It was all so easy back in the old days when I was a lad. When I was growing up (as my 6 year old daughter was quick to point out…) we apparently didn’t have lights or toilets or taps or chocolate buttons. And we sure as hell didn’t have ‘brands’. At least, not in the same way we have today.
A brand used to be something that was burned onto a cow’s jacksie. Not that you’d get much in the way of thanks from the cow of course. Although, in fairness, how would you feel with a red-hot poker up your backside? The branded marking identified the cattle as the property of the farmer and cattle rustlers were duly strung up if they were caught smothering hickory smoked sauce on anything other than their own baby back ribs. Or another consenting adult. Obviously.
So it comes as no real surprise that people still talk about ‘brands’ when they’re referring to their company logo. It’s less likely that they’ll be sporting a tattooed or hot iron version of the logo on their often bovine-like behinds, but nonetheless, the logo will appear on every conceivable surface where the owner wishes their ‘ownership’ to be recognised – letterhead, business card, signage, pens, advertising, t-shirts, exhibition panels, brochures, web sites… The logo is the ubiquitous representation of the brand. But it’s not the brand.
The logo is a badge. Yes, it represents the brand. Yes, it is often the most obvious (sometimes the only) graphical device the owner will have for its brand, but it’s still just a badge and too much emphasis is placed on the look of the badge instead of focusing on the value of the brand. Just like lighting and sanitation and plumbing (using my daughter’s example), the world’s moved on. I’ll concede that chocolate buttons are broadly the same.
For clarity then, we should agree a definition of the word ‘brand’. We’re interested in marketing (as opposed to cattle rustling…) so we should ideally stick to something relevant and contemporary. My favourite definition is this:
“A brand is a collection of perceptions in the mind or minds of an audience or audiences”. – Paul Fenwick
Excellent. We’re not talking about a graphical ‘badge’ any more. We’re talking about something completely invisible, but far more important than what the logo looks like. The brand according to Fenwick is all about perceptions – what people think – not what they see. Which is a bummer if you’ve just ordered 25,000 coffee coasters, but very good news indeed if you’re wondering how, for example, you might be able to enhance your corporate reputation.
Reputation is another way of saying ‘brand’. The audience for your products and services will be forming opinions about your brand all the time and from any number of sources. Their perceptions will be affected in the short, medium and long term and they will be affected by emotive triggers – not just your logo.
The way your sales staff present themselves, the telephone manner of your receptionist or call centre, the way you decorate your offices, how efficiently you handle their enquiry, how important you make them feel, what they read about you in the paper, what they hear about you from others, how you compare to your competitors… the list is endless. Throughout the lifecycle of your relationship with your customer, you have the opportunity to shape, manage and control the ‘brand experience’ of that customer for commercial advantage. So how come people get fixated on the logo when they have WAY more important marketing issues to address?
Organisations look to the marketing function to, ‘fix the brand’, but the responsibility of enhancing corporate reputation and improving the customer experience is more often than not a solution that requires insight, understanding and delivery by the entire enterprise – not just one part.
A ‘Brand Strategy’ is a good place to start. You’ll likely already have a sales strategy, a marketing strategy, a growth/development/exit strategy. Get a Brand Strategy dummy. It’s the one that drives all the others. If executed correctly, your Brand Strategy will not only identify where the value of your organisation lies (to your customers), it will help to drive the positive internal and external audience experiences that ultimately enhance your corporate reputation – if everywhere you look everyone is seeing and hearing good things, it’s human nature that others will want to be part of that experience. And so it begins…
Birddog has been building business brands for some years now and it beggars belief how some companies still don’t get it. Their focus is tactical, it’s reactive and it requires the endless search for ‘the next new thing’. Many design/marketing agencies exist solely to deliver against the immediate tactical requirement of the marketing department. And that’s fine. But wouldn’t it be better to have a single, clear, strategic focus for the brand? Preferably a creative one. One that everyone could agree on and buy into. A vision for the brand that held meaning and value to staff, customers and prospects – and, crucially, differentiates you from your competitors.
It’s a neat trick if you can pull it off. Or you could always try a new logo…