The Branding Process in Plain English

The Branding Process in Plain English

What do you think a brand is? A logo? Some colors? Maybe some ads? The device that you hold? The thing you chew? Or the packaging that the product comes in? Well, those are all important parts of a brand. But a brand is a machine that gets built to work as one holistic unit—not as the individual pieces but as the sum of all of its parts.

I like to think of building a brand like building a car. A car doesn’t get built one component at a time—it’s carefully planned, engineered and modified. From naming the car, creating a vision for the car, initial prototypes, iterating, fine tuning, to the production in a factory, meticulously crafting each of the components to work together to the final realization of the car as it drives out of the factory onto the truck and eventually into your driveway, every step is crafted by experts who all align to a vision to finally create the perfect machine.

And like brands, cars have personalities. A Mini Cooper® is different from a Prius® which is different from a Ferrari®. Each has its own unique personality and purpose at different price points and with different audiences.

And much like a car, when a component of the car fails, it needs to be diagnosed and fixed.

Brands are meticulously built by a series of experts aligning their vision with one another based on a variety of levers like product, category, audience and the culture that they’re born into.

That is why we work alongside our clients to help guide them through the process of carefully crafting a story, a position, an insight and ultimately a brand expression that they’re not only happy with, but that customers will love.

At Headword, we build brands based on 4 main steps.


Understanding our clients means we listen. We listen a lot! We want to know what it is that our clients are facing or what they’re looking to achieve. In the case of our Launch package, we are faced with the challenge of building the brand (usually) from scratch. In the case of our Grow package, our clients have an established brand and are facing some sort of challenge that needs further diagnosis. In order to do that, we must understand all we can about the product we’re selling, the landscape we’re facing, the customer we’re trying to attract and the broader cultural significance surrounding the purpose of the brand (cultural insights will be its own article—but we’ll save that for a later date).

Oftentimes in this phase, we do more listening than speaking. We’ll ask questions directed at getting the best information that we can even if it means hearing the same thing over and over again. We talk to key stakeholders—people attached to the organization in some meaningful way—all separately so that we can get a variety of perspectives on the same questions. This is extremely valuable.


After we’ve listened, we need to gather all the information and analyze it until we start to make patterns and connections, also known as insights, that help drive the brand positioning and communication. This is extremely important for the creative process because if you don’t set up the plans just right, you end up with bad creative output. You can make things as pretty as you want but it still won’t be meaningful to the audience we’re trying to go after.

Once all information is gathered, we compile it into a simple guide that helps align us internally, and we read it to our clients to make sure that they agree. Once we have an agreed upon strategy, that’s when the magic happens.


We take the strategy and turn it into a short document—our creative brief—that gives our creative team everything they need to get started on the project. With branding projects, this will help the team pull attributes, adjectives, verbs, tangible words that help direct their creative ideas. For instance, if a brand is all about their excellent customer service, the brand should feel very human and relationship-oriented. How do we express that visually? There’s no single correct answer but we might try putting handwritten notes in our designs, or showing shapes connecting, or use a gradient to blend to dissimilar colors together. But if the brand is about trust and expertise, handwriting doesn’t really make as much sense, does it? We might try other things like using more established, familiar colors, or make it really sophisticated and simple. These are the types of challenges that our team loves.


The last phase of the process is the Connect phase. This is where the brand comes to life—much like putting all of the components of the car together. This is where strategy, our visual identity—color, fonts, logos, photography, icons, illustrations, etc.—come together in real environments. This is where we create merchandise, websites, logo animations, packaging, brochures, sales tools, slideshow templates, etc. We will also put together brand guidelines to help define the rules and structure of the brand but we take that one step further and create a one or two-page toolkit, what we call masterfile—a file that contains all components needed to create beautiful branded materials.

Branding should be fun. Agencies often formalize something so much that it takes the fun out of it and makes it feel like homework rather than the fun process that it should be. Because at the end of the day, if nothing else, a brand should be interesting. If you’re not interesting, then you’re irrelevant. And irrelevance is the quickest way to failure. So I say to all of those looking for the biggest experts that have the most fun, talk to us. Let’s create something amazing together.

For examples of how can build brands from scratch, check out our SuperJoy case study. For examples of how we help brands grow, check out our ESW case study. And for examples of how we can both build your brand and help it grow, check out our pride and joy, Artly.


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