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Bridging the gap between design & strategy

Louis Mardlin

June 17, 2020




A brand is the customer's gut feeling about a product, service or organization.

In this blog post I am going to talk about what a brand is, how to build a brand and the importance of connecting strategy and design to work in conjunction with each other effectively.

Contrary to popular belief a brand is NOT a logo, an identity or a product. So what is a brand? A brand is the customer's gut feeling about a product, service or organization. A brand is not defined by companies, markets or the public but the individual perceiving it, but how it makes the individual feel and is not defined by the company on its own. You can influence how your brand makes people feel through the use of effective design and marketing.

What is the importance of branding?

  • People have too many choices and not enough time
  • Most of the choices are similar in quality and features
  • People tend to base buying choices on trust


5 ways to measure brand value:

  • Price premium
  • Customer preference
  • Replacement cost
  • Stock price
  • Future Earnings

The purpose of branding is to encourage more people to buy more stuff for more money for longer. 

In most companies strategy and creativity are kept separate. When both sides work together you can build an effective charismatic brand, a brand which people believe there is no other alternative. When strategy and creativity are brought together any brand can be seen as charismatic using these disciplines of brand-building.

1) Differentiate

Our brains work like a filter to protect us from too much information. People will only notice what is different, not something that blends in and stays the same. Your brand must stand out from everyone else, meaning that you sometimes need to take risks to be different.

Through the years marketing has changed, it started in the 1900’s where marketing only told the customer the features of the product or service (What it is) to 1925< where people started being told the benefits (what it does) then to 1950< where people started being sold on an experience (how it makes them feel). More marketing is asking customers ‘Who are you?’ and trying to associate the product or service to who the person is. People join different tribes for different activities like for sports they could join Nike, computing: Apple, Driving: BMW or Banking: Barclays. People choose to buy from brands that they associate themselves with most.

2) Focus

To establish a strong brand you need to know: who you are, what you do and why it matters. The most common reason for loss of focus is poorly considered brand extension. For example, it would be unfocused for a printer manufacturer to start producing fast food, it just doesn't make sense, in the same way that Porsche is known for high-end luxury sports cars so it would be unfocused for them to start making SUV’s… right?

Bad brand extensions are those that are just aimed to make short term profits but at a loss of the brands long term value.

Good brand extensions are those that reinforce the already existing focus and grow the value, for example again, a printer manufacturer could positively extend their brand by starting to sell printer paper.

3) Collaborate

Building a strong brand is a collaborative project.

These are the 3 most popular models for organizing brand, collaboration:

One Stop Shop

A ‘one stop shop’ will take care of all of the aspects that make up your brand, they are easy to manage and ensure consistency throughout.  However, there is little choice in teams and you will have a smaller ownership of your brand.

A Brand Agency

These will look after all aspects of your brand by working with different agencies and individuals. This means you still have consistency as it's still going though the brand agency, but you'll also have a choice of teams. However, because your brand is being managed by an agency, it means you'd still have little ownership of your brand.

The Integrated Marketing Team

This means letting the internal marketing team manage all the aspects that affect your brand by working with other specialists (effectively acting as their own branding agency). This means you have full control of choice of teams, consistency and ownership of the brand but it can be difficult to manage, especially in smaller companies.

4)   Innovate

Creativity is what gives a brand traction in the marketplace by using the combination of both the left and right brain.

Some of the most successful brands are ones that have done something new that other people haven't done before; they take risks. If a brand is too predictable there is no surprise, if there is no surprise there is nothing new and if there is nothing new there is no value.


To start with a brand needs a stand out name, this should use:



A great name is nothing though without great graphics to support it. More and more companies are moving towards using icons and avatars as opposed to logos; an icon is a name and visual symbol that indicates the market position. An avatar is a brand icon that can move, change, and operate freely in various media.

Too many websites are bulked up with irrelevant information. Some of the reasons for this are that: every department in the company wants to be on the homepage and believes they are the most important, people might think that more is better, not everyone understands how webdesign works and alternative ways of displaying all the information on the one page without it looking cluttered are unclear. 


Means getting the audience involved with the creative process. The communication model proved to be a success in the past, by sending out a direct message to people and that's where it ended. More recently this model has adapted, allowing the company to send a message out to an audience where they are given the opportunity to respond. Therefore, creating a dialogue between the brand and the user.

Testing your most creative ideas BEFORE they go to market

The best way to test brave new ideas is not through large quantitative studies or focus groups. 

  • Quantitative studies will bury your problem with way too much unhelpful data.
  • Focus groups were intended to focus the research, not to be the research. 

The best tests can be done quickly, easily and essentially free since it’s always better to have a rough answer to the right question than a detailed answer to the wrong question.

Here’s a few ways how:

The Swap Test

If the graphics and names for two trademarks are better or just as good when swapped then neither can be optimal. For example: 


With names swapped

The Hand Test‍

The hand test is done by covering the company name and icon on a piece of advertising and then seeing if the company can be recognised, if it can't then your brand's voice is not distinctive.

The Field Test

If your audience can’t verbalize your concept then the brand communication is not good enough, field tests measure:


Business is a process, not an entity. A living brand is a pattern of behavior, not a logo design or any other aesthetic choice. Brands are like people, if people can change their clothes without changing their characteristics then why can’t brands? Rather than trying to control the look and feel of a brand we should be more focused on influencing the character of a brand.