Building a brand: Get the foundations right

Brand creation, Branding, Creative Studio, Identity design / October 2017

Ben Cooper

If you’ve read any of my previous blogs you’ll know that I think that branding, and getting it right, is important to an organisation’s long term success. I believe that brand values are important and should act as a foundation on which you not only build the rest of your branding, but should also inform employee behaviour and mindsets. And you’ll also be aware that one of the major failings I see in most brands is not delivering on their brand promise. Building a brand has to take these two elements into consideration.

But how do you go from those two basic pillars to fashioning a complete brand?

There’s no short cut. It takes a lot of thinking, analysis, hard work and a bit of intuition. Sure you can knock up a logo and a colour palette in a few hours and slap it on your stationery, but that isn’t a brand. It’s part of it, but not the whole picture. And if you’ve done it in a couple of hours it’s probably going to be pretty generic.

In this series of articles I’m going to look at the way Organic goes about building a brand for its customers. I’m not saying this is the only way to tackle brand design, but it’s the way I do it and it makes sense. I make no claims for originality in approach either; this is very much a case of standing on the shoulders of giants.

For this instalment we’ll look at the three basic layers of brand design, and in subsequent posts we’ll delve a little deeper into each.

What does your brand value?

This is where I believe all brand design projects should start, and that goes for building from scratch or refreshing an existing brand.

Why?

Because your values drive your behaviour, and if you want customers to have an experience that is as positive as it can be then your values and behaviour must be congruent.

Deciding on your brand values sounds simple, and most people will be able to rattle off a few words that they think encapsulate their business:

  • Professional
  • Driven
  • Adventurous
  • Blah
  • Blah
  • Blah

And the list goes on. The problem arises when people get lost focussing on values that are, really, aspirational and not ones that actually reflect the state of their business and how it operates. These values are usually the big ticket ones that sound impressive, and offer the customer the moon on a stick. Which is why they can come unstuck and negatively impact your brand.

Think about it. If a brand chooses a value such as ‘innovative’ it sounds great, and who wouldn’t want to engage with an innovative brand. Problem is if you’re not actually innovative then you have a disconnect that can affect staff morale, because they quickly realise you aren’t innovative and then feel like a bunch of shills. And it also negatively impacts customer relationships, because they’re expecting innovation and what you’re serving up is more of the same.

I’ll go into different types of values, and how we help businesses work out what their values are when building a brand, in a later post. But let’s just say that this is the single most important part to get right, and it can be a difficult process deciding on them because it takes a lot of reflection and honesty to get them right.

Shaping your brand personality

Brands do have personalities, and the best have a brand personality that is consistent and identifiable. This doesn’t mean you have to be like Innocent (who definitely do have a personality that is all their own). Your brand’s personality should reflect its values, the people who work within it, the service or product you provide, and should connect with your customers.

Your brand personality is founded on your values, and comes across most clearly in your tone of voice and choice of imagery. So nailing down the persona of your brand, usually in a broad archetype at first, is an important stage in building a brand.

Once you have your brand personality defined, you can use that and other factors to build up a tone of voice. How we talk, the words we use and how we use them, play a major part in how people perceive our personality, and it’s the same for brands.

But words are just words, and the actions of your brand will also define its personality. So thinking carefully about how your personality is put into action by your people is crucial. We’ll explore brand personality more in a later post in this series.

Creating a brand identity

So we’ve built the core of our brand, layered on top a personality and tone of voice, now we get to the part of branding that most people think is a brand: the brand identity. We’re talking name, logo, strapline, colour palettes. All that glossy, sexy stuff.

Creating a brand identity takes real skill and a fair bit of time. It’s also the place where we can get really creative with little hidden messages and foreshadowing of your brand values. You can see some great examples of logos that do a little bit more than look nice in this article by AdWeek.

Brand identity is important to future success because it is one of the most recognisable aspects of your business, and if well crafted it can stick in the mind of your audience.

Like everything else your visual identity should be informed by your brand values and personality. It should also take into account your industry, and hopefully do something a little different that makes it stand out. If you’re an accountancy firm then dark blues have a strong pull, making people feel safe and secure (especially nervous stakeholders). But how will you stand out if you’re just another navy blue logo?

When building a brand identity it’s important to think about how it will work at all scales, from a business card, to your website, to the side of a truck, or a massive billboard. I’ll stress again that each element must relate back to the core of your brand. If it doesn’t then it isn’t helping you create a cohesive brand that gives customers a unified experience from initial contact through to purchase and beyond.

These are the foundational elements that need consideration when building a brand. They are, of course, equally valid for doing a brand refresh but they can take potentially more work to achieve because you have to try and change ingrained assumptions and beliefs about the brand.

But knowing the components is all well and good. How do you actually go about uncovering and creating these elements? That’s one of the creative services we offer at Organic, but over the next few articles I will give a you a glimpse of what goes into building a brand from the ground up.

 

 

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