Part One: The Brand
This article is part of our series on why vital projects from branding, re-branding, and brand tune-ups don’t have to take so long from start to finish. Find out how we pull it off at Edgar Allan while maintaining an eye for quality, depth of story, and audience focus, as well as incredible design and build.
Meet the interviewer
Danielle, Director of Business Development
As the business development and partnerships lead at Edgar Allan, it’s Danielle’s job to meet with prospective clients, develop an understanding of their goals and challenges, and then help create solutions where Edgar Allan can help from brand strategy all the way through their Webflow build.
Meet the interviewee
Kendra, Vice President of Strategy & Content
Kendra is the person who asks the most questions of anyone in a project (probably), generally working on brand strategy and story. She also leads a group of content designers, researchers, and SEO experts who work on content creation and collaboration with UX and design. She makes sure that the websites EA builds are both brand-aligned and give audiences the things they want in the ways they want them.
Brand to build: What is it, and how does Edgar Allan go from idea to execution quickly?
How do you bring a brand to fruition, and how long does it take to do it? These are the questions on clients’ minds during pitch calls. Kendra and I spend a good bit of time describing how Edgar Allan can work in a variety of ways with both clients and in-house teams, whether we’re starting from scratch or picking up where another agency or internal team left off. One message comes up time and again: the whole thing takes a lot less time than they might imagine.
To get to the root of how we make it happen, Danielle sat down with Kendra to get her thoughts on brand as a concept and how we run our projects from start to finish at Edgar Allan. Find an excerpt of our conversation below.
Kendra, you and I have worked at other agencies and done a lot of brand work. And often when we’re in a pitch, you’ll talk about how in the past you had done these 15-month projects that ended up in beautiful PDFs that never saw the light of day. What was that process like?
For background, I have worked for other brand agencies and design firms for the majority of my career, everything from really small companies all the way up to whole countries and Olympic games. Figuring out what a particular brand stood for was a very long, very arduous process that involved upwards of 50 phone calls, lots of interviews, and a general habit of loving the problem instead of creating a solution.
What comes out the other end is a deck or PDF of really beautiful stage dressing, a lot of story — and a lot of big words. (Or, if you’re the other kind of brand agency, it's a lot of net performer scores and data on the functional side of the brand.) That deck often is presented with fanfare… and then lands like a lead balloon on the conference room table. At best, the agency that's going to execute deliverables like a website, campaign, or trade show exhibit gets a condensed version of it: here’s the logo, the four colors we use, the clearance around the logo, and the four words to describe our brand.
The reality is that you need a lot more information than that to create solid brand assets, but you don’t need nearly that much time and effort to get there. Especially today, when brands of all sizes need to move faster when they're introducing a product or redoing their voice and vision.
At Edgar Allan, we’re able to get that brand idea out into the world in a finished website in three to four months instead of a year. Can you tell us more about how we’re able to move so quickly?
When we started Edgar Allan, Mason and I got together and talked about building an agency around the concept of story. Story is really important to humans because it’s how we come to know the world and connect with each other in it.
We also wanted to build a faster brand-to-web build process.
The first part of doing that is thinking about brand as a club rather than a piece of architecture. If you think of a brand as a foundation, you're pouring concrete, and it's there forever. You're not going to change it. It's heavy. But if you think of a brand as a club, it's about humanity. It's about connection. It's about people helping other people get something they need or want or desire. You join a book club, for example, because you enjoy the people in the room or the wine and cheese they serve at the meeting. You attend for companionship, conversation, and a sense of belonging, in addition to the book you’re reading together.
If you think of a brand in the same way, you can make decisions that make quick cuts rather than taking the time to build an edifice in concrete. It has to feel right, look right, talk right, and have the right story attached to it, but it doesn’t have to be your forever home. That’s how we approach brand: it sets the overriding vibe you can build on top of, but it’s also mutable and changeable as time moves on, audiences and the world change, and more information reveals itself.
So Edgar Allan is a digital agency, but we are a brand-to-build digital agency with just as much expertise and experience on the storytelling and messaging side as on the build side. We also use a modified version of content design to knit those two things together, which you can read all about here.
Absolutely. So there are some functional ways that we get to that question about brand strategy. We typically do that through a series of workshops and interviews. Let’s talk about what those workshops look like. What kind of activities do we take our clients through?
We run two different kinds of workshops. The first is for clients who have no or very little brand strategy at all, or those who want to scrap what they’ve got and do something new. In a brand workshop, we ask about the how and why of the brand, their trajectory over the next one, five, and 10 years, and where they think they’re going.
Typical brand discovery topics include:
- Exploration of the what, how, and why of the brand
- Voice and tone
- Brand personality and/or archetypes
- High-level audience desires and needs
At this phase, we’re asking questions like: What problem is your audience seeking to solve using your product or brand? What part of their lives do you want to be a part of? Why would they find it interesting or useful to let you into their life?
The second type of workshop is a content discovery workshop. It has some brand-like components, but there we spend more time going through the client’s existing website — or a desired state of that website — to determine:
- The type of information involved and how it should be portrayed
- What problems the new site needs to solve
- How users act and encounter the brand
- Where users are coming from, and what we want them to do after visiting the site
- Where the website sits in the company's sales funnel
We might also look at competitor websites to identify the good and the… well, not so great. And we want to get a sense of how clients think about their own brand and website experience. What does success look like? And the one question I always make sure to ask is: when someone visits your site, what is the one thing you absolutely need to have them do? What is the one thing that has to happen for the encounter to be a success?
Following these workshops, we'll typically do audience research and create a brief, which sets the tone for the rest of the project. That's when design comes into play. Let's talk a little bit about the relationship between brand strategy and design. How do we make sure that the visual identity supports the brand strategy?
We bring writers and content designers to the table from the very beginning and make sure the UX and UI designers are present, at least in that initial workshop. And then no one really leaves the project entirely—they’re constantly working cross-disciplinarily to interpret the brand story and honor audience needs. For example, the person creating the wireframes is going to work with the brand strategist and conduct additional research about the audience. How do people need to move through the site? What’s the general feel of the brand? You want the website experience to reflect all of that.
We use the content designer as the glue that holds everything together in collaboration with the UI designer and the UX person. For example, let's say we're migrating a site with a ton of blogs. The developer needs to know where to find those things and how they're going to be recategorized, moved, or retired. The content designer completed the site audit at the beginning and made designations on what to keep, migrate, sunset, archive, or rewrite.
The content designer also works with everyone else along the way — from design to development — so there’s no disconnect. Importantly, so there's not a situation where someone just drops a PDF on your desk and says, Hey, do with this what you want. I'm out. Working this way, information passes from one person to another in an unbroken chain and each team member adds their context and expertise to the final product collaboratively along the way.
We try to do that on every single project, which means we build in real time for collaboration and research. And that is how we make sure you get a clear, well-articulated brand that shines through in the final build.
Interested in partnering with Edgar Allan on a web design, brand, or content design project? Get in contact with us today.