“I need a logo.” That’s how so many conversations start in my world. Many businesses realize that their current brand is in need of a facelift, or perhaps they’ve just launched their company and need to start something from scratch, and this is where they feel they should start the process. And who can blame them? After all, the logo is really one of the most obvious places where a brand is visually represented. Why shouldn’t that be the place to start?
Oh, where to begin.
In short: your logo is not a brand. It’s just a mark. Especially if it stands alone in your empty brand toolbox.
To clarify, a well-developed, successfully implemented brand should create a full and thorough persona for the company (team, product, etc.) it represents. Solidly standing her ground with a voice as clear as a bell, a reason for existing that everyone can understand and a (note: singular) personality that’s easy to distinguish from friends in her crowded market; Your beautifully-crafted brand will have serious staying power.
A great brand is recognizable, relatable and not for everyone. You read that correctly. She needs to be confident about who she is. And that’s not going to be for everyone. I’m not saying she should be offensive—just herself. Trying to appeal to 100% of the market share will yield you 0% of that market, because no one will be able to distinguish your brand…making you, yep, a commodity. (Yikes.)
I see brands presenting themselves to the world in an inconsistent and confusing way all the time. And these are brands with serious money behind them, and leadership who should honestly know better. It’s so frustrating to see marketing dollars blown on a random, illegible billboard, poorly executed digital campaign or even a website where you can spend a full 3-4 minutes (far longer than your average consumer’s attention span) trying to figure out what they’re all about, what they do and what they stand for, before giving up and moving on to the next search listing.
After more than 20 years in the marketing business, I can’t stand to see a good budget go to waste. But sadly, that’s what happens if a solid brand is not built first. A brand that can support and showcase your message, your purpose, your cause as a business; as a set of humans working together to accomplish something. And to be honest, the consumer is savvier than ever, with an expectation of a brand having her shit together. Without solid footing, it’s literally a communications disaster waiting to happen. And we see giants tumble every year for this very reason.
How on earth did an unnamed Very Big Brand very publicly cut over 400 staff from their marketing team? WHAT? Why did you need 400 people in one marketing department in the first place? What were they all doing? I guess we know the answer to that, due to the fact that they’re no longer there.
How many times have you told a friend about a hilarious commercial you saw, but couldn’t for the life of you remember what they were selling? For that you can blame #artdirectorsgonewild.
Or what about the brands that try to jump on the social justice bandwagon with some civic cause, not truly aligned with who they are, only to issue a statement apologizing for not knowing what the heck they were even talking about?
At the end of the day, I guess my mother, who had six children to feed, did manage to instill in me a deep-seated distaste for wastefulness. And by that, I mean all waste, whether it’s money, time, effort—they’re all a real bummer because we have limited amounts of each of those resources. Let’s use them so much more wisely!
Okay, so now I’ve talked about everything that’s wrong. Let’s talk about what’s right. Constructing a thoughtful and intentional brand with purpose. Planning ahead for what you know will be on the horizon. Proactively approaching your brand development so you won’t have to do so much reactive work later. Build it right! After all, how many contractors do you know that build a house without blueprints?
That’s the analogy I like to use for great brand construction: a house. It’s not revolutionary. It’s quite simple. Simple is good. Simple makes sense! Let’s begin.
Think about this: if your brand was a building, how big would you want it to be? How many people would it need to house? Who would you want to invite in and what would you like them to feel like when they came over? What would you want them to remember when they leave? And if you want this Brand House of yours to attract a lot of people, it has to be sort of big, right? And if it’s big, it needs to be strong. It needs to have a solid foundation to hold up the rest of the building. I think you get where I’m going here.
When we construct a brand, we don’t just design a logo and walk away. In fact, we don’t even start with a logo. We start by digging deep in the ground to begin with a solid foundation that will stabilize your entire house. Next, we move onto the framework of the home. We add a roof, windows, siding, etc. Once all these pieces come together, THEN you have a brand! But what do the foundation, roof and everything in between translate to in the branding process? I’m glad you asked.
Foundational work on your Brand House begins with Research. Just like a contractor needs to know what type of soil they’re building in, BatesMeron really needs this research (competitive analysis, service or product landscape, market size) in order to understand what type of “soil” we’re building in. This helps us to ensure that we’re informed and can speak to your audience from a place of understanding. It also helps us get a good picture of how your competitors are speaking to the same audience. What are they doing right? What are they doing wrong? How can you speak more clearly, more effectively?
Once we understand all we can about the place your brand will be built, we can begin to create Positioning. Positioning tells us where you want to stand in comparison to your peers within your service or product line. I’ve often said that if you were marooned on a deserted island for 50 years and knew nothing about cars, and both a Mercedes brochure and a Hyundai brochure washed up on shore, you’d know without prices listed that the Mercedes was a more expensive product. And this is done with so much more intention than most people realize!
I think a lot of consumers assume that Hyundai wishes they could be more like Mercedes. That they could charge those kinds of prices. That’s so untrue. Hyundai has very purposefully positioned themselves to be an affordable, dependable, get-you-from-point-A-to-point-B-safely kind of brand. Meanwhile, Mercedes has purposefully positioned themselves to be a full-on luxurious experiential brand. Do you need your hands heated by your steering wheel in order to get from point A to point B? No. But, it’s nice. (Chicago winters…you know.)
My point here is this: So many decisions, such thoughtfulness, goes into typography, paper, photo styling, lighting, print techniques, all to help you know, on a very instinctual level, whether or not this car is right for the buyer. And before the buyer can drill down into precisely which make and model they’d like to purchase, they have to first agree that the company who makes the cars has values that are aligned with theirs. This is where the positional relationship begins—and honestly, it never ends. If a brand wants to change their position at a later time, they really have to think about how that will affect customers who already bought into the previous position. There’s a lot of psychology to deal with here!
Next, we begin to build the foundation into and up from the ground. We do this by developing Messaging. Messaging is like the language your brand speaks. Once you’ve identified who you want to communicate to (remember, you’re not for everyone), we can begin to analyze the best ways to communicate to them. When developing messaging for our clients, we always start with this simile: If you customer was a dinner guest in your house, how would you invite them in? What would you talk about over dinner? What matters to them? And as they leave, what would you like them to say about the experience of being in your home? What topics do you want to stick with them? What’s most important for them to remember about you?
And messaging is far more than an initial conversation. When we work with our clients to develop their messaging, it’s imperative that we deliver a voice that helps to define their brand personality. It’s where we break out even more psychology knowledge and get into the archetypes that embody our client’s ideal personality. And we don’t limit ourselves to traditional brand archetypes, either. Everything from “the Guardian” to “Derek Jeter” have served as our totem for filtering words through a “personality-filter”, if you will. By providing this archetype filter, we’re helping to pave the way towards a consistent brand tone in all future communications.
Once messaging & positioning have been established, BatesMeron will begin to build your Identity System. Again: not just a logo. An identity system is the entire range of marks, logos, fonts, colors, moods and treatments you will use to visually translate the brand that has been constructed. We start with logo sketches, patterns and colors that inspire key feelings the brand needs to convey, and our designers let their imaginations run wild. This stage of branding would remind you of the design process you might see for a new home. Imagine a wall of inspiration, filled with the graphic designer’s equivalent of paint chips, wallpaper samples and fabric swatches.
At this point, the sky is the limit. There is no budget, there is only one guiding light—ensuring that the graphic treatment of this brand aligns precisely with the written and spoken message. Here we explore and delight in iconography and the symbolism of specific shapes. We revel in the beauty of the letterforms created by your brand name and experiment with how they look when shown in unexpected ways.
Here, there are no rules, and this is a very stimulating part of our process.
So, you’ve built your Brand House. You’ve got a good foundation, solidly anchored into the ground to ensure you have a strong value system to maintain your True North. You’ve built your house in the perfect neighborhood via the positioning work we’ve developed together. And, you helped us to construct an inspired identity system. What’s next? Brand Collateral. Having created a powerful, intentional visual representation of your brand, it’s time to show it to the world. What we create as business cards, a sales presentation template or maybe a letterhead template would translate to siding, shutters, paint and trim on your Brand House.
But things get really interesting when you put a front door on your house. We equate that your Website. This is your first opportunity to invite everyone into your new brand to take a look around! Sincerely, there is no better way to convey the full power and message of your brand than via your website. It’s a serious business tool, not simply an online brochure. Current and potential customers can stroll through your Brand House via your front door website. They can learn about your culture, what you have to offer and your philosophy on doing business. They can locate your physical address from across the world, and even click through your Google Map on your contact page to take a look at your IRL building. It’s so crucial to spend time on the user interface and user experience planning for your website. Once you get someone to come inside, you need them to stay there for a while to learn all about what they’d be missing by not working with you and your team! And don’t get me started on recruitment…bad website = bad hiring options.
Okay, you’re starting to get the picture, right? Let’s put some windows on this home via our friend, Social Media. Depending upon what type of product or service you provide, there are seemingly endless options to select from on the SMMGR (social media merry-go-round…think that will catch on? No. I know.) I’m going to generalize here, for the sake of not making this article six pages longer, because social is a BEAST. So, forgive me if you fall outside the realm of my assumptions.
Let’s say you’re a professional services firm. Well then, LinkedIn is your big picture window just to the right of the front door. It’s going to be the showcase social piece for your brand. You’ll want to publish content here on a very regular basis to demonstrate your expertise. It’s also crucial for you to authentically interact with other people and businesses that are, or should be, interested in your content. Additionally, LinkedIn is great for job posting and you can flesh out a great deal of info here about your culture to attract top talent.
But what if you’re a professional services firm that’s also a branding firm, like BatesMeron? Well, you’re going to want to add more windows to your home. Instagram and Facebook are your top tools for sharing visual and video content to your community and the world. And these are very different windows from LinkedIn AND from each other. With Instagram, you’re curating a visual collection of imagery and moods that your audience really wants to feel embody your culture. Facebook, however, is more of a storytelling window into your brand.
Do you see what I’m getting at? All social channels are different windows. Some are not even appropriate for all brands. BatesMeron will help you decide which windows you should invest your time and resources into. We’ll even help to create content for those windows. But the house must be there before the windows can be installed. (Yes, I’m talking to YOU, people who say you don’t need anything but a Facebook for business page. You’re kooky.)
At last, we’ve arrived at your first Campaign, which we alike to a billboard affixed to your roof. You’ve built a strong, lasting, beautiful Brand House. It’s time to define your first few goals this amazing work of architecture can help you achieve. Followed by a strategy to attain those goals. And a tactical campaign to roll it out to your adoring fans. A well-planned campaign can attract customers far and wide—but give it time. It’s a new Brand House. Let the neighborhood take it all in.
If you’ve stuck with me this far, THANK YOU, you’re beautiful. We’re so passionate about branding, it’s almost an obsessive need to help people understand all that it entails. And, to help you visualize how much further your investment in a brand can take you if you use a process that is thoughtful and proven. This process is not something we snatched from a book. It’s not something we developed overnight. Great brand building has taken us 15 years of passion-fueled focus, with many hard-learned lessons along the way. And we’re eager to continue to enhance and refine this process as our team grows, the market changes and consumers alter their habits. Isn’t that exciting? (Just say yes.)
If you’re gazing at your tired and broke-down marketing tools, reordering your lame-ass business cards or approving another lackluster digital campaign, and you think to yourself: “Do I need a new logo?” You can now answer yourself. “No. You need a new BRAND.” Then, you can give us a call.