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Bringing a brand to life

Each month, Girl Tribe Gang leverages our collective voice and empowers our members to upskill each other by exchanging their knowledge in a series of blogs, FB Lives and Instagram TV.

May 2019 is our #KnowledgeExchange Branding month. In this guest blog, Sam Smith, designer at Alila Studio, creator of Hello Time Planner and member of our Birmingham Tribe, shares her insight on bringing a brand to life. 

I get it; I understand what it takes to start-up a business and what it takes to keep it going, whether you have a serious investment or none at all.

I’ve been a designer for many years with brand very much at the heart of what I do. I’ve transformed big national brands and created new ones for entrepreneurs and startups. This has provided me with empathy with what you are trying to achieve and has also inspired me to bring my own brand, Hello Time, to life.

Understanding the role of marketing for businesses

If you ask ten people to define the role of marketing, you’ll probably get ten different answers. Marketing is the activity we all do to promote our brand, be it through paid advertising, social media, events/exhibitions, and networking, for example.

However, there are a couple of views I’ve always admired and even though they were quoted some years ago, in my opinion are still relevant in the current manic digital age in which we communicate today:

  • “The sole purpose of marketing is to sell more stuff, to more people, for more money, more efficiently” Sergio Zyman (ex CMO Coca Cola)
  • “The aim of marketing is to understand your customer so well, your product or service fits him/her perfectly, it sells itself” Peter Drucker (American Business Consultant).

Peter’s view is a more academic one, but nevertheless is a crucial point to strive towards.

Getting your marketing and your branding right starts much later in the process once your brand is set out and only then. Otherwise, you’ll be wasting precious time and money.

Girl Tribe Gang knowledge exchange Sam Smith Alila Studio

Bringing a brand to life by defining your strategy

Brand isn’t about a fancy logo; your brand is what your company means to the world.  Getting that meaning right is the most important thing you can do for your business.

Branding – your look, feel and tone of voice – is imperative to help you communicate all that your brand is.

It’s essential to nail the broader picture first.

Don’t use marketing to amplify your business until you’ve tackled the fundamentals of your brand. Until you have got that right, don’t waste your money on design and print.

To help us in the here and now, I’d ask you to define the following:

Being clear on your Why…

As long as you know and can articulate what you stand for, what your aim is (why do you get out of bed in the morning), who your audience is AND why you are different you can start to formulate your brand. This will aid you in marketing your business.

...And also why you are different

Knowing why you are different is crucial as you won’t attract your ideal audience and are left competing on price.

When this happens, your competitor goes cheaper so you have to go cheaper; they go cheaper, and you go out of business. It’s not a solid strategy.

  • “Marketing is either about being different to anyone else or cheaper” Mark Smith (Brand Consultant at Brand Positioning).

Working with a designer to develop your business branding

Once you have established your brand strategy it is time to look at your branding.

Your brand strategy will inform your ‘tone of voice’ (your copywriting style/language), and your look and feel allowing you to write the creative brief.

If the brief is right, your designer will hit the nail on the head, creating a confident visual identity with longevity and purpose.

If your brief isn’t clear – guess what? You won’t get a design that is on-brand and you won’t attract your audience. More importantly, you won’t get a design that excites you!

Girl Tribe Gang knowledge exchange branding

Don’t rush the process

In my 24 years of experience as a branding designer I’ve come across many small businesses that have had to rebrand in as little as six months because they have used a family member that can use a MAC or been tempted by a cheap price.

Be careful that who you use is qualified to create a design that will stand the test of time, communicate your values and attract the right audience.

Rebranding means more cash and when cash is in short supply it’s a horrible mistake to make. It also costs in your time, the most valuable resource we have, and which again is in short supply when you start up a business.

When you rebrand, you have to build up awareness, communicate your updates and change of look all over again. Avoid at all costs if you can.

I have always loved this quote from Red Adair and it proudly sits at the back of my portfolio: “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur”.

Convey your message through branding

Lots of brands approach marketing the wrong way around, which plays a big part into why they fail.  

Brand owners ask me for a leaflet for an event, an exhibition design, a brochure, the tangible stuff. I say “of course, what’s the message?” They are not sure because they have not worked on the positioning of their brand.

When you don’t have clarity on that it gets timely, expensive and design becomes subjective rather than being measured against the brief.

It’s your responsibility as the brand owner to come up with the message, strategy and vision.

You may choose to do this yourself or hire a brand positioning expert, marketing agency or designer with this type of experience — either way your niche, vision and objectives should be set by you first and foremost.

Remember that brand strategy is the direction that will ultimately drive the creative vision (your branding). This is how you get the best value out of the design process, working on brand strategy before you embark on the design.

More than just a logo

It’s then over to the designer to take that vision and create that communication piece you require.

If you need a logo for your business, you should be getting so much more from your designer. They should ultimately help you get across the character and personality of your brand with a tool kit of parts. This will include: a colour palette, textures, fonts, graphic devices, illustration and photography style, for example.

It’s not about just slapping a logo on everything. It’s about bringing your tool kit of parts together to create a subliminal style to attract the right audience for your brand.

Girl Tribe Gang Knowledge Exchange

4 key takeaways on bringing a brand to life

  1. Have utter clarity on what you stand for. It’s challenging to do but fundamentally important to every business. A reason why your customers should choose you over anyone else is not just a nice to have, it’s essential.
  2. Dig deep to come up with those differentiating factors of your brand; if a competitor can say the same as you, then it’s not UNIQUE to you. Most importantly, would it drive customer behaviour to connect with your brand or product over another?

I’d recommend reading Simon Sinek’s Book or watch his Ted Talk “Getting to the Why” where he explains how some organisations, brands and leaders are able to inspire where others aren’t.

I also found an interesting quote in the New York Times best-selling book ‘Selling the Invisible’ by marketing expert Henry Beckwith. His advice for modern companies said “don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle”.

3. Stay true to your brand. Credibility and consistency counts. Create a coherent and consistent style that shows through everything you do.

4. Be relevant to your audience. Make sure your look, feel and tone of voice match up with your vision for your brand.


Connect with Sam

A hands-on creative for more than 24 years, Sam Smith has worked across many market sectors (from motorbikes to groceries, nightclubs to clothing and construction to education!). Her core skills and specialism lie in branding. Be it, design for print, digital or environmental branding, she’s worked on it all. Sam is exceptionally creative and brand-savvy, with a great understanding of marketing principles and techniques that help make her a natural entrepreneur.

Instagram: @aliliastudio & @hellotimeplanner

Photography by Sally Dreams Photography @sallydreamsphotography

Girl Tribe Gang’s #KnowledgeExchange

Girl Tribe Gang’s #KnowledgeExchange has been designed to recognise that ALL of our members have knowledge to share and that we’re ALL experts in the stuff that we know. Each month, we leverage our collective voice and empower our members to upskill each other by exchanging their knowledge.



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