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Branding tips for small independent brands

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Let’s be honest, being a small independent label is not easy. We juggle many balls at once while learning new skills all the time. But one thing that I see many of us are getting wrong is the message, or story, we want our customer to get through our branding and marketing campaigns. In particular, its clarity and cohesiveness across all channels is what we sometimes get wrong.

Few weeks ago, I came across Harriet from HRH Creative on Instagram while browsing for some inspiration. Harriet is a qualified graphic designer by trade, who has diversified her skills to adapt to the changing retail climate over the last 11 years. She specialises in offering complete solutions where retail design is considered;  from the in-store experience right through to its online presence. She is an expert on retail branding too, especially in the fashion and design worlds, and this love for both has led her to founding her graphic design agency.

And so  I thought it would be great to interview Harriet and ask her for some tips on how small independent brands can tell their stories through branding and marketing, from the visual and design point of view. And, if you are planning a marketing campaign, read question 3. It has so much gold in there!!

1. How can a brand bring their identity together through various channels such as promotional materials, shop/window display, website, social media and behind the scenes / videos?

These days customers expect an omni-channel journey, and the role of the marketer and its brand creatives is to create this rounded experience across all visual touch-points. The way we shop has changed, it’s now a lifestyle choice, regardless of the industry in which you operate.

Brand consistency is key, making sure your identity is correctly used on all media. Creating a story is also extremely important; long gone are the days of putting a window display together in a ‘silo’, irrespective of other marketing collateral. The story now must correlate both visually and message-wise to elements featured on your website, and the consistent message and theme needs to work through into the store environment, and then online.

But, before you’ve even got to presenting the idea in your window, the customer wants to see how you created the concept. The ‘behind the scenes’ trend has become huge for brands to showcase previously unseen insights, ranging from how we shot the campaign, to who applied the makeup to how was the product designed and so on. The customer wants to be involved from the beginning of the journey, they want to understand the brand, relate to the theme and feel like they’re a part of it.

Social media means that the mystery behind the brand creative is now fully exposed and shared openly. The customer can now see the shoot for the campaign happening live – this is the lifestyle element I mentioned earlier. They want to see how, regardless of the media you use, the message remains consistent and recognisable so they can understand it, and of course purchase your product!

Your campaign or brand message, whether it be for one month or an entire season, needs to look considered and coherent. Then, you can execute this in several ways to reinforce the idea and get them to buy into the brand style and believe that it’s right for them; through look books, brochures and printed collateral that all relate to the theme, similar styled window displays and in store experience as well as POS. Finally, website banners, blog and social posts should all have the same look.

Bringing your identity together in ways such as the ones I’ve mentioned above, doesn’t have to be complex or expensive either. It’s all about planning, working out what you can achieve across all areas of your business, and keeping it on brand and right for your customer.

Design project: Website and Packaging for Nicola Ruby

2. What is the most common mistake brands make in terms of branding?

Two of the most common things, I see, are:

  • brands are not staying true to who they are
  • brands don’t know who their customer is

Of course, I see all sorts of other mistakes people make with their business branding, such as poor typography and image usage, lack of blog or social content to unexciting or non-existent window displays and visual merchandising. These elements, although annoying for a creative, can be easily rectified.

But the first two mistakes I mentioned, are less easy to fix, and will take time to rectify. That’s because they’re more complex but are the fundamentals of your business.

The most crucial thing to know is who is your customer and what are they looking for? Whether that is through market research, analysis of data or product trials, you need to know who they are, what they buy and what they like. It is vital that you step into their world, understand their lifestyle, buying habits and pick up on trends that you may see in data to analyse, adapt and change if necessary.

Things you need to explore are:

  • Is the customer socially aware – does she click through from an email?
  • Is she a high-street shopper who likes to feel and see the product and visit the store?
  • What product does she pick up first and,  is she a sale shopper?
  • What is her average purchase value?
  • Is she drawn by promotional activity?
  • Does she recommend products to her friends and colleagues?

There are so many avenues to explore to tie down who that customer is and what she’s about, but once you know a demographic, style and shopping pattern, it will make your marketing activity much easier.

This point, about knowing who the customer is, links quite heavily with brands staying true to who they are. If you have a distinctive style or brand story, then this will in some cases dictate your customer type. The main thing to focus on is staying true to who you are, your style and the main reasons why you started the brand initially. It’s all too easy to get swept up in the commerciality of retail (and why not, after all you want to make sales!) and try to appeal to everyone. This will dilute your brand, confuse your messaging, and in turn reduce sales. You cannot appeal to everyone, so the best thing to do is stick to what you are good at, and persevere.

With the rise in people buying handmade, Made in Britain, designer brands and wanting something unique, this is the perfect time for smaller businesses to highlight their offering. I’m seeing many independent (and international) brands flourishing, as the customer is a little tired of mass market from the larger retailers and relates to the stories behind the smaller brands. They either want something different, or want to pay more for a higher-end product that will last and is timeless.

So develop a good marketing strategy that works for your brand, know who your customer is, how she lives and shops, and most importantly stay true to yourself and you will succeed.

3. What are the processes of a marketing campaign? – from concept to execution

It all starts with the product. It always does regardless of what sized business you are running, and in what industry. Start with seeing the new season product offering, the trends and inspiration behind them and talking to the designers who created it. Also, holding a press event can help steer brands to choose press-worthy product to focus on, will give an indication of what blogger and stylists liked, and any creative used during the event can provide ideas for the season.

I believe it’s hugely important to have a great relationship with the design and buying teams, as they can inspire an entire campaign. After all they created the product that we’re marketing! Generally, the product will have sparked an idea or two, which could work campaign wide or just for a specific timeframe. Inspiration is key at this stage, so I like to visit galleries, other stores, trade shows and trawl online for ideas so I am equipped with visuals to create moodboards and references, and then use these to create sketches, mock-ups and tears that work towards a theme. I also believe strongly that having a solid working relationship with key suppliers can often spark new ideas and concepts.

Most brands nowadays will start their marketing campaign by using imagery. So, photoshoot planning should consist of collecting magazine tears, references from other campaigns you like, poses, makeup, models and online website references can help and steer a theme. The sooner you have a brief for the photographer and set builder, the better.

Once there is an idea in place for the imagery, this can then be taken across other media even if the imagery isn’t shot yet to keep the project moving. Window and in store POS concepts can be developed, visuals created, elements costed and signed off later. You might be using an imagery, or you might not. Props and printed elements can be developed picking up on designs and creative elements used in the overall concept. Designs can be initially mocked up for lookbooks or brochures, and even the digital team can start to work on some homepage ideas to get ahead.

The aim is that all elements are being signed off prior to imagery or elements being available, so then once they are, you’re ahead and everyone is prepared. Timing is key, as you will have a launch date in mind, but retail is retail, and we all know that those dates are trade/weather dependent so you need to be organised.

What we must remember throughout this process is consistency. For example, if you are using pastel tones in your photoshoot, then take this palette as a theme, and use it in the window and in store props. Use pastels in the lookbooks layouts, any in store POS should feature pastel shades. Any typography and creative used on printed material should be used online and executed in the same way. When on the shoot, behind the scenes imagery should be taken for instant social interaction but to also use on the blog and perhaps the lookbook, too.

Any printed collateral will need to be produced first, and then the digital elements can follow on, as they have a shorter lead time. The aim with a successful campaign is to have it looking the same across every touch-point, regardless of where the customer is seeing it, and if you have an international presence, don’t forget they need the same treatment too!

Design project: Spring Window Moodboard for Oasis

4. What are your 5 top tips for pop-up shop design and its promotional materials?

  • Make your brand space visually appealing and inviting.
  • Have your identity clearly visible.
  • Have marketing collateral that the customer can pick up and peruse.
  • Have clear displays of product, but keep it true to your style.
  • Promote your pop-up shop well in advance via social media, your website and local media.

Design Project: Phase Eight SS2016 campaign

Thank you Harriet for such amazing tips! Please go and visit her website and see more of her projects, even if it’s just for inspiration!!

Cover image: Layout example for Trilogy Stores

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