When is DIY design appropriate for a brand?
Recently we’ve seen an increase in DIY design – from social media posts created on Canva to websites on WIX or Squarespace – small businesses globally are taking their brands into their own hands. It’s an easy way to get things out into the world with fewer obstacles. It’s cheaper, can be done on the fly and you don’t have to deal with us annoying designers. We get the appeal.
As designers, we obviously hold some “opinions” on this kind of thing, but as small business owners we have empathy for it too. We thought it might be helpful to explore some of those opinions here to help other business owners make informed decisions around how to manage their brand.
When deciding whether or not to DIY, you should consider:
Business vision and goals
Is this business something you’re testing out? Maybe something you’re doing on the side of a permanent job? Or do you have longterm goals and expectations of the business?
If it’s the former, then rolling out your brand in a DIY manner could work really well for you. The agile nature will mean you can test out ideas on-the-fly and your audience may just respond positively to the human feel of your brand.
If the latter, it’s worth thinking of your brand (and relationships connected to it) as an investment. You also need to be wary of the other costs (like reputation and your own time) associated with cutting corners, which brings us to our next point.
Your brand position
Where do you want your brand to sit in the market? Who are your peers and competitors? Get to know them and familiarise yourself with the quality of their design and marketing material. You need to meet them we’re they’re at as a minimum, but preferably do better.
Carving out a place for yourself in the market doesn’t mean doing everything perfectly, but it does mean playing the game seriously. Because….
Your audience has expectations that you should understand
Who are you talking to? This is a really important question many small business owners can’t answer confidently.
Big brands invest massively in understanding their target market, and while not many small businesses can afford to match their efforts, it’s something you need to at least explore intermittently. You can do this with a professional, or you can run yourself through activities at home too. Whatever your choice, our advice is… don’t ignore it!
Lastly, be honest with yourself about your (or your team’s) skillset/ability
We see plenty of DIY design examples that fit the saying ‘close but no cigar’ pretty well. While you might have an idea of what you think looks good, you may just not have the skills to execute it well. If you don’t, partner with a professional you trust. It’s not worth damaging your brand reputation to save a few dollars.
You could save yourself a lot of heartache, wasted time and reputational damage by working with a designer. In small business, longterm partnerships with external suppliers you trust are worth their weight in gold. People grasp this concept easily when it comes to accountants and lawyers, but often overlook the value when it comes to design.
Summing up, we think DIY design has a place in the world. Not everyone can (or should) dive into a thorough branding process. It can be a big undertaking. If your business just isn’t there, your audience doesn’t require it and you have the skills to DIY, go for it. Like any decision in business though, consider the pros and cons to know what you’re getting yourself into. Today’s decision is tomorrow’s opportunity (or problem).
Our Home School workbook contains activities to help you explore your brand positioning and audience. Or, if you’re wanting a more ad-hoc approach try googling some of these terms to find articles and step-by-steps aplenty:
- Brand position
- Brand positioning map
- Audience profiling
- Define your target audience
And of course, we’re here for you too. Book a 10 minute discovery call to chat about your goals and see how we can help.
JAC& CHATS — Print with Hungry Workshop
Great brands have great people behind them. We started JAC& CHATS to talk to the people we admire who help create and grow brands all over the world. For our second chat, we’re talking to two excellent people (who we’re lucky to work with often) about the execution side of branding.
Jenna and Simon Hipgrave co-founded Hungry Workshop, a design and letterpress printing studio based in Melbourne. The exceptional team at Hungry Workshop are printmakers who understand the creative process and designers who understand production. They foster a creative dialogue to reach a finished product that is true to the vision, maximises value and minimises waste. Hungry Workshop celebrate the creative community — a community who strives to push boundaries, ask questions and take risks.
Tell us a bit about how you work with brands at Hungry Workshop.
We work with brands to create meaningful connections with their audience. We do this through physical, tactile extensions of the brand, enhancing these moments with carefully considered print production on our vintage letterpress printing presses.
We’ll either work with designers and creatives to execute their projects, or directly with clients designing and producing objects, packaging and stationery in-house. We help our clients create everything from letterpress business cards, invitations, thank you cards and gift cards to wine labels, custom jewelry boxes and swing tags.
Our aim is to create objects that communicate the quality of the brand and the people behind it.
How does quality printing add to the value of a brand? And on the other hand, what damage can it do when executed poorly?
With a printed piece you’re creating an extension of your brand, one that exists in your customer’s real, physical world. It has the potential to be much more powerful than any digital experience. It’s always a good idea to honour that privilege and create print that both reflects the values of your brand but also respects the customer. Print is an opportunity to create an artifact of your brand, something that can become a treasured keepsake. Print doesn’t have to be over the top or extravagant. It can be simple, restrained and considered. The beauty of letterpress is really hard to ignore, and dare I say, makes for a shareable moment that loops back into the digital world.
If your print is poorly executed that lack of care reflects on your brand and can also show disregard for your customer. It’s a missed opportunity. If you care about your product, service and customer then it makes sense to follow that through. The impact is particularly amplified now, when personal and physical interactions are so limited.
There are a lot of different printing options out there – a huge pool of businesses to partner with, techniques to choose from and a very wide range of costs too – it’s confusing! Do you have any advice for business/brand owners about finding the right fit for them?
Our advice is to find the best partner for every part of your business that you aren’t handling yourself. Find partners that share your values and understand your objectives. From design through to production, communication is incredibly important.
We truly believe that communication and transparency is essential for a successful letterpress piece. Pick up the phone early, ask questions; visit the printer and look at samples. If they won’t pick up the phone, or you don’t feel welcome to visit prior and during production then it’s likely not someone you should be trusting with your brand.
Finding someone you trust and that aligns with your values should help you make the right decision. For us, we tend to work with clients who value local, sustainable and ethical production as well as craft and high quality execution.
A very ‘how long’s a piece of string question’, but do you have any thoughts on what % of someone’s budget should be dedicated to printing?
Our unofficial motto is ‘print less, better’ – we should always be looking to minimise our footprint in the world. When you are creating printed pieces, do it with care and consideration, reflecting the nature of your brand and the way the business interfaces with its customers. For a digital or service oriented business a good starting point would be somewhere between $700 – $2,000. If you have a business with a higher rate of interactions with your customers, such as a product based, retail or hospitality, then somewhere between $1,400 – $4,500 onwards would make sense.
Any advice or tips for someone starting a new brand, or growing an existing one?
It is always difficult to balance where to invest when starting or growing a business. One way to look at it is to make sure you aren’t overlooking those moments where your customers truly connect with your brand. Make everything you do meaningful and intentional.
Anything else you’d like to share?
We’re in the midst of moving our studio from Northcote to Brunswick East, which is equal parts terrifying and exciting. It’s going to be a beautiful space when it is all finished and we’re excited to have our clients and collaborators there soon.
We’re also in the process of launching a new brand of notebooks called ‘Off–Line’ which embody everything we believe in. It’s not only going to be a product with incredible utility, it also aims to give back to the community. The products will be made more than sustainable, by us, right here in Melbourne. We’re really excited to share with the world very soon!
Follow us on instagram @hungryworkshop & @offlinesupplyco and check out our websites hungryworkshop.com.au and offlinesupply.co. If you would like some letterpress samples, you can sign up to our newsletter here and we’ll get some in the post for you.
JAC& CHATS — Brand naming with Eli Altman
It takes a village to create and grow great brands. In this series of interviews, we’re talking to the people who help do just that. These are people that we admire for the work they put out into the world, and their approach and ethos too. Without further ado, meet our first JAC& CHAT participant, Eli Altman!
Eli grew up drawing and writing in Northern California. He led his first naming project at 16 years old and has been naming ever since. Eli is the author of Don’t Call It That, a naming workbook, Run Studio Run, a guide to managing and growing a small creative studio, and is the co-creator of Go Name Yourself. He has talked naming and branding with The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, and the Guardian. Before joining A Hundred Monkeys, Eli was a brand strategist leading the naming practice at MetaDesign, San Francisco.
Tell us a bit about how you work with brands at A Hundred Monkeys?
All good relationships are two way streets. We want to work with people who are excited to work with us and vice versa. We like to work with brands doing work that benefits plants and animals, including humans. At the very least we want to make sure they aren’t hurting anyone. We look to avoid relationships where we would be classified as a “vendor.”
Our client relationships tend to start with naming. Many of them expand into brand messaging and other forms of writing that hopefully are never called “content.” We’re not big believers in brand archetypes or personas or anything like that. The most important thing to us is doing work that’s useful for our clients.
How does a positive naming experience add value to a brand? Alternatively, if someone doesn’t take it seriously, what evils await them?
Brands only exist in context. A name is never just a name and a logo is never just a logo. The context, environment, and experience always work together to shape perception of a brand. Naming, considering it usually happens so early in the creative process is often hard for people to see in context because the context hasn’t been created yet. For many companies and products the name is the first real concrete statement the brand is making. Your name also happens to be the only element of your brand that can go absolutely everywhere, including conversations. Good names get reactions—smiles, questions, inquisitive glances. Bad names go in one ear and out the other.
Considering a name is such a small element (often a word or two), it can never communicate everything you’re looking to say with your brand. Understanding this, a name is about getting people to come closer and engage with you. It’s an attractor—and if it works, you’re putting people in a position to learn more about you and see if they want to keep you around. The number one misconception people have about brands is that people are going to be as interested in what you’re doing as you are. There’s far too much noise out there for that. You need to give them a reason to stick around. And while you’re at it, try to get them to say something back before you bombard them with newsletters and shit they don’t need. Remember, relationships are two way streets.
Finding the right fit can be hard for clients. Any advice on what they should be looking for when it comes to partnering up with a naming agency?
A lot of our clients are design firms and other creative agencies. In these situations you should just be looking for work you like from people you enjoy talking to. From there you can start to build some trust and an understanding of the best way to work together. For non-creative industry clients it’s really important to have an understanding of, and belief in, the creative process. Yes, you should like the creative output, but every name selected by a client is about their specific needs and situation. Believing in the process gives you the confidence to believe you’ll end up with a great name. Almost forgot to mention budget—probably a good idea to get on the same page about that.
Without divulging your deepest secrets, what % of someone’s budget should be dedicated to naming?
Ah, you read my mind. As far as percentage of your budget it really depends on how big the project is. We typically price based on a few factors like timing, trademark clearance, and number of stakeholders. In my experience naming fees are about on par with logo fees. The most important thing for us is working on interesting projects that make a difference. If that’s what you’re working on, we’ll bend over backwards to make the budget work if that’s what it takes.
Any advice or tips for someone starting a new brand, or growing an existing one?
Trying to appeal to everyone is the fastest way to appeal to no one. Being clear on what your brand isn’t is often as useful as understanding what it is.
Be different in a meaningful way. No tricks or buzzwords—make it very easy for your audience to understand what sets you apart.
Don’t pay too much attention to what your competition is doing brand-wise unless you’re using it to go in the opposite direction. If you pay too much attention you’ll end up looking just like them whether you’re trying to or not.
How much should you invest in your brand?
Brand costing is an incredibly difficult and confusing thing. You can get a logo for $5 or spend upwards of $100k on brand development. We really empathise with new business owners trying to wrap their head around this.
So how do you decide what’s right for you?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer here – sorry – however we think it’s a good idea to start with some simple questions about needs and goals.
Firstly, what do you want (or need) to get out of it? Money is the most logical place to start. If you map out your best and worst case income scenarios, you may gain some clarity on what’s possible with outgoings.
In addition to budget, other value should be considered too. A logo alone will likely be a much cheaper road to take, however you will need to invest ongoing time in educating yourself to build up your brand in a professional way. A brand strategy can give you a purposeful approach from the beginning.
You also want to consider your business lifespan. If this is a brief experiment rather than longterm development, starting lean could be smart. If you’re building something with longevity in mind, you should be thinking differently about investing in your business.
Lastly, what’s expected? Getting to know your peers and competitors is a good idea. There’s nothing wrong with a simple approach to identity, if that aligns with your size and industry. If it doesn’t, you need to consider the repercussions of cutting corners.
When choosing who to work with on your brand, there are a few options. Here’s a very general overview of the landscape:
- Slap a logo on it (DIY or online) – definitely the cheapest option but beware of the hidden costs (time/reputation).
- Freelance designer – perhaps a one man/woman band, someone focussed on aesthetics rather than strategy or business objectives.
- Studio – can range in size, approach and cost. Will likely have a more robust process, strategy and will work collaboratively with you to build your brand to reach business goals.
- Agency – often large, well-resourced and ready/able to take all the work off your hands. Great if you have a big budget but are time poor.
None of these options are right or wrong, but it is important to consider which path is right for your business. We hope this article helps bring some clarity to a very big (and confusing) decision. If you’d like to chat to us about any of the above, or receive a copy of our process and costing booklet, book a 10 minute discovery call here.
How to pivot a hospitality brand in the time of COVID-19.
Our hearts have been heavy watching our peers and clients in hospitality navigate this confusing and challenging time. The uncertainty around whether or not they could, or should, stay open for the public and their staff has been horrendous. We can only empathise with the anxiety they must be feeling.
To offer some help, we’ve put together some thoughts and ideas around how to pivot. These are intended for the hospitality industry, but really apply to most businesses.
Firstly, go back to your brand foundations and reconsider you purpose.
- Why did you start?
- What did you want to achieve?
- Who did you want to help?
Revisiting this is helpful at any stage in business, but particularly in a crisis.
Second, turn your attention to your audience.
- Profile your customers. What are their demographics? Lifestyle? Values?
- What are their current frustrations, or what might they be lacking at the moment?
Next, let’s think about your offer. This is particularly difficult at the moment, given the restrictions on business, but where there’s a will there’s a way.
- Consider what worked about your previous offer. Were you known for your incredible bread? Maybe your fresh local produce?
- Try to connect the dots between audience needs and potential new offers that benefit both parties. For example, if you know your customers loved your bread (and you need some certainty around income), could you start a bread subscription service? If you still have access to fresh local produce, perhaps you could support those producers and the community by starting a weekly produce box for nearby houses?
Lastly, it’s time to get practical. As a hospitality business owner, you’ll likely have the logistics side of things sorted. Taking the idea to market is where things get trickier. Here’s some ideas from our end for that part.
- Keep it simple. The message should be straightforward and clear. This is a time to keep language direct and human.
- Digital marketing is a given, but don’t forget that most people are stuck at home and are bombarded on social media all day. Something like a letterbox drop will go a long way right now, and it’s cost effective.
- Use professionals where you can. While very few businesses have budget right now, the last thing you want to be doing is causing yourself more anxiety trying to build your own e-commerce site. There are plenty of skilled professionals in a similar boat, with excess time on their hands and a willingness to help.
We know you’re hurting financially and while these efforts can’t be expected to make up for the loss of income, it’s important to do something. Not only to generate at least some income, but to stay connected with your audience and reaffirm your brand values.
If you or someone you know is in need of help during this difficult time, reach out. We are offering pro-bono work or reduced rates to those severely impacted by the current situation, and know plenty of others who are doing the same.