Getting Started in Coffee Branding

It’s more than a logo.

To learn more about coffee branding, NCA members can access the on-demand webinar, “Getting Started in Coffee Branding.”

By Michael Wilson, Creative Director, Made Visible Studio

Branding is not some sort of black magic.

Rather, it is a methodic process by which an organization
defines what makes them unique and how they are different from the competition.

A brand is a promise of an experience. It is up to you, the owner of the company, to decide and control what kind of experience that is going to be.

Imagine your brand as a person who is going to throw a
party. What kind of party is this going to be? How do you want your guest (customers)
to feel? What kind of music is playing? What are you wearing? What do you
expect your guest to be wearing? What kind of room is this party being held in?

Now, how does that apply to the real world?

Well, every time a customer comes into contact with your product or brand they are getting a peak in to a party that you are controlling. It’s how your store is designed. It’s how your packaging looks. It’s how your advertising sounds. It’s what your photography makes you feel. It’s how emotional is your video content. It’s even how your employees look and sound. And, yes, it’s what your logo looks like. (Notice I put that one last).

Your logo is NOT the most important part of your branding, but simply a part of a larger system, which all must work together to make your customers have a consistent experience.

So how do you go about crafting and honing this beautiful world for your customers to experience? It’s actually a simple process, but it does take thought, time, and consideration to get it right.

1. Discovery

The first step in any branding project of any size is the discovery survey.

This is sort of like writing a business plan but much more focused on the grand purpose and personality of the business. Like I mentioned before, if your brand is the host of a party, this process determines exactly who that host is.

2. Moodboards

Moodboards are an essential step to bridging the gap from the discovery survey to real-world visual assets. It’s one thing to say your brand looks and feels like Tom Hanks in “TK” it’s another to compile photos, typography, graphics, icons, illustrations, and even songs that also look and feel like Tom Hanks in “Tk”.

The goal of a moodboard is to establish a visual target. At the end of the whole process, the assets that are created for your brand should be able to get pinned to this board and look totally at home.

3. Deliverables list

Now that you have the broad strokes for how you want things to look, you need to decide what you’re actually going to make. You’ll need to think of every single visual element you will need to create both physical and digital. This can include: packaging, signs, a website, social media assets, a set of logos, apparel, menus, stickers, business cards, pitch decks…the list could go on for miles.

But that’s ok. You don’t need to make everything at once, but you do need to know where you are going. You wouldn’t start a road trip without a map, would you?

4. First pass

Now your designer can get down to doing what they do best, designing stuff.

For the first pass of designed assets, I suggest picking 4-5 things from you big list that you want to see created. They don’t even have to be the most important items, but they should be a little different from each other.

Your designer should work up a variety of logo ideas (we
usually do 3 options) and apply that along with colors, type, illustration,
icons, copy, and photography to the 4-5 items from the big list.

A logo almost never lives alone. This is your first chance
to see not only your potential logo, but how it works amongst all the other
things your business is going to need in the visual system.

This is also your first peek at your copy. These items should include some language that fit in with what you decided in your discovery survey. You can write up taglines, menu descriptions, copy about the company, and all sorts of other copy pieces to start developing your voice.

5. Review

Once the design team compiles all of these logo designs and comps into a presentation its time to review. As with every step of the process, the details matter. You should go over every component of every system and start to whittle it down from multiple options to “the one.”

Its time-consuming and counter-productive to have your
designer develop two systems all the way through. So try to settle on one
visual language and system to go forward with.

Once you have decided on the system, make a concise and
clear list of revisions. If the copy isn’t working, say so. If the type is hard
to read, say so. If the colors are a little off, say so. The more little things
you can check off the list at this stage the better.

This is also a good point to set up whatever photoshoots might be necessary if your big list is heavy on custom photography. It’s ok to use stock photography for comps, but you really want to own your photo style when you launch your brand. Photo shoots take time to produce and often a designer needs that final art to do their job. So get those photoshoots scheduled while your designer is working on other things.

6. Revisions, revisions, revisions

The next step is to revise and perfect that original list of
4-5 assets. It’s up to you and the designer how many rounds of revisions you
want to do, but it’s important to stick to it. I have been part of many
projects that went over budget due to hours and hours of revisions that could
have been condensed and organized better.

No matter how many rounds you ultimately decided to do, be sure you are happy with the state of those assets when you are done. The branding process from here is like building a house. Each brick is laid on the previous one so if they start going sideways, you’ll end up with an ugly house.

7. Build out

The next phase should be pretty straightforward if you got the first few steps correct. You simply need to take the big list of deliverables, put it on a schedule, and start designing them. Make sure this doesn’t turn in to a copy and paste job. You want each element to be slightly unique and surprising.

Think of them like tracks on an album, you wouldn’t want every song to be the same would you?

For the bigger ticket items, like your website, you want to build in rounds of revisions. There will be a variety of items that you might think are of higher importance, so be sure to pinpoint those and build in the time to design, review, and revise.

8. Final files and brand guidelines

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end, sort of. Now
that your entire system is designed and is all meshing and syncing beautifully
you might have to have some physical objects to make. Maybe you need a sign
painted or stickers printed or shirts embroidered. Whatever it may be, there is
going to be lead time.

Your designer should prep and deliver files to each vendor
per their specs to that your physical objects end up looking as good as your

You should also create a brand guidelines book. Even if you are small organization, this little book will help keep your brand in-line well in to the future. It will also help if you have to hand off smaller marketing tasks to your internal team. Everyone who makes anything for your brand should have this brand book at their fingertips. These are the rules of the road that will allow your brand to remain consistent. And consistency is key when it comes to building brand awareness and trust.

So there you go.

That’s a very brief overview of you go from an idea to a living breathing brand. There are a million and one ways to modify this process depending on your organization’s needs, but this should get you started.

I hope that this helps you see you brand as not just a logo, but as a collection of visual elements and ideas that all represent the same basic core values. Every interaction a customer has with your brand is a chance to surprise, delight, and entice them. The better you get at that, the more loyal your customers will be.

About the Author

Over the past 15 years, Michael has navigated a career in publishing, creating award-winning design work for Philadelphia magazine, Esquire, and Airbnb magazine. Along the way he developed his branding chops working with freelance clients. He noticed that his favorite projects and magazine layouts focused on food, whether it was “Best Restaurants” for Philadelphia magazine or an “Insider’s Guide to International Food in Queens” for Airbnb. So, in December of 2018 he decided to leave the comforts of his full-time job to pursue his passion for all-things food. He now focuses on branding and design for coffee roasters, coffee shops, restaurants, breweries, and distilleries.

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