Branding is an extremely complex and nuanced topic. Many companies make the mistake of thinking that branding is purely a visual exercise: a logo placed on the office wall, a new set of stationary, a tagline, and perhaps a company statement that’s framed up on the wall.
They never think about the purpose of branding, or how much it can drive your bottom line and help employees make choices that are consistently aligned to the company's mission.
After all, companies are essentially just group of people that work together, and the reason that people work together, is because they can achieve things together that would be impossible to do as individuals.
As an outsider, it’s hard to relate to a flock of strangers and their ideas, so the exercise of branding came to be.
Initially, it was a political exercise: from the old French, compaignie, branding was used by feuding feudal leaders across Europe. And sure, they had logos, stationery, and taglines. Yes, it helped differentiate "teams" on the battle ground.
But it had much greater purposes: your colors and insignias told a greater story about who you are, what you believed in, and the world you wanted to bring to reality.
This translated to so many different socio-political returns.
And, it helped people from diverse backgrounds connect with a small group of people they’ve never met (the ruling family.) Why else would soldiers lay down their lives for a stranger?
Values and vision are immense driving forces, and something people can connect with.
Branding is about setting a philosophy, a framework for how you operate that extends to all facets of your business including, but not limited to, the visual framework.
What is a Brand?
A brand is an identifiable company or product. This word comes from the use of a branding iron in cattle ranching, and as the cattle moved across the grassland, it was easy to determine which cattle belonged to which owner.
The best way to frame a brand is this:
It’s why your company exists, and the qualities that you are known for.
So while this will include a visual identity and a name, it’s actually far more than that.
It’s a modus operandi.
Make it Happen.™ Approach
This is our approach to branding, that is based on our belief that the visual aspect of a brand is only one part of what's important, and that there are significant advantages to thinking far more deeply when creating a brand.
Strategy First (Why / How / What)
While every organization knows what they do, only some know how they do it, and even fewer know why they do what they do. ~ Simon Sinek.
Profit is not a strong why to do business, it should be considered a result of business activities, not the key driving objective. While this may be a frowned upon in certain circles, it actually makes very good business sense.
Your customers don’t buy into your products and services because they want you to be profitable, they do it because they believe in what you believe, and it is difficult, or perhaps impossible, to align your customers to your own profitability - because they don’t care!
With the five key points in regards to strategy:
We can categorize them up in the following way:
- Why. This includes your mission and vision statements.
- How. This includes your strategy and your roadmap to achieve it.
- What. This is the actual execution of your roadmap, to accomplish the strategy that is in line with the mission and vision for the organization.
Why Do You Get up in the Morning?
A mission statement is best formed as the problem that the organization is looking to solve, or the change in the world that you want to achieve. Why do you show up everyday? If you’re unsure, then your team might not know either.
This is the solution to the problem, often in an ideal world that does not hamper the imagination.
The How: Branding Strategically
While everyone speaks about strategy, when asked to give a detailed description of what strategy is, many are at a loss for words. You’d be surprised how many C-level executives cannot tell you the difference between strategy, tactics, goals, and objectives.
We see strategy as a connection between the high level ideas for the business and execution of actually moving towards this ideal.
Strategy Guides the Roadmap
Strategy, in a broad sense, is the “how.” How will you achieve your vision? It’s an extensive road-map that is later broken down into specific actions. These actions, or tactics, that help you get there are the more short term "how"s and connected day-to-day actions a company will take. Taken together, these will make up your roadmap. It’s essential to your branding.
Another way of saying this is that every action taken by a team should relate to the overall strategy. If what you’re doing isn’t going to take you where you want to go, why are you doing it?
A Framework for Decision Making
To build a scalable business, it’s important to grant employees the ability to make consistent high-quality independent decisions. A well defined brand allows this to happen, by giving a framework and understanding of what is required to act in the brand’s best interests.
Atlassian, the well known multi-billion dollar software company, has a key brand value called “Don’t F*** the Customer”, which gives a clear indication to the support team and account managers on how they should treat customer support queries.
Why We Teach Our Designers to Read Financial Statements.
If you take a broad enough stance on design, it ends up encompassing everything. After all, anything can be designed, both from a visual point of view, and also a functional point of view.
The best results come from the intersection of visual identity and functional design on a product level (digital or manufactured), more broadly to business process, and at a micro level (letterheads, business cards, etc).
So, it’s important that “designers” understand why they are designing, not just what they are designing.
An example of this would be the visual design of a sales pitch or proposal, while it is important that it is beautifully laid out, it’s more important that the contents and order of the document are crafted is such a way to ensure that prospect will buy into your value proposition.
A designer that has a holistic understanding of visual design, aesthetics, business, and psychology is far better positioned to independently create high-quality work that works.
The What: Execution
Voice and Tone
Being uniquely identifiable extends to every touch-point of your brand, including what your team says when they pick up the phone, the emails they send, and your website.
Language is a powerful way to communicate identity, not just in what you say, but how you say it. For example, the way this page is written can probably tell you a lot about who ~we~ are. What does yours say about you?
Don’t lose out on this opportunity to make an impression. People might not always remember what you said, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel. That is why voice and tone are essential to your branding.
A strong visual identity emphasizes your core brand values through design, but only freelance designers think that this is the most important and key part of branding.
Any image could be a logo, any font your lead typeface, but that doesn’t always add up to a cohesive identity. Another way to see it, is as an external representation of your internal ideals, and so of course the work must be first put into changing your internal brand before (re)branding to the public.
Marketing think-tanks have spent millions on how colors affect emotion, how curves and lines affect mood; and all that investment isn’t for the sake of looking pretty.
Ever notice how many fast food companies use red?
A strong visual identity conjures up behaviors and attitudes a brand wants to be associated with. Design is both form and function, and ultimately good design-thinking is what separates good branding from great branding.
After all, if you take the same company and give it a visual makeover, it will still be the same company, just with a different logo and corporate font.
It’s like putting lipstick on a pig.
Extending the brand to how your team act, and giving them the principles behind your brand is extremely important if you don't want to end up like the typical company that has a mission statement on the wall that has no relation to what is actually going on.
The final point to note about executing the brand is that in today's world, the digital presence of the brand is as, if not more, important than the physical manifestation. In fact, there are plenty of companies in the world that only exist online, and yet they impact our lives in numerous ways.