The Quest for Brand Enlightenment.

Brand 101


Using the word “brand” these days is quite the misnomer. As the creative director of a digital agency, I am asked all the time about brand because it has become a word that has been associated with developing your business and people think they need it and can buy it. Of course, I think that the longer you are in business you start to understand what this means, through experience—but it is definitely something that needs to be understood and designed in order to achieve brand enlightenment.

Originally, the word was literally used to define how cattle was marked for identification to show it was the property of a ranch owner. A “branding iron” was heated until red hot and used to burn the name or identification (letter or initials) into the hide of the animal so it could not be erased or removed—always to show who it belonged to. Doesn’t this sound like a logo?

Although it is a good identifier, brand is not a logo. Brand is not your name, your tagline, your flagship product, or any one thing associated with your business. It’s everything in your business. It’s your beliefs, your value system and your culture. It’s what you deliver, how you deliver it and how people visualize the experience dealing with you and any person in your organization. You need buy-in from all team members, and leaders, leading by example of course. Your organization needs pure authenticity. The crazy thing about this is, as much as a company can try—you cannot fake, brand.

And, you cannot become your brand, you have to BE your brand, and you have to OWN it! You also have to develop it over time and allow people to emotionally connect with your brand. Many times, this can be based on human needs (See Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). Many agencies utilize methods, philosophies and sometimes more informally, an experiential approach to developing a client’s brand. It’s really used to get to the bottom of what your company or business is about, what you do well, and why people need it. You need to identify your value proposition or unique selling proposition/unique core differentiator. These are learned by investigating internally and working with the team of people within your organization to uncover the best things about your business, services and products in order to advertise them and to promote your business properly.

“Branding isn’t what YOU say about your company—it’s YOUR CUSTOMERS PERCEPTION of your company”.

It’s interesting how the concept of brand has definitely evolved over the years. Remember your mom buying “brand name clothes”, or your family getting a “brand new car”? We still hear it today! McDonalds is used as an example of excellent brand recognition and brand experience many times. I believe McDonalds was one of the first to unify and streamline their buying and selling “fast-food” experience process so that it’s as if anyone who mentions the name McDonalds has almost the same physical response and mental imagery. Is that amazing or what? So, if you visit McDonalds in Wisconsin or in Vancouver, and then McDonalds in Japan, your Big Mac will taste exactly the same, the look and feel of your visit, interaction with staff will be the same—coincidence? I think not! They’ve mastered and evolved the brand experience.

“In marketing, a brand is the symbolic embodiment of all the information connected with a company, product or service. A brand typically includes a name, logo, and other visual elements such as images, fonts, colour schemes, or symbols”…

Internal processes help to solidify your brand. It takes the guesswork out of HOW and WHY to do something. Of course, you have to ensure you have the right people in the right roles (insert Jim Collins’ bus analogy here), but once these authentically amazing people are in place, or replace others who are not right-fit, you are on your way. Depending on your curve in the growth of your business, some of these good people will help to create, maintain and improve your processes. It is paramount to become conscious and to do everything on purpose.

I am not a business coach, but I believe if you want to succeed in business this is a good way to start. It is one of the many building blocks required to run a successful venture. This develops your internal culture and value system which ultimately result in customer delight. I guess what I am saying is that you have to be honest and ethical in your approach to doing business but also analytical and aware. It’s inevitable that you and your business will not last if you are faking it!

“Brand encompasses the set of expectations associated with a product or service which typically arise in the minds of people. These people include employees of the brand owner, people involved with distribution, sale or supply of the product or service, and ultimately consumers”.

Once you have your culture in place as well as your other building blocks— your marketing materials, advertising, visual creative and messaging must be reflective of your well-oiled machine. This is where your creative talent comes in. This could be your agency, marketing and communications department or graphic designer. Hopefully, they understand all of this and utilize a proven method of operation using process and asking lots of questions to deliver some stunning words and images—better known as CREATIVE. Now, I mean creative as a noun, a thing, something that is created, assembled or built—designed in an architectural way. This sometimes confuses people since the word creative is normally used as an adverb to describe a characteristic of someone who has a good imagination or original, stylistic and sometimes not mainstream ideas. Your new creative also becomes your visual identity which can and should be applied to all of your marketing & collateral materials, promotional items, internal and external documents, website, advertisements, uniforms, signage, etc.—basically everything that is seen or heard or read, that is related to your company. The consistency of your look fosters brand identity. Eventually this will relate back to your internal processes and if the stars are aligned you will have achieved brand enlightenment. Sounds easy right? It’s also important to produce the right materials and correct messaging along with expertly executed campaigns to ensure positive and successful measurable results.

Psychological aspect vs the experiential aspect:

“The experiential aspect consists of the sum of all points of contact with the brand and is known as the brand experience. The psychological aspect or brand image, is a symbolic construct created within the minds of people and consists of all the information and expectations associated with a product or service.”

It seems easy to sum this up in a few paragraphs when it can take years to achieve brand enlightenment. It’s very interesting to see how the term and concept of brand evolved into the meaning it has today. As I mentioned earlier, you cannot buy brand or brand recognition. You have to live it, believe it and earn it! If you have the honesty, authenticity and entrepreneurial spirit to become a successful business owner, then you will surely become a brand enlightened company ☺

“A brand which is widely known in the marketplace acquires brand recognition. One goal in brand recognition is the identification of a brand without the name of the company present”.

Next Steps: Marketing your brand. Do I really need a logo? How much does Brand Development cost?

See you next time!
Jeff