I have logo, therefore I am? No.
Depending on who you ask, the mention of branding will get you some very different responses. Some may wield crucifixes against you and proclaim the number of the beast, others might confess their addiction to vintage Adidas trainers, rave about their favourite cereal or rehash tabloid stories of how so and so charged $4 million for just italicizing such and suches logo. One thing you can be sure of is that branding is a subject everybody has an opinion on.
What’s in a brand?
What is it that makes us love or loathe a certain coffee shop or the computer we type away on as we get wired on lattés? A common mistake is to consider branding as being simply a logo. While the logo is an invaluable and core element in a company’s visual branding, there’s a lot more to do if you want to win a place in the hearts and minds of people. Or even if you just want to shift some product. Successful branding begins at the heart of the organisation — the way it thinks, the way it works, the way it talks through to the way its staff think, talk and work and a lot more in between.
Everything you do, everything you communicate and every element of communication should reflect your company’s ethic, core value and positioning. Business strategy is as much a part of the brand as the outward appearance of it, that may sound obvious but it can be overlooked. Case in point: McDonalds, quite ridiculously, attempted to reposition themselves in certain markets as a ‘healthy’ option. They tried this by introducing salads and sponsoring sporting events. Offering healthy options is great but when it turns out that your chicken salad contains more fat and calories than a Big Mac it starts to look quite untrustworthy, or even ridiculous. Let’s face it, it’s going to take more than some wood panelling and a couple of fruit salads to get people running to McDonalds when they fancy a healthy meal.
So, stay honest when trying to portray who you are and what you’re about as an organization. Which brings us to the first step along the way, and probably the most important—defining your company’s ethic, core value and market positioning.
Who the hell are you?
It sounds like a simple enough question, but even large corporations can have trouble defining themselves, especially if they’re involved in many different markets and verticals. That’s why they often spend an incredible amount of time and money with large brand strategy agencies asking themselves the question ‘Who are we?’—hmmmm existential corporations—wtf? That’s great if you can afford it, but lengthy discovery workshops, internal surveys and consumer focus group sessions are understandably out of reach, and probably unnecessary for most small to medium sized businesses and non-profits. There are however, huge benefits to be had by addressing these issues and it needn’t break the bank. No doubt you have a good idea who you think your organization is, but it’s always good to keep an objective frame of mind, so step back for a moment and ask yourself some questions:
- In one short sentence, describe what your organization does
- Who is your competition?
- Why should someone choose you over your competition, what sets you apart?
- In your field of business, what do you think are the three most important factors when choosing a product/supplier from a customer’s point of view?
- What, if anything, does your competition do better than you? Be honest now.
- What do you admire about your main competitors?
- What would you say your three key strengths are?
- What would you like to do better?
- How do you think your organisation is currently perceived?
- How would you like your organization to be perceived?
- What size is your company, and are there any pros and cons related to this from your customer’s perspective?
- What qualities do you look for and value in your employees?
That’s a quick start at a self-analysis, It’s also vital to find out what your customers and potential customers honestly think, so try and ask them if you can.
Some good starter questions could be:
- What, if anything, do you recognize about my organization’s current branding?
- How would you, the consumer, describe my organization’s personality?
- Assuming my product/service is an area of interest to you, would you choose my product or a competitor? If so, which competitor and why?
So now you’re building a rounded view of who you are, how you’re perceived, who you’d like to be and how you’d like to be perceived. This is the first stage a branding agency would walk you through, no doubt throwing in a few workshops, focus groups and a bunch of meetings with fancy cakes along the way. That’s all good but it gets expensive. These are the same kind of questions I ask, they’d likely be more in-depth and tailored to you and your business, but the aim would be the same—to get an understanding of exactly what makes you and your customers tick, what sets you apart from the crowd and how we can get that across most effectively in your communications.