How to Build a Brilliant Brand

by | Feb 19, 2024

In an era of information overload, how can a brand cut through the noise and create a lasting impact? To understand the world of powerful brand building and how AI is changing the digital branding landscape, Headliner met up with award-winning brand strategist Lidia Drzewiecka. Coming from an arts and photography background, Lidia had a vision which soon became Visuable – a brand agency helping companies create authentic visual brand presentation. In ten years, Visuable has grown into an award-winning global brand agency with a roster of over 1,000 clients around the world and a team of 10 digital experts, who guide their clients on a journey of transforming their dreams into brilliant brands that supercharge their business success. Here are some of Lidia’s top insider tips on how to create a strong identity and avoid the most common pitfalls in a market saturated by millions of brands.

Q: How do you define the core essentials of a strong brand strategy?

A: The key to achieving a successful brand strategy is the ability to perfectly orchestrate the brand value, voice and visuals in a way that appeals to your desired target audience. But what does this even mean? Simply put, it’s a strategic alignment of all key features, benefits and preferences that matter most to your ideal client.

Brand value is all about the value that your business provides, either through your product or service, the experience you create as a brand, or the prestige and credibility that come from the awards that your company has won. Understanding your brand value is the very first step to being able to form a successful brand strategy.

Brand voice is the way the company communicates its value to the customers, either through their website, or social media or directly through customer service delivered by its team. Brand voice is expressed through a set of brand statements such as introduction, mission, values, who we are, value proposition and so on, that are strategically created to communicate the intended message that will resonate with the target customer. The better your company understands its own value, the more successful it becomes at communicating this to customers to win their business and their loyalty.

And finally, brand visuals is a broad term that I use to describe all external visual expressions of a brand, be it the logo, colour palette, typography, icons, patterns, photographs, videos or infographics. Brand visuals need to be strategically aligned with the intended messaging and developed as a support system that helps express the brand value to its audience.

Q: Speaking of visuals, describe your process for creating a brand’s visual identity?

A: The process starts with a vision. For this, I usually like to utilise a mood boarding exercise. I first ask clients to pin any ideas that convey their brand values, offering, message and vibe in order to simply start pulling ideas together. Then, I ask them to start culling the mood board down, removing anything that doesn’t quite hit the mark or reflect their vision. What is left is the foundation for the creative conceptualisation, where we start formulating specific ideas for logos, colour palettes, typography, and photography for the brand. The mood board becomes a visual device that guides the implementation work we do when it comes to all brand elements. Through several design drafts, feedback loops and revisions, the visual brand identity slowly unravels in front of the client’s eyes – it’s a truly magical and exciting experience.

Q: What are the most common mistakes or pitfalls when trying to create your brand identity?

A: One of the biggest mistakes I see clients make is investing in visuals and website design only, and not paying any attention to defining their value proposition and message, developing their brand’s credibility through case studies, testimonials and awards, or communicating their brand value through compelling copywriting.

We book so many projects where a founder first pushes for an urgent launch of their website, but when asked to provide the content describing their brand and its offering, they are at a complete loss. One thing that many people don’t understand is that launching a website is not just about design, it’s about expressing their brand concept through design. And for us to be able to do that successfully, we need the client to first explain to us what their brand identity is all about, which in many cases, proves to be the hardest challenge.

For clients struggling with this aspect, I’ve now developed a service called Brand Blueprint, aimed at taking lost and confused business owners on a journey of brand identity creation, from the inside out. We work on clarifying their brand concept, defining their value and messaging, and developing their visual strategy, before moving to the brand creation stage with our creative team of experts.

Q: What key advice would you give an individual or new small business who are just starting out?

A: I always advise the same – launch as soon as possible. At the beginning, it does not matter if you have a fancy logo or super professional photos, what matters is that you prove your market fit, and win your first clients. Start offering your services for free, or in exchange, and building case studies. I believe that offering your service to three people for free in exchange for a case study or a testimonial is a great first step. Those case studies and testimonials form part of your brand value, which is something that is crucial to attracting more clients. Once you have your proof of concept, and people start paying for what you offer, focus on systemising your product delivery, and developing a great customer service – can you impress your clients with a smooth digital process and excellent brand experience?

When you nail those brand fundamentals of great product, process, and experience, it’s a good time to take your business to the next level through the power of design. People associate the quality of the product or service, with the quality of the brand design, and are willing to pay more for a product and service that comes tastefully designed and advertised. Therefore, my advice is that once you achieve a product market fit and people are willing to pay money for your services, it’s the right time to invest in great design.

Q: What key advice would you give an established company looking to rebrand or reposition itself?

A: Repositioning an established brand is always challenging, and one question to ask is – why reposition? Once you know the answer, you can develop a brand strategy from there. When the reason for rebranding is clear, which aspects of the image should be kept or discarded will be easy to identify.

Let me give you an example. Visuable started as a brand photography and website design company, led by a single individual – me. The brand image and story were built around Lidia, the brand photographer who was able to transform individuals into the business personas they dreamed of becoming, using the camera as a tool, and photography as a medium of expression. Visuable’s audience loved this unique story and wanted to personally experience this transformation. This yearning pushed them to book my brand photoshoot experiences. At the time, I was selling the experience of working with me, as much as the outcome of the experience – the photographs of themselves as their future business self. When I made the decision to move towards a new model of a digital-first business made up of a team of experts, I not only had to discontinue the well-established brand photoshoot offering, but I also had to rebuild Visuable’s brand story to communicate this shift to its clients.

It was initially a challenge to make people want to work with someone else other than me, as they trusted the established Lidia brand, so I had to tread carefully when introducing my team into the picture. What really helped with our repositioning was my knowledge of utilising photography to tell a story and project a desired brand image. I planned and organised a photoshoot that captured the new intended Visuable image – a team of digital experts at a cool office, hard at work on their laptops, portraying Lidia as not the doer, but the leader of that team. This visual repositioning strategy really worked for us, as when the website went live, clients bought into our new brand story of a team of digital experts, and an experienced leader with a track record of transforming Visuable from an idea into a global brand building powerhouse. I would say the current essence of Visuable brand that I would like to communicate through our brand strategy can be summarised in three words – visionary, expert, and brilliant. And today, Visuable is an award-winning digital agency serving clients across the world from USA, through Europe, Middle East and Asia, all the way to Australia.

Q: You are based in Cyprus, but Visuable has truly global reach. So, why Cyprus, what benefits does it provide your business and lifestyle?

A: Choosing Cyprus as my base was not a business-driven decision, despite all the benefits that Cyprus has to offer to an expat business owner like me. Around 12 years ago, while living in the UK, I met my soulmate, and he happened to be Cypriot. Long story short, we fell in love, travelled the world together, and eventually relocated to this paradise island. Soon after we moved, we got married, bought an apartment, adopted a cat, and now, we’re enjoying the Mediterranean lifestyle full of sunny days, beach walks, delicious food and happy people, every single day. I have to say that I really love living in Cyprus.

After spending 15 years living in the UK, I was tired of the ‘always-on’ hassle culture that pressures you to be more, do more, work more, and achieve more. My life felt like constantly running on a hamster wheel, heading for burnout. Also, the never-ending rainy weather was not something I was willing to accept as normal for the rest of my life. It took me a while to reprogram my brain and get used to the ‘siga siga’ (slowly, slowly) islander lifestyle that people lead here. I have to say slowing down was a challenge, but I am glad that I did it, and those days, I make sure to take time for myself on a regular basis. I love being able to walk the beach before work nearly every day, spend time in the great outdoors hiking or swimming in the sea, or simply enjoying a BBQ with friends on the weekend – this is what real wealth looks like for me.

Apart from brilliant lifestyle, Cyprus indeed offers great business benefits in terms of low taxation rates and no tax on dividends for non-domicile residents like me. This really is a great added bonus to everything else that already is better, in my eyes, about living in Cyprus than anywhere else I used to live. Finally, since my team at Visuable is all remote and distributed around Europe, Cyprus is a nice relaxing destination for some of us to meet-up and co-work in the sunshine at least once a year.

Q: What do you see as your biggest success story and hardest challenge so far in your career?

A: My biggest achievement will always be bootstrapping Visuable from scratch with no budget, no network and minimal business experience, as a fresh arts-degree graduate who struggled to find employment. Fast forward almost 10 years, and we’re an agency with worldwide reach and a team of brilliant experts. We have been shortlisted for and won several awards including Great British Entrepreneur Awards, Web Excellence Award, and Small Awards, and we’re recognised as one of the top Squarespace Web Design Agencies worldwide – I am truly proud of the recognition we’ve received from clients and organisations alike. However, what makes me feel even prouder is that this journey has allowed me to create my own dream job, while also creating 10 full-time positions for students and graduates with no previous work experience, who are now in secure careers with a clear progression path at Visuable.

My journey to where I am today has been paved with a lot of hardship and setbacks. Now, with a trophy cabinet full of learning curves, I feel that I am fully equipped with knowledge, skills and experience to lead Visuable towards even greater future success. I focus my energy on continuously ensuring product and service excellence, sustainable business practices, and creating a positive impact that extends beyond our business. I invest in personal and professional development of my team members so that they grow into the future leaders that our world needs, and in continuous internal R&D and innovation utilising new technologies, platforms and AI tools that transform the way we do things. Also, I am passionate about giving back and supporting communities in need through our Force for Good Campaigns.

Q: How do you see digital branding evolving in the next 5-10 years? What important trends should we take note of?

A: Digital branding is currently undergoing an AI transformation, and we are transitioning towards a more automated and smart way of working. I believe that roles in the digital branding industry will shift, and in the future, customers will seek to work with strategy, marketing and business experts, who are able to leverage the AI tools to create digital and brand experiences faster and at a lower cost.

Already, the wide adaptation of SaaS (Software as a Service) no-code web design platforms has made Squarespace websites a more popular and affordable solution, than working with a developer to code a website from scratch. Creative tools such as Canva have turned every business owner into an aspiring digital designer. And this year, the new kids on the block, ChatGPT and Midjourney, took over the world transforming everyone into copywriters, photographers and digital artists. With so many easy-to-use digital AI tools at our disposal, we no longer need to master technical crafts in ways that we used to. I am not saying that creative roles will become obsolete, however I can already see that AI technology is being more widely adopted and normalised by customers everywhere. We even have customers coming to us with brand concepts generated using AI, explaining that they find it easier to communicate their concept to us in this way.

I believe that as agencies, we must ride the AI wave, and adapt our ways of working to align with our client’s needs and expectations, or we will become obsolete. Remember Kodak? It’s a sad story of a once-great photographic brand that became extinct because it did not keep up with times. Therefore, as leaders, it should be our top priority to ensure that we’re driving our companies towards a direction that aligns with the emerging market trends and forces.

BIO

Lidia Drzewiecka is the Founder and Creative Director of digital brand agency Visuable. Lidia leads a team of 10 designers and digital experts, offering personal and business brand consultancy to customers who strive for brand excellence. Lidia’s educational and professional background spans a BS in Hospitality Management, a BA in Creative Arts, an Executive MBA in Organisational Leadership, a Chartered Manager Certificate, participation in NatWest and Creative Scale-Up Business Accelerators, and over a decade of hands-on experience working with brands all around the world. Lidia has been recognised as one of the 100 Most Inspirational Business Women by f:Entrepreneur Magazine (2022), one of the 100 Most Inspiring Female Founders by Business Matters Magazine (2022), selected as a finalist in the Great British Entrepreneur Awards (2018, 2022, 2023) and the Small Awards (2023), and is the recipient of the Web Excellence Award for the best Website for a Digital Brand Agency (2022). Lidia has participated as a judge at Drum Awards, and as a speaker at several global events and online masterclasses.

 

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