The Branding Process: Research

The Branding Process: Research | Lemon and the Sea: The first part of building any brand is research. Not only do you need to understand your business, your audience, and what makes you unique, you also have to look at your competitors.

Welcome to Part I of The Design Process Series. Each week I'm going to share the steps of the branding process, some ways that I help my clients, and give you a behind-the-scenes look at how I create a brand through this process.

The first part of building any brand is research. Not only do you need to understand your business, your audience, and what makes you unique, you also have to look at your competitors. Below I'm sharing some insight and questions I use with my clients to help them dig into their business and build a brand that reflects them.

Know your business

Before you begin branding, either on your own or with a designer, you need to know your business. This is more than just how to run your business - although you should have some idea of how to do that - but also includes the values, story, and clients behind your work. If you need help answering some of these questions, make sure you check out The Vault, where there are lots of great worksheets to help you.

  • What is the story behind your business?
  • What is your job title and what does it mean to your clients?
  • What are your business values?
  • What do you do that no one else does?
  • Who is your ideal client?
  • Where do you see your business in 5 years?
  • What are your big business goals?

Know Your Competitors

Knowing your own business and brand is important, but in order to build a business that is unique and can offer something that no one else can, you need to know who your competitors are and take some time to analyze them. Write down the answers to these questions or download the worksheet I've created just for you from The Vault.

The Basics:

Your competitors might be big businesses or they may be entrepreneurs like you. Either way, you need to identify them and what they offer.

  • Who are they?
  • What audience do they service?
  • What is their brand message?
  • What services and products do they offer?


Once you know your competitors, you have to dig into their business a little more to really understand what makes them successful, what you can learn from them, and what you can do differently.

  • What does their brand stand for?
  • What are their strengths?
  • What are their weaknesses?
  • How do they find and cultivate customers?
  • How do they sell?
  • How do they characterize their customers? (Hint: look at their sales page.)
  • How does their brand look and feel?

Get Personal:

This section can be the most difficult, but it's also the most important. You need to take a hard look at the businesses you're comparing yourself to and figure out why you admire them. Maybe you can even find ways that you can work together!

  • Do you like their strategy (or just their success)?
  • How are you different?
  • What does your ideal client think of them?
  • How can you stand out?
  • How can you collaborate with them?


Every brand starts with a business idea. It's only once you understand your business and audience that you can build a brand that helps you grow. Design is more than just colors and logos - it's every visual piece of your business - and they should all work together to compliment your message and vision.

  • What feeling do you want your brand to have?
  • How is your current brand (if you have one) falling short?
  • What 10 words describe the brand you want?
  • Are there any colors or elements you want to include? Want to leave out?
  • If your brand was a person, what would they wear?


Your website is the face of your brand, especially if you don't have a storefront. Almost everyone checks out a website before deciding to visit or buy from a business. That means that your website needs to fit your brand, be easy to navigate, and be easy for you to update (which is why I love Squarespace).

  • What is the main purpose of your website?
  • What pages need to be included and what is the main purpose of each?
  • What are websites of three of your competitors?
  • What three websites do you think function well?


Along with The Branding Process outline, I'm going to give you a look into how I use this process to design a brand step-by-step from initial consult to launch. Because I don't want to share any of my client's amazing brands before they are complete, I'm going to be walking you through the design of a business I created: Harvest, an eatery and market.

The Consult

Before I take on any project, I start with sending an Intro Packet to anyone interested in working with me. This includes some details about how I work, the packages I offer, and basic details about canceling projects and payments. I do this so that they know what to expect and can decide not to move forward if they don't think I would be a good fit as their designer.

If a potential client is still interested, they schedule a call with me. Usually I do this over Skype, but I've also done regular phone calls, depending on the client's tech and comfort level. During this call, we discuss their business, their goals for working with a designer, and exactly what they need - be that a full rebrand or just a few marketing materials. I use this call to let both of us feel the other out and make sure that we can work together well.

The Details

After the call, I send a customized quote, which the client can review and ask questions about. If they approve it, I then send a contract for them to sign, create an invoice for the deposit, and set them up with a client page. I also give directions of how to create a Pinterest inspiration board and send them the project questionnaires to answer.

The Questionnaires

I always leave a little time between the consult and the project start date so that my client can take their time answering these questions because I want to get the best information I can before I start designing.

Harvest is an eatery and market that focuses on creating delicious food with local, organic ingredients. In addition to the restaurant, Harvest also offers a small market where customers can by fresh produce from locals farms and classes for those who want to learn how to cook healthy meals at home. Below I've included some of the questions and answers that will drive my design.

What is the story behind your business?

I have always loved cooking and grew up with a huge garden. When I decided to open a restaurant, I know I wanted to make the most of the local, organic ingredients and help others to do the same.

What are your business values?

Honesty, openness, and generosity.

Why should someone choose you over your competition?

Our service and commitment to our customers - we want every guest to get the best experience and we go out of our way to make that happen.

Who is your ideal client?

Young couples and families who want great tasting food that is also healthy and good for the environment.

What 10 words describe the brand you want?

Organic, fresh, natural, warm, open, honest, fun, local, customer-oriented, dynamic.

Are there any colors or elements you want to include? Want to leave out?

I want the food to be the star. No pastels or watercolor - I like bold and I'm not afraid of color.

What brands do you admire and why?

  • Braid Creative - they have awesome messaging
  • The Fresh Market - they are upscale, but still easy going

What pages need to be included on your website and what is the main purpose of each?

  • Home - show what we have to offer
  • About - tell our story and share our location
  • Menu - to bring people in to eat
  • Classes - to sell our cooking classes
  • Market - show what's for sale and where it's from

Describe the website you're envisioning.

Intense color, clean, easy to update, image-driven.

Follow Along

Next week, I'll share the next step of the design process: strategy and show you how I use mood boards to help me create a consistent brand. We'll also talk about creating a brand statement.

Lemon and the Sea is a brand and website design company located in Richmond, VA. I specialize in making the branding process personal. I work with creative women who have a heart to serve others grow their businesses so they can focus on what's most important - family.   I work closely with small businesses to help them dig into what makes them unique, share their vision, and build a business that genuinely represents who they are.