As a brand consultant and designer, I often meet people that are confused about what brand actually is. It is a very misunderstood area, the mysterious ‘unicorn’ of the business world.
People either seem to believe it is the answer to all of their business problems (which of course it is), but they don’t understand how or why, or they see it as an unnecessary expense for something that they, or their cousin’s 16 year old son can do much more effectively and for much less money than a professional would charge.
Over the years I’ve encountered clients that think brand is all sorts of things. A logo, or product, it often gets confused with marketing (which is actually brand awareness) and even gets dismissed sometimes as a business card, chucked onto the startup shopping list along with the obligatory ‘desk’ and ‘chair’.
But brand is none of these.
Brand is a set of qualities, ideas and attributes delivered in every interaction between you and your customer.
In his book ‘The Brand Gap’, Marty Neumeier explains:
“Brand is a gut feeling about a product, service or company.”
Take Nike for example. People will pay top dollar for a pair of trainers with the Nike logo on, even though they’re probably no better than the other trainers in the shop. That’s because it’s not about the trainers, it’s about the FEELING they get when owning a pair.
People feel passionately about brands
Brands live in our minds and engage our emotions, they tap into our psyches. We all have powerful drivers inside us that seek out ways to provide security, physical needs, self-esteem, friendship and love. Brands are designed to appeal to these drivers.
Look behind any of the successful ‘super’ brands and you’ll find they fall into ‘archetypes’ (originally based on Swiss psychologist Carl Jung’s theories), with the brand built on the lure of sex, power, love, security and friendship amongst others.
A recent study found that images of brands actually trigger religious reactions! When people viewed images of items like an iPod, a Harley-Davidson and a Ferrari, their brains registered the exact same patterns of activity as they did when they viewed religious images (read ‘Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy’ by Martin Lindstrom for more on this).
Think about the brands that occupy your mind – are you Android, or Apple? Ebay or Amazon? Starbucks, or Costa?
Do you have your favourites on that list? What do you like about them? It’s often something more than just functionality, it has to do with the feeling you get when you think of them.
Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks said:
“If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand”
If you build your brand really well, you get to occupy a small piece of land in your customers’ minds, they’ll identify with you. That’s when people become natural brand ambassadors, telling everyone how much they love your product, service, or both.
If all That’s Brand, What IS a Logo?
Under the umbrella of brand are many elements including:
These are your ‘Why’ – your mission statement. They consist of what you do, who you do it for, how you do it and why it matters.
Which is marketing, telling people about your brand.
Anything the brand puts out and uses on a day-to-day basis in order to bring the customer closer to the brand. This is where your business card sits, alongside things like your website, printed items, products and social media.
This is the visual expression of your brand and THIS is what your logo is along with your font, colour palette, imagery and tone of voice. When your identity is a perfect match to your brand, it can work wonders for your business. But if it’s poorly designed, has no foundation in your company brand or is ugly or confusing, it could be working against you.
So you can begin to see what effect your brand can have on the health of your business.
Is Your Brand Helping, or Hurting Your Business?
Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon reportedly said:
“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room”
What are YOUR customers saying about your brand and would you actually want to hear it?!
So how can you tell if your brand is on track?
Assess Your Brand Health
This can be a painful step to take. Your business is the ‘baby’ that you started from nothing and nurtured to grow and flourish – you’ve poured your heart and soul into it. Business owners often have very strong opinions about how their business should be branded, but sometimes it’s to the detriment of success and by taking an honest, detached view of where your brand is now, you can begin to see any problem areas and what needs improvement.
Answer these four questions honestly:
If you answered ‘No’ to any of these it could be that you have some improvements to make, which leads us on to…
How Can You Build Your Brand to Help Your Business?
If you’re not able to get help from a brand professional, here are four areas to start making improvements:
1. Define your mission
What’s your WHY, your story? Craft a mission statement by explaining what you do, who you do it for and why it matters.
The Simon Sinek book called “Start With Why” is helpful and there are also many examples of great mission statements online.
2. Define what value you bring
Understand how your customers, think and feel. How can you solve their problems and add value to their lives? Communicate this to your customers to inspire them to come to you above all other brands.
3. Be ready to evolve
Healthy brands evolve along with their customers. Stay aware of your customer wants and needs and be ready and willing to identify when a change is needed.
4. Be consistent
Consistent brand presentation across all platforms increases revenue by up to 23% (Lucidpress).
Keep your marketing relevant, stick to your mission and fulfilling customer needs. Make sure that every visual application of your brand such as logo, colour palette and imagery are consistently used across all brand touchpoints like social media, your website and print.
Brand building is ultimately a very specialist area. There are professionals, then there are people that THINK they can do it.
A fellow designer told me about chatting with a lady potter that informed him she’d done her own branding because she had a ‘good eye for design’ and knew how to use desktop publishing software. My friend’s reply was “Oh, that’s interesting because I eat off a plate, but I would never dream of first making it on a potter’s wheel…’
Get professionals involved whenever possible – don’t be the pot maker.
Your Brand Doesn’t Have to be Perfect
Brands are uniquely imperfect, ever changing and growing. Imperfection is real and authentic, just like us. It makes it relatable and attractive.
If you’re a solopreneur, you might think you’re too small for your brand to make much difference, but think again – a famous quote by Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop was:
“If you think you're too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.”