I think they follow the below strategy and create brands. Based on my work experience, i can say i got a good value by doing the following things.
Try them and if it helps, this blog has served the purpose
1. Who is the user - Enquiring about the end user is most important, it is even more important than the application and the stakeholders.
2. Who are the stakeholders - Who are they and what are they trying to achieve in the limited time,money and resources. If you start thinking like a CEO of the stakeholders company you have killed the lion in one shot.
3.What is the business problem - Understand the business problem as if it is your problem. Ask intelligent questions to understand the problem scope.
4.Sleep - Suggest some initial solutions to yourself, if in a meeting room to the stakeholders and the team, and get their feedback on the same. If you are alone, call an old Friend and ask him for suggestions, you can even drop a call to you grand mother and see what she says. The idea is to get some initial feedback on the way you are proceeding to solve the business problem. Now sleep with the problem for 2-3 days and you will get some solutions.
5.Sketch it up - Sketch the business scenarios on a piece of paper, in short sketch your whole thought process.
6.Information Architecture - Jot down the content inventory and finally the information architecture, IA gives you a deep level thoughts at what level you are trying to solve the problem, is the screen coming at the level one or level two.
7.Prototype - Make some paper prototypes at a very high level, count the number of clicks the user is taking to achieve his tasks.
8.Test- Test the paper prototypes and if time permits make the visio or ppt prototypes and test it.
9.Visual design - If it works fine, give the design more realistic look by appropriate visual design.
10.User - At all points keep the user in mind, the stakeholder in mind and the business goal.
The above flow has helped me a lot in designing great apps, let's see how it helps you.