Should my graphic designer do my branding?

Created on
April 26, 2019
Graphic Design

Great question! Before we answer that, however, let's take a quick look at the relationship between the three major tiers of business development: branding, marketing, and sales.

Branding is the top tier, which determines the overall perception of your company by the public. Then, comes marketing, which is all about generating qualified leads for your business. Lastly, there is sales, which is responsible for converting those leads as quickly and easily as possible into as much possible revenue (and hopefully profit) for your company.

Graphic design generally falls into two categories: branding and marketing, so one would assume that graphic designers would be qualified to advise you on either topic, correct?

Well, guess again... More often than not, graphic designers know little to nothing about branding and marketing, and mostly concern themselves with the technical and artistic aspects of creating graphics, rather than how to effectively use those graphics to generate as much profit as possible for the business.

A mistake from our own branding campaign

Take a look at an example from a campaign we recently launched, which is build around our slogan "Show the world your amazing.(tm)" Yes, we did that on purpose... We wrote "your" not "you're" and we are sticking to our guns.

This first example is okay (not great, but not bad either). It is reasonably on-brand within the guidelines we have established for our brand identity, and for the campaign in question.

Graphic design branding example
A pretty good execution of the "Show the world your amazing. (tm)" ad campaign for Inspired&.

The driving force behind this campaign was to communicate that every one of our clients is special in some way, and that it is our job as their marketing and branding provider to help them showcase the most amazing things about themselves, and share them with the world in a compelling way that would drive new revenue to our clients' doorstep.

In this first example, you can see a (King Kong-size) ballerina standing on top of the Empire State Building with our slogan and logo.

So, how does this have anything to do with the topic of this article?

As you will see in a moment, here is a good example why your graphic designer may not be the ideal person to take charge of all your branding projects.

Here is another example from the very same marketing/branding campaign, and notice how a highly talented, super technical and artistic graphic designer manages to take the assignment we gave her, and turn it into an off-brand message.

To her credit, this is a pretty funny image. I laughed when I first saw it, and it still amuses me.

Off-brand example
A graphic designer's off-brand (but admittedly funny) attempt to create an ad for the "Show the world your amazing." (tm) ad campaign for Inspired&.

Not seeing the problem yet?

Okay, let's tweak the title a bit to demonstrate why this is off-brand for us.

Show the world your crazy?...
"Show the world your crazy?!" This ad doesn't really work for our brand.

Okay, so we have established that graphic designers, while often amazingly talented and fascinating as human beings and creators of beautiful things, may not always have the right skillset required to manage branding campaigns, or the ability to carefully follow instructions about how to stay on-brand while designing ads for a given campaign, even if they have already been briefed in detail on what is expected of them.

Is this true for all graphic designers? Certainly not.

There are plenty of graphic designers who have branding and marketing expertise, and can (even if it's not their ultimate focus in their career) be wonderfully creative and effective in crafting brands and messaging that can transform under-performing marketing assets into cash cows.

Where can you find these designers? They are rare, and although there are many of them, they are a very small subset of the population of all graphic designers. Since they are hard to find and tough to replace, they come at a high premium.

What special knowledge is required to produce high-performing branding and marketing materials?

Thus far, we have examined the difference between elite graphic designers and the rest of the crowd, and learned that it takes a very special designer to provide high-performing branding and marketing services that can truly increase revenue.

So, what kinds of subject matter must these elite designers be well-versed in?

Let's take a closer look at what it means to "do branding" and expound on the relationship between branding, marketing, and sales.

Branding is the plan/strategy a company uses to communicate with their ideal customer. The company must convince their ideal customer that they are the best possible provider by understanding how to connect with that customer on an emotional level. It must also inject powerful positive feelings into the brand in order to attract new customers (and make their message "sticky" in an elevator pitch situation), while also creating loyalty among their existing customer base. Typically, the more polarizing the brand, the stronger it is. Powerful brands don't care how many people hate them, because there is a substantial number of people who absolutely love them. They also don't try to be all things to all people. They zero in on a very specific target demographic, and focus all their communication on that demographic by establishing a brand "persona" that will be well-received by that demographic. The stronger the brand gets, the more powerful the marketing campaigns for that brand become.

Marketing is the process of finding effective ways to raise public awareness about the brand, using the brand's pre-defined communication "rules" and "voice," in order to generate leads for the sales team. Marketing campaigns can involve diverse methods of outreach that range from anywhere from advertising on Google Ads to advertising on billboards. I won't list all the forms of marketing available, but here are a couple of popular ones: TV, radio, print, PR, events, and internet, just to name a few. Of course, I am listing general categories, so each of these has many subsets within them. The most important thing to remember about marketing is that it must follow the brand's established communication guidelines, and be the device that hammers away at the target demographic to constantly keep the company top-of-mind, which is a difficult thing to do since people are getting bombarded with so many ads every day, that it is tough to capture and maintain their attention for very long. Ultimately, the more effective the company's marketing campaigns are, the easier it will be for the company's sales team to convert leads into sales, and to encourage return business.

Sales is the company's system for converting incoming leads (generated by marketing campaigns) into new revenue for the company. This system needs to be well-planned, repeatable, and have a predictable and effective conversion rate. Sales is a whole world onto itself, and really deserves a lot more detail that I am giving it in this article, but it is not the focus on this post, because graphic designers are not salespeople. They only participate in branding and marketing activities, so expecting them to know a lot about sales is unrealistic. Ideally, they should have experience with sales, and understand what it's like to be a salesperson, so that they can create the best possible branding and marketing materials to make the sales team's life easier. Elite designers may be able to do this, but again, most graphic designers will not have this experience.

What kind of freelance graphic designers are good at branding and marketing?

Okay, so if you still want your graphic designer to work on your company's branding, they must have a firm grasp on branding, marketing, and sales.

How do you know if your graphic designer has this knowledge? Let's take a look at some basic categories of designers that exist in the market today.

For the sake of simplicity, let us assume that the graphic designer is very talented at graphics.

Here are some categories of freelance graphic designers:

  • Junior graphic designer
  • Senior graphic designer
  • Art director
  • Jack of all trades

The first things to ask yourself is what kind of work does your graphic designer offer you? Do they offer print graphics only? Do they also do web design? If they do web design, do they also offer web development? Are they pitching SEO, PPC, photography, video production, branding? Are they a one-man-band, or an informal group of friends, or a full-fledged agency?

When it comes to freelance designers, they are all over the map. Some are moonlighting part-time while holding a full-time job in an agency. Others, have ventured out on their own. Of those, some have found the need to branch out to related disciplines, because they weren't able to generate enough income sticking to their core competencies.

Most often, graphic designers simply do not have the branding, marketing, and business-management know-how to start an actual business, so at best they are freelancing successfully, making 6-figures for a handful of clients while sticking to their core competencies, which often do not include anything other than graphics. At worst, they are out of their depth, getting driven by clients into skillsets that are uncomfortable to them, such as web development and online marketing, and doing a haphazard job as a jack of all trades.

If you are working with an elite graphic designer who truly has a mastery of branding and marketing, and at least understands the life of a salesperson, and what would help that salesperson close a deal, then you could consider giving this designer your branding projects.

However, if you are working with a jack of all trades, it may be time to either find an ad agency that can help you (because they usually specialize in branding, and are quite adept at managing graphic designers), or look for a branding and/or marketing specialist who is not a graphics expert, but is 100% expert at crafting effective brands, and designing marketing campaigns to promote those brands.

I am sure there is a lot more I could have included in this article about this subject, so if you have any questions, or wish to discuss this further, please feel free to submit comments below.

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