For the past 7 years, I have been helping established companies and startups define their brand. During our first meeting, I always ask one important question, ‘what is a brand?’.
I receive a variety of confused looks and answers. A logo, a corporate identity system, a product, a brandmark. I say that a brand incorporates all these things and more.
My definition of ‘brand’ is the following: A brand is an emotional connection you are able to establish with your customers.
This is why I love to think brands are conceived in the mind of the customers and not in your boardroom, by your marketing team or your designers.
We like to think a brand is unforgettable because of a beautiful logo or a perfect product. However, I can show you how we can recognise a brand by things that have nothing to do with their logo or name.
To be unforgettable a brand needs to be:
These qualities can be achieved by fulfilling the 7 important principles that any brand strategist, designer, or marketer working with a competitive identity needs to keep in mind. These concepts are key to developing a lasting bond with consumers, which is the essence of branding.
To introduce them I will use the imperative verb because I want them to sound authoritative and actionable!
01. BE DIFFERENT
….because everybody else is already taken, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde.
Differentiation is the most difficult part of building a brand, but it is what guarantees that a brand will work. Our brain acts as a filter to protect us from the vast amount of irrelevant information that surrounds us every day. This demonstrates why having a differentiated, relevant product is critical to success.
To start your journey to differentiation you need to have compelling answers to these 3 simple questions:
- Who are you?
- What do you do?
- Why does it matter?
The first two questions are fairly easy to answer. The third is the most difficult one. For a lot of companies, the most difficult part is to start your differentiation answer with ‘why’ your brand exists.
Simon Sinek, author of the book ‘Start with Why’, suggests all companies with a purpose should individuate the reason for their existence before thinking about the product or service they will design.
02. BE STRONG
…which can also be stated as ‘rise above the trends’.
If you want your brand to last for decades it can’t look old after only a few years. To help my clients define their ‘strong’ personality I usually invite them to play two simple games.
“What if…” which answers the question: “If your company was X, who would it be?”
“The first date”, where I ask my clients to answer questions like:
- What is the sexiest trait about your service or product?
- What would you say about your company so that it looks irresistible to the eyes of a potential customer?
Of course, brands need to allow themselves to constantly evolve and remain fluid, but your personality should remain consistent if you don’t want your customers to think they are dealing with a psychopath.
03. BE CONSISTENT
This principle is intimately connected with the previous point and can be summed up as ‘live up to your words.’
A brand is usually built around a specific mission, vision, values and possibly also a statement. Let them lead the way.
A clear brand strategy will help you and your team align every message, campaign, and interaction with the customer.
Keep your brand promise while continually improving your image and products. For example, the award winning Oscilloscope Laboratories by Redbull Music Academy is a great example of how a brand can always be different by having a strong personality and consistent communication.
Please note: to write a great brand strategy may require outside help. It’s quite a difficult task and requires people who are specialists with words.
04. BE FOCUSED
Be irreplaceable in the mind of your customers.
Sometimes we generalise our brand so much it doesn’t stand for anything specific. A focused brand is the one that knows exactly what it is, why it’s different, and why people want it.
Sometimes we are afraid to narrow our offer because we think we may lose opportunities. This is rarely the case.
As Marty Neumeier explains in his book, ‘Zag’, sometimes it’s better to be number two in one specific category than 100 in a broader category where you’re lost among many other brands offering a similar product or service.
A competitive market value specialisation above all.
When you’re a specialist in something you become irreplaceable in the mind of your customers. This is when I call a brand ‘charismatic.’
05. BE CREATIVE
Use design to drive innovation and create solutions.
This is not about being original, but being better and different. Use designers like me (^.^) to make sure your brand won’t be easily confused with another company’s.
Ask the help of creative agencies to:
- Choose the right name. As a simple rule of thumb remember to go with something easy to say, spell, and remember.
- Choose your colours carefully. Stick with a few colours that are easy to manage. Connect your colours to your message (refer to designers that know about the psychology of colours).
- Ensure your image works on different platforms. Your brand needs to have mass appeal and be clear so it doesn’t get lost, regardless of the platform (offline, online).
06. BE HUMAN
Match customers’ unique values, motivations and needs.
This point is based on the homophile principle (from the Greek, love of the same) and goes beyond simple customer care.
Value your relationship with your customers more than the money you could make by selling a product to them.
It’s important your message is designed to match customers’ unique values, motivations, and needs. The more you are able to mirror their communication and understand their preferences, the more successfully you’re able to engage them on a deeper level.
To ‘humanise’ you need to:
- Be rapid. React swiftly in real time to your customers’ request.
- Keep it personal. Your response is personalised. Include their name where possible. The tone should reflect your brand’s identity.
- Be like them. Mirror the tone and language of your customers to create a more effective and well-received message.
A great example of human based service is the redesign of Netflix artworks algorithm. Their movie selection is created to fit their users’ taste and mood.
7. BE COMMUNICATIVE
This principle comes down to just one question: Where can your customers find you?
Your brand needs to be able to communicate and connect with audiences on a number of levels and in different ways. Using just your own media (your website, your social media, ads, etc.) can be very limiting.
My suggestion? Seek collaborations with other brands. Sponsor events that resonate with your brand promise.
Most of all, surprise your customers by creating a new way to experience your product and services, especially if they only experience your brand online (you don’t have a physical store).
The project, The Design Genome by InvisionApp, is a great example of how a brand can interact with its customers in different ways that go beyond their products.
The Design Genome is a website that collects interesting insights about big companies and their design process, becoming a great source of inspiration for many designers who don’t know about the InvisionApp prototyping tool or already use their products. In the mind of the users, InvisionApp becomes more than a tool. It’s a brand that supports good design and inspires a community of young designers around the world.
This list may not be exhaustive but these simple seven principles are a great place to start creating true innovation and not mere trendiness. You can use the graphic above to understand where your brand is at too, and improve some of the three qualities often overlooked.
In this way, you will finally dispel the doubts that freeze your company into inaction and embrace prosperity and growth with confidence.