I heard a commercial on the radio for business cards.
They said just $10 on new business cards could be THE difference maker in life and business this year. Man, I wish it were that easy. Building a business is hard work and anyone who says otherwise should take it back.
Don’t let any online marketer or self-help book sell you shortcuts. People that promise six easy steps to this or time-saving shortcuts to that are trying to make a buck off your misery. Creating something of value always takes hard work. It’s supposed to be that way.
The purpose of these posts is to pull back the curtain on what it’s like to start a brand new business. In the first post in this series, I wrote about choosing a name, which turned out to be so much more than choosing a name. It was more about choosing a focus. It was about zeroing in on what this company would actually do.
In this post, I want to talk about creating a brand. I’ve been a part of three logo-design or branding projects.
The first one was Oak Leaf Church, a brand new church in a small town outside of Atlanta. The name didn’t have any significant meaning – it was actually inspired by the name of a subdivision in another state. But I had the domain and it sounded different from all the other churches. I personally created the logo and later hired a friend to redo it. The red leaf was easy to recognize and we used that mark everywhere. I still like that logo.
The next brand was The Rocket Company. When I got involved, it was called Giving Rocket and the focus was helping churches raise money. We wanted to expand so a name change was in order. We became The Rocket Company and the brand got instantly bigger. Sub brands like Preaching Rocket, Worship Rocket could fit inside the family and there was room for expansion.
Church Fuel, LLC needed a logo.
Where you go for logo design?
If you need a logo, here are five options.
- Fiverr.com. This is the cheapest place to get a “logo.” For “five dollars”, a “designer” will customize a “logo” and you’re off to the races. Notice all the quotation marks, which are absolutely not misplaced. Now I love fiverr.com and have used them many times. I’ve ordered funny videos, tweaks to graphics and audio work from this site. 50% of the time, it’s turned out to be exactly what I needed. I use fiverr.com all the time when I need a funny video, but it didn’t seem like the right choice for this big project.
- One step up from there is a website 99 Designs. Designers submit their ideas, and you chose finalists and eventually award a winner. Prices start at about $299, and designers from all over the world will compete for your business. You can get eBook designs, websites, logos and lots more. I’ve used it several times for small to medium sized projects, and will use them again in the future. But for Church Fuel, I felt like I needed something more. Some people have a problem with spec work, but I believe a contest is different than spec work. You should do the research yourself and make an informed decision.
- A friend. I don’t have proof, but I believe most small business logos are created by friends or family members. Which would explain why most logos look like friends or family members created them. This wasn’t a serious option for me. Besides, it’s tough to hire friends…it changes the relationship.
- A designer. There are a lot of one-person operations that create beautiful things. They might freelance for larger companies or have a handful of clients on retainer, but you’ll surely get much better quality than options one, two and three. And the price tag will likely be lower than option four.
- An agency. A creative agency usually has multiple people on staff, each with different expertise. There’s usually a formal process that starts with a discovery period. You’ll answer questions and the agency will do research on your target customer. This is the most in-depth type of project, and you’ll pay the most amount of money. Reputable agencies can start at 10k and go up from there, based on your needs.
But Wait…What is a Brand?
Sometimes, I introduce myself as a consultant. It sounds better than “someone who used to be a pastor but is now starting an online company to help churches move forward.” But saying you’re a consultant still sounds a little bit sketchy, like you don’t have a real job. It’s like saying you’re an entrepreneur. Or a social media expert.
Casey and I used to joke that nobody knew what consulting was and nobody knew what branding was so we should become branding consultants.
I’m definitely not a brand expert, but I’ve helped build a few of them. And one of the most important things I’ve learned is this…A brand is not a logo.
A brand is what they think about when they think about you. It your language and your message. It’s your values and vision. It’s what you stand for. What comes to your mind when you hear the words Disney, Apple, or Coca-Cola? That’s branding.
I’m convinced most people don’t really like Starbucks Coffee. The beans are over-roasted so the blend is consistent and the result is a flavor somewhere between bitter tree bark and charred ground. But there’s no denying the popularity and power and brand that is Starbucks. I’m convinced people like Starbucks because they like the idea of Starbucks.
In this post, Seth Godin talks about the mythology of branding. He says brands like Google, Starbucks and McDonalds have narratives around heroic beings. It’s why people USE Dell, but they ARE an Apple.
Your brand is more about your story than your logo. It’s more about emption than pixels. It’s what people feel not just what they see.
When people think of Church Fuel, I wanted them to think about practical resources. Not just theory or principles, but ideas and practice. After all, ideas are everywhere – it’s execution that counts. You can’t create this feeling with a logo – you have to build it over time. But it can start with your logo and continue throughout a design.
Making a List of Brand Deliverables
Aaron Skinner has done lots of good work for me in the past, so I gave him this project. I asked for a logo, fonts, colors, and an overall “look.” In fact, here’s the list of all the phase one deliverables.
- Logo with and without an icon of some sort
- Fonts, Colors and Standards
- Keynote template we could use for webinars and products
- Ebook template we could use for lead capture and products
- Icons we could use on websites and in products
- Facebook profile picture, header and post ad graphic (Here’s a handy, always up to date Google doc with current sizes)
- Twitter profile picture, header and promoted tweet graphic
- Graphic that illustrates a digital product
- Podcast Cover Art
The Process of Brand Building
It’s easy to ask a friend to make a logo, but building a brand identity is a different story. Take a look at this brand process from Matchstic, one of the premier branding houses in Atlanta. I actually worked with Matchstic a long time ago when me and a friend started a summer camp for students. Today, they are big time. They describe their process on their website.
Look at all the steps they take when working on a project.
- Audit – any good process must start with an honest look at reality. Who are you trying to reach? Do you have clear goals?
- Strategy – before you start building things, you need a solid plan. How you’re going to move through the process is just as important as the process itself.
- Design – Most people start here, and it’s certainly a necessary step. This is where the stuff is built.
- Implementation – once you’ve got something good, you’ve got to push it across all of your platforms. Things can get expensive here, because you’ve got to print and code the cool stuff you create.
- Measure – This is another forgotten step in the process. Who cares if it looks cool but doesn’t work?
A different designer might have a different process and use different terms, but what really matters is there’s a process. If you’re thinking about any kind of brand creation for your organization, let me challenge you to get really clear on the process. Before you talk deliverables, understand the process.
The Church Fuel Logo
Aaron pulled together a mood board with images and concepts based on what we had discussed. He found all kinds of stuff that seemed to fit our name and purpose. Here’s the first page of bis design brief.
Next, he created the first logo concepts for Church Fuel. Here’s the initial concept:
To be honest, I wasn’t feeling it. I’m always sensitive about critiquing someone’s work because I’ve been on the receiving end. For designers, their creations are an extension of themselves. To critique the work is often to critique the designer. But I couldn’t see our company in any of these designs. I let Aaron know and he offered to do a second round of concepts. He sent this a week or two later:
I loved the color scheme and the idea of the hexagons, but I still didn’t love the overall design. I asked friends, family and clients for feedback, and they didn’t love it either. I heard a lot of “it’s okay.”
Some designers think family and friends aren’t qualified to provide critiques on design, but ordinary people are the customers. To me, they are PERFECTLY positioned to give feedback. I honestly value their feedback more than the feedback from other designers. The Screen Actors Guild often gives awards to movies real people will never understand or appreciate. I didn’t want a logo that would win design awards or make sense to designers. I wanted a brand that connected with real pastors and real church leaders. Aaron and I both agreed we wanted better than “just okay.”
How to Work with a Designer
Two or three more concepts landed flat in my mind. This process was tough. I called Aaron and the conversation went something like this:
Hey man…I don’t know what it is, but I’m just not feeling it. Maybe it’s because the name Church Fuel has built in metaphors and we’re trying to be creative. Maybe I’m not communicating well. Maybe, maybe maybe.
I’ve worked with Aaron on a dozen projects and have never gone more than two rounds on a project. The quality of work is always top notch, but there was something about this project that wasn’t connecting. He was frustrated and I wasn’t satisfied.
So I called a mentor of mine. Actually, he’s a paid business coach who also happens to run a creative agency. We talk once a month. I sent him the concepts and shared the story and asked him what I should do. He asked, “Have you given him examples of what you like and explained what you’re looking for to the best of your ability.”
He said if Aaron really was a good designer and had done good work in the past, sending additional inspiration could be a spark. Talented people get in ruts from time to time, and if the skill is there, give it another shot. Pull the plug if the talent level wasn’t there, but communicate better and take responsibility if he’s the right guy.
I realized I trusted Aaron’s skill to the point where I didn’t feel the need to over communicate. I needed to do some more work on the front end rather than trust someone to read my mind.
I collected logos I liked and sent them to him along with comments about what I liked, didn’t like and what I think could work. I decided to give it one more chance. Here’s the actual email I sent.
Aaron took a few more days and came back with this…
The orange and the flame symbolize growth, and the blue water drop symbolizes health. Together, the logo captures what we hope to help churches do – grow the healthy way. The mark of the logo could stand on it’s own, and there’s space to add a tagline. All in all, I was happy.
With the logo done, Aaron started work on the additional assets. There were Keynote files we could use to build presentations and create webinars. Here’s one of them…
There are icons we could use to describe products…
There was an eBook design that we could use to create free resources as well as course transcripts…
If you want to see one of our free eBooks in the wild, you can grab one here. There were social media graphics, like this Facebook header….
There were product graphics, like this one…
And there was a brand dashboard, one of the most important but overlooked deliverables in the branding process…
Aaron designed Twitter ads, Facebook promoted posts, Podcast cover art and all sorts of goodies. Aaron delivered each file in multiple formats, as well as the original design files. Since I’m a Photoshop and InDesign hack, I can modify things slightly or create new products using his templates.
It took a few rounds and a lot more time than I thought, but in the end, we are very happy with the quality of work and the versatility of the designs. Church Fuel had all the building blocks we needed to create a brand.
Along the way, I learned a lot more lessons about brand building. If you’re thinking about a redesign or a launching a brand, here are some big mistakes to avoid.
Big Branding Mistakes
- Designing for designers. Most people don’t even recognize, much less care about, the things designers think are cool. I don’t care if our logo wins design contests – I want it to work. Be careful not to design for professional designers.
- Limiting it to your logo. The logo is the starting point for your brand, but your brand is so much bigger. That’s why all the pieces of the brand needed to be created at the same time. That’s why we needed so much more than a logo.
- Valuing cool over community. Great designers know how to create something that fits. What works in Brooklyn doesn’t fit in San Antonio. I didn’t want a cool logo that didn’t’ make sense to our clients.
- Competing brands. I wanted one giant brand that could hold everything – a consistent look and message for every product and service. You don’t want one part of your organization to have a totally different look than another.
- Not pushing it everywhere. It may take time, but your brand elements need to be pushed to every area of your organization. If your Facebook page doesn’t match your website and your website doesn’t match your printed pieces, you’ve got a disconnected look. Here’s a video from a church who rebranded and did a great job pushing their logo everywhere.
In a way, brand building is never done. There are certainly things we missed and there are revisions to be made. We’ll update and expand and as we launch new products and services. Building a brand is about building trust, so the quality of our products and the spirit of our team matter much more than our logo or eBook design.