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Good branding is less of an outcome and more of a process. Learn more about the process behind our branding and brand strategy work for Rice Media.

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©Somewhere Else
…good branding is less of an outcome and more of a process. It is an exercise in self-discovery…

1) As a warm up question… What’s it like working with Somewhere Else (SE)?
Eye-opening, mostly. As writers and editors we’re used to think about content from a reader’s perspective. We look at ideas, arguments, sentence structure, grammar, etc. Accordingly, we tend to overlook the user’s perspective: not just how people are reading, but how people are interacting with the website, how they are coming to the website in the first place, how design informs their choices to continue reading, etc etc. All of these are important considerations when working in digital media, and SE has been central in making sure we account for these things. 

2) What did we do together?
Essentially, we’ve built a website together and created content. But SE has also been heavily involved in the process of developing the brand—not just on the design front, but in terms of guiding us through the process of understanding why we do what we do, and being more aware of whether our intentions are translating into results. 

3) Describe the challenges that we faced at the time.
When Rice first started, there was no reference for what we were trying to do/accomplish. So the main challenge was really to figure out what kind of content we wanted to create, and the design input that SE could offer. This only became much clearer later on when we had a better sense of who we were as a publication, what we stood for, what our voice was, etc.

4) If we had a chance to do it all over again, what should we do differently?
Not much. I think that we would not have arrived where we were today if not for the process of trial and error, money wasted, lessons learnt, and so on. If anything, I would have kickstarted our social media much earlier.

5) What has been the biggest obstacle throughout the project towards your goals?
I would say, finding the will to keep evaluating what we’re doing and thinking about how we want to pivot or adjust. It’s a trying process to consistently confront your own blind spots and things you have to admit you don’t know so much about, and make the necessary changes to make sure we’re still delivering on what we promised readers. In that sense, the biggest obstacle has always been ourselves and to an extent our egos, so it’s been a challenge to commit to the process of constantly refining what we do, measuring what we believe against reality/other people’s opinions, and so on. 

6) How did you overcome it?
This above mentioned process has gotten easier with practice. It has also gotten easier once we started seeing results. We spent a lot of time just doing what we thought was good and what we thought people wanted. This worked at the start, but as the brand has gotten older there’s been a more pressing need to continuously innovate. But we’ve seen the value of paying more attention to readers/users, and how this has made our work better. 

7) How has your understanding of branding changed over the years?
I used to think of branding as aesthetic. Colours, logos, graphics that accompany a company or product’s appearance. Often, this tends to be the case. But good/effective/genuine branding helps to manifest business objectives as well; it considers who a brand is, what a brand wants to accomplish, and how branding can communicate and accomplish these things. 

8) Do you think branding affects business trajectories? Why/why not?
For sure. Branding makes it clear what we are and what we’re not, and what we offer in comparison to our competitors. When that value-add is clear, it also allows us to charge more than our competitors. It also makes the entire process easier because often we find we don’t need to convince brand partners to work with us, or do too much to get them to understand who we are or why we’re different. Branding helps us to articulate all this from the get-go. 

9) What were the key/significant impacts you saw after the refresh?
It made it much clearer what Rice as a brand was about. Readers really liked how it looked like the publication had matured, and that it was clearer what our different content verticals now were. It also, in a way, helped to organise the way we thought about our own content—kind of like a visual reference for our identity, and has helped a lot in terms of content strategy and thinking about how to grow the brand. 

10)  What else do you think good branding impacts?
On the whole: I think good branding is less of an outcome and more of a process. It is an exercise in self-discovery, to understand the relevance of your brand and figuring out its different mechanisms, and figuring out whether there is really a need for it in the first place. When done well, this directly impacts product development and business objectives. It also allows you to build better quality relationships with readers/users (they can tell when your branding is insincere, and it will eventually manifest in the quality of work), and with brand partners. Communication only works when other stakeholders get to experience the

11)  What new challenges do you see for brands, looming on the horizon?
I think that a lot of branding has become repetitive. And I think most brands don’t understand what branding is or what purpose it’s meant to serve. Or they don’t follow through, and so their branding becomes just a form of marketing, and the product doesn’t live up to the promise. In general, perhaps people need to understand better the relationship between branding and business, and commit more to ensuring the business lives up to the branding as well, and not think of branding as this external, superficial thing. Ultimately, branding should be informed by your own internal clarity about what you’re offering—this in itself is already hard for a lot of brands.

12)   Any advice for young brand managers, or business owners, especially  in these tough times?
Be clear on what your brand promise is, whether you can really deliver, and how it sets you apart from the competition. Know your audience/market—is there really demand for this? Where is demand coming from? Be less fixated on how your brand looks, and pay more attention to what it is and isn't. Branding must come from within as well.

13)  Last burning question… How in the world did you end up choosing us, over all our very talented competition? 
To me at least it’s always been very clear that SE is not just a design/branding agency. SE’s work tends to put the user’s needs, expectations, and experience first, and this then becomes a guiding framework for how a product grows. The relationship between brand and branding is always the priority; they inform one another and are never seen as distinct from each other. This has been instrumental in helping us to continuously rethink our work and evolve. 

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