We’ve been discussing and securing a number of branding projects recently, so I thought it was worth committing some overview branding theory to a blog post.
So, what exactly is this thing called brand and what makes for a strong and therefore successful brand? There are two quotes that I quite like from extremely credible but very different sources. The first is from revered international branding agency, Wolff Olins, who say “It’s not just how you look, but the idea that drives your organisation”. So, we’re not just talking about window dressing here. Branding is much more than a recognisable company logo, set of typefaces and colour palette. It’s about a single-minded idea that transcends, impacts and drives the entire business.
The Economist puts a more commercial spin on branding, as you’d expect, because of its broad readership extending beyond marketeers. “Brand is the unique differentiator between companies”, The Economist says. The point here is that in cluttered marketplaces where everyone is essentially selling the same things, branding is the only thing that can truly differentiate you from the competition, which obviously draws into sharp focus why it’s so powerful and important.
Importantly, strong brands must be absolutely faithful to the reality of what is delivered in the products, services and customer experience. So it really is like holding a mirror up to the organisation. That’s not to say that you can’t change the products and services to positively affect the customer experience. In fact that’s very much a fundamental part of what brand positioning is all about.
By their very nature, strong brands will be clearly differentiated from the competition, be built on an empathy and connection with their audience, be authentic to the product and experience and have an aspirational draw for their customers.
When done right, which is much rarer than you might imagine, a brand is a promise of something consistently delivered by every touch point and every individual within an organisation. Everything that a company does should be measured and sense checked against the central brand promise and if it doesn’t fit, either the process, initiative, etc., or the brand promise itself, is wrong and should be adapted or scrapped in order not to erode the power of the brand and that all important consistency. It really is as fundamental and simple as that.
So, what are brands for and what is it they do? Firstly, they provide a company with a recognisable identity – the logo, typeface and colours that are the visual cues for customers to latch on to. They also offer customers a consistent, reliable and predictable experience that is different to anything they can get elsewhere. Ultimately they convey everything that is good about the product – a superiority to the competition, a loyalty and preference in its customers, an experience that they aspire to enjoy and the rational and emotional values that people recognise and act on.
What starts to then happen is that customers choose certain brands because they have a preference for the experience and consistent promise that they offer. These preferences start to become more powerful than crude product features like price and availability. This is Shangri-la for brand owners because it means they can start to compete on these strategic preferences and values that they have created and are in control of, rather than being forced to react on tactical and much less stable things like price and availability that, importantly, aren’t wholly within their control – someone can always come along and be cheaper and then where do you go if you haven’t got a strong brand position?
Branding is a discipline that we’re both fanatical about and well versed in at Factor 3. We’d like to open this up and engage in debate over the branding issues and opportunities that companies face. So leave a comment and let us know about your thoughts and challenges around branding. We’ll certainly take the time to respond.