An idiot’s guide to branding / by John Hannent

“If Coca-Cola were to lose all of its production-related assets in a disaster, the company would survive. If all consumers were to have a sudden lapse of memory and forget everything related to Coca-Cola, the company would go out of business.”  - Coca-Cola Executive

“If Coca-Cola were to lose all of its production-related assets in a disaster, the company would survive. If all consumers were to have a sudden lapse of memory and forget everything related to Coca-Cola, the company would go out of business.”

- Coca-Cola Executive

In my series of ‘idiot’s guides’ i want to help you evaluate your branding, advertising and communications from an objective point of view. Which, when you’re being subjected to all manner of business activity, with increasingly blurred borders, isn’t the easiest thing to do. So i’ll throw a few points at you, which should aid your perception of your branding and its place in the market.

Let’s get this straight from the start. By reading this, i’m not calling you an idiot, i’m putting myself in that pivotal role. Why? Well, despite years of working in branding and being a self-confessed cynic i find myself constantly falling under branding’s spell; leaving the shop like james bond leaving ‘m’, then leaving my purchase in the shed or bin, like a circus clown’s misfiring flower...

Why? Well you may guess that my ‘brand’ aspirations are higher because of my professional background, but there’s a gap under my radar, as with anyone’s. You have to remember that the modern consumer is both educated and blasé towards branding and marketing. So, while meeting their aspirations your brand has to get under their radar to capture their imagination for an involved response. Whilst that applies to advertising (I’ll bore you with that next month), it’s just as poignant to branding. 

SO WHAT IS YOUR ‘BRAND’?

It’s a common misconception that if you’ve got a logo, you’ve got a brand. You haven’t. 

It’s another misconception the brand is the company behind the product. It isn’t.

Look at your brand as the environment you’re projecting around your product to facilitate sales. That ‘mental showroom’ is painted by your visual identity, your ‘tone’ of voice and your communications, both in delivery and method of delivery (web, mail, paper, display, livery). 

And nowadays the borders between branding and advertising are blurred. When you get branding right, it is your advertising. Indeed, it may be the best form of advertising as it isn’t necessarily perceived as such (back to ‘under the radar’) or even cost as much, as it’s not charged as such.

Plus, nowadays, any brand is hugely influenced by third parties through digital and social media. Take for instance TripAdvisor and the influence that has over ‘brands’, from Marriott to Big Sylvia’s in Grimsby. So you may think that it’s not in your hands? It is, because you’re the very route of any third party influence.

YOUR BRANDING ‘TOOLKIT’

I’ll apologise now for using ‘ad-speak’, I loathe it and grow sick of people who speak repeatedly in initials, buzzwords, blue sky thinking and ‘running it up the flagpole to see who salutes’. But, at times, it saves a paragraph or six to say what I mean. Your branding ‘Toolkit’ is the elements that go into your branding. It’s what you paint the walls with in the environment you’re setting up for your consumer.

Your Logo

While not the be-all-and-end-all of your brand, your logo will in most instances, be the apex of your branding. 

It’s your signature. Whether you offer hard goods, a service or a portal your logo should, in an ideal world, be the precipitation of all that it personifies; the big idea. For most, if not all, it’s what you want the consumer to believe. 

When you commission a logo, always make sure it fulfils a few basic criteria.

  • Decide whether you want a purely typographic logo, or a logo split into 2 elements; one typographic, the other an icon or marque that can give your branding more flexibility

  • A logo needs to work in black and white and full colour. Make sure it’s supplied to you in various formats to cover all uses 

  • The finished design must scale... It may be fine at a metre across, but at 10mm on a T-shirt, the ink may fill in the ‘voids’ and render it illegible

  • Don’t fall for the Emperors clothes of ‘trend’. Nothing will age quicker and render your identity ineffective• It’s no coincidence that ‘proper’ typefaces cost money. They’ve invariably stood the test of time or are drawn by craftsmen and will support your brand with appeal and flexibility 

In short, your logo and consequently your identity must to be robust across all media and time for it to work in whatever environment you push it into.

Brand Guidelines 

To deploy your brand effectively you’ll need to package your communications in ‘Brand Elements’. The simplest way of doing this (and not having to re-invent them every time) is to have them designed and supplied in document of ‘Brand Guidelines’.

It will give information on things like typography, graphics, colours, materials, templates and photography used in the visual manifestation of the brand, providing instructions on how to apply them in different applications. More detailed brand guidelines may even include things like cultural or behavioural directions for staff training.

You can use these brand guidelines to manage the brand after the designer’s work on the project is completed without losing the original consistency and clarity of the designs and, most importantly, without losing sight of your original big idea.

The level of detail (cost!) you go into can be designated by you. Typically, I’ll supply a client with information on logo usage, placement, associated colours and recommended typefaces.

But make sure it’s simple to maintain. You don’t want to be paying the agency for every Facebook post you put up.

And last, but not least, your brand essence...

This, I am afraid, cannot be itemised. It’s the embodiment of your company, your goods, your personality. It’s what adds the intangible value to your brand.

While it will often manifest itself as a ‘tagline’ (‘Thinking Tackle’, ‘For the Sharper Carper’, ‘Moore Means More’, ‘Did You Miss Me’ to quote myself as irritating ad-types do), that’s only the point of it. Your brand essence is the personality that’s deployed throughout your communications. Through your ads, packaging, social media, exhibitions, shows, staff. It goes way beyond the controllable assets of brand guidelines.You may think you can’t influence this, but you can. Just look at how your favourite brands focus on specific delivery, people and messages. It will define your brand, which defines you, get me? 

While space doesn’t allow me (you’ll be pleased to know) to go into this area in any depth, if you can answer the following points concisely, you’re heading in the right direction

  • The big idea – what lies at the heart of your company?

  • Values – what do you believe in?

  • Vision – where are you going?

  • Personality – how do you want to come across?

And a few quick shots before I leave, like a man with Tourette’s being ushered out of a supermarket....

STAND ALONE

Don’t be afraid to break the rules, you’ll achieve ‘standalone’. In a traditional environment, go modern. If your branding isn’t working, go different. It’s an opportunity to get evaluated against your competition or re-evaluated by your audience.

DON’T COPY

It’s logical to realise that by imitating someone else’s brand, you could steal a slice of their market. However, it’s a short-sighted approach because it will always limit your potential to less than whoever you’ve copied... You know who you are!

DON’T UNDERESTIMATE YOUR CONSUMER

They’re ‘brand savvy’, they’re accessible  (‘Radar’, remember?) and they pay our bloody wages. Respect them.

DON’T MISS OUT

With many products having no, or little differential in the marketplace nowadays, branding is the only way to give them differential. Branding is an opportunity to add something to your product or service. Take it or miss out.