At least 90 percent of business owners* hire a graphic designer to create a logo, choose a font, some colours, and tick the box on branding. Done!
Right? Actually, no.
Some of the more savvy ones know that they need to be consistent in how they present their logo and do a great job of creating a strong visual identity.
Some of them also create a brand voice and consistent writing style, which is excellent!
However, it usually stops there.
Even the largest global companies I have worked at have brand teams almost solely focussed on controlling strict brand guidelines, to manage their visual identity with pedantic correctness.
This is where they’re missing the key to effective branding.
I’ve found very few companies that really understand brand strategy and (importantly) how to apply it.
The truth about branding
A brand is so much more than your visual identity.
My proof is that brands can change their logo fairly easily without having much effect on their actual brand.
You only have to Google the history of well known brands such as Nike, Adidas and IBM to see that they have changed their logo regularly over the years without many people realising.
It’s not a pretty logo and colours that make people feel connected with your company, that drives loyalty and trust.
What the logo does is help you identify the business, more than the name alone. We humans are visual and using shapes and colour helps us remember a name!
Your brand is the personality and energy of your business.
It’s your values and how you do business – the reputation you build and what you stand for.
Everything in your business should align with your brand. It’s how you create your customer experience, your employee experience and build an engaged audience.
If your business doesn’t align, your brand becomes a soul-less logo.
So when you create a brand strategy, you don’t start with the logo, in fact I always do the logo last.
You must start with your target ‘ideal’ customer, because the brand exists for them.
Everything about your brand should be designed to appeal to your target customer first and foremost. Select your colours, logo, brand voice and writing style for them.
Define your personality traits, how you want to be perceived and the values by which you’ll operate.
Only then are you ready to brief your graphic designer.
[If you’d like a simple template to create your brand strategy, download my free brand strategy worksheet here and you’ll have everything you need to DIY!]
A real life example of brand building
My last role in corporate marketing demonstrates the power of a real brand strategy.
I started with the tech start-up in their first year of establishment as Head of Marketing. Unfortunately they had already locked in their logo, using the same colours as their main competitor and a very similar design.
The visual identity being a disaster already, I was given a challenge to build a brand strong enough to win over the hearts of the industry.
I knew that to build a successful brand I needed to create distinction between it and the competitor, and this would largely be done with the rest of the brand strategy – values, messaging, personality. Luckily the competitor had a very impersonal stagnant brand and I could use this to my full advantage.
The vision was to be the most well recognised brand in our industry in Australia within 5 years.
How I created the brand
After understanding who our ideal customers were and what appealed to them, I started by defining the personality traits for our brand.
As a new entrant and also a challenger to the market leader, this meant selecting traits such as confident, friendly, forward-thinking, real, intelligent and cheeky.
A mix designed to build trust but also to catch the attention of the market by being different to what they were used to.
Where the industry typically talks in overly complicated, jargon-heavy hyperbole, I kept our messaging simple and clear. Talking in first person, directly to our audience and full of our personality.
My amazing graphic designer pushed new boundaries with the visual identity and used imagery to help portray our personality.
Our marketing campaigns also aligned to our personality, again keeping things simple but going for high impact and bold moves that maximised engagement with our target audience.
On the business side, our brand underpinned our company culture. All staff were inducted into the brand strategy so they understood our essence and could take it on themselves to uphold it.
I entrusted our staff to live and breathe our brand, in everyday communications as well as in our business processes. I gave them tools and made it easy to work with the brand, rather than controlling it.
It worked like a charm.
The brand evoked an emotive reaction with our target audience and this generated a lot of interest and therefore awareness grew quickly. People followed us in the press, tuned in to our blog and turned out to our events.
In less than 3 years my team and I had achieved the vision of being the most recognised brand in the Australian market.
However, I’d be lying if I said we didn’t have any challenges. As the company grew, staff joined us from within the industry, bringing with them a legacy of systems and rules that were in complete contrast to our brand and culture.
We had to work hard to keep everyone on track and true to our culture. There were lumps and bumps. But having a strong brand strategy helped us align and keep aligning as we grew.
Summing it up
If you’ve read this far, congratulations!
In summary, your brand sits at the core of your company. It’s your entire presence to the outside world – your culture, your approach to business and most importantly how you service your customers.
Getting the marketing right is the easy bit, the hard bit is aligning an entire business to deliver a consistent brand message.
If you fail to live and breathe your brand, you’re letting that 10% of businesses who ‘get it’ to have an unfair advantage.
Now you know the secret, you can be one of them. Good luck!
* This is a statistic that is purely my own opinion. It could, in fact, be much higher!