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March 21, 2016 Branding, Strategy

‘Brand’ is not a dirty word: developing your brand strategy

Can of BrandingFor some clients, “brand” is a dirty word. In these cases, they might want us to use euphemisms like “image” or “reputation.” But this is confusing, and brand means so much more. For other clients, brand is a misunderstood word that is used interchangeably with “marketing.” But this is insufficient, and brand means so much more. Worst of all, some clients might see brand as an oversimplified word — they might think the brand is simply their logo. But a brand is not merely a label or a name or a color or a sign.

The brand is so much more.

What is a brand strategy? For us, developing your brand strategy is both a love affair and a burden. It is both rational and emotional.  It is simultaneously strategic, tactical, and creative. And for decades, we have worked to hone the craft of how to (a) understand and (b) articulate brands. That is what defines us: we are inspired by understanding.

What is a brand strategy? It’s an internally facing representation of the essence of who you are, whether a business, a city, or a higher education institution. As such, our approach to developing your brand strategy begins with understanding you, your environment, your competitors, and what makes you special. Through consultation, review, and analysis, we define your business into six short, easy-to-understand ideas that summarize what makes you who you are:

  • Brand Architecture: This is the relationship between your main brand and any sub-brands, supporting brands and programs that you have.
  • Brand Vision: A tangible statement about where you are and where you want to be, based on the company’s objectives.
  • Brand Positioning: It’s the hardest part to define, and there are dozens of definitions floating around. We try to capture it simply: how people talk about you.
  • Brand Pillars: Brand Pillars are the small number of definitive, factual pieces of proof that support why your brand positioning is true.
  • Brand Personality: Your personality is a snapshot of how your brand behaves — its tone, its voice, who it would be if it were a person.
  • Brand Promise: Finally, the promise is a distilled statement of what your brand will always deliver… what it will be famous for. The Brand Promise is an echo of the Brand Positioning — if people are talking about you in a certain way (positioning), the promise should be the clear essence of what makes you special.

Apple Reflections

It’s how you communicate.

So that is our approach to brand strategy.  However, there is the outward expression of your brand that the world sees, a reflection of your strategy, and it is critical. This consists of four basic elements of how you communicate:

  • Corporate Identity: Corporate ID refers to your name, logo, and slogan, and how they work together. It’s not just any one of those elements — it is their relative balance, their uniqueness, how they underscore your story, the relative weight of each, and what your Corporate ID, in total, says about you.
  • Tone: Your tone is the type of language you use, and how you want to make people feel when they visit you, deal with you, and read or experience your promotional materials.
  • Visual Elements: Your visual elements include your color palette, photographic style, fonts, etc., that become the signature of how you communicate.
  • Concept: The creative concept is the big creative idea that you become associated with, that engages your audiences, and is remembered.

The litmus test.

Those are the elements that we use to define the brand, but there needs to be a method for evaluation. What makes for a GREAT brand? We have a simple litmus test that is critical when we are evaluating both the brand strategy and the outward-facing elements. Simply, to be differentiated, your brand position has to be:

  • Available: Your position is one that no one else is saying. In crowded and competitive markets such as the financial market, you cannot be saying the same thing as a competitor. If the recommended position is not available, it needs to be re-evaluated.
  • Deliverable: Your position has to be true to who you are. If you present yourself in a false or dubious manner, people will figure it out quickly. If the recommended position is not deliverable, then we have to back up; truth is such a critical element of positioning.
  • Salient: Perhaps most important, your brand position has to be relevant to your audiences. If the recommended position is not salient, then people will not be attracted to you, they will not connect with you, they will not switch to you.
  • Interesting: Your position has to be delivered in an EXCITING way. Even with a B2B, if the recommended position is not interesting, people will forget you. As the great David Ogilvy once said, “You cannot bore people into liking you.”

There are many benefits to developing a differentiated brand. Differentiation gives you a set of standards: visual things, but also principles and values, so you can always measure what you do against the brand attributes. If done right, it should be true to your DNA: a branding project whose goal is to clarify your brand position holds a mirror up to the organization so you can better “get” who you are, what you stand for, and what you aspire to be. A smart brand provides a shortcut: it allows people to quickly associate you with positive things. And finally, it should permeate beyond “ads” — to HR, events, everything! If you know your brand well, it can help determine who you hire, what you say to customers at events, and what types of advertising mediums you should be in.

The brand is the face of the organization — it provides a guidepost and set of standards to be able to measure how you communicate — not just “ads” but speeches, events, electronic communications, the look and feel of your branches, etc. It is not a “fake,” manufactured thing or something you simply conjure up because it sounds good — the brand articulation should be a focused representation of the DNA of your business — both who you are and who you want to be. A well-defined brand helps simplify communications, achieve your marketing objectives and differentiates you from other businesses.