A strong brand is synonymous with a good idea, an effective business model, a great offering AND a meaningful market differentiator. While the first three factors of a strong brand can be bought, a meaningful market differentiator cannot. It is arguable that the latter is the most important aspect of any brand as it is the driver that gives your customers a reason to buy into you and remain loyal.
However, to differentiate yourself in the marketplace takes more than a few ‘nice’ (shudder) sounding words in some pretty packaging: it takes time and a true understanding of your business, your audience and your marketplace – both now and in the future.
Consequently, resolving this latter part of a strong brand is no simple task. As a result, there are unfortunately many strong businesses out there with heartbreakingly weak brands.
You need to start thinking of your brand as a person. And in that sense, we all know how to spot a strong person: they have clear ambitions, they have their own style, they are confident in themselves, they are easily recognisable by their wit, knowledge or interests and they appreciate their friends.
So, in the same way, spotting a good strong band should be easy, right? Well, apparently not. Instead, it seems much easier to spot a weak brand:
When it comes to branding, your services become secondary. It is more important to focus on your brand’s higher goal; why you do what you do.
For example, IBM may be a multinational technology company (like soooo many others) but what makes them so successful is their clear brand aims and devotion to building a “smarter planet”.
Not only does a clear, meaningful vision like this automatically make you appeal to an ever-more-conscious marketplace, but internally it will drive motivation. It will give people a greater reason to come into work: daily, they may find themselves deskbound and crunching numbers – but in reality, they’re part of something bigger. Something more important and far more inspiring. Something they can really be proud of.
You may have completely fallen – hook, line and sinker – for your ‘flashy,’ ‘dynamic,’ and oh so ‘modern’ pear logo design, that your brand team promised would turn you into the next Apple. But guess what? There is only one Apple. You’re just imitating their logo – and sure, the end result may look nice, but what’s the point in it if it isn’t telling your branded story?
On a lot of collateral, advertising and merchandise the only branding may be your logo, and what it has to convey is huge: its colours, shapes, style and dimensions must all be a certain way for a reason. You also need to consider its application: it’s not going to always sit nice and statically on a piece of paper, and if you haven’t considered how it will appear as an app icon, website header, livery, signage and more – then what’s the point? Time to start from scratch!
If you don’t know who you are and why your customers should choose you over your competitors, then can you really expect to dominate the marketplace? To know your brand is to be confident in yourself, and just like a confident person does, a confident brand will inspire confidence in those around them – i.e. confident customers.
To decipher who you are as a brand, you should start by identifying the true essence of your brand. Can you concisely – concisely being the key word here – summarise your vision, values and mission in a 30-second elevator pitch?
For example, here at Rooster Marketing, we are a marketing agency – and we are certainly not unique in that sense. But what really makes Rooster Rooster is our culture, our team and our work ethic, not just our services.
Here’s our elevator pitch:
“We are a bold and exciting team who are experts in what we do. By knowing that every solution starts with a single question we balance purpose and meaning with imagination. By loving what we do, it shows in our work, our client’s businesses and in our pride. We are Rooster Marketing, powered by simple creativity.”
This is fine if business is booming, but what happens when the tables turn? When the stocks fall, the workforce quit and the clients retreat? A strong brand in these circumstances will carry you through safely. Previously built brand equity and respect can ensure your audience and customers remain loyal and behind you, even during the low times. In those times, your brand is your safety net – and I know I’d rather mine be a strong one.
If people don’t instantly recognise you, how are they going to become ‘brand-fans’? Nowadays, with marketing happening on every level, every device and utilising every type of technology, recognition is crucial. This recognition is not simply referring to your visual elements – although consistency there is key. What we mean by recognition is, can a clear brand thread be traced from your print marketing, through your website, social channels, the tone of voice, office signage and even right down to your packaging and instructions? If there isn’t, what is it that makes you so special?
One legendary example of a consistent brand style is Innocent. From minute detailing in the bottle caps to their witty tweets and delightful mailers there is a clear branded voice and inclusive culture. One that without a logo, colours and name attached would be instantaneously recognisable. People don’t buy Innocent smoothies because they are the best, necessarily (although they are delicious). People buy Innocent for the whole experience; the nerdy facts on their packaging, the knowledge that they give back to less fortunate communities and the feeling of involvement in their large, very social community.
Arguably, the worst trait a brand can have. It is easy to identify your audience by age, sex, location, industry and income. But to identify what they are looking for separates the weak from the strong.
If you don’t know what your audience is looking for then what the hell are you doing!? You may as well pack it all in and go home. No one is going to really invest in you if you don’t provide something they want. Isn’t that the whole point in a business? Finding the niche?
When it comes to a brand, however, we are not referring to your offering: Your brand USP can be a feeling, an inclusion or even a style – anything that drives conversions from your specific audience. It is this that will also dictate how you need to express yourself as a brand.
As an example, consider Land Rover’s strapline:
“65 years on, we continue to go above and beyond.”
Here, Land Rover reveal just how well they know their audience: adventurers buying into physically going above and beyond. To satisfy this, Land Rover have created a series of TV adverts that show their cars going above and beyond, dedicated a space on their website to share adventure stories of their cars, recently they have launched an adventure-centric podcast to play in your Land Rover and they have even funded sculptures inspired by their models to truly embody their “unstoppable spirit”. You can see that the desires of their audiences dictate every branded action that Land Rover take.
Strong brands are hard to come by. This is because they are carefully crafted over time – nature not nurture, in this case. As a result, a strong brand is one of the most valuable assets a company can have. To begin your journey to crafting a strong and powerful brand identity, it is key to understand that consistency is of paramount importance.
This means consistency in the look, the nature and the definition of what you do as a brand, and for whom. If this is established and implemented, it’s astonishing how quickly brand loyalty can build up.
One easy way to ensure brand consistency is by developing meaningful brand guidelines. These are a set of rules to ensure your brand, logo and content follow a similar path and meaning. Internally they can spark motivation and a proud brand culture.