Brand is the most misunderstood word. It’s among the words such as intellectual property, trade mark, business design and branding which impact important business issues that I deal with. Yet because the terminology is confused and confusing it’s difficult to communicate clear messages.
Perhaps the huge failure rate of businesses has something to do with the fact that these words and their importance to business success are obscured by so much misinformation and so many myths.
These words carry connotations for people, that are often quite wrong. Therefore, their use has the potential to alter one’s message.
It’s bad enough that the word ‘branding’ for many people signifies logos and visual designs, but the fact that brand strategy also gets confused with visual identity and designs means that the whole discussion around brand and intangibles gets obscured.
I’m thinking I’ll have to avoid using these words if I’m to ensure I convey the right messages. For example, I recently stated that I’m as much in the branding business as I am in the intellectual property protection business. Unfortunately, some people took this to mean that I would henceforth offer visual identity creation as a service. However, one word that’s impossible to avoid using is ‘brand’.
What is essential though is to separate this word from design and to think of ‘brand’ as a two-step exercise. The need for creative designs doesn’t arise till much later – only after you’ve determined your brand strategy.
It doesn’t help to get clarity about brand strategy if you jump into the design and creative side of branding too soon, before considering the fundamental questions.
That’s why I suggest separating the business side of the brand from the visual identity side of it, and even go to different people for these two services because they require very different skills.
Thinking about your business in-depth in order to articulate your brand idea takes time. A process that provides education and inspiration over a period of months would be my recommended way of working out your brand strategy. Intellectual Property has to be part and parcel of this stage because it has a huge impact on the way you design a business.
When you’ve arrived at a short, clear and compelling narrative that explains what makes your brand authentic, relevant and different you’ll have the necessary internal tool to manage your business. Get really clear about what promises you want to make to customers and what you need to do internally in order to ensure this is achieved externally. Another key component of determining your brand strategy is to think about the principles by which you will make business decisions, in sum, your philosophy for running the business.
Designing your business on purpose is what it’s all about. It’s the key to success as you move forward and grow. This is a separate exercise to that of writing a business plan.
Working out your brand strategy involves getting clarity about what you do, why you do it, and why anyone should care. What is it that makes you special? What do you want to be known for, and what promises will your brand make that resonate with your target audience? Working this out isn’t something you do in a few weeks. It needs time, research, discussions with your target audience and patience. That’s why I strongly recommend that you do not do this work with a designer whose objective is to deliver a visual identity for you. Their objective will be to deliver a visual identity, but there’s no hurry to get an identity. Stay with what you have, or if you don’t have anything yet, then get something temporary from somewhere like 99Designs because it might take you up to a year or longer to work out your brand strategy!
How you use your IP and Intellectual Property as tools in your business is a key consideration during this planning phase. For example, when naming the business. Through helping my clients to protect their IP I’ve realised that increasing the value of their businesses is significantly impacted by how they think through their brand. Nothing has a greater impact on their future success and value. So, that’s why my business Azrights now supports clients with brand strategy – all the aspects of ‘brand’ that come up before a visual identity. Then we can either introduce graphic designers to communicate the brand visually, or we work with the client’s own designers to arrive at a visual identity by conveying all the information the designers need to manifest the brand visually.
Yet another problem is that many people don’t know what intellectual property means. I’m constantly surprised when I realise that I need to explain these fundamentals. In my blog on the Azrights site, I’ve explained what IP is in the post: Intellectual Property Rights – Frightening?
It’s not easy to define IP as IP is the very DNA of a business. It means so much more than a blog post can convey. Designing a business on purpose involves thinking about what different IP elements and how you will work with them. It also involves working out what your brand stands for, what the brand promise will be, its values, mission, and culture.
Think of a business design and the brand as the organising principle and driver for defining whether actions the business takes are ‘on brand’.
If you don’t focus on brand thinking you set yourself up for challenging situations as you grow. The left arm of your organisation may not know what the right arm is doing.
It can be complex and costly to change the culture of the organisation and rectify problems later. So, start as you mean to go on as it’s never too late to develop a proper brand strategy.
Don’t assume bigger businesses all have brand strategies, because some of them don’t have one and suffer the consequences. For example, Kodak didn’t have a brand strategy to enable it to successfully navigate the digitalisation of film. Had they perceived their brand as being in the ‘preservation of memory’ business rather than in the ‘selling of film’ business they would have responded more appropriately to the changing digital environment instead of continually pushing films, which their customers did not want.
Uber is another example of what happens when you don’t have a brand strategy. While the business is a success, and has even reached unicorn status, its lack of attention to brand has caused numerous problems.
In 2017 reports emerged that its culture was toxic. Then a social media campaign called on users to #deleteuber because they did not participate in a taxi strike in New York’s JFK airport (which was a protest against Trump’s travel ban on Muslim- majority countries). Footage then emerged of the then CEO Travis Kalanick arguing with one of the app’s drivers.
Then local governments of several cities expressed a desire to crack down on Uber’s services: Transport for London made the first move in September 2018 by refusing to renew Uber’s licence, explaining that Uber’s approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to issues which have potential public safety and security implications. At the time of writing Uber has been denied a licence and instead only had a two-month extension. According to the Guardian report although they have improved their culture and governance since being denied a licence by TFL, they still have a way to go which is why they only got a two month extension at the end of September 2019.
Uber is struggling to find appropriate responses to these challenges because the world is more interested to know what it stands for, how it acts and what its plans are for the future, but due to its lack of a clearly expressed vision or brand idea Uber has been caught out and is playing catch up.
Beyond developing a disruptive product its lack of brand strategy has led to an erratic, unconsidered approach to everything from looking after employees to dealing with regulators.
Having a brand strategy would have certainly helped Uber navigate through many of the challenges it has faced because brand thinking is what gives you the organising principle needed to direct all you do.
A well-defined brand strategy acts as a litmus test for defining whether actions are ‘on-brand’ or not. It guides you in all you do, from marketing, communications, to hiring and firing. When you’ve taken the time to think through the values that are important to you, what your priorities are, then you are much better equipped to build your business correctly from the ground up to meet the challenges that the business environment will inevitably throw up. Your various departments will have a yardstick by which to reach the everyday decisions that they need to make.
If you would like help to protect your intellectual property and sort out your brand strategy then get in touch.
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