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When Branding is not Branding

Branding_irons.jpgAttendees at our branding workshops are often shocked to learn that there is no universally accepted definition of “brand”. The people who work with brands – intellectual property attorneys, public relations professionals, graphic designers, etc. – all bring their own backgrounds and biases to definitions that they make up themselves. To the attorney, your brand is your trademark. To the publicist, it’s your reputation. To the graphic designer, it’s your logo or visual identity. But, lately, even the clients themselves seem intent on creating their own definitions. Or, rather, they let competing marketers, ad agencies, design firms and web developers each propose what it will take to create an effective brand for them. And, all too often, it is the lowest bidder who wins, not just the assignment, but the very definition of what a brand is. Unfortunately, you get what you pay for.

Designing a new logo, visual identity and/or website is not the same thing as branding a company. To have a brand, you must first have a brand strategy. Simply stated, a brand strategy makes a business case to position a business, product or service, etc. in a particular way. The brand strategy culminates in a brand platform which includes a company’s Purpose Statement, Mission Statement, Value Proposition, Positioning Statement and, sometimes, more. Let’s take a closer look at the last item listed, the Positioning Statement.

A Positioning Statement is a declaration of how a business wants to be perceived by all of the constituencies in its market. And, actually, it’s not just how the company wants to be seen, but how it wants people to feel about them. We’re talking about very basic human emotions here. Articulated within the Positioning Statement, should be a unique, differentiating Brand Promise. The company should feel comfortable that they will be able to keep the Brand Promise for the next 15-20 years. Because, only by keeping that promise consistently, over time, can the company earn brand loyalty and begin to build a covenant with its market. That covenant – that shared bond with the market – that’s the brand.

Needless to say, a lot of work has to go into developing all of the above. Representatives from every constituency must be contacted and interviewed. Depending on the size of the company, quantitative research, as well as qualitative research, may be in order. Competitors must be investigated and analyzed. The company’s products and services must be measured against the wants and needs of the market. And care must be taken to ensure that company values are sufficiently aligned with market values.

Ouchsmall.pngAfter research comes analytics. All the insights gathered must be compiled and distilled. Conclusions must be drawn. Assertions must be made. A clear brand strategy eventually emerges. And it is that clarity that is worth all the time and effort.

It’s only when all this work is completed that it makes any sense to think about a logo upgrade or what a new website should entail. Efforts that jump the gun consistently end up off-brand.

So, beware, owners of brand assets. There are people out there who will tell you they’ll develop a brand for you when all they really want to do is:

– design a logo
– develop a website
– place a story in the press
– etc.
– etc.
– etc.

They’ll talk to you for an hour or two to get the back story. Then, they’ll just go with their “gut instinct” and do whatever it was they intended to do in the first place. Many of them are talented so the work looks good. But a “gut-instinct” solution, no matter how talented the gut, will not give you clarity into what your brand strategy ought to be. And it’s not going to move your business forward. In two years, it’s almost certain you’ll be thinking about having to rebrand again.

For the amount that you’re investing, can you afford to rely on someone else’s “gut instinct”? Wouldn’t it be better to first do the real work of branding and gain the kind of valuable insights that are guaranteed to guide your branding efforts toward certain success?

Best branding reads – Week of June 13, 2016

Microsoft to buy LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in its largest deal
Two brands, one conglomerate

So Long Time Warner Cable: Charter to Retire Maligned Brand
The moment has arrived to put Time Warner Cable out of its misery. But will Spectrum be any better?

As Shanghai Park Opening Nears, Disney Eyes ‘Distinctly Chinese’ Future
Shanghai Disneyland finally opens … and opens China up to all things Disney. 

The Four Most Powerful Brand Codes
Fascinating article about how consumers recognize that a brand is, indeed, a brand.

Cubs welcome 7-year-old with team logo on prosthetic eye
Now, this is what I call a brand evangelist!

New Logo for Kiva
Kiva’s new logo is a much, much better iteration.

Shops to showrooms
The more innovative retail brands are adapting to the new, online reality.

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Best Branding Reads
Week of August 3, 2020

Brand Experience During Crisis Recovery: The 5-Senses Approach
They’ve found that triggering response in all the senses calms and draws consumers closer to brands.

14 Considerations For Successful Brand Strategy
These were developed by Nike’s pretty-damn-smart “Brand Guardians”.

As the World Fell Silent, What Noise Should Brands Fill It With Again?
Shhh. Can you hear it? The world is literally quieter now.

Why Disruptions Favor Emerging Trends & Brands
You’re going to need a new brand strategy to survive in the coming years.

New Logo for Mars2020
Very good – and almost as cute as WALL-E.

Nike + Ikea? And other logo mashups
Just for fun this weekend.

Skippy Flips Their Lid Over Jif
Food lawyer George Salmas chronicles another battle in the trademarking wars.