Branding, or the ongoing curation of the image your company conveys to the world through a variety of mediums, is a crucial factor in the equation to build a successful business. In arguably oversaturated markets like the vape industry, a well-conceived image and messaging is a fundamental precursor to brand loyalty—a goal shared by every company. The opportunity to reinforce a brand online is a relatively new one, and while it undoubtedly can benefit companies, branding your online presence effectively is far from simple. We invited Stephanie and Robert Whitcomb, the dynamic duo behind the Pixalien creative support team, to share their insights on this topic with us.
Your company places great emphasis on working together with business owners to develop their branding and creative assets. Why do you feel this is so important, in contrast with the “leave-it-to-the-experts” approach of others?
Pixalien: While we can craft designs, design guides and messaging (distinctive brand assets) based on information we’re able to discover ourselves, the voice of the company’s stakeholders is typically not present using this approach.
This voice and passion is the number one thing that should be expressed in a company’s brand. When that voice is not expressed, the end result is often that the company is given brand assets they feel “don’t fit” or the assets “aren’t articulating” what they’re about.
On the other hand, when that voice is expressed and a company’s vision is achieved, the brand’s assets tend to fall into place in a much more seamless and meaningful manner, versus the alternative “leave-it-to-the-experts” approach.
What are the guiding questions a company should explore in developing a branding strategy?
Pixalien: First and foremost, the leading question in any branding project should be why; why do you do what you do? This question is typically where we spend most of our time in discussion during a brand discovery meeting. The reason for this is that the ‘why’ ultimately reveals the heart of a company and the driving force behind where the company has come from. The answer to this question:
- Uncovers what the company is primarily passionate about,
- Often reveals previously unexpressed core values held by the company, and
- Helps the company’s primary stakeholders and employees more tangibly understand the company’s primary driving force once distilled (via the branding process) and shared.
What is the most common branding mistake you see? Is there a branding blunder specific to the vape industry that you would advise against?
Pixalien: The most common branding mistake we’ve observed is when brand assets (such as a website or an advertisement) shared with the public have not been developed to resonate with or speak to an organization’s target audiences.
As a relatively young industry, this is a mistake that we see in the vape world quite often, in the form of advertisements. In these particular ads, the imagery is off-brand (inconsistent color usage, logo usage, messaging, etc.) and/or does nothing to relate to or enhance the company’s brand, as any piece of marketing material should.
For example, let’s say there is a company called “Ice Cold Box Mods” that focuses on cooler-than-normal vapor production. Appropriate branding assets should reflect crisp, chilly imagery (cool color palette, icy iconography, etc.) as well as advertisements that resonate with their cool and refreshing brand identifiers.
If “Ice Cold Box Mods” was interested in creating a website advertisement, they would want this ad to convey their established brand. A branding blunder would be to create an ad that highlighted “THE SEASON’S HOTTEST OFFER!” with an overall fiery aesthetic. With no cool colors and inconsistent messaging used, the ad is weak and untrue to “Ice Cold Box Mods’” true brand. A visually–appealing ad that doesn’t make a connection with your brand will leave your audience puzzled at best, or have them viewing your company as disorganized at worst.
When a company shares any piece of material with its target audience, the target audience should be able to quickly associate the product or service with the brand— there should be no confusion. A company should never disseminate a marketing piece that has their target audience walking away wondering what they were just looking at.
Can you explain the importance of a company’s website to its overall branding strategy? What are some basic ways that brand messaging can be reinforced through the company’s website?
Pixalien: A company without a website is no longer an option in this Information Age, as this is often the first place a prospective consumer will find you. After a company’s primary brand assets are developed (color palette, logo, tagline, core values), a website is the most critical brand asset to have in place. A company with no website has essentially created a barrier for consumers wishing to, at the very least, learn more about the company, or worse, make a purchase from the company… with zero means of doing so.
A website serves as one of the first opportunities to engage with your target audience and convey your message. By creating a distinct, well-branded design, you can make a strong impression on a visitor that will ensure they remember your brand and potentially become a customer if they aren’t already. Leveraging the website’s design and content, you’ll also have a great opportunity to reinforce your company as a trusted, invaluable resource in the marketplace.
Under your listed services, you advise that a company’s website is a virtual business card. As web-builders and designers, how important is a customized website to a company’s overall branding strategy, especially with the rise of web templates and build-your-own websites?
Pixalien: DIY websites can be a great solution for business owners looking to get a quick, cost-effective (up front) online presence established. The long-term risk, however, is that a DIY website can give their company an unprofessional look (especially true if another company has adopted the same DIY theme) or can become obsolete in a short amount of time.
When asked what one impression our clients are hoping to have on their demographic, we’d estimate about 90% of the time we hear the word “professional.” This is why we often recommend moving forward with a website that is tailored to our clients’ brand and is engaging for their target audiences. Similar to a dish in a fine dining restaurant, you want your demographic to find a website that is both appealing and compelling. You want a website that effectively guides a visitor to stop and think, “Hey, that product/service would benefit me!”
You worked with Vape Organics through our rebranding mission a couple of years ago. What, by your estimation, has been the biggest benefit of this rebranding effort?
Pixalien: When we started working with Vape Organics, we began with the goal of creating both a professional virtual identity to highlight your professionalism and a website that would properly relay to consumers the quality of a one-of-a-kind company that provides a distinct product: the first of its kind, truly USDA-certified organic e-liquid. Our first objective was to create a logo that set Vape Organics apart from other companies in the vape industry, and also evoked a natural path for well-being visually as well as emotionally. We wanted people to get an immediate impression of Vape Organics from just a quick glance at the logo.
We feel that the biggest benefit of the rebranding effort is that Vape Organics stands out from others in the vape industry. The logo that was created is not only easily distinguishable in the market, but it also properly represents the core values of the organic ideology behind Vape Organics. This is due in no small part to the very close collaboration between Pixalien and Vape Organics during the branding process.
Obviously it’s preferable to have a solid branding strategy before a business launches, but under what circumstances would you advise a company to scrap everything and rebrand, and how do you feel your company is supportive in streamlining this process?
Pixalien: We like to work closely with our clients to determine their business goals and company values. We then evaluate the look and feel of any currently used brand materials to achieve these goals and values. If the look and feel doesn’t properly represent the brand, we recommend either a new direction inspired by current brand materials or a new direction altogether.
In any rebranding effort, we recommend and assist with getting all assets appropriately realigned. During this effort, it’s critical for us to ensure marketing materials properly reflect both the company and its ideals, with aesthetic consistency being key.
You also offer graphic design services. Can you discuss how graphic design fits into the brand-building process, not only at inception but throughout the life of a company?
Pixalien: Graphic design is an essential part of the branding process as it is the visual representation of your company’s brand— the first look at your company that a consumer will get. Armed with a company’s established brand values in-hand, a graphic designer can take you through building a logo, a branded color palette, as well as print and online collateral.
Throughout the life of a company, a designer will use the established brand assets to consistently reinforce and enhance your company’s identity. We may say this often, but it bears repeating— consistency is key here!
In working with various brands in the vape industry, what are some unique challenges companies in this sector face when it comes to branding their online presence? How do you troubleshoot some of these obstacles for your clients?
Pixalien: The biggest challenge we see facing the vape industry (online specifically) is the overwhelming amount of misinformation or misrepresentation of vaping and the industry itself. From inaccurate health claims to throwing shade on the vape industry’s intended demographic, the misinformation regarding the industry is running absolutely rampant online.
For this reason, we highly recommend utilizing your website’s blog capabilities to educate and engage your audience. As a great example, Vape Organics is constantly on the advocacy front lines, not only for your own good but for the good of the vape community as a whole. This is one of the best reasons why we love working so closely with Vape Organics and support their efforts wholeheartedly!