Briefing an Agency – Stop Wasting Money, Better Invest in Your Brand

Would you trust a doctor that prescribes you medicine without diagnosing you first? Then why pay for branding without a proper diagnose first?

One of the most expensive mistakes that companies do when working on their branding is that they treat branding only as a prettifier of the company. Branding should help you reach your company goals in revenue, user acquisition, market expansion or whatever they may be. It should help you communicate best with your audience in order to reach those goals. As such, the process is not quite so straightforward.

Unfortunately, for the biggest part of my career, I have done exactly that. I asked 3-4 questions, got back to my computer, researched a little online on what other designers and companies are doing out there, and just continued doing what I thought was the best identity to design. Or, put it more bluntly: I designed however I was feeling like. The work ended up being about me, not about the client. This seems to still be the case for most designers and agencies.

Meanwhile the clients end up micro-managing the process due to the lack of good communication between their vision and the visual/aesthetic outcomes. Bringing that starting line here: I was giving my cure to the patient, not the one that would cure them.

Well, that, obviously, did not really work that well for my clients. So a few years ago, a certain level of controllable empathy grew in me. I started listening more, and understanding people’s wants and needs better, and what’s even more important, their pains where they didn’t know they had them.

And that’s exactly what we have to do at the beginning of any serious design project.

The Story: When we rebranded Digital School

Digital School is one of the first coding schools for kids in Kosovo. In 2019 they started growing quickly internationally, opening their schools in over 500 new locations in +20 countries globally, while previously having already conquered a few countries in South-Eastern Europe.

I sat down with Hana, and Darsej (the co-founders of Digital School), and for several hours they made their utmost effort to paint a very clear picture of who they were, and what they were trying to accomplish. I must stress here that: if you are willing to move forward with your business, and not ready to share even the toughest issues with the person helping you build the strategy, then you’re going to be in a tough spot.

Understanding and Briefing Content

So throughout those hours, I had prepared a guided session and we went through understanding the points below.

1. The overview

Look at the organizational structure, target audience, key stakeholders, and a clear list of products and services that the client is developing. In this step the idea is to find stakeholders, value created, and untapped areas of business and marketing development.
At this point, Hana and Darsej went initially on a broad explanation of what they were building. What it meant to teach their students the way they were teaching them, and how that all was being played in the grand scheme of things. They had been working on an online learning system already. It was crucial to them that above all else, above the fluff and puff that other technology schools have used in their marketing stunts, they wanted to remain true to the vision of building leaders of the future. Not teaching them only about tech, but to build ways of thinking creatively about it.

2. The desired future state

We want to understand what the vision is. No limitations here apart from them being realistic. A good guideline here is to use SMART goals. This way, a somewhat dreamy vision can be turned into a measurable goal. This brings clarity to the client and an end goal to the designer.
You will hear about this often in this article, but insofar as I can say, it is the single most important piece of information you need to really flesh out before you do anything else. It might seem like a no-brainer. It might also seem like you just know what and where you want to be. But most of the time, that’s not the case. Most of the time, your goals as a business are not specific; they are not clear; they are not measurable.
We went through this on multiple levels, from a high-level vision, to what it actually looked like in their heads.

3. The Current State

Since we established what the client wants to achieve, then clarify where they are on those points.
I asked about exactly the same things, but where do they stand on them now. This gave us both a call to what’s factual, and also clarified where their blind spots are, and what they were struggling with. It gave me a clear idea as to what they felt comfortable with, and also what they felt was possible to be done by them and their team. A lot of data is looked into here. Through them we made sure that we will be following the right KPIs and that the desired state will not be only a dream to enjoy on our daydreams.

4. The bridge

It is usually a good idea to test out a few key activities that you expect to work on to bridge the gap between the future and the current state. The bridge should be the specified list of activities that will be taken, but only on a high level. These could include a rebranding exercise, graphic design for more materials, or more marketing activities of a particular nature.

These last two pieces of information created both shores, then all we had to do was find out how the bridge should be built to support these shores coming together. Together with Hana and Darsej, we hypothesized over what would be the core activities and materials that needed to be produced moving forward, and it also gave me a clear idea of where I should stand in terms of proposals. It gave me a frame around which I could start working.

Why it was important

Only after we’d done that, and I really, deeply understood what was the driving force behind Digital School’s founders, I went back at the office, and started doing my research on the documents they had provided me, doing an audit on their social media, on all their online presence, and started asking people on what their perception of Digital School was.

With this, I had enough information about what pieces of the puzzle were missing exactly. What were the actions that needed to be taken, and what needed to be done to structure the marketing of Digital School in such a way that its founders really backed it up and were ready to see it through. Because, at the end of the day, it is the company leaders and their team that will inherit it, will have to put their name and reputation on it, and carry out the execution of it every day of their lives. It will be the skin to their organism.

At the end of all this exercise, we end up with a list of actions that need to be taken, and a concise financial offer that would allow us to move forward. Mind you, there is still no strategy at play here, and no visual work done. Only a prescription and clearly a built trust between both teams: us and the client, that we knew exactly what we were going to do and that we would succeed should we move forward together.

The prescription of this diagnosis was: a revamped brand strategy, a customer-centric activation strategy, and a new visual identity and website.

I will be writing about the next steps we took in the upcoming posts.

Here’s a quick overview of what they will contain:

  1. Brand Strategy
  2. Using psychology and data to choose the right tactics
  3. Execution of a campaign – Importance of the visual aspect
  4. Understanding how to build content based on where they fit in the Customer Journey
Founder of Skins Agency and co-founder of Symbolt - design strategist, and lecturer. My focus is producing visual design through data and psychology-backed approach. We partner up with companies going through digitalization, scaling, and pivoting for brand strategy, visual identity, campaigns, and UX/UI. We have worked with +115 clients, launched 47 brands and 39 products to date, in 11 countries.

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