moments of tension and friction are the most interesting.
After several rounds of review, we’ve completed the design system for the Innovation Warehouse. The new design is based on the insight that starting a business is one of the most intense things that any person can do. An entrepreneur is looking for both the freedom to do their own thing and the support of having a peer group.
We’ve created a design system that reflects the brand values, product architecture and company aspirations of the Innovation Warehouse. It’s also focused on the end-user journey and prioritised according to the business model. One of the main project goals was to help launch the new angel investing and startup accelerator offerings.
Creating a new brand identity can be a chaotic experience. Having a robust design process makes it easier to keep moving when the going gets tough.
Some clients are easy to create a brand for because they already know who they want to target and what they want to say. But most clients have a surprisingly high degree of uncertainty about their strategy, messaging and design. We use lean branding to iterate and improve the brand as we go, but we still need a critical path design process to help us stay focused.
Brand personality is the link between the internal brand architecture and the external brand expression. The main step in creating a coherent brand personality is to identify the team’s shared sayings and catch-phrases. These statements of conviction aren’t taglines and aren’t necessarily things that you would communicate externally.
Some of the sayings will provide visual cues for the graphic design process. Some of the sayings will inform the key messages for PR and web copywriting. As a whole, the saying capture a multi-faceted personality, mood and voice for the brand. Later on in the project, some of these sayings might be part of the brand manifesto. But for now, they are just a tool to help translate the internal brand values into customer-centered language.
The secret to building a great brand is to find a deep human truth about the end user. A brand architecture provides a structured way to uncover these insights together with the client. If we can find it, the singular customer insight behind the Innovation Warehouse will inform every aspect of the strategy, messaging and design.
Building a brand architecture isn’t a substitute for the hard work of empathy and creativity. Instead, it’s a rigorous process that helps triangulate the problem space. First, we build a set of brand attributes, then distill the brand values, then we converge on a brand essence. It feels like a process of deduction or corporate archeology. I believe that the best brands are already latent in the existing organisation, they just needs to be coaxed out.
Competitor research is a powerful link between the strategy and design phases of a rebranding project. The design team need to understand the visual landscape in which the new brand will exist. The new brand needs to be sufficiently different from existing brands in the marketplace. Understanding the visual landscape helps both the client and the design team get a feel for the competitive space. The first step in understanding the playing field is design research.
Our design research for the Innovation Warehouse is intended to make sure that the final brand designs are sufficiently different from the competitors to be memorable and interesting for the audience. We’ve made our research documents available for download as part of the open-source case study approach that the Innovation Warehouse are taking to the rebranding project. Continue reading Innovation Warehouse 5: Design Research
The Innovation Warehouse doesn’t compete directly with other co-working spaces or accelerators. The team believes strongly in making the pie bigger. But the market for startup support is becoming more competitive. Understanding the competitive playing field will make make it easier to differentiate the Innovation Warehouse from the competition.
Using a company’s initials, in lieu of the full name, is often convenient for the internal team. But using both the initials and full name together in your branding can be confusing. Your company’s initials are like a personal diminutive. It’s usually best to introduce yourself with one name and then allow people to adopt a diminutive (as they get to know you). It’s a bit like introducing yourself as Jennifer and adding in the same breath that “my friends call me Jenny”. Leaving your new acquaintances wondering which is the right name to call you. Introducing yourself as two things at once just confuses people.
If you introduce yourself with a diminutive, the name that people use day to day will never revert back to your full name and eventually you’ll be known by your diminutive only. I tell clients not to lead with their initials unless they are willing to eventually abandon their full name. Few people remember what BP, IBM or CNN stand for. Furthermore, for a startup, the initials won’t be meaningful to your audience so you lose the benefit of your chosen name. Even BP and IBM started out using their full names and only evolved to using their initials after market awareness was established.
Stage two of the Innovation Warehouse rebranding is to audit the existing brand. We have been asked by the Innovation Warehouse team to share the process publicly so that the community can have input and so that other startups can learn from the experience. Personally, I find that the brand audit is always a slightly touchy phase because it’s early on in the relationship and we’re still getting to know the client. For the process to work, we have to be brutally honest and hold a mirror up to the client and show them what they look like from a customers’ perspective.
The full brand audit (warts and all) is included below with permission from the Innovation Warehouse to help make the branding process more open (and to allow other startups to learn from the process). Some of it is complimentary, some critical and some harsh. But it’s all in the interest of building a solid platform for the new brand. This article is a summary of the management team meeting where we presented the findings of the brand audit. We had identified the key priorities during the briefing in Stage One.
Earlier this year, Klaus and I were asked to visit the Innovation Warehouse to discuss creating a logo for their new angel investor network. The Innovation Warehouse team have asked us to record the process and share it publicly so that the Innovation Warehouse can benefit from the wider community’s input and so that other startups can learn from the experience.
The Innovation Warehouse is a shared co-working space in London. The space is an old Council office above the Smithfield Markets. It has been converted into open-plan shared-offices with free wifi and lots of meetings rooms. Continue reading Innovation Warehouse 1: Client Brief