Even Established Marketers Have A Too-Narrow Definition Of “Branding”.
Everywhere you look online, “Branding” tends to be defined as the application of designs to products. Yes. It’s that, but it’s more than that.
But by focusing purely on the aesthetic aspects of branding, people miss the point. Branding is about establishing and managing consumer perceptions — not merely a guide for the consistent application of visuals.
Brand Manuals or Guides typically focus on how to apply logos, fonts, patterns and colours but consumer perceptions are more than aesthetics.
Branding Helps Set Expectations.
Branding helps consumers know what to expect from your company (and products) and is a plan for distinguishing yourself from others. It’s a representation of who you are and how you want to be perceived. Over time, your advertising, customer service, reputation, packaging, signage and identity all work together to form perceptions of your brand.
The online journal BrandingMag has a branding definition that I like. It captures the complex nature of this process well.
“Branding is the ongoing process of identifying, creating and managing the accumulated assets and actions that form customer perceptions.“BRANDING MAG
That sounds complex but makes sense when we unpack it a little more.
1. Ongoing Process
Your customers, competitors, markets and business never stop evolving and neither should your brand. Change is constant. And to stay relevant, your brand has to evolve with the times. Technologies, trends and ideas come and go. — Don’t be left on the sidelines.
2. Identify, Create and Manage
The branding process is structured. First, you need to measure current brand perceptions then identify how you want to be perceived. Your brand’s strategy is a plan for changing consumer perceptions in ways that better align with how you want people to think and feel when they experience your brand. If you want to be perceived as “friendly” for example, a brand strategy would outline ways to reinforce that idea through all consumer touch-points (advertising, content, customer service and visual design).
3. Accumulated Assets and Actions
Your brand’s positioning comes to life through the assets you create and the messages you deliver. Your identity (logos, packaging, products, ads, signage) and your actions (customer support, online content, events and experiences) create consumer impressions. Over time, these can work to change how consumers feel about your brand.
4. Customer Perceptions
What do people think of when they see your brand? This is your reputation. An association they’ve created in their mind about your brand. Whether you set out to create a favourable reputation or not.
In simple terms, over time, people form opinions of who we are based on what they see and experience. Managed well, those experiences will change perceptions of our brand.
So…Where Do We Begin?
The best creative solutions are informed solutions.
So let’s get up-to-speed on your situation.
My “Brand Capture Sessions” are discussions, questionnaires and worksheets that we work through together with your stakeholders to get up to speed fast. We’ll discuss past marketing efforts, your customers, competitors, market conditions and of course, your company, your product(s) and what makes them special. Your USP (Unique Selling Proposition). What makes your product stand out among all the rest including both the tangible (ingredients, flavours etc.) and the intangibles like how your brand makes people feel, the customer experience etc.
Then we can work on defining the problems
and parameters in a design brief.
This level of due diligence helps ground design solutions in your business reality and actual perception problems instead of designing solutions that don’t fit the made-up customer profiles and hunches we’d work with otherwise.
Together, we’ll review who your customers are (and who you’d like them to be), who you’re competing with, what their brand promises are, what consumers think about both your brand and your competition and what your brand offers that is unique and will set you apart in the market.
Collaborating on moodboards for your new brand helps clarify the general feel you’d like to convey before starting any actual design work. While it may seem like an unnecessary step, moodboards can save tons of time design-wise by narrowing the focus from “all available colours, fonts and symbolism” to a manageable subset. You and your stakeholders can take an active part in the curation of photos, colours, typography, textures and more to craft the ideal “feel” well before seeing any logo concepts.
Even with moodboards, it can be helpful to have options.
I like to present at least three different approaches when working on a new brand identity. A “safe one” that’s not going to ruffle any feathers. (but may not stand out a lot in the competitive space), an experimental concept that’s a bit “out there” and may take a while for more conservative people to like and/or understand and a “mid-pack” concept that falls somewhere between the two.
I usually accompany each concept with my take on what potential opportunities or issues may arise from this or that approach and may also show a few mockups to show the logo on a sign, package, vehicle, uniform etc. as the additional step of seeing an identity in context can help bring it to life in a way that the logo on blank paper won’t.
Revise, Refine and Report.
There will be revisions. There are always revisions (unless you slept through the presentation). We’ll adjust typography and tweak the symbols and spacing and finally, work colour into the new identity. Again, based on our understanding of the goals for the new identity.
I’ll also create a simple guide for you and your team implement the new identity consistently across marketing pieces, vehicle livery, and whatever else you’ve got planned. And I’ll create all the various logo variations you’re liable to need for print, promotional materials, websites and more in all the formats your suppliers are likely to need.
Working Together We’ll …
- Clarify who your best customers are.
- Determine how best to set your brand apart from even your most fierce competitors.
- Determine what brand promises best align with your customers’ needs.
- Develop models that make your marketing goals much clearer
- Develop a plan that you can use for many years to come.
When you design for your specific customers and situation, perception problems get fixed. Your website, print and marketing messages will all reinforce each other, and you’ll make a bigger impact on a smaller budget!