Brand building is a strategic art. A concoction of imaginatively disciplined research paired with wildly methodical craftsmanship, all designed to take advantage of unique assets that drive growth and stave off threats from a fast-moving market, stiff competition, and an uninspired workforce. 

When crafted and managed holistically, your brand provides much more than a visual and verbal wrapper. It shapes business decisions, informs innovation, and inspires engagement of your customers and your employees. 

At Joe Smith, we meld strategic and creative expertise to quickly uncover customer needs, craft a relevant and memorable position for your brand, and build the assets needed to make it meaningful. 


+ Ethnographic Research

Our clients usually have volumes of research about their customers, the marketplace, and their brand. What’s often missing are empathetic insights leading to deep understanding of people’s needs and wants.

We help clients hunt down patterns in data and discover more intimate, significant human insights. Alongside traditional research, we use ethnographic methods to uncover behaviors and beliefs—like immersing real time in customers’ lives, customer co-creation sessions, and brand experience audits. We’ve done everything from walking through a store on our knees to see things through a child’s eyes to tracking the nutrition rituals of female cyclists via digital diaries. Exploring human experiences yields powerful inspiration for creating strong brand positioning or new product experiences.


+ Brand Platform

Powerful brands focus on a unique thought that expresses what they believe and why someone should care. They commit to a strategic platform that guides business decisions, governs innovation, and provides a blueprint for interacting with customers, employees and stakeholders in compelling ways.

We help companies build rich, story-driven platforms for their brands that bridge where they are with where they’re heading. By pairing insights from immersive research with meticulous creativity, we're able to find that magical space where brand beliefs connect with customer needs. Usually this results in the development of purpose, principles, position, and personality for your brand. Purpose defines why you believe you exist. Principles declare the drivers of the experience you desire to create for customers and employees. Position states the promise of value—the unique thought—you want people to have about you. And personality describes the character you use to present yourself.

These four components form the heart of your brand—framing your company’s philosophical and emotional core, ready to pump new blood throughout your organization. With the platform in hand, we develop brand guidelines, employee engagement roadmaps, activation collateral, and brand workshops.

CASE STORIES: GE Recruiting, Keel Point

+ Brand Architecture

Acquisitions and mergers. Legacy properties with less relevance. Expanding product portfolios. New partnerships. Lack of perceived valued. Complex naming systems. These are all situations where managing brands gets unwieldy and presenting then can confuse your customers. When clients seek us out to re-structure their brand architecture, they’re usually carrying a lot of emotional attachment as well. Our job is to look at the challenge through the customer’s eyes, develop as simple and elegant a solution as possible, then assign concise values for each brand in the architecture.

Our process starts by auditing your existing brand architecture. Everything from business strategy and revenue streams to usage policies and customer perspectives. Armed with these insights we develop scenarios for a new architecture that considers how to realign, eliminate or add to the architecture to generate the best possible brand value. We workshop our models with your team, then test with consumers. Our final product is delivered as a set of brand architecture guidelines that ensure the entire company and your partners know exactly how to apply the brand moving forward.

CASE STORIES: Richmond Times-Dispatch, Keel Point, Heliae

+ Messaging Strategy

These days it’s hard for any brand to say they have a single “target customer.” Moms, business executives, college recruits, investors, retirees. You may have a product for all of them, but they have different values, ambitions and needs. And the difference between a loyal customer and a missed opportunity lies in the way you communicate with them.

We help you calibrate the value propositions of your brand into a set of messages that appeal to each customer segment – then provide two more important components: guidelines with sample copy and application of your brand’s voice, and workshops for the staff members or agency partners responsible for regularly crafting those messages.


+ Naming

A brand’s name is the herald of its experience—the most powerful piece of messaging you’ll ever own. That’s probably why it’s the most challenging element of a brand identity to create (although straplines are up there too). The process is charged with emotion, opinion and strategic hurdles.

A good name communicates character and adds value to your brand. Weak naming leaves you with something irrelevant, contrived or confusing. To make the process even harder, more than 400,000 trademarks are applied for each year… in the U.S. alone. Naming is an art, but it must be strategically informed and carefully researched for appeal, appropriateness and availability.

Our naming process navigates all of these challenges and walks you through the journey. We start with strategic conversations to set guardrails and expand thinking for where names might lie and then build a map for generating a large volume of names. After several rounds of concepting, names are screened, vetted and tested in a manner appropriate to our clients’needs. If you don’t have a legal partner, we have one to support formal linguistics and trademark searches.


+ Brand Voice

One of the most powerful creative tools for establishing your brand’s unique personality, brand voice applies language to convey meaning, character, and distinctiveness. Done well, voice creates intimacy, gives your brand a soul, and connects customers with your values.

Every brand’s voice lives within the collective voices of a company’s purpose and people. We listen for it and expose its unique properties—tone, idioms, sentence structures, and rhythms—then build guidelines to ensure that everyone responsible for communicating on behalf of your brand is delivering the message in a consistent and compelling way. We also conduct workshops with your teams to immerse them in the brand voice and teach them how to write with it in mind.

CASE STORIES: Keel Point, GE Recruiting

+ Identity

A well-crafted brand identity—inclusive of your logo, colors, environment, packaging, and collateral—is no longer a “nice to have.” It’s a strategic tool that ensures every customer touchpoint stands apart from competitors and leaves a lasting impression. Identity expresses your brand’s personality in three dimensions, for the five senses. Apple’s packaging, W hotel’s lobby scent, NBC’s signature chimes, Tiffany’s ownership of blue, or FedEx’s family of brand marks.

At Joe Smith, we don’t just design. We design with brand as the driver. We analyze your audience and your brand strategy, then consider how the place where they meet impacts your visual system. It’s an equally creative and strategic exercise – informing design that delivers a message and evokes a personality that connects you closer to your customers. Once an identity is determined we build the standards, systems and collateral that insure design is replicated consistently in every touchpoint across the organization.

CASE STORIES: Richmond Times-Dispatch