The most important skill in branding has nothing to do with design.

At Contrast, we’re driven to create strikingly different brand experiences. We want to design brands without precedent. Brands that rock their respective industries. And so far, so good. Eight years in, we continue to find bold new ways to bring the complex narratives of our clients to life with transformative brands that no one saw coming.

The question that arises most often today is: How do we do it? How do we create the brands we create? How do we capture the essence of an organization consistently? How do we take a universe of creative possibilities and narrow them down into a powerful, unified, and cohesive solution?

Is it our values? People? Approach? Yes, yes, and yes. It’s a little bit of everything, of course. We have an unapologetically high standard for our creative work. We have amassed an incredible team who can deliver. And our methodologies continue to evolve and improve by the hour. 

But at the heart of everything is one basic skill. And mastering that skill—truly mastering it—has been the core of every great brand we have ever conceived. 

So, what is that skill? (Drumroll please…)

The answer is… listening. Yes, listening. 

No, it’s not a new idea, or an especially sexy one. In today’s dynamic branding world, shiny new objects such as Canva Brand Hub and Chat GPT will always dominate the conversation. Listening is a hugely underrated part of the creative process. The problem—from a marketing standpoint—is that the act of listening doesn’t lend itself to a cool process infographic. 

But sexy infographic or not, listening just works. Like, really well.

Listening well in the discovery process is the most important thing we can do to ensure an effective solution for our clients. That bears repeating. Listening well in the discovery process is the single most important thing we can do to ensure an effective solution. 

At the start of our brand discoveries, all we usually have is broad, cursory knowledge of our clients and their industries. That’s the way it should be. We begin brand discovery in a vacuum—we’re a blank slate ready to be filled. We don’t enter with assumptions, and we avoid preconceived solutions. We go in open, receptive, and eager.

What do we listen for? 

Just about everything. First, we listen in order to simply understand our clients. We want to learn everything possible about their businesses. We want to understand their objectives. Their challenges. The complexities of their industries and the concerns that keep them up at night. We listen for the ideas shared, the words used, and the emotions conveyed. We listen for details. Inflections. Emphasis. 

Listening is a nuanced process, and we all listen for different things here. Our strategists listen for certain information. Designers often listen for something completely different. The intersection of it all is what creates the optimal solution. And always, we listen for the big idea—the signature concept that captures the essence of an organization and often lies just beneath the surface of the conversation.

Their ability to listen, dig deep, and then come up with absolutely brilliant recommendations is second to none.
- CEO, Bixal

That’s our approach to listening. That’s how we begin brands here. For us, it’s the only way. And for our clients, it has been priceless.

If your organization is going through a rebranding process, here are some ways to make the listening and discovery process more effective:

Focus on balance. When it comes to listening, you can’t solve the needs of a complex brand from the perspective of a single individual. Always look to fold in various perspectives from both inside and outside the organization. Listen to key stakeholders and leadership, of course. But also listen to clients. Employees. Prospects. Listen to have a holistic understanding of the brand. Listen to understand the needs and motivations of all of your audiences.

Listen to organize. In order to be understood, brand messaging must be intuitive and structured. So listen for consistently repetitive sentiments that can become the foundation of messaging themes and pillars. Listen for patterns. Listen for outliers. Listen for opportunities to shape everything you hear cleanly into thought leadership, content, and marketing strategies.

Take advantage of momentum. The best time to review notes from discovery and begin brainstorming is directly afterward. No exceptions. We find revisiting notes early in the process is transformative. The conversations are fresh. The ideas are still buzzing. With each day that passes, these key ideas start to fade. The sooner you can begin the process of synthesizing, the better.

Take note of precise words used. Words are incredibly important. They have real meaning and intention behind them. So take note of the specific words that come up in conversation. And then resurface those same words when presenting solutions back to the client. That is the key to helping people feel you’ve bought in and heard them. 

Listen to competitors. Part of listening is also looking at the competitive landscape. It’s learning how others speak. What are their key ideas? What is their visual language? What story are they telling? How are they different? Understanding the competitive set is a key part of the listening process, and ensures that the story you tell is different from the others out there.

Listen in person, where possible. In today’s post-Covid world, more and more discovery conversations are done over Zoom. But when possible, listening in person is preferred. There is an intangible thing that happens during the communications process when it takes place face to face. Very seldom is it more convenient, but it’s always better. You probably knew that, but it’s worth reinforcing.

Okay, enough talk. We’re ready to listen. Just as importantly, we’re ready to help create some contrast. If you’re looking to build a strikingly different brand experience, get in touch to see how Contrast can help get you started. 

Contrast & Co. is a boutique brand strategy, design, and digital studio driven to create the smartest and most effective brand experiences anywhere. We help organizations of all sizes define themselves and express their messages in ways that are unique, motivating, and powerful. From naming and identities to comprehensive brand guides, rollout strategies, and websites, we help our clients stand out and get noticed.

Contrast & Co. has been named to Adweek's Top 100 Fastest-Growing Agencies. We see it as our responsibility, and honor, to help our clients shine—so let's create some contrast together. Reach out to us at

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