Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Building An Extraordinary Brand

Many clients think their logo is their brand. But a brand is much more than a graphic image. A brand is a set of associations that a person (or group of people) makes with a company, product, service, individual or organization.  It’s the way people feel when they interact with your marketing. It’s the promise your company makes to your prospects and to your customers. It’s your brand’s personality.

Branding is a way of clearly highlighting what makes your offer different to, and more desirable than, anyone else’s. Effective branding elevates a product or organization from being just one commodity amongst many identical commodities, to become something with a unique character and promise. It can create an emotional resonance in the minds of consumers who choose products and services using both emotional and pragmatic judgments.

So, ask yourself - what comes to mind when you think about your brand? What do you want to come to mind?  Whatever you want your business to represent, you need to consistently instill that idea in everything that is your business.

You achieve consistency by doing the same thing in the same way so it produces exactly the same result each and every time you do it. For your customers to be able to expect consistency, you must be able to clearly identify the elements that make up consistency in your business.  We all welcome (and crave) the familiar and we shun the unknown (and tend not to trust it.)  So, do your customers a favour and give them something to count on. 

Brand loyalty creates brand ambassadors and brand ambassadors help drive growth. So put your best foot forward and never leave first impressions to chance.  So, you want to build a brand that stands the test of time?  Take a page from organized religion as notable brands and religions have a lot more in common then you’d think.  Both share:

A Sense of Belonging
Psychologically, ‘sense of community’ is one of the major tenants of self-definition. Belonging to a group can involve language, dress, and/or ritual.  To be part of the group gives meaning and association with a larger group provides emotional safety and a sense of belonging and identification.   The influence is bi-directional.  Think: Nike, Apple, or Harley-Davidson Ownership; the individual shares mission with the larger group.

A Clear Vision
Both Religions and Brands are unambiguous in mission and intent (to reach heaven, achieve spiritual enlightenment.)  Like religions, successful companies and successful brands have a clear, and very powerful sense of mission.   Think: Apple’s Steve Job’s statement in the mid-1980’s, “Man is the creator of change in this world.”  

Power Over Enemies
Successful religions strive to exert power over their enemies (and have so since the beginning of time.)  Taking sides against the “other” is a potent uniting force psychologically.  Even more so if there is an identifiable enemy, as it gives us the chance to not only showcase and articulate our faith, but also to unite ourselves with our fellow believers.  A community united by a common enemy.  Think: Coke vs. Pepsi, Apple vs. PC, Us vs. Them.

Sensory Appeal
All great religions, (whether church, temple, or mosque) have unique sensory appeal.  The air, the incense, the smell of the wood, the ornate stained glass, and the sound of the organ or bell.  All integral parts of the otherworldly experience.  Whether annoyance or longing, sensory qualities evoke an emotional response.  Think: “Hello Moto” or Intel’s Sound Branding.  Maybe the smell of a new Mercedes, or the sleek, aesthetically pleasing lines of the iPod. 

Whether New Testament, Torah, or Koran---EVERY major religion is built upon a heft of history and stories (mostly gruesome and miraculous.) Most notably, the rituals (i.e. praying, kneeling, meditation, fasting, singing hymns, receiving the sacrament, etc.) are rooted in these stories (and therefore are repeatedly and unconsciously reinforced.)

Most religions celebrate a sense of grandeur and awe.  This ensures that one comes away from the experience as mere mortals dwarfed by something far greater than ourselves. Even today, no building in Rome is permitted to be higher than St. Peter’s Cathedral. At the Temple of the Golden Buddha in Bangkok is a nearly eleven foot tall, two-and-a-half ton Buddha made from solid gold (and valued at close to $200 million.)  Think: The Bellagio Hotel, Louis Vuitton’s flagship store in Paris, Apple’s store in NYC, Google’s offices.  All created their own Vatican and stir up notions of grandeur.

The cross.  A dove.  An angel, or crown of thorns.  Organized religion is full of iconography and symbolism that act as an instant global language, or shorthand.  This is also true of products and brands.  A brand or product  (symbol) logo can evoke powerful associations, just like religious icons.  Think:  Lance Armstrong (Nike) “Live Strong” bracelets.  Originally given away for free, once they became a symbol of challenging adversity and charitable giving---Armstrong’s Foundation ended up selling some $70 million worth (and inspired a slew of copycats.)

In religion, (where the unknown can be as powerful as the known,) mystery is a powerful force.   Think of the mysteries of the Bible, the Shroud of Turin, the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, or the da Vinci code.  When it comes to brands, mystery is equally effective.  Think: Coca-Cola’s or KFC’s secret formula.

A mischievous Unilever employee in Asia added the sentence “Contains X9 Factor” to a shampoo bottle label.  This last minute addition went undetected by Unilever, and soon millions of bottles were shipped out. As it would be too costly to recall, Unilever let it be.   Six months later, Unilever reprinted the label without the reference to containing “X9 Factor.”  To their surprise sales dropped dramatically and they received a slew of outraged mail from customers.  None even knew what “X9 Factor” was, but were offended that Unilever would dare consider getting rid of it.  In fact, many customers claimed the shampoo wasn’t working anymore, and that there hair had lost its luster.  It just goes to show that the more mystery and intrigue a brand can cultivate, the more likely it will appeal to us.

When life feels uncertain and out-of-control, we often seek out the comfort of that which is familiar. Ritualistic patterns make us feel consistent, stable, safe, and grounded. Whether most of us are aware of it or not, we don’t want to tamper with the region of our brain that makes up our “implicit” memory (which encompasses everything you know how to do without thinking about it---from riding a bike to tying your shoelaces.)   Product rituals give us the illusion of comfort and belonging, while also helping us differentiate one brand from another.  Once we find a product or brand experience we like, it’s human nature to make it a ritual.  

Savvy marketers find and exploit the rituals associated with their brands. Products and brands that have rituals associated with them are much ‘stickier’ than those that don’t.  Think: The many ways to eat an Oreo cookie, Lime in the Corona, or the Starbuck’s ordering process.  It’s clear that people ritualize positive experiences and keep coming back for more.  

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of." ~ Edward Berneys

Rachel’s Organic Butter, for example, chose black for its packaging design so it would stand out from the typical yellow, gold and green colours (representing sunshine and fields) used by competitor products. The result is that the brand appears more premium, distinctive and perhaps even more daring than its competitors.

Defining your brand
Here are a few key aspects you should consider as you’re building your brand:
·      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?

If you can start to answer these questions with clarity and consistency then you have the basis for developing a strong brand.  Let’s take each of these in turn.

The big idea
The big idea is perhaps a catchall for your company or service. It should encapsulate what makes you different, what you offer, why you’re doing it and how you’re going to present it. The other ingredients are slightly more specific, but they should all feed from the big idea.

The big idea is also a uniting concept that can hold together an otherwise disparate set of activities. Ideally, it will inform everything you do, big or small, including customer service, advertising, a website order form, staff uniforms, corporate identity, perhaps right down to your answer machine message.

To pin down your own big idea you will need to look very carefully at your own business and the marketplace around you, asking these types of questions:
·      How can you stand out?
·      What is your offer?
·      What makes you different?
·      What is your ‘personality’?
·      What do consumers want or need?
·      Is there a gap in the market?

Once decided, the articulation of these ideas can be put into action through branding techniques such as design, advertising, events, partnerships, staff training and so on. It is these activities that set up the consumer’s understanding and expectation of your company; in other words, its brand. And once you’ve set up this brand ‘promise’, the most important thing is to ensure that your products and services consistently deliver on it.

Generating a vision for your company means thinking about the future, where you want to be, looking at ways to challenge the market or transform a sector. A vision may be grand and large-scale, or may be as simple as offering an existing product in a completely new way, or even changing the emphasis of your business from one core area to another.

Although corporate visions and mission statements can often appear to be little more than a hollow dictums from top management, a well-considered vision can help you to structure some of the more practical issues of putting a development strategy into action. If you’re clear on what you’re aiming at, it’s obviously easier to put the structures in place to get there.

Like the word brand itself, the term brand values is perhaps a little over-used in design and marketing circles, but it does relate to important aspects of how people see your organization. It’s what you stand for and it can be communicated either explicitly or implicitly in what you do. But imbuing your company’s brand with a set of values is tricky for a number of reasons.

Firstly, everybody wants the same kinds of values to be associated with their business. A survey by The Research Business International found that most companies share the same ten values, namely: quality, openness, innovation, individual responsibility, fairness, respect for the individual, empowerment, passion, flexibility, teamwork and pride.

Secondly, it’s not easy to communicate values: overt marketing may seem disingenuous, while not communicating your values in any way may result in people not seeing what you stand for. And lastly, any values you portray have to be genuine and upheld in the way your organization operates. 

Once you have established your ‘big idea’, vision and values, they can be communicated to consumers through a range of channels. The way you decide to present this communication – the tone, language and design, for example – can be said to be the personality of your company.

Personality traits could be efficient and businesslike, friendly and chatty, or perhaps humorous and irreverent, although they would obviously have to be appropriate to the type of product or service you are selling.  And for smaller companies, the culture and style of the business can often reflect the founder(s), so its values and personality may be the same.

Here are a few examples of how you can start to control the elements of your company’s personality, conveying certain aspects to customers in different ways:
·      Graphic design: The visual identity – hard corporate identity or soft, friendly caricature?
·      Tone of voice: Is the language you use (both spoken and written) formal or relaxed?
·      Dialogue: Can your users or customers contribute ideas and get involved in the organization? Or is it a one-way communication?
·      Customer service: How are staff trained to communicate with customers? What level of customer service do you provide?

Using these key ingredients will give you a solid understanding of your organization’s brand, as well as strategies on how to present it to people.  Starting with the big idea, you can then go on to refine and set out your company’s vision, values and personality. And once these are all in place, you can think about hiring designers to turn your brand blueprint into tangible communications.

Starting From Scratch
If you’re launching a new business, you’re in a unique position to operate as what is often called a ‘challenger brand’. This means that you can take a look at a market sector from the outside, assess all the players, opportunities or gaps in the market and then launch your product with a brand that challenges and shakes up the conventions of the sector.

It’s hard to do this once you’re established as there’s more to lose, so think carefully about how brave and ‘rule’-breaking’ your product or service can be if you’re about to launch to market. At this stage you’re small and therefore responsive and adaptable, with no existing processes that have to be changed to create a new brand. In short: you’ve got one shot to do something exciting, relatively cheaply, so go for it.

Our chief task is to break the ice, disrupt, and engage (ideally under the radar) by exploiting certain "triggers" to boost relationships with prospective customers.  Any successful method of persuasion uses triggers to elicit a certain response.  These triggers include power, trust, mystique, prestige, vice, alarm and lust.   Ultimately, we are part of a fascination economy where the consumer is constantly asking “why do I give a shit?”  We therefore need to draw irresistibly the attention and interest of (someone). Our task is to really to add value by informing, educating, and/or entertaining.

Curiosity and fascination are ultimately both instinctive drives that catalyze countless behaviours, including purchasing decisions.  Our task is to bring meaning to all types of otherwise meaningless scenarios by combining such triggers as lust, power, mystique, and trust in different proportions to reel in consumers and reinforce messaging.

  • Instead of marketing and advertising being focused on "the individual", we must relate to people in interconnected groups.  
  • Instead of attempting to persuade people to believe an ad message, we must try to tap into what it is that people already believe and care about.
  • Instead of being focused on selling, the way to connect must be dedicated to driving “sharing.”  The brand is secondary.  
  • Instead of controlling the message, we must learn to relinquish control and let the movement do what it will with the message.  
  • Perhaps most radical of all - brands must learn to stop talking about themselves.
  • Instead of making our brand relevant to an existing, trending topic - our focus here is on understanding the needs of the people who will benefit from what our brand does and sparking a movement that meets those needs.
  • Ultimately it’s about creating a marketing model that is in harmony with what your consumers have been saying (and thinking) for years. “You want to sell to me, get to know me! Be part of my tribe! Care about the same things I care about, and I'll buy from you. But you have to come along side me first.”

Modern brands have real power if channeled into positive causes that benefit society and the brands themselves. Consumers now expect brands to make positive contributions to society. If they don't the consumers will vote with their feet, and wallets.  So break from the immediate past and assume thought leadership of the category.  Become idea-centric rather than consumer-centric. Create symbols of consumer re-evaluation.  
The status quo is dead so break with the past: assume nothing, take no one and nothing for granted, and constantly ask "What if?" and "Why not?"  Strive to create ideas that are engaging, provocative, self-propagating, and that create competitive advantages.  So strive for simplicity, common sense, and creativity - any approach that gains access to consumers' hearts and minds, develops ongoing relationships with them, and, most important, embraces them as partners in the process of developing and advertising.

Cut through the bullshit and show you brand is ultimately as human as they are.  This requires finding and leveraging a unique consumer insight the consumer already has about your product or service.  The most effective advertising involves consumers in two critical areas; one, consumers must  take part in the development of communication and two, consumers must be involved in the communication itself.  Simply put, creating dialogue with consumers will allow advertisers to know exactly what consumers actually want in a brand and product, and consumers should not be told what to think, but they should be given persuasive facts and allowed to make up their own minds.

Let us know if you need any assistance. We love this stuff.
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#Goodbuzz is a digital agency based in Toronto, Canada. We help brands create and capture value from emerging trends in technology, society and the workplace. We prototype the future - and believe the best way to predict it - is to create it.  Follow us on Facebook or Twitter or if you have any questions contact Goodbuzz directly.