cottage branding-focus

I have a pretty big confession to make. I am a closet closet aficionado. When I want some frivolous me time, I browse through blogs like Un-Fancy or Into Mind or Style Bee and allow myself to indulge in obsessive style self-assessment. I don’t think anyone would ever guess this about me, as I am not an avid shopper and my style is pretty basic out of necessity. But if I have learned one thing from all of this self-indulgent style talk, it is that to define your style and stay focused on it takes a whole lot of knowledge about who you are and what you’re about. Since we’ve already worked on those two areas, we are ready to start considering what the style of your brand is going to be.

There is a reason I titled this post “Focus” rather than “Style”. For me, personally, the biggest struggle with styling my brand has always been keeping a focus. I don’t think I am alone when I say that I am far too easily swayed by other people’s style. Browsing through Pinterest can be so inspiring, but it can also be incredibly distracting and overwhelming. Everyone’s individual style looks so dang good, it makes me feel like, “well, maybe if I like it so much, that is the direction I should be going!” I personally believe, however, that this is a huge disservice to your brand.

That isn’t to say that the style of your items or photography or branding can’t evolve-they can and they will, so be ready to embrace that. But the whole point of branding is to be RECOGNIZABLE. Focusing on a particular style is only going to serve that purpose, not make you stale or overly predictable. Remember, your customers and followers WANT a certain amount of  predictability. They bought from you or are following you because they liked something they saw, so stick with it, if it what you love, too.

To quote the icon of personal style herself, Miss Audrey Hepburn:

“Why change? Everyone has their own style. When you have found it, you should stick to it.”

How do you go about this process? How do you define what your style focus is?

Merel of Chain Twenty (find her on Instagram here) is an up-coming knitwear maker and inspirational blogger. From her “how to wear it” posts to her vacation photos, Merel has maintained an enviable stylistic focus that is clean, minimal. classic, and cozy. On her blog, Merel explains her motivation for maintaining her minimally styled focus, “…instead of being seduced by all the pretty yarns in all the happy colors (the struggle is real), I’m trying to limit myself to neutral colors, basic patterns, practical materials and an overall minimalistic design. Only then will I be able to create those all time favorites I was looking for in the first place.”

I asked Merel, “What inspires the style or “feel” of your brand? How do you keep a focus on that style?” She was kind enough to offer her thoughts:

As a total layperson, the first thing I did before I started designing Chain Twenty’s “mood” or “feel” was to read everything I could find on the internet about branding. Even though I had this vision in my head of what my future brand should look like, I didn’t really know how to make that vision a reality. The best advice I encountered over and over again is to (sit down) and write down in words what you’ve imagined in your head. It was quite the challenge, but I wrote a complete business plan, including a style sheet.  This provides me with something definitive and authoritative that helps me stay on track. 

To give an example, under the header “Brand Vibe,” I wrote the following: “When people think of Chain Twenty, they will think about white space, neutrals, simplicity, and minimalism, combined with a healthy portion of coziness and a feeling of home.” Based on this, I created a Chain Twenty mood board (and started a Chain Twenty Pinterest  account), which subsequently inspired my brand’s style sheet. When I feel like I’m losing focus on my brand’s mood, I just have to look at my style sheet, mood board, and Pinterest account to regain control.”

I love Merel’s approach because it is methodical, well planned, and a lot like mine (wink)!

Before beginning to embark on initial style planning steps, let’s take a look at a graphic, illustrating an important aspect of brand style focus.

style-diagram

As you go through the steps, keep this little visual in your mind’s eye. When you are forming your brand’s style identity, it has to be personally appealing to you and reflect the types of items you are passionate about offering. In addition to personal appeal, the style you stick with has to be relevant. If it perceived as dated or stale, it won’t succeed. Here is where it gets a bit trickier, though. In addition to being relevant, it must be able to stand the test of time. This is a really tricky thing to gauge, because it requires you to step out of your current frame of reference and try to evaluate the longevity of your brand based on whether you think it might end up feeling dated later (hint: it probably will, but you want to choose a style you can tweak slightly if needed to keep it fresh, rather than undergoing a complete overhaul). Let me give you a completely hypothetical example. Nineties style revival is really big right now (chokers, overalls, platform tennies, pretty much anything Baby Spice would wear). This aesthetic may appeal to you personally. If you step back from your current frame of reference, however, I think it is pretty clear that it is not here to stay, and committing fully to that style niche with your brand may leave you looking stale and tired in the not too distant future. But, if it is what you really love, you can incorporate some of that irreverent nineties quirkiness into your styling while maintaining a core style that is more likely to stand up to the next trend wave on the scene. When you get to that sweet spot at the intersection of personal appeal, relevancy, and timelessness, don’t move!! Write everything down, take pictures of it all, and make yourself an epic mood board-you have found the holy grail.

Here are some steps to take that will help you to create the type of mood board I have created, which basically serves as a litmus test for whether or not my next idea or branding effort is a good fit. I have provided my own reflections and images to give you an idea of where to begin, but I encourage you to do the work! It is so worth it to come out with something concrete that can anchor you and keep you focused!

Step One: Make a list of style terms you want to associate with your brand.

Think words like: bright, high-contrast, bold, feminine, urban, modern, vintage, etc.

My style words are: clean, organic, cozy, simple, warm, natural, Scandi, minimal, classic, delicate, imperfect, traditional

Step Two: Make a list of additional adjectives to describe the “feel” of you brand’s style (these are less “visual” style words and more “mood” words)

Think words like: elevated, friendly, edgy, exciting, exclusive, zany, unique

My adjectives: approachable, heartfelt, tidy

Step Three: Make a list of style words and adjectives that you DO NOT want to represent your brand (these do not have to be negative words or adjectives,just words that do not fit with your vision).

Think words like: stark, old-fashioned, sporty

My words: pretentious, cute-sy, cluttered, perfectionist, overly-polished

Step Four: Write a one or two sentence style statement combining the above ideas.

Think about imagining what your own brick and mortar shop would feel like if you had one. This visualization really helped me with this step. It felt a little silly at first, but I have gone back to this statement to help me refocus many times.

My statement: Naturally Nora Crochet should feel like you are spending the afternoon at a small, local yarn boutique, with high white walls, lots of natural light, and rustic wooden cabinets and shelving full of high quality yarn in natural fibers and colors. When you walk in, you are greeted with a smile and a cup of tea in a vintage, hand-thrown mug and invited to sit down and chat about who taught you to crochet and your favorite fibers and patterns.

See? it’s a little cheesy, but it also captures the heart of what I want my brand to be about!

Step Five: With this style statement nearby, gather visual inspiration.

This visual inspiration can come from anywhere and does not need to be limited to fiber arts related images. You can get ideas from magazines, nature, catalogs, Instagram, Ravelry, your own designs or yarn stash, wherever you feel inspired. I have already shared a caveat about using Pinterest, but I would still encourage you to create a brand style board for yourself. Pinterest is a rich and varied visual resource, just make sure you keep that style statement within arms reach to help you stay focused!

Step Six: Put together an actual, physical mood board, combining all of the above elements.

This can be on a pin board, taped to a wall, in a notebook, or on a poster. I used a roll of butcher paper, raffia, and mini clothespins to put mine together, adding to the overall feel I was going for. If you are opting for a super minimal look, perhaps a plain white foam core board and metal push pins would serve well. If your brand is very rustic, maybe a pallet and bulldog clips would compliment your “mood”. This is a super fun, satisfying step, and you are a creative soul, so have a good time!

My mood board is pictured above. Here are a few more perspectives:

focus-1

focus-2

Whew!! We are one step (or, six steps I suppose) closer to establishing your brand!

Visit the first posts in the series, focusing on authenticity, and purposeKeep in touch for the next three topics, coming to you throughout October, on Logo, Design, Images, EDIT: AND Packaging and more thoughts from the best makers out there.

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