by Kelly Hobkirk
What is a branding expert? And how do you become one? I’ve long shied away from the ‘expert’ moniker, but people call me that now, particularly in relation to branding. Do you become a branding expert by reading about the topic? I’ve read a ton about brands and branding, but no, reading didn’t make me an expert.
Does winning design awards make me a branding expert? Design awards aren’t worth a whole lot in my opinion. I consider client success to be the best award, or really, reward. So, no, design awards don’t make me an expert in branding.
Do you become an expert by creating big brands? I’ve branded big brands, but no, branding big companies and their brands isn’t the most fruitful way to learn about branding. Larger companies tend to homogenize their messages to appeal to wider audiences, which means their brands are safer, take less risks and often connect on (sadly) more shallow levels.
Did I just declare one day that I was a branding expert, and made it so? Nope, that would be too easy and too hard at the same time. Too easy because there’s no challenge in making such a declaration, and too hard because it’s difficult to provide proof for something you haven’t any sort of official certification.
Did I learn so much about branding by just creating brands? Not exactly. It’s easy to create a brand. Anyone can do it, but few people can do it well. Most brands fail on some level, and the ones that fail the most are usually those created by small business owners, simply because creating brands isn’t what they do. Yes, I have created a lot of brands, but I believe this alone does not qualify me as an expert.
So how did I become a branding expert? Honestly, I have never called myself an expert. In fact, I tend to shy away from such terminology. My clients, however, embrace the term ‘expert’. I first heard I was a branding expert from a large, international client, all the way back in 1989 (when I still had hair atop my head). I made them think about their company and their brands in ways they had never done before.
How did I do that? How did I make them think? I asked them questions they’ve never before considered. Then, I listened. A ton.
Does being a graphic designer make me a branding expert? No, not at all. In my ‘expert’ opinion, branding has very little to do with graphic design. While graphic design as a modality compliments branding perfectly, branding is much more about listening and making valuable connections. I am exceptional at making valuable connections.
And that, according to my clients, makes me a branding expert. I take their label as a prized compliment of the highest order.