The importance of a well-thought-out brand

by Emily van Vught — strategy director & founder of Faker Agency

animation by Faker Agency

In a previous article I wrote about my frustration when someone says a brand is just a logo. I don’t want to elaborate too much on my distress about this subject, but I would like to dive a bit deeper into the concept of logo, identity and branding.

See, the thing with a logo is that it sure is an essential part of a brand, since it provides recognition and is a symbol people relate to. A logo is just a part and should definitely not be everything a brand consists of. At least, if you want to do your branding the proper way, it shouldn’t be. A logo should be seen as the cherry on top of your ice-cream, or if you’re more the savory type, the cheese on top of your pizza — it is the showpiece of the dish that attracts attention and finishes it off. But without the ice-cream or the pizza base, the dish just isn’t complete, just like a brand wouldn’t be with just a logo and nothing to support it. So what should it be then?

Well.. let’s start with what research and literature have to say about branding. A common description of a brand identity is that it can be seen as ‘a unique set of brand associations that a firm can create or maintain’ (Anselm and Kostelijk, 2008). Now, if we look a bit closer to this definition we can distinguish three main elements.

First let’s discuss the ‘brand associations’, which in other words are the perception and image of the brand in people’s minds. These perceptions are based on everything the brand does: how it communicates, what it looks like — actually all the elements related to the brand communicated through every touchpoint. Depending on how the customer interacts with the brand (and the person’s personal preferences, culture, etc), these perceptions will probably vary. But in the most ideal situation, the perception and image of the brand is consistent across all touchpoints, ensuring the overall image of the brand to be consistent as well.

Secondly there is the ‘unique set’, another vital part of the description of a brand identity. This is the part that points out the importance of a distinguished and original brand, one that stands out from the competition. A brand that ensures that people immediately recognize it, no matter where they encounter the brand. Unique in a way that the combination of elements, visual style, tone of voice and all the other ways the brand is exposed, are one of a kind and recognizable.

The third component, ‘that a firm can create or maintain’, involves the essential task of a firm (and thus a brand), to be in control of it’s own brand. Steering the associations in people’s minds in the direction they want them to go. All to make sure that the right audience is triggered by the brand and will develop an emotional connection with it over the long term.

Talking about the long term, I would propose to change the word ‘or’ for ‘and’, changing the sentence into ‘that a firm can create and maintain’. Because not only is it important to create a unique brand identity, it is probably even more important to maintain it over time — in a way that keeps surprising, but is still recognizable as the brand people know.

To do so, it is important to create a solid base for you brand — the ice-cream or pizza base, on which you can later sprinkle your toppings. A solid ground as we like to call it, where you define your brand’s true essence. Describing the brand’s strategy, along with the impact you want to make, the purpose you want the brand to fulfill and the personality the brand needs to have to make sure the right audience is triggered. In addition to the brand’s strategy, the other component of the base is the visual identity: the visual representation of the personality of the brand. This component consists of the identity system with a logo, typography, color pallet, graphical elements, patterns, photography style, etc.

When the solid ground is laid out, boundaries are set to ensure the ground to remain solid. These can be seen as the guidelines for the brand. They clearly define what does and what doesn’t fit the brand’s personality, purpose, impact, style, etc. A manual for the brand, that makes sure everything you do is in line with the brand identity and sends a consistent message to your audience.

Once the boundaries are clearly set, the brand’s playground is ready and it is time to start playing with the elements. Communicating the brand’s personality and message through every part of the brand the audience interacts with. Which will, in the end, create a perception and image of the brand in their minds: the ‘unique set of brand associations’. The one you as a brand have created and will maintain.

We made a short animation to show you these three steps.

animation by Faker Agency

So, when you now think about the concept of branding as only consisting of a logo, I’m sure you will agree with me that that just wouldn’t be sufficient at all, right?

You need more ‘identity’ to be able to steer the associations. You need elements that reach further than just a logo. Elements that translate the essence and personality of the brand into a way of communication, talking, photographing, social sharing, selling, advertising, collaborating, and so on — a way that truly fits that essence.

And to achieve that, you will need a brand identity that is fluid, adaptable to every media it is poured into. An identity you can play with, without getting bored. Because that is when the fun starts!