Build Your Brand First, Then Build Your Website
Many businesses recognize their website as their single most important marketing tool. Well, they’re not wrong. Without a website, they don’t get to participate in the broad range of data-driven, ROI proven digital marketing strategies that their more successful competitors undertake.
While marketing managers understand to hold off on that next piece of collateral—that flashy brochure, new business card, or coffee mugs—, they will without fail jump the gun on building their website before they’ve even decided on a color palette, let alone the entire brand, for their company.
Because websites utilize so much of what’s in a brand, they feel they can sidestep the process, save some money, knock it all out at once, and figure out the details later.
I understand the urgency. Without a website, any marketing department would stuck. That urge to save time & money and increase speed-to-market can be very seductive. But here’s the bottom line: brute-forcing a website without a brand will not do that for you, and you need to do your brand work first.
I have seen clients start bloated web projects with half-baked brand work, or with the assumption that myself, my designers, or worse, my frontend developers are going to fill in the holes within the scope of the website. It won’t happen, and I guarantee you’ll be disappointed with the outcome.
I’ve gotten pretty good at identifying these types clients early, and there’s a few hallmarks:
- The logo dates the company
- They’re in the process of redesigning sales collateral
- What collateral they do have is a mishmash of stock assets
- They have high goals and a tight budget for their website
- They need it all done yesterday
And more often than not, this is all resting on the shoulders of one very overworked marketing manager with no time, let alone the patience, for the pageantry of a brand workshop. Compared to the tangible ROI of a website, it’s always “we’ll catch it in post” when it comes to the brand.
Take the Pain Out of Branding
Agencies can be sharks; there’s no doubt about it. Nothing screams billable hours more than a bloated rebranding budget. I understand the urge to save dollars on work you can’t directly tie to a KPI. I’ll be putting out an article about how you can get the most out of agency branding work. In the meantime, what follows is what I need to get started on your website.
Brand Elements You Need Before Building a Website
It sounds simple, but clients often start web projects with old, half-baked logos, often pieces of clipart or terribly weathered jpegs, that wouldn’t stand in a trademark dispute, let alone serve as the capstone of their flagship website. Your logo sets the tone for a great deal of your brand; including the types of photography, ornamentation, typography, and visual elements that are used both on and off the web.
Color & Typography
Nail down your colors and typefaces. If you don’t, I guarantee designers and frontend developers will take a great deal of liberty in making the decision for you, and you will not be pleased with the outcome. For all they’re worth in making those decisions, which is a lot, having to make those decisions on the fly while building a website is a nightmare.
This is your company’s vision—its personality. This is the work that often gets skipped, and I understand. It’s ephemeral, intangible, and more often, it’s just a guess. You, personally and professionally, have to determine how much you’re willing take risks with messaging. Once we get to the website, it’s too late. I can make some assumptions, but it’s your sales people, your employees, and your partners that should inform your company’s voice. You need to coax that out of them, or you need to hire someone to do it for you.
Who’s your target market, and what’s your go-to-market strategy. I understand that these are always a work in progress, but too often, clients with disjointed products and clever gimmicks are chasing markets they either: don’t belong in, don’t have a solution for, or aren’t the people actually buying their products. This ambiguity results in a cacophony of out-of-sync marketing messages, which is why positioning often goes hand in hand with the former.
Many brands use photography as a crutch, and when it’s a crutch, the urge to use stock photography is strong. To build a website, I often don’t need actual photography, but I need to know a few things:
- In what contexts should photography be used.
- What will be the subjects of that photography.
- What sort of lighting, effects, colors, or styles will be reflected in that photography?
Stock photography, with consistent placement, style, and subject matter, can obscure the fact that it’s stock, but you have to nail down what constitutes that placement, style, and subject matter.
Graphics & Illustration
In a similar vein as photography, we don’t necessarily need to have the graphics and illustrations themselves, but having that placement, style, and subject matter allows us to plan for their usage and include them in the estimation of the project. Too often and often too late, it’s discovered that we need additional budget to have these created.
Start on the Right Foot
Have these brand elements executed well before you start a web project, and I guarantee the end result with not only be more satisfying to you personally, but more performant in your goals. Businesses that undertake these exercises resolve much of the guess work and extra budgetary liberties we have to take resulting in cheaper, often quicker launch.
Moreover, it’s less work you’ll have to do down the road. Make competent, measured decisions about your brand over the snap judgements we’ll need to make in order to design your website. You’ll spend less time fixing all the liberties a web designer took when you have people who are actually trained to build brands.