© Design Council
Over the next five chapters, we will cover:
- — Why a business needs a brand to be successful
- — The key ingredients of a brand
- — How to manage and communicate your brand
- — Branding for different market sectors
- — The relationship between design and branding
What do we mean by the word ‘brand’?
The words brand and branding are thrown around liberally by all sorts of people in different contexts and with different meanings in mind, so it may help to start by asking ‘what exactly is a brand?’
The simplest answer is that a brand is a set of associations that a person (or group of people) makes with a company, product, service, individual or organisation. These associations may be intentional – that is, they may be actively promoted via marketing and corporate identity, for example – or they may be outside the company’s control. For example, a poor press review for a new product might ‘harm’ the product manufacturer’s overall brand by placing negative associations in people’s minds.
To illustrate the idea, let’s take what is arguably the best-known product – or brand – in the world: Coca-Cola.
Although essentially just a soft drinks product, Coca-Cola the drink is eclipsed by the sheer might of Coca-Cola the brand. This phenomenon is best summed up by the following quote from a Coca-Cola executive:
In a 2007 survey of the value of global brands by branding agency Interbrand, Coca-Cola’s brand equity was valued at US$65.3bn, just under half the company’s true market value.
So what are these all-powerful associations? For Coca-Cola, typical perceptions might be that it is the original cola drink (‘The Real Thing’), that its recipe is secret and unsurpassed, that it’s all- American or maybe global, that it’s youthful, energetic, refreshing and so on. Visual associations might include the unmistakable red and white logo and corporate colours, or the unique shape and tint of the original glass bottles.
These are mostly positive brand associations, but there may be negative ones too. For example, Coca-Cola may be seen as unhealthy, or as a symbol of global ‘imperialism’ by American brands. What is seen as a positive association to some may be unpleasant to others and negative perceptions could become attached to a brand’s identity even if the company strives to present a different character.
Of course, brands aren’t limited to the food and drink category. If a brand is just a set of associations then practically anything could be said to have a brand, even individuals – think Simon Cowell or Gordon Ramsay.
Ramsay’s own brand is so strong, in fact, that in 2007 he leant his weight to a major advertising campaign by Gordon’s Gin. He was chosen not just because of his name, but because his
association with a sense of quality and exclusivity mirrors the drinks manufacturer’s own brand values.
Other high-profile examples of recognised brands include JCB, British Airways, Tate, Yahoo, The Big Issue or even London. From services to cities, products to publications, each carries a strong set of associations in the minds of a large number of people.
What is branding?
If a brand results from a set of associations and perceptions in people’s minds, then branding is an attempt to harness, generate, influence and control these associations to help the business perform better. Any organisation can benefit enormously by creating a brand that presents the company as distinctive, trusted, exciting, reliable or whichever attributes are appropriate to that business.
While absolute control over a brand is not possible due to outside influences, intelligent use of design, advertising, marketing, service proposition, corporate culture and so on can all really help to generate associations in people’s minds that will benefit the organisation. In different industry sectors the audiences, competitors, delivery and service aspects of branding may differ, but the basic principle of being clear about what you stand for always applies.
From fetes to Fortnums
How branding brought Mrs Massey to the masses
When Nicola Massey, a nurse turned chutney-cook, started making so many jars of chutney her husband was kept up all night sticking on labels, a close friend realised there was great commercial potential to be tapped with the help of the right design agency.
Adrian Collins, Managing Director of Ziggurat Brands, already knew Nicola Massey well, so he was able to start designing a brand identity for her products that reflected her personality.
Nicola Massey is impressed by the results this relationship brought. ‘Sometimes you don’t need a picture of yourself for something to be instantly recognisable,’ she says. ‘They had captured me completely: the pink, the humour, the use of the utensils in the design. It’s unmistakably me.’
Why does your business need a brand?
Branding is a way of clearly highlighting what makes your offer different to, and more desirable than, anyone else’s.
Effective branding elevates a product or organisation from being just one commodity amongst many identical commodities, to become something with a unique character and promise. It can create an emotional resonance in the minds of consumers who choose products and services using both emotional and pragmatic judgements.
Rachel’s Organic Butter, for example, chose black for its packaging design so it would stand out from the typical yellow, gold and green colours (representing sunshine and fields) used by competitor products. The result is that the brand appears more premium, distinctive and perhaps even more ‘daring’ than its competitors.
People are generally willing to pay more for a branded product than they are for something which is largely unbranded. And a brand can be extended through a whole range of offers too.
Tesco, for example, began life as an economy supermarket and now sells a wide range of products, from furniture to insurance. But a consistent application of the Tesco brand attributes, such as ease of access and low price, has allowed the business to move into new market sectors without changing its core brand identity.
This obviously adds value to the business, but consumers also see added value in the new services thanks to their existing associations with the Tesco brand. Of course, this can work in reverse too: if consumers don’t like the Tesco brand in one product area, they’re less likely to choose the company’s offer in another product area.
Connecting with people
Creating a connection with people is important for all organisations and a brand can embody attributes which consumers will feel drawn to.
Apple’s original launch of the iPod, for example, catapulted the company from computer business to mass-market entertainment brand, with iPod marketing drawing heavily on people’s emotional relationship with their music.
By moving into music and film, Apple has redefined what the company does and shifted its brand association to something that connects with larger numbers of people outside computing or creative community.
How brand identity helped Serious** distinguish itself
Waste management business Envirotech found that its customers were getting confused by competitors with a similar identities and it wanted to stand out from the crowd.
Managing Director, David Birkett attended a Designing Demand event about how design can help businesses and realised that branding was one way of increasing public recognition as well as improving other aspects of the business.
The new brand identity overcomes customer’s inclination to snigger at the subject of waste management and is infinitely more recognisable. It’s also difficult to confuse with other waste management firms.