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, an original, well-conceived image and creative but responsible messaging are fundamental precursors to brand loyalty—a goal shared by every company. With some vape companies being accused of trademark infringement and marketing to youth, which allows for the inopportune demonization of the vape industry, I invited Stephanie and Robert Whitcomb, the dynamic duo behind the Pixalien creative support team, to share their insights on branding, hopefully inspiring an exploration of rebranding where necessary.
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 receives 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 its driving force. The answer to this question:
1. Uncovers what the company is primarily passionate about.
2. Often reveals previously unexpressed core values held by the company.
3. 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. 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.
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 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.
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 a competitor 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’ brands and is engaging for their target audiences. You want your demographic to find a website that is both appealing and compelling, one that effectively guides a visitor to stop and think, “That product/service would benefit me!”
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 current 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. SVBS
*Note: Pixalien actually guided my company through a rebranding process several years ago. Even with the FDA regulations, it is possible to rebrand. Maintaining your original product (formula) but changing your product name and/or labeling is an option available for consideration. Please reach out to an FDA enforcement representative for more guidance on moving forward.
Sheerlie Ryngler is the Creative Director and Compliance Coordinator at Vape Organics, the first and only USDA-certified organic e-liquid line. A native of Los Angeles, Sheerlie has traveled extensively, receiving her BA in International Relations and MA in Conflict Resolution. She has been a passionate activist for a number of causes around the world; since mid-2014 Sheerlie has focused her attention on raising awareness in the vape community and promoting standards of excellence in the vape industry. Please feel free to contact Sheerlie at [email protected] or visit her website at www.pureorganicvapors.com.
Robert and Stephanie are the founders of Los Angeles-based web design company Pixalien. With a combined 20+ years of experience in web design and development, Pixalien understands the importance of engaging with your online audience and compelling them to act. Pixalien loves teaming up with people who are passionate about what they do, specializing in the creative and entertainment industries. Contact Pixalien at [email protected] with any inquiries or to set up a free consultation to discuss your company’s goals.