This article was excerpted from OPEN Book: Branding, which provides tips and advice for building a Booming brand. Follow the evolution for Cardmember brands featured in our new web series, Project RE:Brand in which small businesses undergo brand makeovers by design experts.
Brands occupy every corner of our lives, and affect almost every decision we make each day. Why do we choose one brand of soda over another? Why does owning one particular make of car give us a sense of pleasure or pride, while owning another satisfies less?
Branding is every bit as important to small business as it is to big companies. As marketing expert and OPEN Forum blogger John Jantsch says, “Every small business has a brand. The question is whether the makeup of the brand is created intentionally or accidentally. There is little doubt in my mind that small businesses that find themselves in possession of what some would call a strong brand are far more likely to achieve great things than those that simply go out there and compete.”
So What Is a Brand? Your brand is how you communicate the essence of your business. Many think branding is simply a logo plus typefaces and color palettes, but that’s only part of it. It’s also your business name, the products or services you provide, and how you deliver them to your consumer. It’s the idea you create in your audience’s mind about who you are and what you do. It’s this idea of your brand that’s so powerful, and prompts your customers to choose you over a rival.
How Is a Brand Expressed? Depending on your business, branding can mean very different things. If you’re in the service industry, for instance, you may need to give more attention to the point of delivery, such as customer service and employee uniforms, than to the logo or website. If your business is international, you’ll need to take cultural and linguistic implications into account. And if your business exists predominantly online, there’s the issue of how your branding will work in digital environments.
Who Creates Your Brand? Whether you’re creating a whole new brand from scratch or just refreshing your existing brand, you need to decide who will be involved in the process. For a project this crucial to your business, it’s well worth calling in the pros and hiring a branding agency. They can add value by developing your strategy and revealing game-changing insights into your marketplace, while delivering first-class design. If your budget doesn’t stretch to a full design service, their strategic input alone can prove invaluable. Even if you’ve hired an agency, you’ll also need to decide who will steer the project internally, taking on the role of brand guardian. Whether it’s you, another member of your staff or a small team, choose people who really understand the essence of your business and can contribute their time, energy, and expertise throughout the process.
Where Will Your Brand Be Expressed? Where and how consumers interact with your brand is key to understanding what it needs to accomplish. Do you have an office or storefront? Do you use printed stationery, e-mail templates or both? Packaging, uniforms, a website, even your business cards – these are all ways consumers will interact with your brand.
“Think about everywhere and every way your customer encounters your business, from the store window, to the greeting they receive as they enter, to signage, delivery trucks, and the way the product is wrapped – all of these are your brand’s touchpoints,” says Dominic Sinesio, Co-Creative Director of theNew York-based branding agency Officelab. What are the key touchpoints for your business? Make a list of the ways people most frequently interact with your brand, then prioritize them. Be realistic: if necessary, you may have to sacrifice some of the “nice to have” items to make sure you get the more critical touchpoints absolutely right.
Starting the Branding Process. Once you’ve identified your consumer touchpoints, you’re ready to get on with the business of branding. But don’t leap straight into the design phase – first, you need to do your research. Seeing what the best of your industry is doing, and understanding who and where your audience is, will help you develop a blueprint that will not only make the rest of the branding process more streamlined, but also help as you continue to grow your business in all aspects.
A BRAND DEVELOPMENT PRIMER
Building a brand requires assessing your own enterprise as well as the environment in which it operates. Here, we walk you through the steps to creating your brand – from defining your brand proposition to managing the design process, to launch and beyond.
STEP 1: Define Your Brand Proposition
Branding, or rebranding, is your chance to examine, refine and communicate exactly what your business is about. What values underpin your company? What does it stand for? What is your competitive advantage? “Defining your mission as a brand and a company is the most important part of the whole process,” advises Stefan Boublil, Creative Director at The Apartment creative agency. “Every decision that you later make in the life of this iteration will be measured against the principles set forth here, hence it should be should be precise, condensed and honest. Get this right and the rest of the operation shall be a breeze!”
STEP 2: Get to Know Your Audience
It helps to visualize your typical customer, including their life stage, priorities, purchasing habits and media consumption. Where possible, back this up with research – look for metrics and statistics in your own business, or a competitor’s if you’re just starting out. American Express Business Insights (businessinsights.americanexpress.com) utilizes competitive and market insights to deliver customized brand research specific to geographic areas. To start a conversation with your customers, you first need to know where to find them; then you can determine how best to communicate with them. Are they local, or passing pedestrian traffic? Perhaps a local advertisement or a revamped storefront is the best way to elicit interest. Are they online, and if so, which sites are they visiting? Check your answers against your list of touchpoints to make sure your brand covers all the bases.
STEP 3: Get to Know Your Competitors
Find out as much as you can about your peers and competitors. What are they doing right? How are they advertising to your customers? What makes them stand out? Collect examples of branding you like, whether it’s from your direct competitors or elsewhere. It could be a logo, an advertisement, packaging or a tagline. Figure out why you like it – this will really help inform your own design process.
STEP 4: Create a Brief
Once you’ve defined your touchpoints and conducted some basic competitive research, you’re ready to start the design process. First, you’ll need to put together a brief to distill all your thinking and requirements into a plan of action. Ask your branding agency if they have an existing brief you can follow. The brief is a document that will guide the design and development of your brand. It should summarize your research, best practices by competitors, elements of other brands you find relevant and reasons why. It should also include your mission statement, your required touchpoints and any current branding (if you’re an established business). Essentially, it should contain everything your design team needs to know to create something that’s right for you and for your business. Once you’re satisfied that the brief document does this, you’re ready to pass it to the design team.
STEP 5: Begin the Design Process
Make sure you agree on a budget, process and a time limit for the design phase in order to avoid spiraling costs. As a basic rule, it’s a good idea to have at least one rough draft of designs, after which you’ll give feedback, followed by two or more rounds of design refinement. Your design team’s first presentation may take the form of a mood board – essentially a visual scrapbook that captures the essence of your brand. Is it formal, carefree, smart, fun, outlandish, traditional? It’s vital that you’re in agreement.
Next, you should see the design team’s initial ideas for some of the core brand elements, such as a logo or logotype, tagline, brand-positioning statement or even product names. When reviewing any materials, ask yourself: Is it aligned with your brief? Does it reflect your mission statement? Did they capture the true essence of your business?
The next check-in point should include several different designs for your core brand elements. At this stage you and your team need to make several critical decisions – which design you prefer, color palettes, and any major adjustments needed. Circulate the work to others not as immersed in your brand as you are, including friends and family, to see what type of response it elicits. They may identify things you don’t see, as impartial observers. The next time you see the revised designs, they should need only minor tweaking. At this stage, you should also see how the new brand looks applied across the major items on your list of brand touchpoints.
STEP 6: Bringing the Brand to Life
Launching the brand to your team should inspire and empower them to become its guardians. Unveil all the elements of the new brand including your brand guidelines and enthuse the whole team about your new public face. (See page 14 of this guide for more on creating effective brand guidelines.)
GLOSSARY OF BRANDING TERMINOLOGY:
Brand elements are the various items that together make up your brand’s visual identity, such as a logo, color palette, and typefaces.
Your Brand Guardian ensures that your brand elements are applied correctly – they’re the “go-to” person with whom to raise any brand-related questions.
Together, all of your brand elements (see above) make up your cohesive brand identity.
Your brand proposition is your elevator pitch, encapsulating what your brand stands for, what makes it different, and where it’s going.
Your brand strategy is your plan of action, including an overview of your strengths and opportunities, brand values and proposition: it’s a blueprint for where your brand is going.
A brandmark is a graphic or illustrated logo (as opposed to a wordmark – see below).
Your brief is a document containing everything your design team needs to know to properly capture the essence of your brand, including proposition, values, an overview of your audience and competitors, your objectives, touchpoints and deliverables.
Your logo is the visual shorthand for your brand, and can be either word- or image-based, or a combination of the two.
A tagline is a slogan that communicates the essence of your brand and is used alongside your logo or in advertising as a sign-off.
Your brand’s touchpoints are the ways in which your consumers encounter your brand, be it in-store, online, a business card, packaging, or advertising.
A wordmark is a logo that’s a typographic treatment of your brand name.
Start Your Brand Assessment
See page 46 of this guide for a worksheet to help you start the process of defining your brand, or find an online version at OPENForum.com/rebrand