When many people say brand, they use the word to describe a particular product or service (e.g. my mum’s always used the same brand of washing powder). The word brand is also commonly used to refer to the things that make a product identifiable, such as logos, colour palettes or fonts. Branding is quite often viewed as something external to the rest of a business, a pretty little bow to wrap everything up in.
This is completely understandable. When large companies undergo a high-profile ‘rebrand’, they tend to show images of their website, store-front or staff uniforms with a shiny new logo applied. Many design agency websites are guilty of having a ‘branding’ section in their portfolio that shows nothing more than a slideshow of logos.
To define a brand purely in terms of the visual, however, is to ignore the many different things that a business can do to differentiate itself (or its products) from competition.
Keeping it Simple:
In it’s simplest form, I believe ‘brand’ can be described in one sentence:
Your brand is what you do and how you do it.
Seems easy when it’s put like that doesn’t it? But if you take a good look around, it doesn’t appear to be very easy. A lot of people struggle with maintaining a clear, consistent and well communicated brand throughout the many situations in which they interact with an audience, be that members of the public, customers, suppliers or staff.
In fact branding, as with many of the other seemingly simple things in life, is quite tricky to do well. Lots of large companies pay specialist design and branding agencies considerable sums of money to help define, align and communicate their brand. Some of the leading agencies, such as London’s SomeOne create rich multi-layered brand experiences for huge global companies. This kind of treatment is the Rolls Royce (itself a brand so well understood, it has become a metaphor) of branding, communicating a company’s values to every single corner of its enterprise.
So what about the smaller businesses: the start-ups, local suppliers, farm-shops and consultants of this world? Without the budget to have their brand professionally built from the ground up, can they unify their image? The answer is yes; but it takes a lot of thought, a bit of planning and, possibly, the ability to be completely honest with yourself (we’ll come back to that in a later post).
Lets take a look at the two elements of ‘brand’ that I defined earlier.
What You Do
In terms of your brand, ‘what you do’ means not just your main business activity, but EVERY one of the myriad tasks that go into keeping any business active. These could include things like buying from suppliers, marketing your services and disposing of your waste.
How You Do It
For each of the tasks above, there are different ways of approaching them. When a business buys from a supplier, do they pay on delivery or wait until the finance department is calling to remind them? When they put an advert in the local paper are they giving prominence to prices, or the quality of service? Do they go the extra mile to make sure as much waste as possible is recycled, or do they only do what the local council demands of them?
Regardless of whether you believe any of these approaches to be right or wrong, they each say something different about the business involved.
Why Does it Matter?
Many people can see the value of branding their products and services effectively to their clients. There is an easily recognised, and often measurable, return on investment in client-facing branding exercises; such as repackaging products, redesigning a website or redecoration a store. It can be harder to see the value of applying your brand to the way you deal with staff, suppliers and other groups.
In todays connected world, however, everybody has the ability to communicate with everybody else. This means that if there a is a gap between the brand image you present to your clients and the way you do business behind the scenes, it is likely to come to the attention of existing and potential customers alike.
In minor cases this may only cause slight surprise. In major cases it could cause confusion, mistrust or even worse.
Take, for example, a supermarket that makes a big fanfare about the amount of Fairtrade products it buys from the developing world. If you became aware that this same supermarket was paying ridiculously unfair prices to British Farmers would the Fairtrade campaign now seem like an ethical standpoint, or an exploitative marketing opportunity?
It is becoming more and more important to unify your brand across every business activity.
So Is a Logo Not important?
“A logo is the point of entry to the brand.”
None of this means that a logo is not important. An easily recognisable logo allows you to quickly and effectively take ownership of many of your communications and products. However; it comes back to the definition of ‘what you do and how you do it’. If you are using a logo, you need to be using one that somehow represents and communicates your practices, or at the very least: doesn’t contrast too heavily with them.
Large brands that have spent years (and fortunes) building a lot of awareness through marketing and advertising can use their logo in isolation and immediately communicate their brand qualities. Smaller businesses need to work a little bit harder to do this.
Think of you logo as a signature. If you’re really famous it’s known as an autograph, and that signature tells anyone looking at it all they need to know. If you’re not famous you’re best to put your signature at the bottom of a letter. If everything in that letter is truthful, your signature will start to gain positive associations.
Your logo should be viewed as a part of your overall brand. Overtime, with consistent and effective branding, your logo could come to represent you in isolation. Unless you are sure your brand is very well known and understood, however, you are probably better off to treat it as a smaller part of the whole picture.
So, regardless of who you are and what you do, your brand is defined by every purchase, sale, interaction & decision that you make. The very fact that you are reading this article says something about your brand, and the fact that I wrote it says something about mine.
To develop a unified and successful brand image, you need to think about every activity you do, and make sure that you are doing it in a way that stays true to your own brand. Of course, in order to do this; you need to know what your own brand is.
In the next post I will be looking at ways to define your brand; whether that be an already existing one, or the brand that you aspire to possess.
Until then; if you have any questions about this article, or want me to cover anything specific in the future please leave a comment below.