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A few weeks ago, I caught up with Foster Creative’s dynamic duo, Natasha and Marie, to talk about all things related to brand strategy. (That is after we chatted about our favourite Schitt’s Creek moments.)
Foster Creative is a creative studio in the Lower Mainland that develops custom brands and websites for purpose-driven entrepreneurs.
Natasha and Marie foster creative and functional branding solutions to help businesses grow. These solutions include branding strategy, website design and redesign, and brand application via print and digital resources.
In essence, Foster Creative is an all-inclusive creative studio for your company’s branding needs, from core brand strategy to PDF resources.
And today, Natasha and Marie share pieces of their knowledge and experience with you!
What you’ll discover in this post about brand strategy development:
What brand strategy is and how foundational it is to your business
Common struggles and myths related to brand strategy
Expert advice for anyone who is DIYing their brand
The benefits of hiring a brand strategy expert
Marie and Natasha’s favourite parts of their creative process
Elements of a brand strategy that are often forgotten
Why the Charmin toilet paper bear is more than just a bear
And so much more! Let’s get into it.
M: Okay, I’m Marie! A little bit about me, I’m not actually from the West Coast. I moved here from Calgary about 6ish years ago and came here to go back to school for graphic design.
I actually met Natasha at a studio where we both were working, she was my senior designer at the time and that’s how we met.
We ended up being work wives first before becoming friends which is why I think we work so well together. Because we came to the realization that when people become partners they do it because they’re friends and get along, but there’s an aspect of working with one another they maybe haven’t thought of if they mesh well together that way. So from that standpoint, we work really well together and it was really smooth.
N: So well said, ditto. So glad you said it.
We’ve been in networking situations where we’re asked that question and I’m always like ‘Marie, do you want to start?’ because she says it so well and eloquently.
My origin story is that I’m from here originally, based in the Lower Mainland. I fell in love with design in high school, kind of like your high school sweetheart so to speak. I went to BCIT and then the story continues to where I met Marie at the studio we worked at. I’d worked there for 6 years and got to work with amazing businesses and learned a lot. But as Marie said, we connected and it was happily ever after.
N: Yeah! We’re the creative duo behind Foster Creative. So we foster strategic brand foundations for service-driven entrepreneurs.
We’re really about connecting with the entrepreneur and taking the time to learn and understand who they are and that unique factor they have within themselves and their business.
We want them to shine, tell their stories, connect to the personas they choose, and watch them grow.
M: It also helps that we’re big people persons!
We’re social butterflies and love connecting with people and it’s always a nice aspect to do that through creativity. It’s that moment of transforming an entrepreneur’s idea into something tangible.
There are a lot of entrepreneurs we meet who are solopreneurs and we’ve been fortunate that there are two of us so we can go back and forth with each other. But when we’re interacting with a solo entrepreneur we get to become a proxy partner for them and support them in their business.
As an entrepreneur by yourself, you might start to wonder and question things but we’re here to support them, their ideas, and their business.
N: So brand strategy for us has a bit of an origin story.
We noticed a common thread with the entrepreneurs we connected with that they were lacking the foundational clarity towards their brand which is synonymous with their business. That foundation is so crucial.
As Marie said, a lot of entrepreneurs are solo entrepreneurs, which is incredible, but can also be exceptionally lonely and hard to find answers to questions about being an entrepreneur.
So answering a question as simple as, ‘what colour should my brand be?’ means you need to understand not only yourself but also your personas and your competitors to cement that foundation and help you grow.
From that, came us creating the Foster Creative brand development strategy which entails working with us one on one. We have an in-depth, in-person discovery phase where we ask deep and thoughtful questions and have an open, fun conversation that a lot of clients enjoy a lot. They get re-energized and find a spark that was there but maybe got lost along the way.
From there, we piece together the brand foundation. Components like your tone of voice, figuring out who your competitors are so you can understand their strengths and weaknesses and where your opportunity comes from, understanding who you are within the marketplace.
It involves figuring out your purpose, your values, and, most importantly, your story. Your story is that unique identifying factor and that emotional connection you’re going to have with a person that ultimately generates a sale or lead.
The whole purpose of strategic branding foundation is creating a tangible document, your dictionary or guide, you can reference going forward to answer any difficult questions.
N: I think clients are struggling with the lack of brand strategy. Either not having any part of it or having a very loose aspect of certain components of brand strategy.
The most common example I can think of is about their target market: they want to target everyone.
It’s too vague, it’s not specific enough, and it’s not going to do you and your business any justice. So the strategy portion is huge.
Clients also struggle to identify the unique factor that differentiates them in the market. And it comes up in different ways. They won’t specifically say ‘I can’t identify what makes me unique.’ They’ll say ‘I can’t seem to generate a sale’ or ‘I don’t know if my brand is doing the work it should be doing.’
So then we take a step back and look at the brand strategy they have and how we can help strengthen it.
M: There’s also a lack of education or understanding about brand strategy.
When most people think about branding, they only think about visuals, and they aren’t wrong! The logo, colour palette, and typography are all visual elements of a brand. But the other part is understanding your purpose, vision, values, and more.
Entrepreneurs don’t always understand that if you set up all those with a brand strategy in place, it leads into other aspects of your business, such as marketing, sales, customer service, and generating leads.
As an example, look at the toilet paper Charmin. If you only have a product, like toilet paper, that’s not what’s going to sell. What’s going to sell is the little bear going across commercials, how personable it looks, how soft it is. It says more about the product and gives audiences an introduction to who you are, what your business is, your offer, and the solution you provide to a certain demographic.
A lot of people don’t understand it’s not just visuals, there’s a further strategy behind it all.
N: Just to add to that, we often think only big companies, like Charmin, have a brand strategy.
It’s easy to look at the big companies but having those elements of a brand, the foundation and strategy, works for a small business or a solopreneur or a side hustle. You don’t have to be a big corporation to have a brand strategy.
N: Exactly, and it’s what we practice ourselves.
When we go about making a decision, we question if it reflects our values and our purpose. Does it align with what we’re doing? What makes us get out of bed every morning and turn on the computer and put on the face of Foster Creative?
So having that strategy to support you is huge. It helps you navigate waters and show yourself in the best light possible.
M: Especially as a solopreneur.
We’re very fortunate to have each other. Natasha is my Jiminy Cricket, she’s like ‘you’re fine, you’re good! We’ll get there!’ But when you’re by yourself you can be your own demise or push yourself too hard.
Brand strategy is that guide you can always read back to remind yourself of your intention. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Read your story. It’s because you’re passionate about it, there’s nothing else like it, and you can do it.
N: It’s super cliche because every designer has talked about but a brand is not a logo.
A logo is an element of your brand but it does not make up the entirety of your brand. So, shameless plug, a brand strategy is where that comes into effect.
If you have a brand strategy you can build out the visual components like a logo and have everything work together.
So super cliche, but your logo is not a brand! There’s so much more!
M: Yeah, adding on to Natasha – your logo is a piece of a puzzle. Your typography is a piece of a puzzle. Your colour palette. But you don’t have a full image if you don’t collect all those pieces and put them together.
A brand strategy gives your business a clear vision of the direction you want to go. Short-term, long-term, and your overall dreams and goals.
M: My favourite part of the whole process is the research part.
After we finish the discovery call and before we start sketching or digitizing the content for the client, we go through an extensive research process.
We take all the information from the discovery, pick out little details, and go down every rabbit hole we can think of. Sketching, mood boards, word maps…it’s such an opportunity to learn different things that you wouldn’t normally be exposed to.
For example, one of our clients was in physiotherapy. I’ve never been really interested in biology or anatomy but during the research phase, I learned so much about tissues and cells and how that can be translated into an aesthetic. Something so minute as the curvature of a joint can be integrated into a pattern which is what we did.
Looking at research with a creative lens yields something unique to the client. That’s where the visuals really differentiate them from their competitors. There are so many ways to look at something and translate it, that’s the best part. The creativity in the unknown.
N: Research is awesome, the digitizing work is awesome. But there’s something really special and so much fun in the discovery process for me.
I love sitting down one on one, face-to-face with that business, entrepreneur, or super passionate person.
Watching their eyes get super big, seeing them be so expressive and happy and passionate about what they do and why they do it. Getting to ask them a bazillion questions and learn the ins and outs of who they are as an individual and as a business and where they want to go.
As great as it is for us, a lot of times our clients walk away saying ‘That was such a fun experience! It didn’t seem like 3 hours. I could’ve kept going forever.’ A lot of times it gets them excited about the next step.
So it’s a lot of fun, it’s really fun.
N: I think Marie has a great answer to the difference so I’ll take the second part. The biggest piece of advice is don’t be afraid to ask for help and work with others.
Even if you’re doing it yourself, there are resources out there you can access besides Google and downloading a PDF. Things like Facebook groups, networking groups, and masterminds where you can talk to people versus reading something that’s static.
Shameless plug, we offer Sounding Board Sessions which are one-hour calls with designers. We found that a lot of entrepreneurs might not be ready to hire someone to take on brand strategy, but need someone there with expertise.
People come on the call, talk to us, ask us questions and come away with insights. They’ll feel more encouraged and educated about brand strategy.
It’s something we love to do and gives us an opportunity to learn more about them as well.
M: I second that!
In terms of the difference, all entrepreneurs go through the phase of doing it yourself. We want to learn a new skill set, save money, or see if we are capable of doing it ourselves.
But as an entrepreneur, there is a high chance of feeling that analysis paralysis.
We’re exposed to so much information with Google and blogs and resources, it gets difficult to know what to pick out and who to reach out to. Then you end up spending a lot of time and energy trying to learn one skill set.
Foster Creative comes from the standpoint of you’re more than welcome to do your own brand strategy yourself, that curiosity is what makes you an entrepreneur.
But in terms of effectiveness and having a final product that you know works for you, that’s where an expert comes in.
We’ve done the work so you don’t have to.
We’ve gone to school, we’ve spent years learning, we’ve worked with clients, we’ve researched and know what questions to ask. Because sometimes that’s the downfall, you don’t know what questions to ask so you don’t know how to get the answers you need. We’ve gone through all the motions to condense the information into a document that you can understand.
Also, when you do the brand strategy with us, we’ll ask questions that dig a little deeper and make you think in a new way and push yourself a little further. That’s where the strength lies in going to an expert.
N: What about the three you might not think to have? There are common ones like your purpose statement, your values…and those are definitely needed.
But a really good competitor analysis is huge in a brand strategy. And doing it properly takes a lot of finesse.
If you’re able to understand who your competitors are, how they’re doing what they’re doing well, and how to use the knowledge they’ve put out there for your benefit – not saying to copy – but you can learn a lot from other people. They’ve done some of the groundwork that you don’t have to stumble through.
That’s crucial in a brand strategy and takes you to the next level.
M: I was going to say tone and voice. A lot of people don’t fully understand it but there are a lot of aspects to it from how you speak on social media, on your website, or in person.
If you portray your business one way on your website but different in person, it causes confusion about what you’re even offering because you’re not clear in your communication.
N: So many benefits! The biggest thing is if branding and website designers (like us) work with copywriters or SEO specialists, it’s more minds coming together to achieve someone else’s success.
The collaboration is fun and enjoyable, and everyone can share their own expertise in their field. It strengthens the project so much.
We can write, but we’re not the strongest copywriters. We can default to someone who is exceptional at their craft. Just like when someone comes to us saying ‘I need help with a brand, I need to refresh and pivot.’ Great, we’re experts at that and can help you achieve that.
It’s hiveminds coming together to help someone else succeed.
M: Branding, copy, and design are also super complimentary as well. Staying consistent in your brand from a visual standpoint and a communications standpoint is so important. And these areas lend themselves to a great opportunity to collaborate.
Collaboration and flow speak volumes about a company’s professionalism. When you divvy up your attention between different areas of your business, the quality might not be as good as when you have all those professionals on your side.
N: Branding, copy, and design are meant-to-be collaborations.
N: We want everyone to know that when we work with someone we’re not a one-and-done deal. We don’t just do the brand, done. Craft the website, done. Create a keynote template, done.
For us, it’s about getting to know that person and valuing that relationship. You spend a lot of time with each other and get to know a lot about one another, you get invested! We’re about that continual support.
So even if someone comes to us for brand strategy but isn’t ready to take it to the next level, we want to stay connected and offer resources and support them. We all should just support and uplift one another in any field or city because that’s what’s going to cause us all to be successful.
See! Foster Creative’s expertise and passion for brand strategy does not disappoint. Their work adds so much value to all service-based businesses.
To learn more about the strategy behind your business, check out a few of these other blog posts.
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