Creativity with consistency is a tension that’s challenging to manage. Discovering what your goal is, what your brand represents, and how it does that is a great challenge. There’s no one single way to accomplish it properly. There’s no formula to follow. But through being a part of a plethora of branding projects, I’ve realized a few underlying principles exist that have applied to every scenario.
Often the most difficult thing to remember is that you are speaking on behalf of a brand that you want to strengthen. You’re not out there to make a name for yourself through this brand. (Unless it’s personal branding. Even then, these principles will still apply.) It’s foundational to remember that what’s best for the brand is what’s most important—not what builds you a neat portfolio piece. It’s about what makes the brand more credible, trustworthy, and recognizable by the audience.
If you’re reading this, it’s safe to assume you’ve been tasked with building a church/ministry brand and not becoming yet another contributor to a beholder/behemoth brand like Target, Nike, etc. Those types of brands are often so established and so constantly in our faces, that they are up against a similar but alternatively challenging task. They have to differentiate themselves from their competitors as well as their previous selves. A whole other article could be written there…so for the purpose of this cause and group of readers, let’s talk about what we face day-to-day.
Nothing makes a bigger impact for an up-and-coming brand like excellence right out of the gate. Excellence oozes trustworthiness. It gives someone the chance to say, “Well, they certainly put a lot of thought and effort into this. It seems like they care about it a lot—let’s see if I should care too.”
You will want to break out of the constraints of consistency. It’s a temptation that plagues us creative-minded people. We want to push the envelope; we want to delve into uncharted water. As the overused verbiage goes, we long to “think outside the box.”
But you have to remember that you’ve looked at this branding system, logo package, color pallet, and collateral guidebook for hours (maybe even days) longer than any of your audience. They may be just realizing you exist or that you’ve rebranded, so delving outside the lines of “clearly recognizable” too soon actually dilutes being recognizeable in the name of “new and different”. That means the change was ultimately for you, because you were bored—not because the audience demanded it.
Don’t do this to your brand. We like to be “oohed” and “awed” over, because of something ‘fresh,’ but it’s not often best. I’ve definitely made this mistake in the past, and if I could go back to relieve myself of the hindsight embarrassment, I would.
This is a buzzword. I am quite aware of this. But I mean this in the way it was used before it became corporate-stooge talk. Innovation is an acknowledgement of the walls that exist (the constraints) and then discovering a way to push those walls out. Don’t just lazily deviate outside the box to prove that you can (random is easy, strategic is hard), but actually create something that’s never been done for your brand.
It doesn’t have to be new necessarily, but something new for you that enhances the brand that you’re trying to strengthen. This could be a fresher/clearer directional signage style, a handsome new die-cut printed piece that no one’s seen before, or a branded giveaway collateral piece that is just smart. Take a few creative elements that you’ve seen and combine them into something that’s appropriate for your brand. It’ll for sure feel fresh for your audience, while proving to be a great exercise in fighting the urge to simply copy someone else because it’s easy and you’re bored.
Thinking is the fun part. It’s also the hardest part. However, the fruits of innovative thinking are often the most rewarding part of creativity within a brand system.
Lastly—and this is a difficult but worthy challenge for us all—have some restraint. It’s easy to think of anything when anything is possible. But branding is a dance of knowing what is possible, then discovering what works for you and then refining it down to what is appropriate. Don’t feel limited by the restraint, though; feel empowered by the precious gift of focus you have been given. When 90% of the options are off-limits, you can make the absolute most of the 10% that you get to dance and play with. Random is arbitrary; strategy is valiantly smart.
A lot of people are eager (and at times, obsessed with the chance) to work with brands like Nike, Target, Apple, Coca-Cola, and the likes. People look at these juggernaut brands and hope to one day have a piece in their portfolio that’s on behalf of any one of them. While that type of work is no doubt an honor, it’s for a brand that’s already strong, exciting, and known.
Personally, I strive to have great purpose in what I’m part of. I long to not simply be another contributor to a brand that’s already known, but to shape people’s perception of an unknown brand, or to be a part of creating an exemplary brand from the ground up. To make the unknown known, to make the untrusted brand trusted—this is a much harder journey, but so worth it. We have the most powerful Message there is to communicate, let’s do it the best we know how, because it’s worth it.