How to Think About Branding

Photo by Tallapragada sriram

Our team recently hosted a branding session at a leadership offsite meeting. This got to me thinking about one of my favorite topics, building a strong brand.

When I lived in Germany a few years ago, I decided on a spontaneous trip to Barcelona. I planned quickly with almost zero research of the places I would visit. I knew it’s one of the most marvelous places in the world but I didn’t know that winter there could be pretty harsh. Unexpectedly, I caught a cold with severe headache. The hostel I booked was far away from the city or any public transportation. As bad as my orientation was, I got lost often and fell stuck while trying to make sense out of the Spanish words surrounding me. Worse yet, it was too late for me to realize how difficult it was when you needed decent rest while staying in a 8-person room. After a full day of nonstop walking, I was drained. At the moment when I desperately needed the sense of warmth and support, I looked up and saw a familiar name in front of me — that was “Starbucks”. I walked in, without hesitation.

Have you ever had those moments? When you see the bright curvy logo of McDonald's, you can almost smell the french fries and hear the kids there laughing and running around? When you pass someone else driving your favorite brand car, you feel like she may have something in common with you. Or, maybe you have a “dream company” in mind, even though you have never stepped into their property for once.

That’s the power of brand. This video explains the concept well — what is a brand and what a strong brand can do.

A strong brand cannot be built in one day. Here are a few things I consider the essentials of branding. Let’s get started building a brand:

1) Define the Brand

Among all the different definitions of brand, this is my favorite — “Brand is a promise”. It is a promise the brand makes to its customer. It is the value the people behind the brand live day in and day out. These are the things that define a brand. So, at the very beginning of your branding process, think through the questions: what does your brand represent? What does your brand believe?

It doesn’t surprise me when I see on Starbucks’ website — one of their core values — “ Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.” That’s exactly how I felt in that Barcelona winter.

The value of a brand is essentially a belief system — the things that you believe deeply that you’d be eager to convey to your customer. For instance, as a brand, Fitbit believes that working out can be fun, engaging and social. That belief goes into their product design, marketing and every other aspects of their brand operation. “ While health can be serious business, we feel it doesn’t have to be. We believe you’re more likely to reach your goals if you’re encouraged to have fun, smile, and feel empowered along the way.” That belief makes the brand one of the pioneer and the most successful brand in sport tracker market.

2) Position the Brand

Once you have been through the internal process of defining your brand, it’s time to view your brand from an external perspective.

First, start with your customer. Who are they? What do they believe? What brand value does your brand deliver to them? Then, think about the market. Where are you? Who are the competitors? What makes your stand out? These comes to a definition of your value proposition.

Value proposition is a simple message that brands use to convince their customer/clients to purchase the products or use the service — why should your customer trust you?

It’s probably easier for those big players in the market because of the words you hear often — “leading”, “world-class”, “cutting edge”, etc. For example, GE Aviation is a “world-leading provider of commercial, military and business and general aviation jet and turboprop engines and components as well as avionics, electrical power and mechanical systems for aircraft.

But no need to struggle positioning yourself this way. A value proposition should demonstrate the uniqueness your brand. Last year, I got a new Macbook. “Light. Years ahead.” That phrase caught me immediately — the product is light, durable and packed with so many wonderful features. These three words perfectly summarize what’s makes Macbook a legendary product.

3) Express the Brand

Now it’s everyone’s favorite part — logos, and more.

Developing a logo is a joint effort rather than the job of the creative team alone. You will want to make sure that your logo reflects the value your brand represents — and graphic design will take every message into consideration. You may notice many consumer brands choose to use vibrant colors to connect with the impression they give to their audience. Can you imagine McDonald’s has a gray logo? On the other hand, blue is often perceived as “mature” and trust-worthy” . Of course, this is not definitive.

No mater what logo design you end up choosing, make sure it’s unique. You don’t want your audience think of something similar upon seeing your logo. There are also elements that can go into the logo, for example, a tag line, or the full name of your brand, etc.

Once the creative work is done, to consistently have your logo and other brand elements (colors, fonts, icons, etc.) represented in the places they should be, you may need to develop a brand guideline to ensure the correct use and consistency. A guideline could be as comprehensive and detailed as you may need — the templates for documents, how to choose and use pictures (sometimes even where the focal point should be), the dos and don’ts of applying your logo, the possibilities of sub-branding, etc.

Think about the channels of your brand communication. There may be more to the guideline you should take into consideration.

4) Deliver the Brand

Now, you have a brand. You may host educational sessions with your employees to share the brand value and vision. They are the ones who apply the brand spirit into their everyday job, no matter they are in sales, customer service or product manufacture line. Promise made, promise kept. In addition to the specific ways everyone deploy their understanding of the brand, here are a few things you can do in order to shape their “brand ambassador” thinking:

i) Find clear ways to tell others about your brand:

At many companies, your communication team already put this together for your use — the mission/ vision/ purpose, the values, the culture, etc. The language is usually succinct and simple. For example, Facebook’s mission is “make the world more open and connected.” There are five strong values, “Be Bold”, “Focus on Impact”, “Move Fast”, “Be Open” and “Build a Social Value”, that are guide the company’s work to achieve the mission.

Another example is the Netflix’s Culture book. Check out those statements your company has, see if anything resonates with you and how. These are the things you can brag about when you tell others about the brand.

ii) Be consistent and show your brand personality

My favorite grocery store is Trader Joe’s. As a customer, I feel like the brand experience the store has brought to me is way more than just a shopping experience. Their friendly and vibrant brand appearance is consistent through all our touchpoints: store decoration, the price tag card for each products, packages, the staff, and thoughtful as they are, they even have small shopping carts for little shoppers. That consistency goes beyond the design elements of the brand expressions.

I’m also a big fan of their product ad — the Fearless Flyer. Each week I receive a deck of ads with Sunday newspaper. Grocery stores typically advertise their products on sale with a big product picture and the price. Fearless Flyer is nothing like that. Mr. Joe tells you the new food they’ve discovered, the ideas for cooking, why they are enthusiastic about it and the lastly, the wonderful low price. Perfect for food adventurers like me. “Fearless”, on top of many other things, is the personality of the brand. And all the brand presence carries this tone of voice.

You see, since I’m a loyal customer, I’m naturally becoming an advocator of the brand. That’s again, the power of brand.

iii) Discover your brand story

Stories are everywhere. Not all of us realize that. Pay attention to your daily encounters that can be your brilliant brand story. Stories can be all types. Here are a few:

  • The story of your brand history. No matter if your brand history is long or short. There is a reason why it got started and how it has evolved till today. There are values and motivations that support it along the way. Historic aspects are relevant to today’s events and fun to read. Here’s one about Google: From the garage to Googleplex
  • Your work and your employees. You’ve got so many great insights into your work. Find a way to share them. It could be a newsletter, a customer presentation, an interview or any avenues that might work the best for you. Employees are also great assets. Passionate and dedicated employees are the best representative of your brand value. When you think of GE, it’s a company about jet engine, healthcare, manufacture, transportation … all may be seemingly boring stuff. Take a look at GE’s Instagram channel — It’s where technologies meet art, where gas turbines turns into a nice design piece, where ordinary employees are profiled as they complete their daily task while delivering the company’s customer value proposition. You are the story of your brand.
  • How your brand impacts your customer and beyond. When I worked for Siemens years ago, the German industry company ran a branding campaign called “This is How”. The campaign featured how Siemens tackles the world’s toughest challenges through technology and innovation. My favorite campaign image featured a little deaf little girl ‘s smile — upon hearing her mom’s voice for the very time. Siemens was an industry leader in healthcare solutions (including hearing aid products). Without too many messages around this subject, the image alone captured the essence of the brand with an exceptional emotional touch. Think about your work and its impact on your direct customer, stakeholder or even above and beyond, the indirect influence.

iv) Tell your story

Hey, it’s the time that you’ve got great stories and you are trying to find ways to share. One of my favorite companies, GE, does a nice job in sharing their brand stories on their website.

The website is only one of the many channels you can tell the brand story. Think about your interaction with your audience. There may be many touchpoints, different audiences, various timing to reach out and all internal and external channels you can use. This is when a great content strategy come to play.

Reach out to your communication/branding/marketing team. They need your feedback on branding and they need your stories as they work out a comprehensive content plan. They understand the power of authentic stories, and they are experts in leveraging communication platforms. They also keep the overarching corporate priorities and brand strategy in mind, so that they know what the best course of action they should follow to weave your story into the big brand story. And all the efforts you put into that will not only turn into communication products that you can use, but more importantly, they are bits and pieces that go into the brand building process everyday. And a strong brand will be the cornerstone of the success of your work and brings invaluable support to make your every work day better.

Article originally appeared on Branding on Medium: Link.

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