Confusing a company’s visual identity with its brand is an easy mistake. They are closely related, but not the same. When the people who own or manage a brand make this mistake, it can have serious consequences: ineffectual visual identities, ineffective marketing efforts, and lost opportunities.

Your brand is far, far more than just your company name and logo. It is the perception of your organisation that is created, over time, in the minds of your audiences – as a direct result of all the interactions they have experienced. As Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney put it, “A brand is a living entity – and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time. It is the product of a thousand small gestures.” Or there is the pithy definition of a brand given by Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon: “It is what people say about you when you are not in the room.”

Organisations that have understood, defined and communicated their own unique brand tend to be more successful than those that have not. At the most global extreme look at Apple, Nike and McDonalds, but the same is true of SMEs. There is no company or product that does not benefit from investment in a brand strategy.

Customers love brands

There are many reasons why building a robust brand foundation matters so much. On one level it provides an agreed set of principles from which to build from and to communicate with your customers. Whether it is a website refresh, an advertising campaign, or any other brand communications you can put it in the context of your brand strategy rather than making decisions that could be subject to sometimes vague or contradictory tide of changing opinions. Not only does this keep you focused, but it also ensures you remain recognisable and so trusted by those customers. Think of when you walk down the aisles of a supermarket – you instinctively reach for brands you recognise, don’t you?

Get your brand strategy right and it will also help you differentiate yourself from your competitors and forge an emotional bond with your customers. It will communicate your promise to those customers, making it easy for them to choose you, and giving them a reason to come back again and again.

Look at how Coca-Cola has positioned itself not as a manufacturer of sugary water, but as an instigator of fun. Look at how passionate people become about their iPhones. Look at the enduring success Marks & Spencer continues to enjoy while major retailers all around it go out of business. These are brands that people recognise, understand and very often love – the brand is the foundation of their success.

Beyond customers

It is not only customers who are influenced by your brand. Communicating a clear purpose and set of values is also the best way to attract top talent to your organisation. Look at how assiduously Google cultivates its employer brand – recruiting for people who want to “Do cool things that matter” – and how it is consequently able to attract and retain the very best talent.

Beyond those two key audiences, your brand will also influence how a wide range of stakeholders feel about your organisation. It influences the laws the Governments pass, the activities of regulators, what journalists write or say about you, how charities and activists view you, how keen suppliers are to serve you, how desirable you are as an investment for shareholders and bankers, and so on and on.

Building your Brand Foundation

So, how do you go from thinking just about a name, logo, colours and font to thinking first about developing a brand strategy? Our approach is to work with our clients to define what we call their ‘Brand Foundation’. This is comprised of several elements.

Firstly there is the Purpose. What is your brand’s ultimate goal? What will the world be like once your brand has achieved all it sets out to achieve? How do you want to change the world? You need to stand for something more than what you sell and ‘making a profit’ isn’t reason enough for someone to become emotionally engaged.

From there you can pin down your Mission: what are you going to do to achieve your purpose?

This leads to your Essence, which is a single, concise articulation of your brand promise, and sometimes, but not always, it serves as a strapline.

After that we look externally, to describe your brand’s Positioning: how does your brand orientate itself within its competitive context? What are the key metrics of your business sector or industry? What positions do your competitors adopt? Where are the opportunities for differentiation? Will any of these be meaningful for potential customers?

Defining your Values is the next crucial step. What are the criteria that drive your actions; the beliefs you hold dear; the benchmarks against which you are prepared to be judged? Just make sure that your values are not the same as those held by everyone in your competitive arena. Those are the hygiene factors required just to be taken seriously as a professional organisation. You are looking for reasons to win business, not the reasons to do business in your sector.

Then there is your Personality – the tone of voice and behavioural characteristics that make your brand unique

Finally, what are your Benefits – the rational and emotional reasons to support an ‘adoption decision’ in favour of your brand? These are the stories you need to repeat and support, albeit in an engaging variety of forms, every time you engage with your audiences.

Vision of the future

Designing and defining a company’s Brand Foundation is a revelatory and rewarding process. We usually start by running a workshop, or a series of workshops, involving people from right across the business. In the case of existing businesses looking for a brand refresh, we also like to talk to wider stakeholders, where possible, such as clients, lost/prospective clients and suppliers to ensure we get a clear view on the market perception. Crucially, it needs to have everyone in the organisation behind it, ready to contribute to the process, believing in the brand that is subsequently created and keen to drive it forward through to their customers. That is why it is so important for everyone in the organisation to understand the benefits that a brand strategy will bring.

It is an immensely valuable process. It requires a commitment and often involves some revealing organisational introspection. However, do it right and it will not only produce all the benefits described above, but it will also provide critical clarity on your organisation and become part of the overall business strategy. You will emerge with a clearer vision of the future and all the tools in place to get you there.

If you’re looking to build a brand, or refresh an existing one, and would like some help some expert help to lay some robust foundations for your brand, then get in touch. We’ve done this for many years, for companies both big and small, and we love getting our teeth into a new challenge.

Obliterating indifference since 1987