Most new brands I speak with either underestimate the importance of visual branding, or don’t fully understand what it is. A strong brand identity can make or break a fashion business, so I wanted to write a post on what visual branding is exactly. However, even better, Jess Jenkins (founder of Bula Branding Co and visual branding expert) has kindly agreed to be interviewed for the blog, to set the record straight on what branding is and why it’s important for your fashion business.
You’re a visual branding expert. For those who aren’t familiar with visual branding, how would you explain what you do?
That is an excellent question and one that I get asked often, as I don't think it is really common knowledge, unless you are in the field, what exactly the difference between the creative roles might be.
I would look at a visual brand expert as a strategic marketing consultant and graphic designer all rolled up in one package. It is someone who takes a deep dive into understanding and developing your brand from its core, so that when developing your visuals, they are consistent in message, story, look and feeling. Their main goal is to create a cohesive story, voice and visual aspect that is told through every form of collateral, ie; websites, photoshoots, digital design, logos, sales/marketing, etc.
Visual branding and marketing go hand in hand. How would you summarise this for someone who is new to this concept?
Yes, absolutely - branding and marketing definitely go hand-in-hand, especially if you are wanting to achieve any sort of amount of sales :)
Every business has a unique offering - branding is taking that offering and making it into a story, a reason for “being” and to drive emotion. Then, marketing is the wheelhouse on how to get that story out to the viewers that are most likely to buy into it. Without one, there is not the other - and with out both of these - sales can be difficult.
When deciding on a brand identity, how important is it to have a clear target audience in mind?
To answer simply - extremely important. If you do not have a crystal clear audience, then you will waste money, and time, just throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks. Without knowing your audience, you are not specifically directing your message to anyone? It really doesn’t make any sense.
So one issue I’ve seen is some emerging designers develop a new clothing line that is not necessarily specific to a very narrowed down target market, unique niche, or not specific to solving a problem - figuring out their perfect audience applies to this group even more as they will need to do more due diligence on narrowing down their target audience, ideally, before they start to market their brand.
When it comes to selling fashion products, why do you think storytelling is so important?
I love this question because this is one of the questions that I go over in my branding course that I teach at at Fabric (a fashion incubator in Phoenix, AZ). To break it down, Story = Emotion…and Emotion = Buy in. When you are a consumer and moved by something it makes you take action - then you feel like you’ve become a part of that story, or you’ve helped in some way. Same thing goes for clothes but, I think, on a deeper level. Clothes are personal, they are someones identity, someones strength and someones weakness, they hide and they flaunt and can even change moods. Clothing is an emotion which is WHY telling the story of how you want someone to “feel” when they wear your clothing is extremely important.
You’ve worked with a lot of emerging designers, what are the biggest misconceptions that you hear about branding?
The number one misconception is that their line is more important than creating the business that sells it. Now, this is not a dig on the designer - it’s more of simply a lack of well-rounded education throughout fashion curriculum. There are not a lot of solid options for learning the business side of how to create a sound, healthy business specifically for fashion designers. These beautiful creative souls are developing wearable art - and that is what they are amazing at…but it takes a business to sell them, and unfortunately, unless they take it upon themselves to seek out business courses, these kinds of options are not easily accessible in school. So in lack of just not knowing what they don’t know, the misconception is that the clothing is more important because that’s what they obviously are passionate about…the issue is, that without turning it into a business, your clothing will not sell.
And what are some of the biggest mistakes you see people making with their visual identity?
The biggest mistake I see, and not just in emerging fashion designers, but many small to medium-sized business owners, is the lack on being crystal clear on what their brand is and its story. This is a mistake that will end up costing them more time and marketing dollars in the long run, as there is no plan to actually base metrics off of or measure results. If the work and research are done on the front end, then the process becomes streamlined, and not to mention cost-effective, measurable and scalable. Plus, when you are prepared, it allows for that space to get really creative about how to reach your audience, which is needed in such a noisy industry.
I find that a lot of new fashion labels don’t feel that branding is a priority and they’re very focused on design and production. What would you say to them?
I would ask them three questions;
1) Do you want to sell your clothing?
2) Do you want to make a living doing what you love?
3) Is your last name Versace?
I would then communicate how branding is a priority because it will get your line in front of the perfect audience…leading to sales. It will incorporate the essence of your clothing through visuals that tell the story of why you even started it in the first place. Secondly, unless your last name is Versace and you are an heir - the industry is so noisy you have to stand out if you want to sell. You do this by telling your story and showing your perfect audience why you’re unique. Aside from that - what is the point of adding to the huge waste problem that the industry has, and creating the clothing - if you’re not going to actually sell it?
All hard questions, I know, but I like to be realistic.
How can new brands decide on what their identity might be?
New brands can start to decide what their identity might be by answering three questions.
1) Why am I doing it? (What is unique about your line)
2) Who am I doing it for? (Audience you are creating for)
3) How do I want to be perceived in the market? (ie;Target vs. Walmart)
These questions are simple but will give powerful insight/direction on where to start to uncover their brands story.
What’s the best place for brands to start working on developing their identity?
Designers should start within to start to develop their brand. They can do this by answering the top three questions above and getting clear about what their lines purpose is. This base knowledge is imperative to uncover as even if they were to hire a creative agency, they are the one person that the agency will be drilling with questions to try to figure out how to get to that core of what their brand is. So the first place to start is within themselves and getting decisive on the “why” of your brand and what makes it unique.
For anyone interested in working with you, what can you help them with? Is there anything they should know about their requirements, or is there something they should prepare ahead of meeting/speaking to you?
I consult emerging designers to help build their brands voice and visual identity, then, develop the digital, print, web and marketing/sales assets that tells their brands story, in a uniform way throughout all assets.
I typically have two types of business owners I work with - emerging designers and current lines needing a brand clean up to reposition them back in their market. Either way, after initially speaking to each other and making sure we are a good fit - I send out a simple questioner that asks prompting questions that get to the core values of their brand. I do this for every client that is booked, no matter how small or large the package, as it gives me the insight into how and where to help market you and what visuals would be the strongest, right on the front end.
There is nothing to really be prepared for when reaching out - however - I only can truly help people that are ready to help their business and do the work that needs to be done to do so. Coming in with that open mindset typically always has a wonderful outcome.
You’ve also developed a course which helps designers to go from start to finish and develop their own brand story. What does this entail?
Yes, I have! So excited about this! I am in the middle of creating a self-paced 6 module interactive branding course specifically based around helping emerging fashion designers uncover their brands voice, mission statement, value props, story, and perfect audience. The entire course is broken down to make these concepts simple, to the point, and a digestible learning curve…while also not breaking the bank. At the end of the course there is an invitation to work with me to start on the next level of perfecting your brand visuals to seam your marketing and branding together. At the very least, having the information that is discovered within this program will be invaluable to the designer.
The course also offers a wonderful monthly newsletter that has a 1-on-1 industry professional interviews giving keen insights into the industry from all professional levels, such as; incubator owners, successful emerging designers, photographers, video production, hair/make up, PR, retail GM’s, and so on. To me, this helps gain even more insight to the actual industry and the things to expect and get amazing tips from seasoned pros.
What are you working on at the moment and what do you hope to achieve in 2019?
I am always working on a handful of things, but the main thing I am really focusing on for the rest of this year is helping to get a general brand education out there for emerging designers. I feel like there's a huge lack within fashion curriculum that truly prepares the designers interested in creating a line to run as a business and actually making it something that they can make a living off of. I also feel like if we are not educating on the front end to have designers truly understand what it takes, we will continue to add to the horrible waste issue that the industry currently has. It is my hope to really start getting the word out and helping designers that want to create a successful business out of their line.
Thanks so much to Jess for this interview, I really appreciate it and I hope it’s been useful for anyone starting a fashion range. If you want to learn more about Jess and Bula Branding, you can view the website here, follow along on Instagram here, or get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.