Everything you need to know about Branding
A brand is incorporeal. It is the thoughts, feelings and experiences that are associated with whatever it is you have branded. When we talk about branding something, we’re discussing ways we can evoke or direct certain emotional responses, experiences and ideas in the minds of our clients, customers and others that interact with our brand. So this seems to be where the confusion lies for many: A brand is the intangible response to your product/service/org, but it can also be used to describe a thing that has been branded. Coke is a brand. Nike is a brand. But their brands are more than the sum of their marketing material.
For many businesses a logo will be the full extent of their branding. This is perfectly acceptable. As a designer I feel responsible for what I contribute to the world, and if a business doesn’t need a dozen branded touch points, then I wouldn’t recommend it. Excess is an unfortunate part of modern life, so minimizing what gets wasted is an important aspect of maintaining an ethical approach to design. But admittedly I do enjoy a nicely packaged product. (The opposite is also true, especially for hard plastic shells.) Branded tissue paper and boxes make receiving packages in the mail just a little bit more special. I feel valued as a customer, and my impression of that brand is likely to gather some loyalty towards it inviting me to come back again.
But a lot of people talk about branding as if slapping a logo on a product is the be-all-end-all of branding when in fact it is merely the beginning. A logo is a first visual step towards defining a business, but how do you come up with a logo if you don’t have a brand? It’s really not a chicken or egg question; if you have a logo you should have already gone through at least some very basic branding. But if you’re looking at re-designing, re-branding or even just making certain you do things right the first time, consider using this process. You are free to swap steps around, and skip if you think it is not relevant.
First things first, you’re going to need a pen or pencil and some paper and hopefully you’ve also got access to google.
We are going to name your brand! This is a process in itself. You’re going to need something that defines your business. This might be simple for you, especially as a sole trader, you can choose to use your name and what you do as your business name. For larger entities, businesses like restaurants, cosmetics, retail stores, businesses that are less about the person that owns them, and more about what the business is, this is a bit more challenging. So here are a few tips that I think will be useful:
Combine two words that describe either what you do, or your business’ personality. Maybe even use part of your name. For example, say I wanted to open a restaurant that served hamburgers. Amber + Hamburger = Amburgers. This is also the punchline of a very bad joke my grandmother used to tell me, which isn’t relevant to the naming process, but that just gives the name a personable history. It adds colour and flavor, which is exactly what branding is all about.
I find avoiding cliches can be a fun exercise. Here’s something you can try for yourself: Figure out the most obvious name for your business, then work out a different way of saying it. You might like to break out the thesaurus for this one, but it can be simplified. Let’s say your name is Matt and you want to open a pizza restaurant. Matt’s pizzas would be obvious. Not a bad name, but don’t you think Pizza Quest or Pepperoni Palace sounds more interesting? Either of the latter would imply a theme or certain type of atmosphere also, which you can use to further build your brand. Matt could also add his name into the equation to personalize it.
Search and Research
Google is your friend. You should always search the name you’ve chosen for a few key things: negative associations, availability, and domain name availability. I usually trust panabee for domain availability searches.
One of my favorite video games of all time is The Sims 3, and in that game you create little people with their own personalities by giving them a set of traits. If it sounds like a simple task, it really is, and this is also one of the reasons The Sims is such a widely successful game. Go ahead and try it for your brand. Choose 2-4 human traits that describe your brand. This will be the basis for your brand personality archetype. There are a lot of variants of archetypal personalities, but I’ve found that this video is quite helpful. (See also, this blog.) You might find that your brand personality is a combination of a few if these, which is fine. This is simply another step towards moulding your brand into a masterpiece.
I briefly touched on the Brand Pyramid in another blog, and said we would address it again. This is probably one of the most crucial steps in branding.
At the bottom of the pyramid is always the basics. What tangible things does your business have? This could be location, staff or process, a service or product that your business has in stock. List your assets both physical and incorporeal here.
Next level is the functional benefits. What tangible benefits do your customers/clients get from interactions and transactions with your business? This could be as simple as sustenance for a restaurant, or more complex such as access to a service such as legal aid people facing specific legal battles for a law firm. The key here is that the benefit is not emotional or intangible – it is a very real thing that your customer or client will benefit from.
Third is the Emotional rewards that your business provides clients. This is how you want your clients to feel. When you look at a brand like Sephora for instance, they want their customers to feel beautiful. For a brand like Under Armour their customers want to feel like winners.
Next up, you need to think about the values of your target audience. So for a brand like Disney, their target would be someone who values family.
So the top of the pyramid is the personality. If you have already gone through the brand personality process, this should be pretty easy. Otherwise, it should still be fairly simple. Pick 2-4 human traits that summarise who your brand is if it were a person.
Now that we’ve got your pyramid all sorted, we’re going to try to condense all this information down into 2 or 3 words that describe your brand essence. Some put this at the top of the pyramid and you could do that, but I put mine outside as if the info was kneaded together and baked to produce as an entirely new thing. Your brand essence will be very useful going forward.
It would be easy for most brands to be wrapped up here. But if we look at global brands like Disney, Coke, or Nike, or even just really good brands like Mecca, it’s not just a product they sell to us that we associate with their brand. One of the experiences I was relating earlier was with Mecca. They have beautiful packaging – the products ship in a branded box, the design of which changes periodically. During the holiday season, their packaging featured designs by a female Indigenous Australian artist. So as a customer I feel that Mecca are an ethical brand that help lift up women. Defining a code of ethics and/or laying out a mission statement can help your brand with direction. Today your business might be making a loss. You might not even have a product. There is still business to be done. Think about how you want your brand to change the world for the better, and ask yourself how can we take steps to do this every day? For many retail businesses like Mecca it’s a lot of little things like making the customer feel special with fancy packaging and fantastic service but they also have a great sense of ethics and know that their business isn’t just online or in store but a whole entity that can do some good in this world.
I feel like if we’re talking about brands as people, it’s important to address their needs. And if we’re following say, Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, the top of that pyramid is self actualization. Once a brand is everything it could ever hope to be, how does it move forward? How does it achieve self-transcendence? The obvious answer is through altruism and human advancement. Your brand may not be there yet, but it is a goal you should think about. If you had all the money, all the best of everything for your brand, what do you do with it?
And that’s your brand! From here on out you should be thinking about how to visually represent your brand and the kind of experiences you want for your customers.
If all of this still sounds too hard, take a look at my branding packages. I’d love to talk to you about where we can take your brand.