On Branding: Leah Wechsler Q+A

Drawing by Leah Wechsler. For more of her fun doodles, follow her on Instagram.

I met Leah Wechsler through the 6-month business program I took this year (It's Business Time), and we've stayed "business buddies" ever since. It's not just because we share a first name, though: she's a warm, down-to-earth creative who works on websites for people, in a number of ways. I find her work to be greatly inspiring and I learn so much from our monthly chats. 

I thought she would be the perfect person to kick off a series here on my blog where I'll interview creative friends about the concepts of branding. "Branding" is something I personally want to learn more about, and dig into. I find it can feel like a a buzzword, and I want to get clear on what buzzwords really mean to me. 

Leah's answers to my questions were thoughtful and drawn from her career so far. I loved reading about what she learned from designing museum installations (so cool!), being reminded to show a real person is behind the work, and thinking about what goes into the digital experience of a website.

So, without further ado, here goes!

(I've used our last names to mark who is talking, for obvious reasons, LOL.)

 

The Branding Q+A with Leah Wechsler

Noble: When you hear the word "branding", what comes immediately to mind? How has that understanding of it changed for you over the years, in your career?

Wechsler: I think of meeting a stranger. How they dress; the clothes they’re wearing, how they present themselves, their mannerisms and postures. 

My first concept of a brand was visual identity elements, the logo, fonts, colors. As my career has progressed the concept of a brand has gotten more nuanced, more detailed and empathic. When I first started working in design, the way we worked was concept first. (Still true.) Since I started my career by designing museum installations,  I thought of design as creating moments, like still lives, and branding as the “business.” The logo, visual identity, fonts were reference items to be applied after I made whatever it is I was making. 

Now, I the brand extends throughout my creative work. Each project is akin to crafting chapters of a story for my clients. A website is updated every few years; product and program sites come and go. I think of a brand as a character.  I start off now researching the audience, the environment, the ways the audience solves problems and get curious about how they communicate. The importance of consistency has gone up, so has the definition.

 

Noble: What do you think is key to branding that your/one's customers connect with?

Wechsler: We see things first. What makes a memory is if the experience becomes multi-sensory. Aim for the memorable. Branding is the art of customer impressions. A brand has both visual and non-visual elements, the smells, feelings experience with that brand converts. While there are aspects of you, it’s all about knowing that customer, to support them and talk to them, in their language. 

What’s key to connecting with customers will depend on your audience, but largely I think it’s showing them that a real person is behind the work. 

 

Noble: How does the digital experience of a website contribute to the branding of a company?

Wechsler:  It’s all in attention to the details. Extending one's brand into various channels makes this more and more complicated. The world is increasingly digital, making the content design more complicated. There are more details to manage. There is probably more weight given to a website because we are increasingly digital beings. A website is a framework for communicating, accessible at anyone’s convenience too, so it acts a 24/7 spokesperson.

A digital experience includes:

  • How is the website viewed? By a mobile phone? Tablet? Desktop? 
  • In what environment? Is it noisy? Quiet? 
  • How does the customer feel when they start to engage with my website?
  • What are they thinking?
  • What time of day is it?

I haven’t even talked about elements of visual identity, copy, or technology, but these are all impacted by what I answer to those contextual questions.

Many US government websites are a good example of how digital experiences contribute to the perception of a brand.  They tend to be ugly, out-dated and technically lacking.  It’s hard to find information, yet on some websites the language is overly simplistic, which in my opinion creates a negative impression.  Most of the time I have to use a desktop to access one here in the US, which brings up feelings of inconvenience. Does this do wonders to help the image of a progressive government? No.  (PS - the US now has design guidelines, so there is hope, https://playbook.cio.gov/designstandards/)


Leah Wechsler is the content strategist, designer, and writer behind Creative, She Wrote.

Branding: my brand tree

Something really cool that came out of It's Business Time and working with Tiffany Han was getting clear on my own personal branding, and creating something called a brand tree

Now, "branding" is a term that I want to dig into more, and learn more about. I feel like it can be one of those smokescreen words, corporate-speak. I want to get clear on what branding means to me, what it can do for a business, and where to start crafting a new brand, so it doesn't feel so overwhelming. So, I'm going to write my way through this learning, as I do with just about everything, here on my blog.

I went to design school and I still feel this way about branding, so I imagine you might too! Anyway, I hope it's interesting. :)

So, back in March of this year, I hadn't yet started the It's Business Time program. I was still in Tiffany's 100 Rejection Letters program. And as part of that, I was developing my own brand. In this post, I wrote about the process and shared what I had come up with so far. 

Then the whirlwind of the crowdfunding campaign happened, and before I knew what was happening, I was in the It's Business Time program and the real branding adventure began!

We did a great deal of introspection and writing in the program. It wasn't until Week 13 that we dug into branding and crafting our Brand Trees. I won't share the worksheets, as they are Tiffany and Michelle's intellectual property, but we did things like answer questions like "How do you want people to feel when interacting with your brand?" and "How do you anticipate differentiating yourself from the competition?" (In another post soon, I'll share my own branding questionnaire, that I've come up with for my clients.)

So here is my brand tree, now:

It's so interesting to look back to the one in this post and compare. 

How do I use the brand tree? Well, I keep it on the wall above my desk, and often I'll look at it, just for inspiration, or when I'm kind of staring off into space while creating. The core values are the roots of my brand, and they help me when I'm coming up with new ideas or trying to figure out if an upcoming project fits in my brand. The brand words in the middle are the three things that everything I do or put out there into the world must be. The three words are not meant to be limiting, but rather a guideline to help me remember what my brand is all about. And the branches at the top are the three ways that my business manifests... the things that I do and create. 

a love note to our own inspirational notes

Portrait of me is by Paige Rankin. "Big Things Happen One Day At A Time" is from the  Get To Work Book.   Quote from the Bible was written down by my cousin Ginger. "You are a creative soul" print is by me, it was a gift to the participants of the  Creative Soul Weekend.

Portrait of me is by Paige Rankin. "Big Things Happen One Day At A Time" is from the Get To Work Book.  Quote from the Bible was written down by my cousin Ginger. "You are a creative soul" print is by me, it was a gift to the participants of the Creative Soul Weekend.

Dear Notes,

Thank you for being there for me. A simple piece of paper and a thumb tack, or a piece of washi tape, and my own handwriting, or a simple design: you are the conduit between the big magic of God/the Universe, and my simple bones and flesh here on Earth. You bring the words that act as little stones, little pearls to rattle in my pocket as I go about my day to day. Shake shake, rattle rattle. Remind me, remind me, whisper to me, that I am creative, that I shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that I got this, that I am more than whatever bill I am paying at the moment.

The words become stepping stones. One flat stone in a garden, dew of the morning still on it, my bare feet standing on it. There is another stone, I step on that, and then to the next stone, and I move forward. I am not stuck. The words serve. 

Then there is the cleansing that comes when its time to take a note down. You are like husks and seeds in the fall… the seeds have fallen, the husk remains. It’s time to take you down, put the paper in the recyclable bin. Leave a blank space on the wall for a bit. Let blankness be.

Someday soon, another idea, another quote, another string of stones and pearls will float down into my mind and catch. I’ll write it down, take out the thumb tacks or the washi tape, and attach it to the wall for a little while. And so it goes, the cycle of creativity, the cycle of hanging on to the thread of an idea, the cycle of supporting myself through the Resistance, through the negative voices that would stop all forward movement if it could. 

O little piece of paper, you are so much bigger than your fibres. Thank you.