The Key Ingredients
In this chapter we will outline:
— The four cornerstones of any good brand
— Examples from the business world
Defining your brand
So if you’re thinking about how to rebrand your business, its products or services, or if you want to assess where your brand stands at present, there are a few key aspects to consider:
- The big idea – what lies at the heart of your company?
- Values – what do you believe in?
- Vision – where are you going?
- Personality – how do you want to come across?
If you can start to answer these questions with clarity and consistency then you have the basis for developing a strong brand.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these key aspects in turn.
The big idea
The big idea is perhaps a catch-all for your company or service. It should encapsulate what makes you different, what you offer, why you’re doing it and how you’re going to present it. The other ‘ingredients’ are slightly more specific, but they should all feed from the big idea.
The big idea is also a uniting concept that can hold together an otherwise disparate set of activities. Ideally, it will inform everything you do, big or small, including customer service, advertising, a website order form, staff uniforms, corporate identity, perhaps right down to your answer machine message.
To pin down your own big idea you will need to look very carefully at your own business and the marketplace around you, asking these types of questions:
- How can you stand out?
- What is your offer?
- What makes you different?
- What is your ‘personality’?
- What do consumers want or need?
- Is there a gap in the market?
To aid this process it’s usually very helpful to get an outside perspective on things too, so consider working with a management consultant, business development consultant or design consultancy.
In more depth
If you’re thinking about commissioning a design project, we have compiled a free step- by-step guide which provides expert advice, useful tips and first-hand commentary from small business owners and designers.
Once decided, the articulation of these ideas can be put into action through branding techniques such as design, advertising, events, partnerships, staff training and so on. It is these activities that set up the consumer’s understanding and expectation of your company; in other words, its brand.
And once you’ve set up this brand ‘promise’, the most important thing is to ensure that your products and services consistently deliver on it.
Easyjet is a great example of a basic, clear big idea and its implementation.
The Easyjet premise is simply to make things easy and cheap. And because the big idea is so simple, company founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou has extended it to a wide range of otherwise unrelated services – from pizzas to watches – without having to change the basic brand.
This is known as ‘brand stretch’ and we’ll look at this in more detail later.
Ikea is another company with a big idea. Its brand is based around the notion that good design is for everyone, not just design snobs. Past campaigns have advised us to ‘chuck out the chintz’ and fit out our homes with well-designed furniture and products at affordable prices.
In 2004 their advertising played on this central idea of the ‘democratisation of design’ by using an elitist designer caricature that would turn his nose up at the low cost, mass produced Ikea products.
In stores, products are given individual names and customers stack up their trolleys from the warehouse themselves (saving Ikea money in the meantime). This is all in keeping with the idea that you don’t need specialist, privileged knowledge to go out and buy good design.
Generating a vision for your company means thinking about the future, where you want to be, looking at ways to challenge the market or transform a sector. A vision may be grand and large-scale, or may be as simple as offering an existing product in a completely new way, or even changing the emphasis of your business from one core area to another.
Although corporate visions and mission statements can often appear to be little more than a hollow dictums from top management, a well-considered vision can help you to structure some of the more practical issues of putting a development strategy into action. If you’re clear on what you’re aiming at, it’s obviously easier to put the structures in place to get there.
An example of vision on the large scale comes from Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, who knew exactly where he was going even in the early days:
‘We started with a vision of a computer on every desk and in every home… Every day, we’re finding new ways for technology to enhance and enrich people’s lives. We’re really
only just getting started.’
And this comes from a company which doesn’t (and has never) manufactured computers. The vision lies in seeing where the market is going and asking where you want to be: in this case, providing operating software for the computers that do indeed sit in every office and every home.
The Microsoft brand which resulted is inextricably linked with computing. Most PCs come with Windows as standard, even though computer hardware can be run with a number of different operating systems.
And as computing technology moves beyond the PC, Microsoft is well-placed as a leader in software provision for a growing range of devices and applications.
Like the word ‘brand’ itself, the term ‘brand values’ is perhaps a little over-used in design and marketing circles, but it does relate to important aspects of how people see your organisation. It’s what you stand for and it can be communicated either explicitly or implicitly in what you do. But imbuing your company’s brand with a set of values is tricky for a number of reasons.
Firstly, everybody wants the same kinds of values to be associated with their business. A survey by The Research Business International (now part of Synovate) found that most companies share the same ten values, namely: quality, openness, innovation, individual responsibility, fairness, respect for the individual, empowerment, passion, flexibility, teamwork and pride.
Secondly, it’s not easy to communicate values: overt marketing may seem disingenuous, while not communicating your values in any way may result in people not seeing what you stand for. And lastly, any values you portray have to be genuine and upheld in the way your organisation operates.
Branding and design consultants can help you clarify what your organisation or business stands for and then they can develop ways for you to communicate that effectively. This might be through graphic design, language, advertising, staff training, the materials used in product manufacture and so on.
Pret A Manger
Pret A Manger makes a big play of valuing fresh food and minimising wastage. So, all its food is made on location each morning (with no sell by dates) and any left over at the end of the day is given to homeless charities and shelters.
In this way the company has laid out a value and has followed it through with the way it runs its service.
First Direct was formed with high levels of customer service as an underpinning value. To deliver this, the business hired people with customer service training first and foremost, rather than those with banking experience.
Innocent Drinks decided that one of its key values is openness. So its packaging invites customers to ‘call the banana phone’ with their views, or to drop in to the company’s headquarters, at any time.
The Innocent website also allows visitors to join a ‘family’ of people who drink the company’s drinks. While this conversational approach may not be appropriate to every business, for Innocent it is a method of demonstrating how the company values openness and dialogue with its customers.
Once you have established your ‘big idea’, vision and values, they can be communicated to consumers through a range of channels. The way you decide to present this communication – the tone, language and design, for example – can be said to be the personality of your company.
Personality traits could be ‘efficient and businesslike’, ‘friendly and chatty’, or perhaps ‘humorous and irreverent’, although they would obviously have to be appropriate to the type of product or service you are selling.
It need not have anything at all to do with the personalities of the people running the company; although it could, if you want to create a personality-driven company in the way that Richard Branson is very much the figurehead for Virgin.
And for smaller companies, the culture and style of the business can often reflect the founder, so its values and personality may be the same.
Here are a few examples of how you can start to control the elements of your company’s personality, conveying certain aspects to customers in different ways:
- Graphic design
the visual identity – hard corporate identity or soft, friendly caricature?
- Tone of voice
is the language you use (both spoken and written) formal or relaxed?
can your users or customers contribute ideas and get involved in the organisation, or is it a one-way communication?
- Customer service
how are staff trained to communicate with customers? What level of customer service do you provide?
As companies grow, their personality and values are reflected more in internal culture and behaviour than through the characteristics of the founders. This personality then defines how the companies express their offer in the market.
John Smith’s Bitter has recently built its brand almost entirely out of personality: in this case the traits of a bluff, no nonsense straight-talking Yorkshireman. This ‘no nonsense’ strapline and sentiment carries through all the company’s communications with customers.
Putting it all together
Using the ‘key ingredients’ that we’ve outlined here – and bringing in consultants to help you define and implement them – will give you a solid understanding of your organisation’s brand, as well as strategies on how to present it to people.
Starting with the ‘big idea’, you can then go on to refine and set out your company’s vision, values and personality. And once these are all in place, you can think about hiring designers to turn your brand blueprint into tangible communications.
In more depth
If you haven’t worked with designers before and would like some help in this area, you might like to read our free guide to Finding and working with a designer.