Things that big companies have and constantly emphasise the importance of. But have you ever stopped to think about what a brand really is, or considered the fact that we’ve actually all got brands? Whether you are Arcam, Practical Hi-Fi, SVI magazine or Phil Hansen, you have a brand and it stands for something.
Let’s take a look at some of the attributes that make a brand and see how we can nurture and make use of it to benefit our businesses. We’ll start with what a brand isn’t, as there are many preconceptions and personal opinions (ask a group of marketers and you’ll get a different answer from each). It isn’t a logo or a name, despite the definition given by The Dictionary of Business and Management:
“A name, sign or symbol used to identify items or services of the seller(s) and to differentiate them from goods of competitors.”
That’s far too simple a description, as any name, sign or symbol is nothing on its own. It has to represent something tangible to become a brand. Landor Associates is probably the best known branding consultancy in the world. Its founder, Walter Landor, expressed a brand as:
“Simply put, a brand is a promise. By identifying and authenticating a product or service it delivers a pledge of satisfaction and quality.”
But what is the promise and how is it measured? I would say that a brand is worthless unless it generates in the mind of the consumer a positive pledge of satisfaction and quality. Which leads to an intriguing question: who creates the brand? Is it the business or the customer? Obviously it’s both – the business has to have an idea of what it wants to stand for, or what it’s all about, and the customer has to recognise that the business stands for something and what that is. Hopefully, those two coincide! Then it has to be somehow interpreted through logos, colours and fonts, plus perhaps sounds and/or smells, to give something that people can relate to. It’s this creation of an emotional stimulus that perhaps confuses people into thinking a brand is the logo and the logo is the brand. It isn’t – that’s a corporate identity, not a brand.
Everyone in business needs to have a brand, so how can you go about developing one that will be of benefit to your business? For a start, don’t phone your local graphic designer and ask them to come up with a logo. The creation of the brand has to begin long before a pen is put to paper or a cursor moved on a screen. It has to begin with defining the promise and working out what the pledge of satisfaction is going to be.
Going back to Landor for a moment, I remember working with the consultancy on the rebranding of the UK’s second largest airline, British Midland, into what was to become (although we didn’t know it at the time) bmi. Landor’s approach was refreshing. I have worked with agencies in the past which pay lip service to the meaning behind the brand and come up with a pretty logo that they think reflects what the business stands for. I’m not saying we should all adopt the Landor method in this amount of depth, but if we look at how it achieved its objectives it might give us a clue to an approach we can take with our own businesses.
Landor spent months talking to people in focus groups, individually, by email, by written questionnaire. It spoke to senior management, front-line staff, customers, rank and file members of the workforce, and people on the street who’d never even flown with the company. From this, the company amassed a huge amount of data from which it could ascertain what people thought of the current brand – i.e. what were its perceived strengths and weaknesses. Knowing the direction that the business wanted to go in (what its strategic objectives were), it was able to use the core strengths identified from the research to begin to develop what it called a Brand Driver. This is a definition of what you want to do, how you want to differentiate yourself from competitors and what you need to change as an organisation to achieve it. It becomes the key guide in developing a creative approach to your brand identity.
In British Midland’s case, the key factors that shone out were the trust that people had in the company, its product innovation, friendliness and Britishness. Eventually, after many months, the identity ‘bmi’ was born, with a well-resourced set of guidelines for everything the business did – from its logo, colour scheme, printed literature, online presence, in-flight and on-ground service ethos, to the personal interaction of staff with customers.
bmi, Hertz, Coca Cola, McDonalds, BP and all the other well known and recognised brands fiercely protect their brand identity, its meaning and presentation. Sadly, many businesses don’t do this and they are substantially poorer for not paying due attention to their brand. We seem to be particularly guilty as an industry of not putting enough emphasis on our own brands and so we’re going to look next at some simple steps that can be taken to put this right.
One only has to open the back of a Hi-Fi magazine and look through the dealer adverts to see a range of different brand identities. Look at some of those companies’ websites, liveried vans, store fronts and adverts in other magazines and you’ll see that, in many instances, there isn’t a consistent identity being portrayed. And if the visual representation of the brand isn’t being cared for, what of the more important elements of the brand – i.e. the authenticating of the product or service it delivers and the pledge of satisfaction and quality.
However, we’ve run out of space in this article to get into specifics (although I won’t actually be picking on real examples as that would be unfair), so let’s revisit this next month in part two of this article and see what we can do to up the ante and make ourselves a little more professional in our approach to branding.
Let me leave you with one more thought from Landor:
“Brands matter, and never more so than today. In the escalating din of global choice and competition, brands are the most effective way of cutting through the racket to reach people’s hearts and minds.”
Phil Hansen is Operations and Marketing manager for BADA, the British Audio-Visual Dealers Association and also runs Red Sheep, a successful Marketing and PR Consultancy operating within and outside the Hi-Fi industry.