Building a Case for a Brand Identity
The key to creative and effective branding of any program, product, service or institution is finding the right positioning to drive the advertising and other marketing tools. It doesn’t have to be complicated or weird. In fact, if it’s good and effective, it’s simple and will follow the “Rule of consumers” — “You are what you appear to be.” This position, or “brand, is really an identity (not in your mind but in your audience’s) — a way people can sort through all the confusing information and summarize what they think about something.
What do you get with a brand identity?
Over the last 25 years we have come to learn that the development of a brand identity is much more than a mere benchmark denoting successful arrival in business, or its evolution and growth. A clearly defined and easily recognized identity has, in fact, become a critical success factor in today’s highly competitive business environment.
Just to lay some groundwork, here are ten reasons why doing so can have a strategically important effect on your bottom line.
- It’s easier to know who you are, which means:
- It’s easier to know what you do. (Helps develop goals.)
- It’s easier to know how to do it. (Helps with implementation.)
- Less energy is expended overall. (Creates efficiency in communications.)
- Team building occurs naturally when staff can identify with a common symbol, common language and therefore common goals. (Sports uniforms are a good example. Every player feels like a part of the group.)
- You can match your image to your clients needs or view of his business. (A simple matter of give’em what they want.)
- With a clearly defined identity you communicate more efficiently with your customers, and they remember you more easily. (Memorability is easier when everybody clearly knows who you are.)
- Enhancements in the overall quality of your product or service. (Consistency always counts.)
- Benefits and unique qualities of your business are communicated more clearly to your clients thereby increasing sales. (Marketing tool)
- Helps set identifiable standards of quality in your product or service. Helps with a sense of reliability by developing a “brand identity.” (Brand names are trusted.)
So, what is a brand anyway?
As we begin the process of making recommendations for developing a brand identity let?s talk about what we really mean by “brand.” What is it, why does it work, how does it work and who makes it work.
Philip Durbrow, vice chairman of the international design firm of Frankfurt Balkind Partners, recalls, “When I first started working in branding, it became obvious that there were no clear universal definitions of key words like marketing, strategy, identity, image and brand. I’ve developed specific definitions so that we are clear on what we are talking about. Fuzzy words yield fuzzy thinking and fuzzy brands.”
There is very little consistency in people’s understanding, or usage, of brand terminology. For clarity, we offer the following definitions:
- A Product: is something that is produced to function and exists in reality.
- A Brand: has meaning beyond functionality and exists in peoples minds.
- Product Quality: has major influence on Brand Qualities.
- Brand Qualities: are the thoughts, feelings, associations and expectations created by a Brand Identity.
- Brand Identity: is the way in which a brand is expressed visually and verbally.
- Branding: is viewing every customer related activity as part of the branding process and managing it accordingly. Everything a company does that affects its customer, affects the value of its brand.
- Marketing: means making it easy and motivating people to buy your product — through product design, pricing, packaging, distribution, advertising, etc.
- Brand Marketing: is pushing beyond product benefits to fulfill a strategic core promise. It means looking past the tangible to the intangible, accommodating buyers’ practical needs while resonating with their deeper feelings.
- Brand Strategy: means deciding which brands are going to be used to deliver which products and services to which customers. (This may involve usage of global brands, umbrella brands, megabrands, subbrands, flanker brands, brand extensions and brand families.)
- Brand Equity: is the present value of the future combined purchases that are a result of the preference created, or the premium paid, for a brand’s products.
All brands start by speaking to the needs and aspirations of an audience. The aspiration is the brand identity: that’s a projection of how the brand wishes to be perceived by its target audience (as opposed to the brand image, which is the way the brand is, currently perceived).
Knowledge and appreciation of this core concept will allow the steward of the brand to develop the mission, build and nurture the market, maintain the brand philosophy, strategy, overall look and feel of the brand and, of course, the logo. What is the audience going to be satisfied with or disappointed by with the message coming from the brand? What is going to help build a strong brand identity (what would weaken it)? How can the aspirations for the brand identity be reached?
Who’s Minding the Store?
The brand steward, usually senior executive from the parent company, must protect and cultivate the immutable core of the brand (about 50%) in order to ensure that the brand remains strong. The steward manages the part of the brand that must remain fluid (the remaining 50%) in order to keep the brand relevant and exciting. Typically we see a freshness and evolution in the brand’s advertising and packaging, that’s the part of the brand that is constantly evolving. The steward is responsible for overseeing the advertising agency’s efforts to promote the brand, to develop brand segmentation internally (that is, the sub-brands) and to direct the packaging of branded products. The overall responsibility of the brand steward is to keep the brand on course and profitable.
Companies that have broad, strong brand recognition can diversify through their sub-brands more than narrowly focused companies. For instance, Brit Richard Branson, a courageous babyboomer, started his first business in 1968 at the age of sixteen and has cultivated companies in the entertainment area ever since under the umbrella, Virgin Group (www.virgin.com). First came Virgin Records. Ten years later Branson branched out to form Virgin Atlantic Airways, then a year later added Virgin Holidays. Two years after that Virgin expanded to include Virgin Airship & Balloon Company, Virgin Publishing and Virgin Hotels, among others. Branson, a highly visible and consistently strong leader, is the very essence of pioneer spirit and innovation. Consumers ‘get’ Virgin’s abstract brand identity because Virgin’s broad target audience identifies with Branson and all he stands for: unencumbered global vision and maverick style. He is a self-proclaimed Virgin for life.
Durbrow offers this wisdom, “There is no long-term advantage to having a brand image that is greater or lesser than the brand really is. If the image is greater than the reality, people will be disappointed whenever they encounter the brand. If the image is less than the reality, the company will never benefit from all its hard work, i.e., the brand won’t command a premium or create a preference for the company’s branded products.”
The Brand As Asset
When included on the balance sheet, the brand’s equity is an intangible asset like good will. Its value brightens the parent company’s fiscal picture: this is one big reason why companies are eager to develop strong brands. An enhanced financial picture allows the parent company to generate revenue, grow and expand. The brand, which is structured to be easily separated from the parent company, may be sold. The brand may be segmented to increase the market by creating sub-brands which appeal to more specific consumer needs, further increasing the value of the brand.
In the long term, it’s the brand’s core message that must be honored. All the strong brands — CocaCola, Nike, Calvin Klein, to name a few — give the impression of unswerving confidence, through their billion dollar advertising campaigns. This is exactly the kind of motivational leadership our emotionally charged culture craves. “The branding statement has to be honest, relevant. For example, the Coke brand is the value of constancy. The contour bottle and Spencerian script are promises that the Coke you’ll have in Thailand is the same as the Coke you’ll have in Oakland. The challenge for us is always to find ways to make something change and stay the same.” People have a strong emotional attachment to CocaCola — it’s something they grew up with. Coke is a part of the history of America. Waterbury adds, “The CocaCola headquarters and museum in Atlanta are a testament to excellent management of a global brand: A brand that makes a personal connection for almost everyone.”
How Brand is Different from Product
Many organizations use the term “Product Manager” interchangeably with “Brand Manager.” While most of us could think through the semantic difference between a “product” and a “brand,” it seems that (with a few exceptions) the two concepts become indistinguishable when it comes to their management. This confusion may explain in part why there are so few brands and so many products.
The product is defined by its form and function, what it is and what it does. The product is physical attributes, such as price, performance, ease of use, design and style. What a product is can be relatively easily communicated, rapidly changed and effected in the short term using a number of tools: just add a new ingredient or change the shape of the packaging and you have a new product or, at least, a different one. A good product/ marketing strategist is one who can distill a large amount of data about the consumer, the market, his competition, distribution, and boil it down to the few essential premises that will form the backbone of a focused marketing plan. He should be able to distill these premises even further to write an effective communication strategy which, as any honest advertising person will tell you, must be based on a single minded selling proposition. This ability to distill facts down to their simple essence presupposes an excellent knowledge and understanding of the product’s consumer or end-user and buyer.
The brand is almost the opposite on all points. Whereas the product has a form, the brand does not have a physical embodiment: It is merely a promise, a covenant with the customer. Some say that the “logo is the brand”… but this isn’t so. A logo is meaningless if it does not communicate the brand’s covenant with the consumer. And, whereas communication of a product’s physical attributes is straightforward and fast, communication of brand values is inherently circuitous and slow. Like the character of an individual, brand character is most difficult to communicate proactively: The individual cannot tell what his character is; the observer must figure it out for himself… an indirect communications process which requires time and absolute consistency.
Contrary to product communication which is best based on one single minded forceful proposition, brand character — like the character of a person — becomes better defined as it gains in complexity. Lastly, whereas the product manager must gain a superior knowledge of his consumer to be effective, the brand manager’s success is in great part based on a thorough knowledge of the idiosyncrasies and the values professed by his company and its long term corporate players, i.e., its top management.
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