The separation between the worlds of branding and IP protection is a hangover from the 20th century and has no place in the fast-paced digital world we now live in, and into which we have been catapulted more completely by the Coronavirus.
A 21st century approach to branding needs to emulate the likes of Google who understand that achieving a strong brand requires an inter-disciplinary approach. They break down the silos in their organisations to enable powerful brand creation.
The small business end of the market is not even aware of the problem that the silo approach entails. The upshot is that founders of businesses undergoing branding get poor value for money.
Why I Decided to Develop Expertise in Branding
As a specialist in trademarks and brands, and business owner, I was always highly interested in marketing and branding, so decided to study the subject for myself in order to help clients in a more holistic way.
I have spent many years educating myself, observing, and supporting clients, such that I’m now writing my new book – BrandTuned, How to Perfect, Protect and Promote your Brand. All the subject areas involved to ensure founders get a good outcome are brought together in my TUNED process which stands for:
Think IP First!
Understand your ideal client!
Name it right!
Establish your Brand Strategy!
Driving the brand strategy!
Once clients have been through my TUNED process, they are clear on their business vision, mission and values, and have their positioning and stories ready to establish their brand strategy. They can then achieve the best outcome from their branding, and hence, increase their chances of success in business. It’s then possible to engage the right designer to work with to achieve a stunning visual identity.
The visual dimension is hugely important and you’re much more likely to get a stand-out visual identity if you bring it into focus at the right time, which is after you’ve given your brand some deep thought.
In the 21st century branding is no longer a design-led activity, it is an IP, marketing and business led activity with the visual dimension coming in at the end, not at the beginning.
IP has to be taken on board first and throughout brand creation – it should not be left till the end of the process if you want to create a powerful brand.
Symbols are how we communicate. For example, the letters T-I-G-E-R are a symbol that an English- speaking individual will understand as a word that evokes a tiger.
Our ability to visually communicate a story depends on the use of the right symbols for the right audience. This might involve the use of new symbols to replace existing ones
Semiotics is all about the person looking at a symbol – what it evokes for them. A symbol that works for one group does not work for another. For example, in Silicon Valley, the hoodie is a symbol of status (being too busy to go shopping) whereas in a different context, such as in East London, a hoodie is a sinister symbol
Air bnb’s new belo logo is a good example of a brand creating a new symbol to evoke its brand.
How to Approach Visual Identity to Get The Best Results
In her book Visual Hammer Laura Ries points out that the role of a brand is to establish a unique or dominant position in the mind of its customers. The book clearly conveys the dynamics of branding, and why it’s so important to start with the brand strategy to get a sense of your story and positioning before turning to visual identity.
The objective of positioning is to put a word or a verbal concept into consumers’ minds. For example, take Volvo. Years ago, when there was an array of cars for consumers to choose between, the company latched onto “safety” as its positioning. That became the verbal nail to use Laura Ries’ words. They then hammered the idea with dramatic television commercials featuring crash tests.
So, the task in branding is to find a way to position what we do that makes it easier for the customer to find what we uniquely provide. Positioning is a service to the customer because it gives them a shorthand way to make their choice. In the car example, by knowing that Volvo stands for safety, customers for whom safety is a key attribute, immediately have a way to identify the right car to buy.
The “position,” that is, your verbal concept, is the nail. The tool that hammers the positioning nail into consumers’ minds is the visual hammer according to Laura Ries.
Visual Hammer is one of those books that makes effective marketing sound like common sense. Its basic idea is that a strong visual will emphasise an effective positioning. However, not any visual will do. You need a “visual hammer” that hammers a verbal nail. The Marlboro cowboy. Coca-Cola’s contour bottle. Corona’s lime.
The cowboy hammers “masculinity.” The contour bottle hammers “authenticity.” The lime hammers “genuine Mexican beer.”
Bridging the Brand Gap
During the visual identity stage you’re reassessing whether the positioning idea you’ve arrived at, and your brand stories, are capable of being conveyed with a visual signpost. Is the concept too abstract? Does it need tweaking?
We all have two brains, one verbal and one visual, and the way to bring the two together is through the visual. The visual attracts the attention of the right side of the brain which sends a message to the left side of the brain to read or listen to the words associated with the visual.
If you, as founder of your business make it your business to understand what the challenges are you are more likely to find a designer who can help you achieve the right outcome. But stay involved all the way. Avoid letting your lack of design background exclude you from the process of bridging the gap between strategy and design.
Invariably positioning statements are expressed verbally. The trick is to find a word that can be expressed visually so that you can make an impact in people’s minds.
Not any visual will do though. You need to be quite clear about what you need the visual to do before you engage a creative team. If you have done your own work to arrive at the best possible verbal positioning ideas, story lines, names and taglines you will have the wherewithal to fuel the visual identity work.
Be ready to adapt the strategy when working with creatives as it’s important to identify a suitable verbal basis for the visual hammer to be created. It sets you at a huge advantage and much more likely to get an effective visual hammer if you’ve thoroughly thought through your brand strategy. A designer can only work their magic if you’re clear about your brand before you engage them.
You stand a chance of creating a visual hammer that’s true to what you stand for when you’ve put the work into your brand. It can’t be achieved in a few weeks or even months. I’d suggest allowing 6 months to a year to deeply think through your brand strategy
The best way to drive home your positioning is with a visual that has emotional appeal, one that reinforces the verbal positioning concept.
In the noisy world we live in consumers will remember very few positioning slogans. They won’t remember your message. Emotion is the verbal glue that holds some concepts in a consumer’s mind. Visuals have an emotional power that printed words do not.
The designer’s role is to inject emotion, to draw attention to the brand, and to use colour, shapes and icons to help you to stand out among the competition and to be memorable. It’s well worth understanding what the designer is doing though because you can’t assume the designer is conveying the best images. I’d recommend reading Laura Ries’ book.
In conclusion, a brand is a shorthand for the customer’s expectations. What promise do they think you’re making? What do they expect when they buy from you or meet with you or hire you? That promise is what you want to communicate in your positioning, and to ensure that your brand designs communicate in a visceral way.
An icon such as the Airbnb Belo acts as a mental shorthand for the promise that you make, a visual hammer as Laura Ries puts it. Without a brand a logo is meaningless as is a visual hammer, so the two need to combine.
Having clarity about what you stand for, why you’re different and why people want your brand is the way to begin the process.
My gift to you during these challenging times is a way to reinvent and think through your brand during these challenging times so that when we emerge from the Corona Virus crisis, hopefully by mid 2021, your business can soar.
Join the BrandTuned Facebook group where I will be announcing the details of how you can start my TUNED process.