As brand service providers, many of us have been part of a scenario like this one: a successful project is coming to an end and everyone involved is feeling excited, inspired, and uplifted. The color palette is perfect, the logo bold and distinctive, and the whole thing screams of promise and business success. You go through the brand book (a.k.a. style guide, manual, guidelines) with your client, send all the final files, and then, at the very last minute, your client asks a dreaded question no designer, strategist, or copywriter ever expects.

“But how do I use all this?”

You swallow hard. The implications behind the query are many. Now, questions of your own are running through your mind. “Have they not heard a word I’ve been saying for the past three months?” “Should I reconsider my career?” “Are they joking because of how clear everything is?”

In most cases, it’ll be none of the above. Your client has probably learned the basics through the process and understands (to some extent) how to use their deliverables. However, they don’t comprehend the concept of brand identity enough to grasp the magnificent potential of what they’ve just received. But why is it that they don’t know such an important thing after having been part of a lengthy branding process? The likelihood is it hasn’t been adequately explained to them.

Hey, marketing person, I need you to fix my logo

Business owners tend to reach out to branding, graphic design, and marketing consultants indifferently, without knowing precisely what they need or who they need it from. They’ll ask to “fix my website a little” or “help with my Instagram posts” when, in most cases, they need to work on their brand identity. Hopefully, at some point during what can be a confusing process, they’ll stumble into the right person—someone who will expertly assess their situation and guide them. Nonetheless, at that point, they might be exhausted, discouraged, and even intimidated. They don’t fully understand what the process entails, how many separate specialists they need to hire, etc. These are some possible reasons why they might not be asking fundamental questions before or while their brand is being created.

What’s worse, service providers often fail to anticipate these issues and give adequate support. Don’t take this the wrong way; perhaps you did try to educate your client. You probably sent a project proposal with informative texts and had one (or several) meetings to walk them through the process. Still, you might not have considered that, more often than not, a client doesn’t know ANYTHING about branding; or that people tend to skim over documents and feel embarrassed about asking stupid questions. That’s why, even when you’ve done all the right things, you could easily reach the end of a project and realize your client doesn’t know what to do with your precious work (sigh).

The bigger picture

To help them understand the importance of creating a holistic brand identity, you have to come to see it for yourself first. This might sound pretty obvious, but many professionals have never stopped to think about this matter or haven’t seen the true potential behind what they do.

Brands are living, breathing, three-dimensional things and are brimming with potential. They can shapeshift to become behaviors, concepts, products, experiences, and many other things. It could seem like giving too much importance to a bunch of imaginary assets. However, a powerful brand can provide some of the building blocks needed to build more successful businesses. If you understand this and manage to make clients see it, their behavior towards their branding assets will change. You can enhance your process and services to instigate these changes in many ways. Here are some suggestions:

Intro masterclass: Add an educational session at the beginning of a project to convey the bigger picture. Explain how and why branding is the foundation of a business, and make your client feel inspired and excited for the work ahead. This will make them pay more attention and become more involved and receptive.

More (quality) meetings: Use meetings to support your client, help clarify the different stages, and answer any questions and doubts that might arise. Make sure to hold these sessions at the right times and to let the flow dictate whether you need to add additional ones or not. Should you have one when you are delivering work? Would it be best to send the documents first and meet a couple of days later? Does your client appreciate face-to-face interactions, or do they prefer to communicate via written form? The total number of meetings should vary depending on the circumstance, but it’s important to give it a good thought and iterate accordingly.

Clear explanations: Imagine what it would feel like to receive a document on an unfamiliar topic that’s full of technical jargon. With that in mind, reassess your whole service experience; rewrite your explicative and supporting content to make it as helpful as possible. What is a brand essence? How can you describe it better? Why is defining the brand purpose useful? Make sure to explain everything in simple, relatable terms.

The brand book of dreams: Similarly, redesign your brand book (brand guidelines, style guide, etc.) to make it a truly relevant instruction manual. This document has to empower your clients to use their new assets fully and enable them to infuse their business with their brand identity more efficiently.

Example overdose: The components that make up a brand strategy can sometimes be a little abstract and hard to understand. Include plenty of practical examples that illustrate their value and the circumstances in which these items will come in handy, like when to use an elevator pitch, how to apply the voice guidelines, etc.

The end goal

Once you know what signs to look for, it’s relatively easy to tell if your job is complete or not. When a project ends, your client should be feeling more excited than confused about their branding assets. If they ask questions that imply a lack of understanding, you’ve probably got more work to do. But the most significant opportunity to test the waters will come a little further down the line. Months after the project wraps up, you’ll get a chance to see what they are actually doing with their brand. Is it getting applied consistently? Are they taking full advantage of the assets? Are they using them creatively?

It’s never too late to provide extra support. If you determine it’s needed, don’t hesitate to reach out and offer more help. Don’t think that you’ve failed if you have to do this. The key here is to clearly understand the overall mission and do what’s needed to achieve it. The goal of branding service providers is not to throw a package of sleek design items at a client but to put in their hands the tools they need to build more successful businesses. And—don’t forget—to teach them how to utilize these tools to achieve this purpose.

Cover image source: Andrew Neel