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Branding Lessons from a Design Agency Part One

By The Owen Agency
Strategy

Every single person and you

Another day at your desk. Stooped in front of your computer, pretending to listen to the chronicles of Brian's dull weekend. You didn't think anyone could be so boring. But here he stands, the embodiment of grey, theorising about why ketchup is too spicy for him. As his nasal voice chips away at your soul, you question what terrible things you must have done in a past life to deserve karma's full and unforgiving wrath.

Everything we do or say adds to the cumulative value of how others view us. That perception might start with how we present ourselves in a physical respect, but it's so much more. It's how you act, what you wear, your gait, the way you speak, the things you share on Facebook, what films you like, your favourite food. It's a lot of things. And it's everything combined to make one cohesive identity.

Got you all figured out.

Brands work in the same way. Your brand is what your business represents to your audience. Every detail of everything the world can see needs to be in-line with what your business is all about. Think about how it would look if you opened the doors to somewhere like Google, and saw rows of cubicles housing men in suits rather than a vibrant room filled with diverse characters and off-beat quirks. It would be disjointed. And discrete from everything else the brand purports itself to be.

The brand has to be right, always, and across the board. If one element of your business falls out of line with the brand, people will notice. The key to building a successful brand is consistency. Brian might be the most unpalatable person you know, but at least he's unwavering in his dreariness. So you know what you're in for.

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The logo comes later - how to build a brand

No one gets worked up quite like a comic book fan when his or her favourite character does something strange. Woe betides any writer who doesn’t stick to the years of backstory and character development. There are rules to this.

If you were to take hold of Batman's story, for example, you'd be taking on more than just the Bat-signal and his iconic cape and cowl. Along with the imagery we associate with Bruce Wayne's alter ego comes his morality, stoicism and enduring principles. These virtues are where the character starts and ends. Informing every decision he makes, these must be guarded, referred to, and respected at all times. Otherwise he's no longer Batman. And the fans want Batman.

It’s the same for brands. Every one has its own personality and list of conventions that they stick to. Businesses work hard to develop an enduring public image and a recognisable brand. This is how heavyweight brands manage to hold the lion's share of our awareness. They all have a solid base to fall back on. They know that anything that is associated with them is representative of their business as a whole. They understand the implications of taking their core values lightly. They have everything worked out, down to the most miniscule of details.

They are consistent with their brand.

How does it work?

People often confuse brands with logos, or consider one to be a synonym for the other. It's easy to do, because logos are what we use as a visual marker of a business. There’s no disputing their importance. We use them to qualify what we’re seeing, and customers wouldn’t have anything to tie your product to your business without them. But they're only one component in our wider understanding of what a brand is. A strong business identity doesn't start with a logo, nor does it end there.

So where does it begin? What is the basis of strong branding that will make your business represent more than just your product range? How can your brand build a reputation and stay out front in the eyes and minds of the ever-fickle public?

Let’s start with the obvious (and often overlooked).

Before considering what your logo’s going to look like, before you even start to think about picking a colour, or a name, or sketching out rough shapes, you need to know what you’re all about. What do you do, why do you do it, and how do you go about doing it? Before you concern yourself with the outward-facing elements of your brand, focus on its inner workings and know what your core values are.

If someone asked you to tell the story of your company, what would you say? Making a product isn’t always enough for your customers. Now they want reasons why you do what you do. They want to understand who you are. They want to be able to distinguish between you and everyone else. So you need to know your business’ story, its goals and your underlying reasons for doing this. Take these components and translate them into your core values.

Take the time to observe your competitors and work out how your brand will sit among them. Position your brand in the space that fits your values so that your target audience know where you stand against competing brands.

When you’ve got your brand’s essence and positioning pinned down you can move onto the next step and begin to determine how your business will reflect that.

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What are you like?

Imagine there's a new head teacher starting at a school. The previous one had relied on a currency of fear to keep students in line and the pupils were assessed primarily on their capacity for Maths, English and Science. It was all very Victorian.

By stark contrast, the new arrival is of the opinion that children should be allowed to explore their personalities and interests. This head has a much more laissez-faire attitude and feels that each student has different strengths and weaknesses that make them unique.

One way isn’t better than the other. But what do you picture when you imagine these two people? It’s a safe bet that they don’t look the same. One might wear a lot more colour than the other, and smile more often. Perhaps one of them strides with purpose, while the other ambles along at their own pace. The point is, they’re different.

The two teachers are different because they both have sets of core values that are wildly dissimilar. Which plays a part in the way they present themselves.

It’s the same for you when you’re building your brand; knowing your core values will help you figure out whether you're:

  • fun or serious
  • formal or informal
  • traditional or counter-conventional

When it comes to categorising your brand, these are just the start. You can come up with endless words to describe your personality. So do just that. And when you feel that you have an exhaustive list, group them together and strip them down until you have a short list that covers everything.

These principles are what you want your customers to think of when they hear your name. So, it’s worth your while to be thorough with them. If you can be precise at this stage, the visual side of things will be stronger.

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And you are?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

- Juliet, in William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet

Wonderful prose from perhaps the greatest playwright of all time, but don’t take it at face value. Because a rose by any other name might smell just as sweet, but you’re not likely to want to smell it in the first place if it’s called something disgusting.

Your name is crucial. You’ve almost certainly come across some examples of brand names that aren’t right (and in some cases, are just embarrassing). If you haven’t, search ‘bad brand names’ in Google and click on any link. You don’t want to be immortalised on those pages.

A good name will sit well with your customers, and work its way into their minds for the right reasons. It’ll feel familiar but be different enough to get your attention. A bad name will make them laugh at you, and might lose you business.

Finding the right name isn’t as simple as just choosing a word you like. You need to refer back to your core values and work alongside your brand strategy, so that you can arrive at a name that fits.

Take the time to consider your competitors’ names and their effectiveness. Do they communicate what they’re about and make you feel a certain way? Or have they just picked out a token word because they needed a name? Does their name inspire a certain feeling? Do you wish you’d thought of it? Do you want your brand recognised in the same space as your rivals? Or stand out as something different?

You should ask yourself these questions, and more. In fact, ask as many as you can think of. You want to end up with no doubts about what values are important for your name.

It’s rare that you’ll open the dictionary and find the perfect word straight away. Brand naming is a long process where you’ll generate hundreds of potential names, and then whittle them down to form a shortlist. There are plenty of online tools that can help you to try out different word combinations, create acronyms and find rhymes. These might help you, or you might prefer to see where your creativity takes you.

In any case, you’ll need to assess the strengths and shortcomings of your chosen words. Ask people who are key to the business to judge from the choices, but ask them to be objective. Don’t confuse things with too many opinions. Keep the committee small, or it’ll be much more complicated than it needs to be.

Above all else, make sure you support the name you choose with a compelling and convincing rationale.

About the Author:

The Owen Agency
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The Owen Agency is a web development design & marketing agency located in Hampshire, UK with over 45 years experience in creating memorable marketing campaigns.

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