Brand development is an essential skill in the business world we live in. Communication tools are becoming cheaper and more accessible, designs are easily shared across countries, and the Internet has made imitation unbelievably easy.
In such a world, we are constantly exposed to “me-too” brands, which fail to differentiate their offers. As freelancers, we can make it our mission to work with clients to fix this.
In learning about branding, you’ll be able to guide your clients down a path of unique symbols, stories, and strategies that will engage and convert their audience.
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Importance of branding
Though you might not think of yourself as a brand manager right now, everything and everyone (and that includes you!) represents at least one brand. That’s because a brand is the unique story that your audience recalls when thinking about you or your client.
This story associates a product with the personal stories of clients, a particular personality, a promised solution to a problem, or a product’s position in relation to competitors. A brand is represented by visual symbols, and feeds from multiple conversations where you must participate strategically.
As creators, we would like to believe that the branding process starts with a blank canvas. For better or for worse, the blank canvas idea is no longer viable in our world. Human beings and our ideas are now inevitably connected, and our concepts are constantly being exposed to one another.
As freelancers, we need to stop seeing ourselves as inventors (i.e. it’s our job to come up with something entirely new) and accept our role as innovators (i.e. it’s our job to execute something in a new way).
While we usually relate brands to a product’s visual identity (logo, color palette, packaging, and the like), there are at least three different parts to the process:
- Developing a value creation story that answers a customer’s “what’s in it for me?” question.
- Designing a set of visual symbols that represent that story in the marketplace.
- Implementing a high-conversion growth strategy that can share this story and set of symbols with the right audience.
With new products emerging every minute, it can be a hassle to differentiate your client’s value offer. Only brands with truly empathetic stories, informed communications pieces, genuine commitment to consumer listening, and strong measurement skills will thrive in such a crowded marketplace. Understanding consumer aspirations is an essential part of brand storytelling; you’ll have to embed these desires/needs in your client’s value creation story.
These are some services that you can offer to help your clients build or refine their brand story:
- Brand statement consulting
- Brand experience review
- Brand positioning consulting
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Visual brand symbols leverage existing mental associations to connect your brand with a given set of values and goals. Think about the last time you saw another brand’s packaging, logo, or color palette: which impressions came to mind? Did your opinion about the company’s product change in any way? Chances are it did.
These are some services that you can offer to help your clients build or refine their brand symbols:
- Logo design
- Web design
- Color palette and typographic scheme design
- Marketing collateral design
- Packaging design
- Style guide development
Brand communication channels provide effective outlets to show your clients’ stories, harness the power of your visual symbols, and boost conversion. Having a clear growth strategy is a crucial part of any branding plan – without sharing the symbols and story you’ve built, they are essentially stagnant.
These are some services that you can offer to help your clients build or refine their brand strategy:
- Social media management
- Paid advertising management
- Search Engine Optimization consulting
How to start offering branding services
It’s important to consider that there are both pros and cons to working as a freelance designer. Agencies can provide a stable workflow, health benefits, and general business management. However, many seasoned designers appreciate the freedom and flexibility of self-employment; 20% of graphic designers chose to freelance in 2014. If you decide to venture out on your own, here are a few best practices to consider.
Building your portfolio & brand
You’re the boss. It’s up to you to determine the types of projects and clients you want to take on. While agencies can promise a steady stream of work, knowing that you’ve chosen projects you’re truly interested in helps set yourself up for success. The key to building a stellar portfolio and lasting client relationships? Enjoy your work.
Branding is just as important for your clients as it is for yourself. For first time freelancers, it can be challenging to lose the collaborative team environment of an agency. Silver lining? It’s up to you to set the standard and challenge yourself to deliver outstanding work. You’re simultaneously building an impressive brand, while satisfying clients. It’s a win-win!
Freelancers wear many hats. Managing the business side of things, like contracts and tracking down delinquent invoices, are crucial pieces to the puzzle. Make your life easier by establishing clear and highlighted terms of payment. Thirty days is a standard payment period. Pro tip: It’s appropriate to send a friendly payment reminder halfway through the payment period.
Communication is essential for freelancers. Yes, you should be responding to inquiries and requests in a timely matter. But this best practice refers to project scope and setting realistic goals with your clients.
There are generally two types of clients: one who knows exactly what they want, and one who gives you free reign. For both of these clients, it’s helpful to begin the project with an inspiration board to get to the core of their wants and needs. Then, it’s up to you to communicate what can realistically be achieved. Set clear expectations and then deliver your best work.
Find self-employment success
If you choose to freelance, it’s important to diversify your services and revenue streams. By understanding brand storytelling and strategy, you’ll be able to offer your clients a versatile digital marketing persona outside the typical design scope.
You’ll also provide something that’s crucial in the business world we live in: differentiation. Understanding your client, their customers, and your own creative bandwidth are the keys to finding self-employed success.
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