An infestation of ill-informed marketers, agencies and companies is creating a pandemic throughout the world of brands. Their motto? We know branding. Oh yes we do.
Unfortunately, the universe is rife with marketers, companies or agencies who don’t have the slightest clue about what makes a brand insanely successful. Nor are they particular about which companies they kill mercilessly.
Want to keep your organization alive and healthy? Learn how to avoid deadly brand hijackers and instead cultivate this wonderfully powerful business asset called brand…
#1 Branding’s not just a pretty logo to pet and admire.
Companies and agencies frequently perform an empty visual exercise simply to stroke their own egos. Making trendy cosmetic changes without thinking through real business objectives or consequences.
Instead, companies need to define what their brands promise. Then bring those promises to life in visual, verbal, and experience. For rebranding, that means redefine, reposition, then execute real transformation. That’s what drives real value and meaning to brand, and drives the top line revenues that C-level execs live for. A wisely planned identity also happens to make P&L management (cost control) far easier, creating vastly improved bottom line returns.
Define and live your brand promise, and creating distinctive brand assets (naming, logo, cohesive design system, etc.) is a powerful way to achieve serious business results:
- Make your products or services more desirable and easier to understand and buy;
- Transform mere commodities into valuable brands that people will pay a premium for;
- Create a branded ecosystem of sensory experiences that people want to make part of their lives;
- Act as a beacon or constant reminder of who you really are and what you truly represent;
- Signal real change in an organization’s vision, culture, or marketplace response;
- Enable expansion into new or different markets;
- Enable wisely planned brand extensions or disable cannibalizing ones;
- Implement important changes to a well-planned brand architecture that creates the right mix of distance or unity with other branded offerings;
- Make your identity more readily identifiable among the sea of other brands;
- Grow company equity;
- Create valuable intellectual property assets;
- Overcome technical challenges in visual implementation as a company grows, creates new business relationships, merges or is acquired;
- Realign visual expressions after disparate, unclear implementation by users of the brand or poor brand management;
- Reduce advertising and marketing costs;
- Reduce brand management costs;
- Create other new functional or emotional benefits;
#2. Branding is not slapping a logo on a baseball cap.
Suddenly the world is teeming with merchandising and other design firms that simply slap a logo on a promotion or trinket, and triumphantly call it branding. You’ll often recognize them by their websites plastered with gajillions of prominent company logos they didn’t design or strategize.
These brand bottom feeders may try to con you into designing your serious intellectual property assets, like logo or design system. But most have zero branding experience and provide no brand strategy, let alone understand your business challenges. The better ones will follow your brand guidelines and policies, but that’s about it.
So before you hire “ XYZ Branding ” firm (example names withheld to protect the guilty), find out what they actually do. Make sure you consult with a proven brand + identity firm that has experience defining, planning and executing critical brand and creative decisions—including keeping identity and promotions on-brand.
#3. Branding means not ripping off other people’s ideas.
In fact, there’s a name for copying original designs, names, phrases and other assets in the USA. Attorneys affectionately refer to that as intellectual property or trademark infringement. Suing people makes them smile. It’s what they do.
Despite the serious business and legal consequences, you’ll find plenty of risky logo designs everywhere. Perhaps hundreds or thousands of cheap designers and online logo factories eager to please. To quote a prominent colleague, “Any a*****e with a computer thinks he can design.” If you’re wise, you’ll stay far, far away from those types. Your logos, designs, names and phrases are serious intellectual property and business assets. Don’t find yourself on the wrong end of a cease and desist letter.
Here’s a very recent example of 7-Eleven suing 7-Seven for trademark infringement. Lawsuits abound for far less blatant examples.
Floating Banana shows how Logoworks.com may have copied several trademarked logos —in addition to the cliché, unmemorable, unremarkable, unintelligible and illegible ones that can devalue companies.
The moral is to be authentic and original. True to yourself and your unique identity. Discover it. Live by it. Create quality in everything your brand touches. Dare to stand out. Otherwise, you stand to come across as a fake. A boring cliché. A cheap knock-off. Suspiciously or blatantly masquerading as the real thing.
You’ll need professional branding help getting there, because it’s nearly impossible to be objective with your own identity. Many companies have tried, and failed, to successfully rebrand in-house. True brand professionals understand how to bring out the excitement of who you are. They’ll help you navigate the twisty curvy path toward creating remarkable (and trademarkable) brands that people desire.
#4. Branding is not marketing.
But you’ll still find droves of marketers who literally don’t know the difference between a brand position and, “Hey look at the funny monkey.” Company marketing departments and their agencies often don’t infuse and inform marketing with any core brand story, essence or promise. While each new shock and awe campaign may see short-lived upward blips in sales, the brand goes dark in the spaces between. Brand experience is lost, and the overall promise feels fake or unconvincing.
Remember the Quiznos ad campaign featuring horribly disfigured rodents called spongmonkeys? Probably you’re trying to forget in order to regain your appetite. That off-brand marketing campaign managed the steepest decline of any major fast-food chain in history, thousands of franchisees sued, and Quiznos just barely avoided bankruptcy. More on Business Insider here .
You may remember Quiznos. You may have chuckled. But likely you didn’t buy their sandwiches.
Successful brand + identity is about defining a truthful and authentic platform about who you are collectively as a company, and the leadership driving your vision. Your unique values, reasons to believe, and your promise to the world. Living your brand promise includes informing marketing with brand meaning—which is also proven to both increase revenues and improve bottom lines.
After the 1990s Apple “Think Different” campaign launched, Steve Jobs said, “It only took 15 . . . 30 . . . maybe 60 seconds to re-establish Apple’s counter-culture image that it had lost during the 90s”.
Apple realigned its brand story with its original core creative renegade brand values, its promise of empowering creativity and independence, and transformed crisis into one of the biggest company success stories in history.
#5. Brand positioning is not market positioning.
Brand positioning does not equal the market position of your products, services, technologies, benefits or features. If that were true, your company would be repositioning its brand daily because those aspects of your business constantly change. Features, benefits and the rest become outdated, usurped by competitor advantages or price. Ultimately commoditized, irrelevant, and unsustainable.
Your brand must be a vital force for the lifespan of your organization. Products, services, technologies, benefits or features simply fulfill a temporal need for doing business with your customers. You’ll need that, too. But beyond that, only your intangible and emotional aspects will keep your customers, advocates and employees choosing you over competitors.
Products perform basic functions. But great brands—large or small— can generate new movements, drive innovation, create new human behaviors, influence the very fabric of world culture. Like Apple. Virgin. Coca-Cola. Twitter. Amazon. Nike. Before Mac, there were just computers. Before Coke, there was just soda pop. Before Nike, we had sneakers.
#6. Branding is not about the latest fleeting trend.
JC Penney and Tropicana’s trendy rebrands both led to sales plummeting by around 20%. Gatorade’s rebrand immediately collapsed consumer awareness from 82 percent to 34 percent. Just a few sample symptoms of deeply systemic brand issues.
Branding is not about applying a trendy new coat of paint to cover up your company’s uncool aspects. Try that, and more often a rebrand effort will be no more than a coat of shellac: transparent to all the brand interacts with. Especially in today’s world of smarter, more connected, more informed customers.
Companies say they want to be more cool or hip (wish I had a nickel…) , so decide to rebrand. Yet many companies actually do little or nothing to change, cultivate, or even identify the internal culture or vision of the product, organization or business. And that is where all the truly cool and hip aspects of a brand need to happen. To inform and drive creative expressions that make you meaningful and magnetic.
#7. Branding can’t be crowdsourced.
Customers understandably desire to be listened to and involved more in what a brand does and says. Listening to customers is a good way to reflect on how they perceive your brand—to help gauge connecting the internal (identity) aspects of the company, externally (brand).
Yet when important business or brand decisions are put to a vote through non-expert contributions, the results are almost always disastrous. Skewed towards social conformity that will never surprise or delight. Audiences won’t remember or value companies that try to be everything to everyone. Often they don’t mean anything to anyone. Instead, people and organizations win hearts and minds through standing up for something unique and important.
Like crowdsourcing medical or legal advice, crowdsourcing brand work is a remarkably bad idea. Because defining and cultivating a successful brand identity requires a deep and wide understanding of an organization, marketplace, cultures, languages, psychology, storytelling, business, brand architecture, design systems, intellectual property, more.
Brand is about solving business challenges, not winning a popularity contest.
#8. Branding’s not a black box voodoo exercise to devise ways of hypnotizing your customers into submission.
Successful brands do not come from divining perimeter oscillations, the Earth’s Geodynamo, magnetic fields, balancing symmetrical energy fields, string theory, or the universe expanding exponentially at f(x)=e x [1 light year = 671 million miles per hour] . Believe it or not, these are real excerpts from an actual agency creative brief. The client was Pepsi. And after spending an estimated several hundred million dollars on the rebrand implementation, no one was hypnotized except Pepsi. Coke is still the market leader.
When marketers, consultancies or agencies start talking like this—be very, very afraid. Everyone has a process. But no one has a secret black box proprietary process will magically transform brands vis à vis theoretical astrophysics or supernatural powers.
Instead, you need experts with a deep and wide understanding of what makes brands work. And equally important, a deep understanding of the unique challenges your company faces.
#9. Branding is not static.
Contrary to many assumptions, your brand isn’t a single static event in time. It’s an evolutionary experience. Great identities and brands are stories that continually unfold into an ongoing epic.
And like a story, your brand has a main character and sometimes supporting characters. What are the characters going to do as they venture forth into the world of situations, both expected and unexpected? How will the characters get from here to points beyond? How will they face the inevitable struggles? What will their behavior be like? Their interactions with others along the way?
By developing your brand’s story, you create a belief in that character that is shared with all brand users. Your customers, your employees, the media, marketing people, others.
How do you express and share that belief with your customers? By defining who you are. That’s the beginning, the heart and soul of any meaningful brand exercise and story. Why you do what you do. Your greater brand purpose. Your reason for existence. Why anyone should care.
- In 2011, purposeful companies outperformed the S&P 500 by 40% (World’s Most Ethical Companies ranked by Ethisphere).
- According to the Edelman Good Purpose Study, 86% of customers globally believe purpose in community or society is at least as important as business purpose.
- Studies have shown an average 2,700% increase in product value when accompanied by good stories. Details from Harvard Business Review here.
#10 Branding isn’t all talk.
Don’t just be a storyteller. Be a storydoer. Actively perform your story throughout the organization. That’s how you create a cohesive shared belief with your customers from which they will reward you in unbreakable loyalty.
- According to a 2011 study by Co-Collective, storydoers achieved 2,000% more social mentions. Twenty times more people cared about what those companies said when they lived the story.
Understand the difference between proven brand professionals and the menace of brand hijackers. Because the cost is critical and material:
- Confusing or disparate branded initiatives, often with zero or negative business results;
- Disconnect from brands lost in the translation throughout years of disparate marketers, graphic designers, writers, printers, web designers, sign makers, and more;
- Investment of resources (lots and lots of time, money and people) in the wrong things;
- Supporting management of confusing or cannibalizing brand architecture or naming;
- Loss of customers, sales, brand equity;
Brand equity ; It’s an intangible but very real company asset that financial analysts use to determine your company’s value on the balance sheet; The reason your brand can generate more money from customers over your competitors; Sometimes the only reason a company is able to sustain business; In the case of a Coca-Cola, brand equity is 50% of the company’s net worth.
When the brand fails, business fails.
In fact, the overwhelming majority of emerging businesses worldwide fail within the first few years. Not because they didn’t have good ideas, the right product, or sufficient capital. But because they didn’t develop or execute the right brand strategy. Building an ecosystem where people understand and care why you exist.
Branding is not simply a name, a logo, or a tagline. It’s a reason for being. It’s what turns mere commodities into valuable brands that people will pay a premium for.
Brand identity, strategy, architecture, design systems and planning are crucial business tools and assets for CEOs from the very start—in order to grow recognition, make clear meaningful connections to customers, expand into new markets, and to cost effectively manage the enterprise.
Wise brand strategy and execution can deliver 1,000% ROI or even more. Yes, that number is real, and not a typo. So, investors and CEOs, if you want amazing ROI, then invest in brand with proven brand professionals.
Russell Volckmann is a brand strategy and creative director with a 20 year history helping world-leading organizations define, tell and live remarkable brand stories. He also works with businesses worldwide to help them wisely choose the right brand consultancy.