In business, what does “brand” mean? Is a brand just a logo? What does it take to build, foster, and promote a brand? When a rebrand is in order, how can you successfully pull it off? Get the 411 from marketing talents Jess Lund and Ali House, who shared their insights and key tips in the following blog post.
More Than a Logo
Look up “brand” using your favorite search engine, and you’ll find nearly as many definitions as there are musings on marketing. There’s the livestock brand, a marking burned into cattle and other animals for identification and ownership, but right now we’re talking about the marketing kind.
“It’s pretty complicated, because there are so many layers to it, so many nuances,” said design manager Jess Lund. “And when you look online, there’s not [one] single definition. In fact, you’ll see several different ways of defining a mission statement versus a brand promise.”
One thing’s for sure, as far as Lund was concerned: A brand is much more than just a logo, a crest, or a mark. “Brands are not logos — number one,” said Lund. “They are experience and emotion.”
Ali House, a graphic designer at Audigy, agreed. “When you think in terms of a brand, people tend to go to the mark, because that’s one of the most recognizable things. But in terms of the bigger picture of a brand, brand is really, to me, an essence or a persona that a business portrays.”
In fact, said House, branding also extends “to the way the in-store atmosphere is. It goes to the way the employees interact with their customers. It comes down to a feeling or an attitude. It’s like the bigger picture. It’s the soul of that mark.”
Added Lund, “In my experience working with Ali on some branding projects for some of our clients, we had to really define exactly what that meant for us. You can break it out in a variety of ways, but at its core, you think about what the brand idea is.”
Getting to that brand idea requires asking some key questions, according to Lund:
- What is the product?
- What are you selling the audience?
- How is it unique from your competition?
- What is your vision?
- How do you want the audience to perceive you, what you do, and the values and attitudes you embody?
“You can’t think of ‘brand’ as just here and now and a pretty logo,” added Lund. “You have to think about it as this wider experience that happens throughout time. Brands evolve.”
As Lund described, defining your brand involves a deep dive into who you — the business — are, including how you communicate what you do, how you bring the persona to life, and how you walk the talk with concrete actions.
“Authenticity is incredibly important in brands nowadays, especially because information is at your fingertips,” said Lund. “You can find out at a click of a button if your local gas station oil supplier is ruining the world or if the company you love to get coffee from is not paying their taxes like they should. Brands create this connection with people and, when they’re at their best, communities.”
True to the Core
Sometimes evolving as a business requires refreshing your brand, whether prompted by a change in products or service offerings, a different strategic direction, market shifts, a new generation of ownership, or another compelling reason.
No matter the inspiration for a brand refresh, it’s important that the change start from within.
“If you’re doing a refresh, it’s something that can’t just be a logo refresh,” said Lund. “If you’re trying to change perceptions or improve your credibility, that has to be [from the] inside out.”
This includes making sure everyone works to reflect this change in their communication and service delivery. It also includes taking things one step at a time.
“It’s really tricky when it comes to evolving your brand, because there’s this emotional tie to it,” said House. “For a brand to just overnight, all of a sudden — at least sudden to the general public — just change its mark, for some people, that’s really scary.”
House advised against seemingly abrupt changes that could shock customers, instead recommending a careful, incremental approach.
Pointing to UPS as an example of an incremental evolution, House noted the company’s success in changing its brand over time. “The most recognizable mark of that company is their shield,” said House, “and over time that shield has just very subtly changed.”
The company has adapted its services, too, upping its package-delivery game in the internet age.
“I feel like they’ve done a really good job of being this company that, ‘Yes, we can deliver your packages on time,’” said House. “But they’ve started to include logistics and other things that businesses need [in order] to be more well rounded.”
Plus, explained House, the company has “stayed true to what their value proposition is, which, to me, is getting your products to you on time and making sure they arrive in the way that they’re supposed to.”
Flexible but Consistent
Identifying and understanding your brand is empowering. Once it’s established, however, what’s the next move?
“It’s really important that your branding is consistent from the time customers step into your storefront to when they visit your website to how your employees provide customer service,” said Lund.
“Everything needs to mirror the mission and the values and the attitude that your brand represents. If you have any disconnect, that’s a point for your consumer to start questioning things.”
Consistency extends not only to the mission, values, and attitudes but right down to the furniture, the signage, and the smiles on the employees’ faces.
“There are different stages of the consumer cycle, and it usually starts with research [on the customer’s part],” explained Lund. “From research to advocacy, you need to have consistency for [buy-in]. And even at that advocacy stage, when they tell their friend, ‘This is awesome,’ that friend needs to see the exact same thing for it to not break down.”
Added House, “If you’re small business A, and you’re thinking, ‘Gosh, Starbucks is great,’ well, that stuff didn’t happen overnight. Yes, they had some resources to put into that, but it took a lot of time, a lot of thinking, and a lot of emotional and personal investment into, really, in a sense, grinding out what that line is — that consistency line — and then applying it and not wavering from it.”
Additional tips from the experts:
- When considering and establishing your brand, set guidelines that enable change rather than trap you with rigidity.
- Your brand, your business, and your propositions will evolve over time, so it’s important to know and retain that one true core element that remains the same. Weighing decisions against that core statement inspires confidence that you’re making the right decision rather than a haphazard one.
- Avoid the temptation to constantly change. Customers are reassured when they have confidence that you’ll be a consistent voice throughout time.