A brand is often thought of simply as the logo and colours of a business. But it is so much more than that. In fact, the visual identity is one of the last steps in creating a unique, memorable and strong brand.
So what exactly is a brand then? Fundamentally, a brand is how people perceive your business. It’s your values, your purpose, your personality. A brand, is how your business makes someone feel.
“Brand is the sum total of how someone perceives an organisation. Branding is about shaping that perception,” says Ashley Friedlein, founder of Econsultancy.
Or, as the CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, says: “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
Creating your brand starts with a process of differentiation. It’s about analysing what makes your offering worthy of your customer’s time and money. Why should they choose you? Why not your competitor? What is so good about you that they should become an ambassador?
Once you know who you are, you have to live and breathe it through every single part of your business. Through every aspect of your company, every customer interaction. Consistency in brand building is absolutely paramount.
For example, imagine if you walked into an Apple Store to soft furnishings and an Apple Genius clothed in tracksuit pants. Or imagine if Red Bull suddenly started sponsoring flower arranging instead of base jumping.
Defining, creating, and managing your brand is no small task. It takes dedication, understanding, and an ongoing commitment. But the results far outweigh the effort, with 91 percent of customers more willing to buy from an authentic brand, and consistent branding proven to increase revenue by up to 23 percent.
When it comes to branding for family businesses, the fundamentals outlined above are the same. But being a family business gives you a competitive advantage.
Defining who you are is usually a simpler process too; while there can be misalignment with family members (especially intergenerational), there tends to be a deeply unified set of values, and the ability to make quicker decisions than with large corporates. In corporates, stakeholders are likely to have profit – not legacy – in mind. Also, with family businesses, there is often a very compelling story to be told. Which is an opportunity not to be missed.
On the flip side, branding for family businesses doesn’t mean that you actually have to build your brand around being a family business. Although it has been shown that branding as a family business can positively impact the business, it’s something you can consider once you start the branding process (but more on that later).
The benefits of building a strong, strategic brand are endless. By investing in a strong and consistent brand you’ll reap the rewards of better brand recognition and brand awareness, and in turn build credibility and trust.
Coca-Cola for example is a master of brand building. You always know what to expect and you trust the brand to deliver it every time. The consistency – both visually and messaging – is second to none.
One of the founding personality traits of Coca-Cola is happiness, joy, and fun. And this comes across in their branding at all times. Remember the Coca-Cola bottles with names on? A perfect example of a brand coming to life.
A side benefit of the above is an improved customer experience. When a customer knows what to expect from a brand – and you deliver it flawlessly at every step, they have a superior experience. As their trust grows, so does their emotional attachment, and loyalty.
As you now know, there is plenty more to branding than simply a logo and colour palette. But luckily, there is a proven branding process to follow which will help you to create a powerful and lasting brand.
Developing your brand strategy is the most important step in the branding process. It will outline who you are, what you stand for, why you exist and the values that drive all behaviour. Every decision your business makes moving forward should be measured against this strategy. It’s your sense check to make sure your brand remains authentic and consistent.
In order to create an effective brand strategy two key components are required:
For the deep dive into the business, a branding workshop is conducted with all major stakeholders. The aim? To discuss every aspect of your business – honestly, and get all stakeholders aligned. A variety of activities are designed to draw out all the information required, information that you may not think to convey consciously. Additional sources of information may be employee interviews, stakeholder interviews, plus competitor and industry research.
Next up it’s the all important customer research. Think focus groups, guerilla research, surveys, in-depth one-on-one interviews. This step is so important; you cannot guess what your customers (or potential customers) think. The research almost always uncovers surprising and unknown insights that go on to inform your brand and messaging. If you’d like more information, we’d suggest reading this article on whether your brand needs consumer research.
The strategy bridges the gap between the customer and the business, and acts as a blueprint for all business, brand and marketing decisions in the future. A strategy will cover information such as brand essence, core insight for the audience, emotional and rational benefits, target audience, points of difference, frame of reference, brand personality and values. When a new opportunity comes knocking at your door, it’s the document you pull out to really consider – is this aligned to where we are headed? Does it fit with our values? Or is it a shiny distraction?
Now it’s time for the fun part… and the part you’ve all been waiting for no doubt. Once you have your strategy defined, it is time to bring it to life with your visual and verbal identity.
Your visual identity includes your brand mark (logo), typography style, colour palette, graphic devices, photography style and a system (guidelines) for how all of these elements work together.
Now you have your strategy set it’s much easier to judge what visual identity works for your business. It’s less about ‘Mum doesn’t like blue’ and my friend Sarah ‘doesn’t like the use of circles’ and more about whether your visual identity reflects your brand strategy. Seriously, you should never listen to your Mum (or anyone else for that matter) when it comes to branding – unless they have a deep understanding of your target audience and are assessing against your strategy.
Let’s go back to the Apple example. Apple’s brand is built around simplicity. If its visual style used an ornate illustration of an apple tree and a bright colour palette instead of its clean look and feel, it would not clearly reflect who they are.
How your brand sounds is just as important as how it looks. Developing a clear verbal identity will give you all of the tools you need to ensure your brand’s use of language (how it ‘talks’) is consistent and aligned.
The verbal identity usually includes a tone of voice document – which outlines some simple and usable guidelines you can work with, to establish a consistent style for communication across all channels – from how emails are answered, to how you communicate your brand messaging on your website and in the media. It’s also a great briefing tool for both internal and external content producers.
A great example of a company with a clear and consistent tone of voice is Mailchimp. The email service is held up in the industry (and rightly so) as being a pioneer of the power of a strong verbal identity.
Its voice is professional yet friendly and talks to you as if you were… well… human. As we write this, Mail Chimp’s home page reads ‘You’re ready to grow. Now what?’ and further down the page ‘What Mailchimp can do for you’.
If their tone of voice had been more corporate and less friendly, for example, these could read ‘Grow your business with Mailchimp’ and ‘Mailchimp’s features’. Want more inspiration? We’d highly recommend taking a read of their very extensive content style guide.
There’s no point having a strong brand externally if you’re not living and breathing it internally. We won’t go into this in full detail here as employer branding is an entire process in and of itself (watch this space as we’ll be writing about this soon), but companies who are serious about creating a strong and resilient brand need to be looking at internal implementation.
From initial employee engagement at research stages, to ensuring employees are empowered and encouraged to live the brand values, your employees – and internal brand implementation – will play a vital role in your brand’s success. The quickest way to excellent customer experience? Happy and engaged staff aligned to your purpose and values. Your team are the lifeblood of your business.
Okay, you’ve got your strategy. You’ve got your visual identity. You’ve got your tone of voice. Now, it’s time to roll it out across every touchpoint of your business.
The first step is to complete an audit of all of your existing touchpoints. By this we mean every single touchpoint, piece of collateral or process in your business. Ask yourself… Does it align with your strategy? If not, it will need updating, improving, or perhaps losing all together. Still not convinced? Here’s why your brand needs an audit.
Once you know what needs doing, prioritise accordingly. Often the most important things to change are items like packaging, sales processes, brochures etc – items that are customer-facing. Once prioritised, work through the items – redesign and rewrite. A lot of work? Yes. Worth it? Definitely. And make sure you have the right team – internally, externally or a combination of the two – who can do your brand justice. Not only are the aesthetics of your collateral really important but even more so is the quality of the content. We believe that copywriting is an undervalued brand asset and well worth investing in.
Websites in many cases are the most critical brand touchpoint. Your website is your global sales team that works 24/7 – this prime real estate needs to be maximised. It should be one of the first things you look at bringing into line with your new brand identity. Consider user testing to really ensure this asset is as powerful as possible. For simpler sites there are template based options, and third party systems, to minimise development costs. This allows greater investment in photographic and content assets, or in other cases with more specific requirements a custom site may need to be developed. If you’d like to know more we explore in detail the differences between template based and custom website development.
It’s time to breathe a sigh of relief. Your strategy is set. Your visual and verbal identity are agreed. And every touchpoint in your business is now aligned. You’re done, right? We’re afraid not! After all that hard work, it’s vital to ensure that your brand strategy isn’t forgotten and left to gather dust in a draw. The real magic comes when you move on to marketing using these new assets.
If you really want to make your brand sing, try mapping your customer journey. This will show you every touchpoint your customer has with your brand, or potentially missed opportunities where you could really surprise and delight. A customer journey workshop is a great launch pad for defining your marketing strategy and then prioritising its implementation. You can look at your must have ‘business-as-usual’ activities and then where you can really take things up a level. For example, are you leveraging film as part of your brand experience?
Content, content, content. It’s all about content. Content is the way that your product or service manifests in the world. It is the connective tissue between you and your audience. If you want your marketing to deliver results, and not to feel like you are overwhelmed in the process, you must have a content strategy in place, and a systemised, batch method of creating content. Read our step by step guide on creating content that converts.
Conduct regular brand audits to ensure your brand hasn’t wavered, and make sure every new piece of collateral, campaign, or business decision is still aligned.
“A brand is a living entity — and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures,” Michael Eisner, CEO of Disney.
This statement couldn’t be truer. The development of a brand is just step one. The real power comes through nurturing it, and ensuring it remains a brand that your employees and customers believe in.
It’s the consistency in execution that really brings the power to your brand. This means being rigorous and disciplined in the many different ways your brand is expressed. Make sure you do share your brand guidelines and brand strategy with key partners working on your brand. And in the case where there are many third parties it is essential to have a brand guardian. A brand guardian can be someone within the business that is experienced at building and managing brands, or potentially a central agency that ensures integrity of the vision over time – regardless of how many other agencies may be involved.
We believe that every business, whether it be a small start-up or a large multinational should have access to the expertise needed to succeed. With this in mind we have developed the BRANDING BEFORE BREAKFAST video series – bite sized branding advice delivered to your inbox weekly.