Why we don’t do 4D for branding. Part 1 of 2

For years I swore by the 4D process. I really thought that Discover-Define-Design-Deliver was pretty much the only way to do a brand design project. Of course, we would try to give the phases proprietary names – Discover was JumpSmart, Design became Embody – but it was still the 4D process.

After years of doing projects this way at different firms, I recognized that we were always experiencing the same issues. I could never seem to find a way to get ahead of them before they occurred.
I began to realize that it was the process and not the people (client or consultant) that was causing the issues. And the pitfalls tend to go like this (if I may overgeneralize):

  • the Discover phase: We do some user research… it takes too long, costs more than expected, and we tend to use the recruiting process as a way to define the target audiences. Worst of all, when we deliver the findings, our clients usually say something like, “we knew a lot of this.” Which was not too far off base. Of course, we had some insights and additional learnings from using user center methods, but there had to be a way we could better harness our client’s knowledge to get further faster.
  • the Define phase: We would develop 3 – 5 directions and they would pick 4 of them and ask to combine parts of Direction B with Direction D. And after 2 more rounds of reviews we are still trying to convince them to narrow down and go with a direction. After a few weeks of trying to narrow down (usually with new caveats like, “make it more agile”), everyone agrees to move into the Design phase.
  • the Design phase: this takes longer than expected as everyone is still trying to understand how to evaluate the directions – there is not real criteria, or the team was never really aligned on one. And now the phase can best be characterized by the phrase, “Did you try X?”, and takes much longer than expected because 1) you never were aligned going into the phase and 2) there is the need to do more validation of the design direction because no one is confident in the direction.
  • the Delivery phase: the design is still getting finalized after the research and you are pushing hard into production. Everyone is spent and the process has taken too long and cost more than expected. Everyone just wants to get it done. Brand Guidelines and Launch Planning become more of chore than the exciting activity they should be.

Now this is an over generalization and not all these things could occur in every project. But anyone who has gone through the process has experienced some of these scenarios. It is a pretty classic experience on both sides.

What we have learned at Catapult is that successful brand design projects require 2 main components: 1) Defining what is important to the company or brand, and 2) defining what is important (or relevant) to the audience.

The first part may sound easy, but it can be the hardest part of the process because it involves making decisions and getting agreement on what the important message is – note I did not say, “what the important messages are.” Too many times companies are trying to say too many things and narrowing down what is most important in the simplest of ways is the key. The same thing goes for defining components like brand values and personality. So many times, we have received documents from companies that have lists of 8 or more brand personality attributes.