branding, demystified!
What makes a good brand?


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What is a brand? And what makes a good one? These are the type of questions that everyone thinks they can answer until they actually try! And I think every designer in the world has their own take on it! Let's start by reading some definitions from the experts... 


"A particular identity or image regarded as an asset. 

A trademark whether made by burning or otherwise."


“The intangible sum of a product’s attributes - it’s name, packaging,
price and history. It’s reputation and the way it is advertised."


“It’s all about values - we have to be really clear about what
we want people to know about us."


“A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or organisation.”


“It’s about bringing everything together with a purpose, knowing what
you want to say, having a sense of the story and finding an
original compelling way to get it across.”


“It’s about belonging to a tribe, a religion, a family. Branding
demonstrates a sense of belonging.” 



Now let’s take a moment to look back to where it all began…

We know where the term came from - branding is to burn a symbol into something, such as livestock, with a hot iron to mark possession. History also reveals how high ranking families 'branded' themselves with coats of arms. Tribes with warpaint. And countries, armies and naval fleets with flags and emblems. Haha even pirates had their own branding! 


But when did commercial logos as we know them come about?

To begin with logos were purely text based, and very often in a hand-drawn script. Some of the most established brands - the CocaCola's, Boots' and Ford's of the world - have simply tweaked and retained their original logotypes. Then interestingly, the very first symbol to be trademarked in the UK was the Bass red triangle in 1876. Just take a look at how the artist, Manet, featured this in his painting in the cover picture... what an amazing advertising scoop for Bass!  


But it wasn’t really until the middle of the last century that companies started to 'design' their logos. In truth, until the industrial revolution they didn’t have to. People did business face to face. Back then you knew the lady that made your bread. The old guy that mended your boots. The friendly family that brewed your beer. Aside from location, purchase decisions came down to who you knew, liked and trusted. People were their own brands. And personal relationships. likability and clear connected values were the keys to winning business.


Hmmmm interesting... when you think about this not much has changed. And yet it's taken us over 100 years of corporate gloss to realise how important the personal brand is and how effective an entrepreneur's own story is in promoting his or her business. I think most people now recognise that a brand goes far, FAR beyond design. That's not to say that the visual side isn't important but it's just packaging for the REALLY crucial things... a company’s vision, mission/purpose and true values and beliefs. Together they are the things that truly separate one company from the next.


How to Differentiate Your Brand

People need to understand exactly how your company, products and services differ to give them the ability to make a clear choice. And to give you the best possible chance they need to get a sense of this in matter of seconds! This is where authentic differentiation and positioning comes in. And it stems right back to those values and beliefs...  


At this point it's important to understand that the choices we make actually depend on what we ‘believe' about ourselves. For example, I have to confess that I'm a bit of a food snob... and I believe quality and choice are way more important than convenience and price so I'm a Waitrose/Ocado girl all the way. A company's value set alone is unlikely to win over customers who don't relate to those values. After all, people don't just swap out their values for yours - no matter how clearly expressed they are in your snazzy brochure. But with good branding and intelligent positioning you can make your values and differences known in an instant. This is awesome because it means that your PERFECT CUSTOMERS, (those with the same values) NATURALLY CONNECT with you. 


Connecting with customers whose values are different to yours is a hard-fought battle. It means manipulating through discounting and give-aways and therefore at great cost. And even if you do entice them with a cool offer, these guys are not truly connected, or committed. They're fickle. Eager to jump ship as soon as there’s a better offer. If, however, your values resonate deeply with them, and your qualities match what they believe about themselves then they'll be fiercely loyal… often to the point of advocacy! Think Apple or Harley Davidson. Think John Lewis or Google. And if we get this bit right, the beauty is that it almost doesn’t matter about our price point! People will pay extra for a brand that speaks volumes to them. As brands go, we just ‘feel right’ to them.  


My Definition of Branding

Brands are multi-layered and multi-faceted. They are visual, verbal and kinaesthetic. Tangible and intangible. Your brand is the sum of everything everyone sees, hears, reads, knows, thinks and feels about your company. And you need to lay your soul bare to get it right. Your brand values should emanate with every breath and from every pore! And when they do... that’s when you build your tribe!


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