Defining your brand
If you’re thinking about how to rebrand your business, its products or services, or if you want to assess where your brand stands at present, here are four key aspects you should consider:
The big idea – what lies at the heart of your company?
Vision – where are you going?
Values – what do you believe in?
Personality – how do you want to come across?
If you can start to answer these questions with clarity and consistency then you have the basis for developing a strong brand.
Let’s take each of these in turn.
The big idea
The big idea is perhaps a catch-all for your company or service. It should encapsulate what makes you different, what you offer, why you’re doing it and how you’re going to present it. The other ingredients are slightly more specific, but they should all feed from the big idea.
Ideally, it will inform everything you do, big or small, including customer service, advertising, a website order form, staff uniforms, corporate identity, perhaps right down to your answer machine message.
To pin down your own big idea you will need to look very carefully at your own business and the marketplace around you, asking these types of questions:
How can you stand out?
What is your offer?
What makes you different?
What is your ‘personality’?
What do consumers want or need?
Is there a gap in the market?
Once decided, the articulation of these ideas can be put into action through branding techniques such as design, advertising, events, partnerships, staff training and so on. It is these activities that set up the consumer’s understanding and expectation of your company; in other words, its brand. And once you’ve set up this brand ‘promise’, the most important thing is to ensure that your products and services consistently deliver on it.
Generating a vision for your company means thinking about the future, where you want to be, looking at ways to challenge the market or transform a sector. A vision may be grand and large-scale, or may be as simple as offering an existing product in a completely new way, or even changing the emphasis of your business from one core area to another.
Although corporate visions and mission statements can often appear to be little more than a hollow dictums from top management, a well-considered vision can help you to structure some of the more practical issues of putting a development strategy into action. If you’re clear on what you’re aiming at, it’s obviously easier to put the structures in place to get there.
Like the word brand itself, the term brand values is perhaps a little over-used in design and marketing circles, but it does relate to important aspects of how people see your organisation. It’s what you stand for and it can be communicated either explicitly or implicitly in what you do. But imbuing your company’s brand with a set of values is tricky for a number of reasons.
Firstly, everybody wants the same kinds of values to be associated with their business. A survey by The Research Business International (now part of Synovate) found that most companies share the same ten values, namely: quality, openness, innovation, individual responsibility, fairness, respect for the individual, empowerment, passion, flexibility, teamwork and pride.
Secondly, it’s not easy to communicate values: overt marketing may seem disingenuous, while not communicating your values in any way may result in people not seeing what you stand for. And lastly, any values you portray have to be genuine and upheld in the way your organisation operates. Branding and design consultants can help you clarify what your organisation or business stands for and then they can develop ways for you to communicate that effectively. This might be through graphic design, language, advertising, staff training, the materials used in product manufacture and so on.
Branding and design consultants can help you clarify what your organisation or business stands for and then they can develop ways for you to communicate that effectively. This might be through graphic design, language, advertising, staff training, the materials used in product manufacture and so on.
Once you have established your ‘big idea’, vision and values, they can be communicated to consumers through a range of channels. The way you decide to present this communication – the tone, language and design, for example – can be said to be the personality of your company.
Personality traits could be efficient and businesslike, friendly and chatty, or perhaps humorous and irreverent, although they would obviously have to be appropriate to the type of product or service you are selling.
It need not have anything at all to do with the personalities of the people running the company; although it could, if you want to create a personality-driven company in the way that Richard Branson is very much the figurehead for Virgin.
And for smaller companies, the culture and style of the business can often reflect the founder, so its values and personality may be the same.
Here are a few examples of how you can start to control the elements of your company’s personality, conveying certain aspects to customers in different ways:
Graphic design: The visual identity – hard corporate identity or soft, friendly caricature?
Tone of voice: Is the language you use (both spoken and written) formal or relaxed?
Dialogue: Can your users or customers contribute ideas and get involved in the organisation? Or is it a one-way communication?
Customer service: How are staff trained to communicate with customers? What level of customer service do you provide?
As companies grow, their personality and values are reflected more in internal culture and behaviour than through the characteristics of the founders. This personality then defines how the companies express their offer in the market.
Putting it all together
Using the key ingredients outlined here – and bringing in consultants to help you define and implement them – will give you a solid understanding of your organisation’s brand, as well as strategies on how to present it to people.
Starting with the big idea, you can then go on to refine and set out your company’s vision, values and personality. And once these are all in place, you can think about hiring designers (Hello!) to turn your brand blueprint into tangible communications.