The More You Learn the More You Earn

blog brand creation brand strategy branding designer skills trademark trademark examples May 26, 2022

Learning the right things increases your earning power. 

There are two types of learning: mastering the skills we need to run a successful business and learning the technical skills to create more effective output. So, if you’re a designer the output will be the designs.

The principle of the more you learn, the more you earn is affected by what other people are learning too. The more people choose a certain discipline or vocation,  the less the relative value of that vocation or skill will be. 

Invariably successful people are those who choose to learn more. They are better at spotting what will give them a competitive edge and more earning potential.

 If what you’re learning is the same as what everybody else is learning, your earning power won’t be impacted so favourably as when what you learn is less widely known.

Take graphic design as an example. Designers get into graphic design because they love expressing the world around them visually. But the barriers to entry into design are low. Anyone who learns basic design skills can create brochures. On the other hand, if you can create brand identities the barriers to entry are higher. 

This explains why graphic designers who initially cut their teeth on small projects like banners, roll-ups, and brochure work for established brands, get into brand identity work. Then, having familiarised themselves with the vocabulary around branding, they learn how to do brand identity work by reading books, articles, and listening to podcasts, and after a few brand identity projects, they’ll want to be known as brand strategists rather than as graphic designers. They can earn much more as brand strategists.

Branding Involves Multiple Disciplines

Branding is a large subject involving multiple disciplines, so the journey to mastery as a brand strategist involves learning more about business, and focusing on topics like marketing, rather than purely learning the technical skills of design. Graphic designers who learn to do brand identity work might describe themselves as brand strategists rather than graphic designers but the level of knowledge in the industry varies enormously.

I’ve personally experienced a “brand strategy” service that was nothing more than a logo and visual designs. The designer didn’t have the wider business and marketing skills to be able to help make my business work better.

Branding is about substance, it is not just about surface imagery, important though that imagery might be. As Steve Jobs once said: “Some people think design means how it looks. But if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works”  So designers who haven’t yet built up the wider skills they need in business and marketing will tend to just create visual designs when they do brand identity work. They haven’t yet learnt enough to do more than that, and the barriers to entry are not as high against competitors. 

Competition has increased due to globalisation and the internet. Platforms like 99Designs and Upwork commoditise design work because designers must compete for design briefs by creating designs that they’re only paid for if they win the brief. They must bid for projects to secure work against stiff competition from an increasing supply of designers. 

To manage this competitive environment, ensure your brand identity projects include support to identify who the target consumer is, and what they want and need your clients would get a more complete service. You’d be rarer than if you focus just on how the brand looks so would stand out compared to the competition. You could charge more than them.

The Power of Learning

A story that explains the power of learning involves a project where the client had developed a new patented technology that was going to be marketed internationally. The client needed a name and a visual identity. Designers had been invited to show their creative ideas to bid for the project.

My friend went into the meeting after another agency who had proposed a name and designs. The agency had impressed the client. His bid didn’t suggest a name, nor did it include bespoke designs. What he did instead, was to show the client why the name the previous bidder had proposed was unsuitable. He did a quick Google search which immediately knocked out the name. He explained why the name wasn’t a viable one for international use regardless of the availability issue. He then spent the rest of the time educating the client about what is involved to choose a name for international use, the legal searches required, the importance of considering the meaning of a name in other languages and ensuring the name is available internationally. He explained that it was inappropriate to produce visual designs until a suitable name was chosen, which is why he didn’t have any visual concepts to show the client.

By enlightening the client about the naming process, he was able to demonstrate his superior expertise, and reveal the other agency’s lack of experience and win the brief.

The agency that lost the pitch had spent time and money identifying a name and designing visual concepts. They lost because they had less knowledge. My friend was fully aware of the low standard of expertise in the industry and how agencies pitch for big projects without even knowing the basics of naming. Many of them don’t even do a Google search before proposing names. He knew that even the more experienced agencies wrongly assume that the availability of the .com domain or company name is a good indicator of availability of a name. So, his hunch was that the other agency’s name wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny, and he was right. He won the pitch because he knew more than his competitors.

How to Provide Quality Brand Creation Services

Branding is a big subject. Developing your knowledge of business, marketing, and IP is essential if you want to provide a quality brand creation service. Whatever your background, whether you’re a marketer, a designer or an IP lawyer, there will be gaps in your knowledge that you need to plug to better support your clients. Personally, I’ve spent the last 10 years increasing my understanding of branding by doing courses, listening to podcasts, reading, and applying the learnings in my practice with clients. And that’s just to learn the non-legal aspects of branding.

If you do brand identity work as a designer, it is easy to elevate your expertise and stand out from your competitors if you learn more about the IP side of brand creation. IP is where the value of a business lies. It’s what represents the brand when a business is sold, and design work creates intellectual property for the client. So, for designers, IP learning should be prioritised. It’s part and parcel of your output. If you haven’t yet learnt how IP impacts decisions you make about names, colours, symbols, taglines etc, your projects would benefit if you learned more. Invest in your personal knowledge. Get out of your comfort zone. Bet on yourself.

Betting on yourself to increase your knowledge of branding is the best way to increase your earning potential, prospects, and job satisfaction.

Brand Tuned Accreditation Program

The Brand Tuned Accreditation program is a comprehensive course on branding that shows you how to create distinctive brand identities that work from both a legal and business perspective. I suggest you sign up to join the program.

The IP you’d learn is at high level, relevant to an international audience rather than country specific legal minutiae. It’s focused on branding, helping you to create distinctive brands that meet the legal requirements of distinctiveness, and reduce risks. It’s about how to determine the brand’s IP strategy because that impacts the types of name and other identifiers that are right based on your client’s ambitions and budget for IP protection.

It isn’t about what IP is. There are plenty of courses out there that can teach you what IP is, and how to identity IP rights like patents, trademarks, designs, copyright etc. However, you’d be hard put to glean the knowledge and insights about IP that the Brand Tuned Accreditation program teaches you in a general course on IP because the IP I teach is information that is new even for IP lawyers. It doesn’t come up in their day-to-day practice because it’s branding information rather than pure IP.

It’s not difficult or time consuming to learn the IP you need to know for brand identity work. You’re perfectly capable of learning it. But it’s important to learn it properly so you apply IP correctly in your projects. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, especially when it comes to IP. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about IP and there are subtleties in IP that can lead to serious mistakes.

Misinformation Designers Have with IP

An example of misinformation I’ve observed designers spreading is telling a client it’s necessary to make up a name to be able to trademark it, so that a name like 'EVo-Stick" or 'Twix’, that’s ok, but they can’t trademark a word in general use because otherwise no one else would be able to use the same word in everyday language without being sued! 

Of course, you can trademark an ordinary word. An opposite type of wrong advice is telling people you can use the same word as an existing business because the word they’ve used is a word in general meaning. If a brand has used a word in general meaning in their category, such as the word ‘boss’ in fashion, then it is not open to others to also use the word boss.  

Currently, designers receive little to no training in IP, and yet many of them are very enthusiastic to name businesses. It’s important to first learn the skills you need and ensure there are no serious gaps in your knowledge. 

Knowing what things to learn to get a competitive advantage is important. Certainly, if what you’re learning is the same as what everybody else is learning, you need to learn something else. 

Take it from me IP is the currency of the 21st century and is the missing ingredient in branding that designers and marketers need to double down on. You will set yourself apart from your competitors if you learn how to include IP strategy in your brand strategy. Join the Brand Tuned Accreditation program starting in September and expand your skills.