How to Build a Brand From Scratch #BehindtheBrand

Ever since I started my career in design and branding almost two decades ago, I’ve found that 50% of my job is educating my clients on what a brand is, why it matters, and how build it right—sometimes from scratch. That said, the first thing I want to clarify is that your brand is not your logo. No, really. It’s not. It’s also not your PR strategy or your social media presence. It’s not your brochure or your web site.

Simply put, I like to use Marty Neumeier’s definition of your brand:


Your reputation.


And everything that goes into building that reputation. That includes everything listed above. It also includes your customer service (something that’s becoming a key differentiator in today’s business climate), your premises, your messaging, and the list goes on. Suffice it to say, it takes the coordination of a lot of moving pieces to build your brand effectively.


This is where I come in for my clients—I help create a clear path from point A to point Z of building their brand. Starting out, it can often be overwhelming trying to figure out where to begin and then where to go next. And that’s exactly why I’m launching my #BehindtheBrand series: to give you a behind-the-scenes look at building a brand from scratch. There’s a science to it. But more than anything, it takes a lot of creativity, research, asking the right questions, getting the right answers, and then bringing what’s in the client’s mind into the real world—with soul.


So my first subject in this series is going to be Creative Grounds DC, an art studio and coffee bar opening this Spring in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington, DC. The husband and wife team launching this business hired me to develop the brand for this innovative community arts space. Where did we start? At the very beginning.



Who are you?

When starting from the very beginning, you have to define who you are to your audience in a very clear and concise manner. The one thing I always try to stress to clients is that a confused customer doesn’t buy. So let’s get clear about who you are, what makes you different from your competition, and why I should care.


Creative Grounds DC is a startup founded by, Asmara Sium and her husband Kenn. Asmara contacted me when she realized that she was going to need help creating a brand to represent her lifelong dream of owning an arts studio + coffee bar in DC. My first thought when I hear that a client needs a new brand is: What is it? And why is it important? Who are you serving? I’ve got lots of questions. And if you’re ever working with a designer or branding agency that doesn’t ask you a lot of questions before they get started on your project, that should give you pause. Are you really going get the solution you need if they don’t understand you and your business pretty intimately?


A fellow creative and good friend of mine likes to describe himself as a creative therapist. He can’t provide a “prescription” to client unless he asks the right questions to pinpoint the problem and, subsequently the best solution to that problem. You have to get to the heart of the brand and the message it should convey to its clients, customers and other stakeholders before you can really start creating anything.


Key questions

Here are some key questions I ask clients in getting to that point (you should ask yourself these same questions about your own brand):

  1. What problem does your product or service solve for your customer/client?
  2. What is your mission and vision?
  3. How would you describe your business in one sentence?
  4. Who is your target audience?
  5. What makes you different from the competition? What is your competitive positioning?
  6. If your brand were a person, what three words would you use to describe its personality? (i.e. fun, laid back, warm)


After several meetings, phone conversations, emails, and even consulting with their kids (which in this case, was highly appropriate given the arts focus of the project), we distilled the heart of the Creative Grounds DC message down to the following:


The mission of Creative Grounds DC is to provide a welcoming community space for teaching, producing and showcasing art while serving up some of the best coffee in DC. It’s a place where art lovers, creatives and coffee enthusiasts from all backgrounds and ages can connect, create and learn. We’re an independent, family-owned arts studio and coffee bar.”


Once we developed the messaging, we translated it into their press release and crowdfunding campaign on IndieGogo (which, as of this post, has hit 32% of its target!). If you’re a supporter of the arts, this is a campaign I would encourage you to support.


In my next article, we’re starting to get to the fun part…find out how the message we developed translated into their branding mood board and brand colors. And make sure to follow me on all my social media platforms at @julianbkiganda to get branding tips and sneak peeks at other projects I’m working on. And remember:


Your Brand = Your Reputation 



What do you think is the mot important aspect of a great brand?