Saturday, 6 October 2012

Do you need to brand yourself?

Of course you do! you are a designer. Most especially if you are planning on telling people that you are a branding expert. You are going to need some kind of evidence for this and port number one is you guessed it!... your own brand. Basically it is a shallow world out there and if Katy Price or Jordan or whatever she is calling herself these days can make millions by turning herself into a "brand" then you had better know that you are going to have to do this yourself as a designer. I would love to know the finer details of taking a small freelance brand and turning it into a huge multi million pound conglomerate brand but the fact is I don't, as I said when I started writing this blog I am here only to tell you what I can actually tell you from my own experiences breaking into the industry. There are many a lesson to be learned in this business so I may as well tell you what they are as I learn them myself. First off I have "branded" myself as a means to getting more clients, seem more professional, show that I can do branding and can work to a specific style, prove that I have the dedication to put extracurricular work into making my business a success etc. But of course that doesn't mean that I have done it well or that anyone else agrees that my branding efforts show these things. The only way you will find that out is to ask around and get feedback. Now luckily for me I can be quite articulate so a lot of times when someone isn't completely sold by first glance I can talk them round usually, but having been to quite a few interviews recently I have found that what I had hoped would come across from my efforts has indeed come over and with a few interpretations that I didn't expect so who'd have thought it I'm actually winning.

Branding ones self though, requires an awful lot more than you might first expect because what you are essentially doing is trying to put forward a personality visually without ever meeting anyone. This is hard! Just think of those times when you first meet someone at a party or through a friend etc. there is a rather long and awkward process of getting to know someone. That process is made up of lots of mini processes in itself and allows you to decide if you and said person have anything in common, if you could see yourself hanging out, or working together, if they have information about a subject that you would like to pick there brain about or similar roots and so on. What you have to do is work your way through these levels of information until you are satisfied that you have reached a positive conclusion. If you have been lucky enough to get through the testing phase that the other person has in there mind and the same vice versa then you will likely end up as friends or lovers or associates or something depending on the nature of the process. So this is in my eyes completely the same thing as what you are doing when you are branding yourself. You are setting a scene and inviting people to like you, or not like you, depending on there sensibilities.

So how that generally gets broken down in a more real life kind of way is this:

First of all you need to leave a first impression. This is the hardest one to shake off once its formed too so you had better try and leave a good one and you can do this with your logo. That is in graphic design terms effectively your first impression to potential employers or clients. You need to pick a style that shows off the kind of design that you do. So if you are into slick glossy corporate graphics then make your logo just like this, if you are into bright colours then use them, etc. you get the point. Also don't forget about Type. Typefaces give off personality because they are attached to all kinds of memories and places and themes and eras. You can tell an eighties font from a mile off so you should try and choose a font carefully as well. If you are very tech oriented for example then I would go for a monotype or a slim sans serif as these typefaces are synonymous with technology. And then finally you have the issues of worrying about images and arrangement of letters etc in a way that shows off your creativity and style as a designer. You can put as much or as little thought into this Logo business as you like but when you think that it is your very first impression then it gives you more incentive to really try and create something that makes people go wow. This way you are creating a hook and people will want to know more about you and your services and the work that you have done aside form your own logo.

So the second impression is a slightly deeper level that would be the equivalent of someone asking you where you are from and what school you went to once they have decided that they want to talk to you after assessing you appearance. Its a shallow way of look at things I know but these subtle micro judgements are running all the time in our minds and we use them to assess all kind of situations and places not just people so you will have to accept the facts and know that you are being assessed on every movement that you make! that is just the way the human brain works. (But lets not forget we do have the intelligence to change a perception once it has been created, its just easier to give a good one first off and save the battle).  So what do you want people to know about you and what kind of feeling do you want them to leave with is the next question you should ask yourself. Effectively how much or how little do you want people to know about you. If you want people to think that you are an effective communicator which is part and parcel of being a designer then it would be a good idea to communicate well what it is that you do. Don't be vague and tell people straight away what it is that you do in no uncertain terms. If you are using a business card or webpage or compliment slip then you will need a sentence, a tagline if you will that tells people what you do. Like I am a logo designer or I am a web-designer or I do all different things in design depending on what you actually do. The second part to that is if you are a laid back friendly kind of person to work with then say it in that kind of way and if you are a serious organised kind of person to work with then say it in that kind of way. This way you are making it clear how you like to work and what kind of companies will suit you and vice versa. You are never going to please all of the people all of the time so might as well shoot for your audience.

Not a bad start eh! moving into the finer points then you are going to have to decide what kind of layout and arrangement will suit your documents and company literature. Im guessing in this case its going to be things like a printed portfolio, a web page, a blog, a flyer, a poster, or if your feeling particularly diligent then all of the above. This is, much like your logo, going to reflect the kind of design that you do and you should try and do this in a way that is less about the design itself and more about the portfolio because your work will be selling you from here on out. That is far more to do with the kind of work thats going into your portfolio than your actual brand (which by the way should visually match at least a little or you are going to have a kind of discord that isn't nice to look at) and it should be driven by the strongest work. So if you work in large scale technically brilliant photomontages for the most part then your images need to be big and beautiful! much like a photographers website you want to see the nuances of the image so you are probably going to be better off with a plain simple layout that removes nothing from the actual imagery. I feel by now you are starting to get the point of what I am saying and the finer details really are for you to decide these are just ideas for a foundation.

Then of course you are going to have to think about channels. Now I don't mean TV channels, I mean what are the avenues that you are going to be using to promote your work and your brand. The Web is a good place to start because there are numerous ways you can advertise yourself for nothing. You have blog platforms, Facebook Business pages, twitter, myspace, various graphic design associations like the Behance network etc. You can add your little bit of branding in all these places to make sure that you are recognised and your stamp is put on every piece of work that you do. Also you can build your own website your way and send out email newsletters to all your contacts with the help of a client like Mailchimp or MailCan. Again I will let you look up the finer details of these things for yourself but just as a starting point these are things to consider. Another "channel" that you should consider as a designer is in publishing. What with the current rise in e-book sales and Tablet users, freely distributed content on the web is really the next big thing in direct marketing and a great way for you to get your face out there. You could design and publish an e-book of your portfolio or some specialist information that you would like to share in order to generate traffic towards your website or blog. Or another perhaps more viable if you are a complete beginner step, would be to get your work into existing magazines like Computer Arts Magazine or 3D World and so on. You can generate a buzz about yourself and make sure you are being recognised by other industry professionals this way. Basically any way that you can promote yourself with the aid of your branding and your work should be considered a channel. If you are putting stickers on lampposts, this is still a channel.

As with everything in the world of design and indeed business today you are going to have to spend at least a little bit of money getting this kind of thing going. You do not escape your advertising costs unfortunately but they are worthy of a return and will get you paid work I can assure you. You are going to look like someone who is dedicated and professional in comparison to a lot of people who will be trying to get something for nothing. So pay for the hosting on your website, get a pamphlet of your work printed out, Flyer, Sticker, Blog whatever, just make sure you do it all under a consistent visual umbrella and you will be helping yourself out in a big way for the long run. But do not by any means forget that there are a huge amount of designers and creatives out there and they are all your competition. This is yet another reason why you should brand yourself because you can guarantee that they have already done all this and will look far superior to you if you have not.

In the long run I think it is worth mentioning that these things all take time and if you don't have an awful lot of it spare then I guess you are going to have to be patient with yourself but a little bit of work consistently over a long period of time clocks up before you know it and you will learn a huge amount about your skills with every project you do so it is, (as is becoming a theme in my posts) always a worthwhile endeavour.

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