Branding: The Courage to Be Authentic
ONE OF DH’S CORE SERVICES is branding. We believe there is no greater investment than in an organization’s brand. It’s how you show up in the world—how you tell your story and how you set yourself apart.
Since the beginning, we’ve taken an integrated approach to branding. Because a brand doesn’t exist in a vacuum. A strong brand is grounded in research, and it resonates with all of an organization’s audiences. Successful brands also convey their viewpoint and personality across all communications and marketing efforts.
We sat down with Judy Heggem-Davis and Leah Mow to talk branding.
DH: What differentiates us from other branding firms?
Judy: At DH, strategy informs design. A brand needs to embody who a client genuinely is. We conduct research—insight interviews, competitive analysis, strategy sessions. We look at their audiences—who do they need to attract?—as well as the organization’s goals. Who do they want to be? What do they want to look like? Feel like? Then we pull these tricky, touchy-feely ideas into something visual.
Leah: Our work gets at something real. Before we even get to what something should look like, we’ve taken a deep dive into the client and who they are through tools such as research. Branding is not a purely visual process. It needs to go beyond something nice to look at to something that connects and leaves an impression. For that, you have to have a repetitive, in-depth understanding of the client, their challenges, opportunities and audiences.
DH: What might surprise people about the branding process?
Leah: Branding takes a certain amount of courage. It’s destabilizing … in a very positive way. It’s like tilling the earth and bringing up new, rich soil to the surface and creating a fresh space to work in. When a brand is done right, the cultural impact is powerful on an organization. It clarifies what is unique and special about you.
DH: What is it like guiding a client through that process?
Leah: I’ll be honest. In any branding process there are moments of discomfort and doubt. It can be scary and it’s normal for clients to want to pull back into their comfort zone. It takes courage to be authentic: This is who we are, and this is what we’re saying.
Judy: It’s fun—creating something concrete from abstract concepts and helping a client achieve success. You find something they can all get behind and get excited about. I like creating the big picture of the brand, developing the touch points and companion elements—the experience of the brand.
DH: What are your thoughts on the future of branding?
Judy: These days, an organization has to have good branding. We are wired to observe design more than ever before. When I was a kid, you didn’t care. People have been raised through an era of good design. It’s become such a part of our society: sports, fashion, technology, coffee. It’s connected to high value. Organizations are starting to realize good design is part of a strong business plan.
Leah: I think there’s also this awareness that it can’t just be about visuals. A strong brand needs a foundation in research and strategy. It’s not just about what’s trendy or new but what your audiences connect with, where your organization is going and what truly makes you different. It has to be genuine. Otherwise you’re just going off a hunch or shooting in the dark. With the investment it takes to complete the branding process, it’s really important to have that deep understanding into the work the brand needs to do. On the other side of that, if you have a great strategy and poor design, you’re also just wasting your money. A strong brand needs both.
DH: How has DH evolved in the branding space?
Judy: DH has seen a lot of change in a short period of time. Our design services have grown. DH has always been a creative firm; now there’s a stronger emphasis on how that plays out visually. Everyone at DH is here because we do good work and care about it. If you don’t care, that shows up in how effective it is—or isn’t.
Leah: One of the things I am really proud of at DH is our branding process. It’s so thorough, and we really get at the core of what the brand is. Because of the honesty, there is also an intimacy to the process. We end up feeling so connected to the client—like we are part of it with them. And I think that comes out in the work.
DH: What do you enjoy most about the branding process?
Judy: I think my answer changes day-to-day. (Laughs.) I like coming up with the idea and all the variations. I love creating supporting pieces: colors, illustrations, photography, wearables. I like all the hurdles—the engineering and building, figuring out how to make all the pieces and have them work together. I like to manage all the details and make the final result. Branding is never a straight line. It’s challenging and fun.
Leah: Throughout this process, we get an up-close view from our client’s perspective—what matters to them, what they’re hoping to achieve, what keeps them up at night. For that period of time, there’s this emotional connection. It’s very human. And, really, at the end of the day, branding is a very human thing—it’s about building connection and relationships.