Why You Need To Conduct A Design Audit

Why You Need To Conduct A Design Audit

Effective branding relies on the consistency of all the touchpoints your audience has with your company. Design heavily influences the customer experience and ensures that your customers (and potential customers) receive the same message at any given touchpoint.

It’s confusing to receive mixed signals from a company, and challenging to understand the messages they are sending. Inconsistencies won’t make anyone trust you or like you. Design audits help ensure everything is consistent and on point.

What is a Design Audit?

A design audit is essentially a visual brand checkup. It’s performed to make sure that the company is visually expressing itself consistently across all channels. This means their website and TV ads but also their social media, presentations, and sales collateral too! During an audit, a designer will gather and review all branded materials. That’s why it’s vital to look at everything, not just the website.

A full brand audit will also make sure that the messages and verbal or written communication is consistent too. Brand audits include all aspects of the brand not just the visual stuff. So, it’s not only that the everything has a consistent look, but also a consistent tone, voice, and message too.

Why Should You do a design (or brand) audit?

It’s a good sign when a client requests an audit because it means a company is growing and expanding. It also says the branding and company image is important to them.

You’d request an audit when you’re noticing a lot going on and teams starting to veer off into their own, slightly different directions causing inconsistencies. It could be little things at first; that’s a great time to catch one. Because over time, when unchecked, it could get gnarly. Simply put, companies grow. You want to keep your branding on point because a professional, consistent look builds trust and recognition.

An audit will allow your company to realize what’s being messed up and correct it.

How to Conduct a Design Audit

First things first, you must gather everything. Every single peice of branding collateral a company is creating. Yup, that’s going to be a lot of stuff for larger corporations, however, for smaller companies, a single designer should be able to handle it all.

I am also serious when I mean everything:

  • Style guides and the design system
  • Website pages
  • Logo in all formats
  • Facebook ads, banner ads, all the web ads
  • Radio, Tv or print ads
  • Flyers, business cards, stationery, email signatures
  • Landing pages, marketing campaigns, and their collateral
  • Vehicles
  • Promotional products
  • Uniforms and other garments
  • Classes, workshops, presentations, promotional speaking engagements
  • Posts from the media including stories
  • Original design files vs. what’s live right now

Additionally, include both things that are already scheduled to be released and works in progress to get a more accurate look.

Once you have everything gathered, take a step back and have a look at look at all the assets as a whole. It will give a better perspective as you’re getting started.

Looking For What’s Out Of Place.

An audit can be as simple as looking for inconsistencies, flaws or just outright improper designs in use against the brand direction. Let’s consider a website as an example.

Look through the whole website, big or small. Consider the following questions:

  • Is the navigation always the same?
  • Is the same logo file always used across assets?
  • Are the background patterns consistent? The background styles?
  • How is the mobile design? Is it accessible and usable? Does it too follow branding guidelines?
  • Are the icons all from the same set?
  • Do similar sections adhere to the same design conventions and styles?
  • Is the typography the same throughout?
  • Are the popups and hello bars in alignment with the branding?
  • How do the landing pages stack to the main website? Do they adhere to branding guidelines? Do they use the correct logo and colors?

Do this until you cover every design aspect of the website. For a more in-depth brand audit, you would include a review of voice, tone, and message!

Analyzing Your Marketing

Similar to the website, you’ll also want to look at your print and social marketing because both are such an essential extension of your brand.

Some questions to ask include:

  • Are the messages expressed in social media aligned?
  • Is the wording consistent across platforms with brand guidelines?
  • Are the images portraying our message?
  • Are you creating content that is an extension of your brand’s values?

Design Audit Results.

After completing an audit, your designer(s) will provide a detailed report. In it, will be an assessment of what is “on brand” (being done right) and what is “off brand” (what is being done wrong) and how to make adjustments and corrections.

It can be eye-opening for business owners to see how inconsistent the branding is. You want to give yourself as much time and as many resources as possible to go ahead and fix the issues.

Cleaning Up

After reviewing the audit, let the number of inconsistencies dictate the best course of action. If it happens to be just a few things here and there – great – address them right away. Improve your style guide and instruct your teams where these inconsistencies occur on how to prevent this from happening again.

A Style (Guide) Upgrade

If the mess is substantial in size, it would be best for your designer to update the off-brand pieces within their design system. If your brand style guide is out-of-date, then you should take this time to update it as needed.

If you don’t have a style guide at all, then you must create one so that branding can be consistent moving forward and assets and requirements readily available to every team and every employee. Make sure everyone understands the different brand assets, from logo usage to the right kind of wording and adheres to it from now on.

Go the extra mile and put a system in place by regularly adding to the design system/style guide so that as new needs arise, they can be easily managed.

A Whole New Branding System

Lastly, if the inconsistencies are massive, it might be a good idea to consider a rebrand and a redesign. This way the company can get on the same page about its messages and visuals. If there are significant variations in designs, a redesign might be the fresh start that is desperately needed. It’s an excellent opportunity to redefine or refine company values and positioning. It’s also an opportunity to create a new design system for every team to use from now on as well.


A design audit can be invaluable in keeping a brand on track. It’s there to help make sure the company’s communication is what it needs to be, at all times. It’s there to help you ensure your branding is as strong as possible.

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Choosing The Right Logo For Your Business

Choosing The Right Logo For Your Business

A logo is a powerful visual representation of your company. It forms an impression that should be memorable, unique and positive. An effective logo is the start of a successful corporate identity. Your company can be as up to date in its services and products as you like, but if your logo looks like 1983 your company’s image – and profits – will suffer. While you can’t completely control your corporate image, you can influence it to a large degree.

Every successful logo design project begins when senior management sees the logo not as a decoration, but rather as an important component of their brand. Before working with a professional to design your identity, it helps to know a little more about logos. Some might suit your business more than others.

What you should look for in an identity design

Simplicity: Simplicity can make the difference between good and bad design, between a “look” that’s strongly memorable and one that’s instantly forgettable.

Shapes: Our brains are hardwired to recognize smooth, closed, regular shapes. This tendency is especially strong under conditions of short exposure, competitive surroundings, or low attention level. If your “message” is too complicated, people simply won’t remember it.

Memory and Recognition: Memory and recognition depend partly on the strength of the initial impact and partly on subsequent reinforcement. Simple designs can be made bolder than complicated ones and, therefore, make a stronger initial impact. There is less to remember about a simple design, so subsequent reinforcement is easier. In disorderly surroundings, simple design always stands out.

Appropriateness: When looking at any design, consider the function of the item. Consider the following: What is its intended use? Where will it be used? How long will it be used?

Different kinds of logos

Typographic Logo: Also known as a logotype, this logo consists of your name only, in an appropriate typeface. Typographic logos are the most common marks since they can be easily assembled and are the most straightforward way of defining a company. Usually, they are used as a starting point and can be adapted to incorporate a graphic or symbolic elements within the typography. When a graphic or symbol is added, the typographic element becomes known as the signature. Example: Coca-Cola, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and Ford.

Graphic Logo: This logo uses a graphic that clearly illustrates what your business does. Also known as a descriptive logo, it has a direct correlation between its visual message and its owner’s products or services. The mark can represent a product, demonstrate an area of expertise, or define the cause or mission of the organization. It can also be a graphic representation of the company’s initials. Example: IBM, Apple Computer, GE, and Merrill Lynch.

Symbol Logo: This logo uses an abstract symbol, or mark, to reflect your business. A symbolic logo will usually incorporate a figurative element into the overall design. These symbols facilitate an intangible or abstract element within the company or organization’s overall business or purpose. Example: AT&T’s globe, Chase Bank’s Hexagon, and Nike’s Swoosh.

Elements of a logo

A logo is composed of the following graphic elements.

Graphic or Symbolic Mark: A mark, or trademark, should have the qualities that are basic to its usage: individuality, memorability, and legibility. It must convey its message in quick and simple terms.

Logotype or Signature: The corporate signature is the standard form of writing a name, with or without a symbol.

Color: Although color alone is not enough to identify a corporation, it can be used effectively to support a graphic program.

Tagline: Your tagline is the short phrase that summarizes what your company is about. It quickly and clearly explains your product or service. It’s a tiny but key piece of identity and brand recognizability. If it’s clever, it can enhance and add personality to your brand. If it’s clear, it tells someone what your company can do for them.

Selecting an effective mark

Too often designers make serious mistakes when developing marks for clients, particularly small businesses. A good checkpoint is to evaluate the company budget and determine the money available for marketing and promotion. If a budget is large, then a highly abstract mark is a possibility. More money buys more exposure to the mark, which translates directly into market recognition. When a budget is small, few exposures can be purchased, magnifying the need for quick recognition and low abstraction. A high level of abstraction is a luxury only companies with large marketing budgets can afford. Low abstraction marks are quicker, more effective visual tools.

The six universal attributes of a great mark

If we weren’t in the room when the decisions were made – if we don’t know what the CEO’s intentions were – how can we say one logo is “better” than another?

As in ice skating, technical merit can be judged independently of communications content, and we can all see the skater fall. The first five things that distinguish great marks from ordinary ones are technical; the last one addresses content. Great marks are always:

Distinctive. The design idea doesn’t need to be the most unique in the world, just distinctive enough so you can “own” it in your particular marketplace.

Practical. The design can be printed small, in ink or pixels; works in black on white as well as in colors; works in reverse too, white on black. (Faces, human or animal, usually flunk this last test; the eyes turn white.)

Graphic. The design communicates purely in visual terms, to the right brain hemisphere; it doesn’t depend on verbal, intellectual interpretation. If it’s a wordmark, it can be recognized by form alone (you don’t have to “read” Coca-Cola’s logo more than once or twice).

Simple in form. The design contains only one graphic idea, one gimmick, one dingbat. Thus if there’s a symbol, the accompanying name is plain and unadorned. And if it is a wordmark, one idea or device makes it special–like IBM’s stripes. (The more unique the name, the simpler the graphics can be.)

One message. Great designs try to express no more than one attribute (such as stature or speed or dynamism) and support a single aspect of positioning.

Appropriate. In the end, of course, the content’s got to be right. An otherwise-great mark fails if the reputation, positioning, and personality expressed are at odds with management intentions.

Your logo is not your brand.

Your logo sends a message about your company, and it represents your brand visually. “Branding” communicates four key properties of an organization: message, values, benefits, and relevant attributes. Design has an important role in communicating your brand’s message visually, but your logo can’t do it alone.

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Not the same: Brand Positioning and Brand Purpose

Not the same: Brand Positioning and Brand Purpose

There was a period between about 2016-2017 where many brands seemed to combine purpose and positioning. During these two years, it appeared society had an awakening that manifested in multiple, intersectional ways: A significant refugee crisis was happening in Europe; Britain decided to leave the EU; Donald Trump was elected, and #metoo and #timesup forced sweeping change across a myriad of public and private organizations.

But the reaction to these phenomena in the culture was often polarizing, with online social platforms only multiplying the effect as algorithms optimized to create “filter bubbles” of impassioned points of view and moral posturing. Because brands reflect what’s happening in the culture, there were more than a few brand managers who decided to introduce storylines they imagined would appeal to customers’ sense of virtue.

Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman sums it up succinctly when he says, “Do you, as a company, have certain values? That’s great. Support them with money and actions but, please, leave me out of your self-regard. Do it because it’s the right thing to do, not to impress me with your nobility. Virtue-hustling is just one example of the old school psycho-babble trope of ‘laddering-up’ of consumer benefits. Often to the point at which they have no relationship to the product at hand.”

And that’s just the problem with anchoring a brand’s market position around a purpose that considered as virtuous. Diageo’s CMO Syl Saller says, “Everyone is using purpose differently and not defining it. And a lot of people are defining it as just things that are worthy and good for society. Our definition is straightforward; it’s why a brand exists.”

For many, the word purpose connotates something admirable and worthy which is the mistake.

And Diageo (with a brand portfolio of spirits and beer) has made their fair share of mistakes. Back in 2011, a campaign for Baileys Irish Cream Liqueur called “Make Women Shine” used lines such as ‘Be a woman for life, not for applause,’ They wanted to play the role of empowerment in female consumers’ lives, but lacked the insight to suggest that’s what customers wanted.

Diageo Europe’s innovation director Ed Pilkington recounts, “Baileys is a brand that skews female, but we suddenly pushed it too far and wanted to become a movement for females. And then we thought, let’s take a step back and think, what is the role that Baileys plays? About 100 million people in Europe claim to love Baileys and why do they enjoy it? Because it’s a lovely treat. So what does the Baileys stand for? It’s all about providing an indulgent, lovely treat.”

Heineken’s ‘Open Your World’ campaign was received favorably by consumers, but Mark Ritson castigated the purpose-driven ad, not for the values it expresses, but because it seemed the brand was an afterthought of the marketing. And marketing is not a public service agency, but rather a function that exists to sell. “Step back from the powerful four-minute Heineken ad for just 30 seconds and ask yourself why Heineken is the featured brand? Couldn’t any other brand pull this off with equal legitimacy? Surely this ad would work just as well with Guinness, Becks, Strongbow, Stella Artois or a host of other beverages,” he says.

And he’s right.

When purpose gets confused for a position, (how consumers perceive the brand in the context of competitive alternatives) brands lose their ability to differentiate and compete. A brand’s culture, organization, and strategy are what reveal its purpose, not the other way around. As Ritson says, “Somewhere between the commodifying monochrome of physical and mental availability and the achingly cool, belief-based world of ‘inspiring communities to be great’ is a middle path. A path we can call differentiated brand image.”

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How Much Does Branding Cost?

How Much Does Branding Cost?

If you ask around for quotes on branding projects, you will get fees ranging anywhere from $1,000 to $50,000 and even higher, and this often is just for design work. You might find a freelance designer online who says they can do it for less than $500, and you can even get a logo for as low as $5 on fiver.com. There are a few websites where you can crowdsource the design of your logo, receiving lots of options for several designers before choosing one and then paying for it. So you might be wondering, Do you really get better work if you pay more? How do these services differ? How much should you invest in your business? Well, it depends on what different freelancers and agencies mean by “branding,” and what your business goal is with your branding project.

As I say to everyone I meet, your logo is not your brand. Branding is three different things used together, consistently. First, there is the positioning (aka brand strategy) of your brand, the one thing that makes you unique in the market (your “It factor) and how it blends into your marketing plan and you’re your business structure. Then there is the messaging (aka strategic communications) that communicates what you do and why you’re different, which includes all of the copy and your tagline. Finally, there is the visual brand (aka Brand Identity) that aesthetically represents what you’re all about (optimally it is aligned with your positioning and messaging): the design of your logo, website, and marketing materials.

When someone offers “branding” though, they may be referring to only one or two of those three elements mentioned above. You have to take into account where you are in the evolution of your business, assess your current challenges and goals, and determine the best partner to address them to decide which one your business needs.

Visual Brand Designers

When a freelance designer says they’ll “design your brand” what they really mean is they will just design your logo, website, and marketing materials. It would be more accurate to say they are designing your visual brand or brand identity (we used to call this “corporate identity” back in the day). You will most likely need to provide your own messaging and copy, and they will entirely rely on you regarding positioning and strategy.

This person is who you use when you are first starting out if you don’t have a lot of money to invest in your business. It gives you something to get your business out there, to start selling your services in the market. Once you’ve had some experience with clients, a strategic branding firm can craft that into something that will take you to the next level.

If your messaging is generic and your business strategy is weak, a great logo alone is not going to help you much in the long run.

You can find people online who will do your entire brand identity for $1,000 to $3,000, but they may be less experienced (or capable) compared to other designers. This inexperience usually means a lot more of their time and yours is spent on the project. Also, they are not thinking about messaging and business strategy. They may design something that looks great, but if your messaging is generic and your business strategy is weak, a great logo alone is not going to help you much in the long run.

Brand Messaging & Design

Fortunately, many agencies integrate design with messaging. You tell them what you or your business is about and what you want to communicate, and they put it into words and design an identity to match. This approach is probably the most common to this type of branding, and if you’ve got a solid business strategy, a branding agency that does the messaging and the design is a great match.

This firm is who you hire if you have an explicit business model, own a reliable positioning in the market and are already profitable and looking to take your company to the next level. If you have a great foundation, a branding agency that has marketing and strategy savvy can enhance your brand’s existing positioning in the market.

A small agency that does both can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000 and up.

This is quite a range, I know. It’s not an exact science, and if there were a definitive way to explain the difference in these numbers I would share it with you. Usually, the price is determined by the size of the agency, the experience of the principal, and the business savvy of the owners. The best thing to do is find an agency that you vibe with, and that seems to have enthusiasm for your company and its work.

Strategy Plus Messaging & Design

Finally, some (but not many) agencies do all three. This is who you hire when you have steady revenue—and therefore a budget—but not a lot of profit. They can help you strategize how to best position your business in the market to increase profit, and then build a brand message and design based on that positioning to catapult your business to market domination.

Few of these agencies exist because they need to understand business strategy, marketing and communications strategy, design strategy, and how to integrate it all together.

One of the reasons so many branding agencies don’t touch business strategy is that strategists are often the bearers of bad news, and typical creative agencies don’t want to take on that responsibility. Simply put, if your business is not profitable (meaning everyone is getting paid, but the owners are not taking home an additional profit share every quarter on top of their salary), a new brand may not be enough. You may also need a more robust sales and business strategy, as a foundation for the new messaging and design. In other words strategy, the shiny new brand may help you look nicer, but you’re not going to achieve the goal of having a highly profitable business without a good strategy.

Pricing for agencies that include business strategy range from $10,000 to $50,000, but could be even more. Some of the largest agencies start at $30,000 just for the strategy, and when you throw in research, messaging, and visual design, the projects can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Smaller agencies that offer all three services (like we do) is not usual, but they do exist. If you are seeking more profitability, I highly recommend you work with an agency that does positioning, messaging, and identity. Even if you only engage them for messaging and identity, you’ll benefit from their strategic acumen.

The real price of branding though is not doing anything consistently.

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3 Ways To Grow Small Brands On A Limited Budget

3 Ways To Grow Small Brands On A Limited Budget

Surrounded by world-renowned brands such as Amazon, Apple, Procter & Gamble, and Netflix, we tend to forget there are over 28 million small businesses in America that create two-thirds of all new jobs.

Publications, podcasts, and business schools love to analyze what makes these giants successful. Although these case studies are inspirational, it is very hard if not impossible to implement such strategies with little to no marketing budget.

I truly believe that ‘small’ brands and businesses are poised for growth in today’s crowded marketing environment. Below is some  – free –  advice on how to build a brand when you can’t afford the Super Bowl half-time, nor even a local TV spot. I intend to turn the tables here, by giving small brands some tips that large players could hardly if ever implement.

1. Offer A Product That Is Noticeably Different And Superior
A local brewery can’t compete with Budweiser’s marketing budget. But its product is locally-made, has a distinctive taste and comes across as authentic. Such craft beer should be marketed to connoisseurs that seek your craftsmanship as well as regular beer drinkers that will indulge with your product from time to time. Remember that you are not trying to dominate the lager segment: these same people likely drink Budweiser also and that’s ok. Your play is to secure a niche of loyal buyers and leverage the uniqueness and quality of your product to command a price premium.

This same strategy can be implemented for any artisan-made products, such as small-batch whiskey, scented candles, olive oil, barbeque sauce or marmalade. If your production is very small (for now), take the time to write labels, and thank you cards by hand. Yes, it takes ages and doesn’t scale up, but it costs pennies and handwriting is the hallmark of authenticity.
The smaller the budget, the more you will have to rely on your point of difference. Brands with small budgets should focus their resources on promoting their strengths, ideally the key point of difference. Often, being local can be your strongest link versus large competitors. Communicate your local origins, reflect the local culture and reposition the ‘strangers’ as your far away, disconnected rivals.

2. Engage In Customer Intimacy
Jack Trout (a pioneer in positioning) once pointed out, being ‘mentally closer’ to what’s important to customers sparks an intimacy that is a core advantage for smaller brands. For example, cross-fit studios, spin-cycling studios and other small gyms charge 2-5 times more than large fitness chains. Yet they often offer a lot fewer amenities, in much smaller venues. Their success is found in customer intimacy. That is, to understand the goals of each and every member, develop custom fitness programs accordingly and track member’s progress. Keeping track of each member of a club that hosts 2,500, let alone remembering their name is next to impossible. For $40/month at a large chain, you buy access to a well-lit parking lot, a plethora of equipment and large changing rooms decked out with saunas and hot tubs. For $150/month at a local gym studio, you pay for personalized training and membership in a community. Of course, customer intimacy is not limited to the fitness industry. Consider how this strategy can be used by coaches, consultants, bespoke products, or local businesses to gain a loyal following.

3. Provide Useful And Meaningful Content
Meaningful content is one of the great business equalizers of our times, lifting profiles to that of much larger competitors. While this is widely known, today many small brands have yet to take advantage of the opportunity. Creating content (like this article) is hard work, but it’s cost-effective and pays off. People seek, and value, free ‘how-to’ content to help them deliver on their projects, and grow their business. To be impactful, your content must be informative and express innovative and actionable ideas that matter to your target customer while relating to the essence of your brand. The key to success is persistence and consistency: whether you maintain a blog, Instagram feed, LinkedIn profile or Youtube channel, it will take weeks, possibly months before you gain any real traction. Therefore, try to produce content that will be valuable to your audience in the long run. ‘5 tips to lose weight in the New Year’ might be newsworthy today, but becomes pretty irrelevant after January.

If you don’t want to educate your audience, you can simply showcase your craft: Mark’s Bake Shoppe in Staten Island produces outstanding videos and pictures that feature Mark’s artisan-made cakes and pastries. It’s no wonder his Instagram account boasts 1,300+ followers. And if you think 1,300 is small, check the following of your local grocery store (assuming it has any). Be sure to develop your content with customer intimacy in mind, this is key versus the larger players.

To sum up, most of these strategies require hard work and don’t scale well, but they’ll lay the foundation for a stronger brand on a small budget.

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