A brand is an ecosystem of your business. It derives itself as a holistic set of traits and attributes tied to the identity of who you are. It’s is not something you can manufacture, manipulate, or convince others of based on creative and design efforts. However, those tactics play a major role into how you present your identity to the world; but this post is to dive deeper to understand why a brand is important and how you can use these understandings to identify who you are and how to move forward.

A brand is an ever-changing living organism of an organization. The brand is the set of beliefs and values composed of the collection of business, creative and strategic goals that inform your business product and services. The way in which you run your business internally and communicate your company externally to the world informs your brand. As your business grows and changes, so does your brand.

The growth and change of your brand is defined by a vision of strategy carried out through communication and messaging. By taking your core values and beliefs of your business, your employees and your products/services, you begin to form this strategy that will be executed through communication and messaging of who you, what you do, and (most importantly) why you do it.

The “why” is the ultimate measure of how impactful your brand resonates with your target audience.

Your brand isn’t hinged on all of the communication, messaging and output you do to form your brand reputation. No. Your brand is defined by what others say about your brand. Whether positive, negative, or neutral, your brand is not defined by you. However, the goal to shape your brand in a positive way is to take a step back and look at who you are objectively. You must be willing to dive in and understand every facet of who you truly are as a brand, reflect, and be willing to evolve. This sentiment is how some brands ascend and others continue to fail, fast follow or spin endlessly looking for the right solution.

The strategy to building a stronger brand is to step back, look at your brand through an unbiased lens and be honest with yourself. In return, your audience will see the transparency and honesty and it will resonate.

Gone are the days of post-modern marketing tactics. Gone are the days of clever and witty messaging. Gone are the days of trying to convince others of something you do or sell in a spin of marketing and building clever campaigns. We are evolved consumers. We have little to no tolerance of bullshit. Our bullshit meters are incredibly in tune.

THE KEY COMPONENTS

The key components to building an effective brand are anchored in differentiation, collaboration, innovation, validation and cultivation.

Differentiation is the ability to strip away all of the layers of your brand to get down to the bedrock of who you are as a company. To look deep within and develop a focus. Clarity. From here, you must find the parts of your brand that make you unique in your market. By helping my clients look at their culture, customers, voice, impact, feeling, and x-factor, I have been able to guide businesses to rediscover their ultimate differentiation. This is done through a series of discovery sessions, conversations, work sessions and a look into the future of culture and business related to each client.

Collaboration is when the brand becomes a representation of the people involved within the business. Furthermore, the collaboration also happens when the dialogue becomes two-way once the brand messaging and strategy is put into the world for the audience to reciprocate. Collaboration to build a brand from a collective will capture and embrace all variables of values, beliefs and foundational aspects of a brand.

Innovation is when what you’re doing scares you. Innovation is not production. Innovation takes time and is not financially lucrative as is being in a production model. There is high risk and higher returns for innovation. Most companies operate from a production model and they stagnate on profits, margins, growth and marketplace percentage. However, those who innovate, over time will win. But innovation is not for the faint of heart and it is a financial and creative endeavor full of risk. But the impact on your company and industry can be phenomenal.

Innovation comes from people outside the company or from people inside the company thinking outside. Either way, you must foster innovation if you want to grow. You must allow those who work inside your business to have the freedom to explore, fail, lead and create. The alternative is to allow an outsider to come in and create recommendations around a future you had always envisioned through strategy, conversations, research, discovery an creative solutions.

Validation is through gathering feedback to inform your strategy. Create a brand dialogue through research, focus groups, quantitative research and measuring goals and effectiveness of your brand. A strategy is not a one-sided dialogue, but an informed direction formed by data and information about your brand and how your audience engages. This is where creativity truly thrives. To communicate effectively. To inspire and impact your audience. And to do it from an informed and honest place. Creatives must use validation to inform a position and then allow the creativity to permeate through the informer direction.

Cultivation is a consistent approach to your brand. You must create alignment in every step of the process. Both internally and externally for your brand to thrive, evolve, and grow. The more your brand grows, the stronger your internal team needs to be. This growth must continue to align creatively across all business sectors. Branding is cultivated through alignment that can be measured, studied, analyzed, replicated and managed.

COMBINING GOOD STRATEGY WITH GOOD CREATIVITY

Building trust for your brand is when customers have a consistent experience through every touch point of your business. Consistency builds the foundation of a two-way dialogue with your customers. The expectations for your customers need to be met consistently through every exchange. A brand is a guarantee of trustworthy behavior.

When you combine good strategy with good creativity, your brand will reach its potential. Anything less that these two desired states of strategy and creativity will be flawed and fall short of the desired expectations and outcome for your brand.

DESIGNED BRAND LOGO IDENTITY

A logotype, or brand identity, is a solidified document representing the brand. It is a one-way communication to the audience signifying who you are. However, the logo itself doesn’t always represent how you do what you do, or why you do what you do. In this sense, a logo falls short in representing the brand as a whole.

I believe there are many designers and creatives out there who are selling the idea of the logo being the all powerful solution to a brand and building a successful company. This is wrong. A logo is a representation of a larger eco-system of the ever-changing, evolving brand of your business. It is irresponsible to represent the design of a logo as the solution to a companies branding needs. It is not.

The design of a logo identity is an execution and artifact of a deeper strategy. To truly capture the essence of a brand and create an identity that works, the design must reflect the culture, voice, feeling, impact and differentiation of the brand in a single mark.

A logo becomes the starting point for customers to recognize and identify your brand but it should be the final phase for brand building. This should be informed after strategy of your brand has been solidified.

A logo identity is a single part of an identity system the reflects the intended values of the brand to communicate to current audience and potential customers about the intended values, services, products and offerings of a brand. The logo serves as a way to start the conversation, either as who you are as a brand, what you do, or why you do it. From there, the logo serves as a reference point to tie back to the values, create consistency and build trust as you move your brand forward.

A logo is a mark to identify, but does not encompass the brand as a whole.

DESIGN RESPONSIBILITY

Once the building blocks of a brand have been defined and a strategy to move forward have been articulated, it is incredibly important to embrace the responsibility of design. From the design of systems used within the business, the design of creative assets sent out into the world, to the design of brand identity systems; the responsibility of design and how we manage these aspects within a business is of utmost importance.

We must not accept that design visuals, logo design, corporate identity, brand style guides and other visual documentation is the definition of a brand. These artifacts serve as a representation of of the core values and beliefs of a business that will move forward with focus and clarity. Knowing that the brand is evolving, changing and a representation of what others say about you. These artifacts serve as representation and guide to move into the future.

We must acknowledge that a brand is a living, breathing, changing life force of a company measured in how the customer experiences our brand. The experience must align with all of the attributes defined early on through discovery and strategy. However those experiences are created must be executed in sound strategy and good creative.

The design must visually resonate back to the strategy.

The design must be a representation of the holistic brand strategy and temperament. When the brand has been defined and strategy for moving forward has been determined, the creative approach should use these foundational documents to allow as a measuring tool for the brand representation. The creative should be allowed to explore, innovate and lean into the progress of the brand, while maintaining strong ties to the brand strategy and foundational documentation of the brand representation. Therefore, creative should be allowed to explore, innovate and do their best work. Allowing the creativity to evolve and change based on the expertise and knowledge of creative directors and designers, as long as the measurement of success is not built on subjective opinions of a committee or those not qualified to propose creative changes, but it is built on objectivity that points back to the core foundation of the brand, values, and strategy.

Designers must acknowledge that to build a better brand, to design a better identity, strategy must be recognized, understood and incorporated into the design approach for a visual brand identity. Many designer’s exist in a nuanced creative bubble where strategy and values and business are of little concern. However, it is the designer’s responsibility to acknowledge their responsibility of their work to approach from a holistic perspective. The design is not how it looks, or the end result, but of a bigger eco-system of a company. Therefore, design must be a leader within a business to gain insight, clarity and focus for the road ahead.

There is no room for misleading communication within design. A brand is not the logo. A brand is not what design says it is. A designer’s job is to reflect what the brand’s values are and what the customer believes to be true with those values. The reflection of these things is weighed heavily on the execution and creativity of the identity, but it is not the entire identity.

Design is meant to delight and ignite some emotion and passion within people. The importance of design must be matched with the strategy. The strategy must then inform the design to inspire through the emotional side of the brand. This is where beauty, creativity and inspirational brands emerge to resonate deeply with their audience. Capturing this is the most difficult job of a creative, but with a strong foundation of the brand, values, and strategy, the road ahead is promising and the ability to think in new creative and inspiring ways becomes the priority for creative teams.

Design must be innovative to drive business and focused to differentiate the brand.

Differentiate, differentiate, differentiate. I cannot stress this enough. What makes your brand different in your market is the starting point to inform your strategy, creative, marketing, and execution of your brand. To understand the differentiation you bring, you must objectively look at what you do, how you do it, and why you do it. All of these things combined will begin to surface and discover the true differentiating factor of your brand. This discovery will serve as the groundwork to building the brand you had always envisioned.

THE IMPORTANCE OF A BRAND BEYOND THE LOGO

Every industry can have one company that is the cheapest, and holding significant profit margins by building a business model this way. However, all other companies in the same industry must place their value in building a brand, where the highest profit margins exist.

A brand is not meant to capture all people. But, instead, to be focused enough to capture all people relevant to your target audience and serve them. To create a trustworthy relationship where building loyalty to few, staying focused on strategy and cultivating the brand relationship with your targeted customers will generate more profits over trying to serve everyone.

This can be accomplished through significant strategic efforts by deciphering who you are, what you do and who your brand is for. Once those are understood, you can begin to have clarity of your brand, differentiate yourself and create a deeper relationship with your focused customer-base and generate the right feelings for them. This translates to loyalty and higher profit margins.

Before you consider hiring a one-stop shop, an agency or creative firm to design your new logo and brand identity, consider getting more specialized to uncover who you are at a deeper level and let that strategy inform and resonate to every facet of your company. This is how great brands are built.

My approach is to take my clients through a process of discovery first and use this deep dive to uncover the most important aspects around every part of your business to integrate a design strategy that ripples through the brand at a deeper level.

A brand is a living organism that must be measured, validated, cultivated and managed. The growth of a brand requires strategic approaches from a design and creative outlook to effectively communicate and evolve the brand. This growth and communication happens both internally and externally of all business efforts.

THE ROI

The financial impact of brand equity can be difficult to manage, measure and evaluate.

The risk of not giving the life of your brand attention in today’s economy can be detrimental to the life of your business. There is significant evidence showing the impact that good design and strategy has on thriving companies. To not take this into account in our global economy is a risk that may burn you in the end.

Building a brand is not marketing or advertising. The brand strategy and creative design execution informs the advertising and marketing tactics. Many companies budget advertising and marketing to see very little returns and immeasurable goals. It’s like throwing spaghetti at a wall and hoping something sticks. Those who are leading many efforts (maybe even in your business) are unequipped to handle the task of breaking through to each audience in a relevant way in today’s advertising and marketing channels. Instead, those who struggle have been using old recycled approaches to a new problem.

The brand is something that dives much deeper than the efforts of traditional advertising or marketing efforts. A brand is built on a foundation of values and reflected in a holistic strategy that resonates from internal to external of a business. Advertising and marketing can become effective in this strategy, but the shift needs to occur at a strategic level within your business. The tactics carried out through marketing and advertising need to shift from trying too hard, to being open, honest, transparent and reflecting the core values of the business. The tired old tactics of clever slogans, kitchy taglines, and post-modern era ideas don’t work. The brand must resonate with humanity. We see through the manipulation and coercion to buy buy buy.

There is hope. Stop wasting your money, budget and time on efforts that do not work. It’s not that marketing or advertising are ineffective. They have been for a long time. It’s that the conversation between seller and consumer has changed. And if you want to stay relevant, you need to be willing to engage in a different kind of dialogue. The brands becomes the dialogue. The brand becomes the measurement of effectiveness. The brand becomes the place for insight and strategy.

Building a brand is about building trust. And that takes time. The quick fixes of advertising and marketing are blanket efforts to try and see where that spaghetti will stick. But building a brand strategy to inform your creative and design execution is a slow effort to build trust while simultaneously being precise in your efforts to communicate who you are to the world. It’s takes time. And it’s takes strategy. Those who step back and begin to recognize the value of strategy and design will outlast those who don’t. This is the long term investment to mitigate risk and develop loyal customers through trust that will lead to years of return on the investment. Once this work has been done, you can assured that your advertising and marketing budget will not be wasted overhead. Instead, you can step into the future knowing the groundwork of your brand has been set and the approach is thoughtful and effective.

Brands who do this are Disney, Apple, Netflix, REI, ESPN. I have had the pleasure to work with these companies over the years to garner insight, learn from experience and translate this to my creative and design work for many clients over the years.

BRAND EQUITY

Brand equity is the accumulated value of brand assets; both financially and strategically. The brand equity represents the overall market strength of a brand. Research and studies have begun to show that brand equity is the balance of strategy and creativity working together and informed by sales, service, products, marketing and every aspect of a business.

The ability to measure will create growth. By looking at aspects that represent and build a brand, we can measure and evaluate the impact related to business profits and understand the brand equity and value of a company. The greatest examples of brand equity are Coca-Cola with 60% market share and a $60 Billion valuation from brand equity. Without the brand equity, Coca-Cola is only worth $50 Billion, with brand equity – $120 Billion. Other notable brands as I write this in Nov. 2018 include Apple, Amazon, Xerox, Netflix, Gucci, SalesForce, Louis Vitton, PayPal, MasterCard, Adobe, Ferrari, Caterpillar.

The strength of your brand can be be measured by the following categories:
1. Clarity
2. Commitment
3. Governance
4. Responsiveness
5. Authenticity
6. Relevance
7. Differentiation
8. Consistency
9. Presence
10. Engagement

“Brands who grew their Role of Brand over the past five years have achieved Brand Value growth rates 2.4 times higher than those brands who didn’t.” – Interbrand.com

By looking at the financial forecast, role of the brand and the brand strength in the marketplace, we can determine and understand the brand equity of a company.

Use design to ensure trust. Strategy and creativity executed through good design will build a brand that differentiates and builds trust. This is the ultimate goal.