“The word ‘brand’ needs a re-branding – due to its brand longevity the brand legacy is not brand-correct anymore,” I heard myself say unexpectedly in an interview earlier this week. It has been on my mind for a while. To no surprise, running a brand consultancy I am using the word a hundred times a day. Furthermore I just published a book titled ‘How to Launch a Brand’. The word gets tiring, especially since it leaves a bad aftertaste and I feel the need to first convince people that it is not a bad term before I start talking about it any further. Brand is not a four letter word.
Despite the negative connotations with the term, branding is more important today than it has ever been before and it is not only consumed, but furthermore created and curated by the masses through their very own personal (public/social media) brand. Brand is alive and kicking and we will not be able to change the term, but one can change the perception away from luxury good logos (Gucci, Chanel) and larger-than-life corporations seen as evil-doers (Exxon, Walmart) to a modern necessity, which, if created and nurtured in an honest and authentic way, turns ‘brand’ into a holistic ‘aura’ of a product/service provider (or person) that we are allowed to have admiration for (From an iPhone to a Celebrity), aspiration towards (From a Nonprofit to a highly ranked University) and sometimes draw inspiration from (From Ted Talk to Oprah).
To me, a brand is a service, product, company, or person with soul, that is attractive and smart.
1. Soul is the beating heart, the reason a company should exist and why your initial attraction matures into love. You put your trust in brands with a soul and most often your money follows soon thereafter. Not much different than with human relationships, soul is the reason why we care for each other, or a particular brand.
2. Attractive is the brand aura that allows for the gut instinct emotional connection you feel when getting in contact with the brand. It is the design and the voice that is carefully created and curated over time in a particularly consistent manner. Attraction is not to be mistaken by shallow beauty.
3. Smart is its usability. How easy is it to engage with the company/product/service/person? In the tech industry it is User Interface and User Experience, with consumer products it is the product and packaging design and with services it is often the design of key offerings combined with its delivery.
Now that we ‘talked’ about the complex strategy that creates the beautiful simplicity that makes a brand, maybe we should give the word another chance?
‘Is branding the key for a successful start-up?‘ is the topic for a speech I was asked to give at Internet Hungary this week. I could make it a 5 second speech and say ‘Yes, it is one of the most important factors,’ but lucky for me the topic is broader and will go deeper into the keys of creating a successful brand. Let me use this opportunity though to dive knee deep into this question as some brand elements are more important to certain types of companies at time of launch than to others:
No one shall skip the Brand Platform creation at the onset of a new venture, unless you want to compete on price, be boring and unattractive to work for, and are not keen on acquiring the right target audience at time of launch. You tackle the Brand Platform right after you draft your business plan (from fully fleshed out to napkin version – all are acceptable forms of business plans at this stage, depending on your own comfort level).
Launching with a meaningful and unique Name and Brand Identity Design seems like a no-brainer, a must for all entrepreneurs. If for whatever logical reason (budget not being part of that logic) you feel forced to launch with a sub-par name and logo, knowing you will have to go through a (more costly) re-naming and re-branding exercise upon showing first successes, it is the easiest to do for a tech startup or B2B venture that requires solely test users or relies on a very small niche audience, which will make it easier to educate them on this big and disruptive brand change down the road. Some Tech Startups (especially apps) are prototyping until the day of launch, making it an easy excuse to skip this essential step, whereas it is much more advisable to work on a prototype whilst formulating the brand platform, that way you are educating yourself about the target audience while you see them use the actual product, enabling you to create a meaningful brand that will not have to be rebuild soon thereafter. A win – win.
Needs for Brand Atmosphere Touch Points vary in importance and specifics from company to company with retail and other mainly offline B2C companies leading the list, E-Commerce and Tech Startups surviving off some basic, consistent touch points bundled with heavy E-Marketing template creations, while most B2B brands fall anywhere in-between, depending on their structure and audience. If bootstrap is your motto, these can be rolled out over time, making it essentially more pricey, but allowing you to spread the cost.
It only makes sense that ventures leading with digital need to make UI/UX Design part of their strategic brand implementation. Most companies – B2C/Retail and B2B – rely heavily on brand-centric (responsive) web sites to attract and convert leads of different types. For Online Retailers and Tech Startups where the web site also is the product, the prototyping should be addressed in parallel with the Brand Platform creation as it will educate the branding process as a whole. Some companies are able to save on development costs using existing WordPress templates (and such), but brand will still be key at launch.
To conclude, whenever a startup founder tells me (and they tell me all the time) “I can not afford branding at this early stage of my company formation” I reply with “No, you cannot afford not to brand at this early stage of your company formation. Unless you think a strong brand is worth less at time of sale or IPO than an ugly yet functional prototype.‘ This often marks the end of our conversation, until they call a few weeks later to get started with branding their new venture.
I was 8 when I purchased my first Depeche Mode record. I was fooling myself. I did not make this (rather big at the time) purchase because of their music; instead it was the first colored vinyl record I have seen and I fell for the surprise and sheer beauty of it. It was different. A couple of colored Depeche Mode records later I actually started enjoying their innovative electronic sound, because that too was different. And as all of the b(r)and touch points started lining up for me over the years, I turned into a fan.
When I was 18 I took my first step into entrepreneurship by organizing, designing and hosting a concert After-Party in Austria making my first $20,000 (and since had the opportunity of sharing a drink or two with the band on several occasions). The band’s visual design language was mainly crafted by photographer/director Anton Corbijn, who I cite as a major reason I turned to study Graphic Design, enabling me to do what I am doing today. Corbijn also later served as a key inspiration for my photography. Needless to say, my interest in this band for the past 30 years has a deep and personal meaning as it helped inform and somehow shape my own identity.
Over the past weeks I have watched the band perform on its current tour (yes, they are still around) and it gave me time to reflect and think about the sheer power, and design-driven innovation of this band, and how any new brand could benefit from it.
Generally, any band launches a new ‘sub-brand’ every 2-4 years. They call it an album release, but really it is a sub-brand with many objectives that need to be met. The design language needs to introduce a new era of the band that conveys the purpose, signifies change and disruption (‘growth’), yet remains close to the brand’s manifesto. It needs to be able to gain new followers while giving the loyal brand enthusiasts enough nostalgia to hold on to. And of course it requires to be highly adaptable, inspiring the visuals and merchandise for a world tour (a major financial reason for the introduction of the sub-brand) and single releases while being simple enough to turn into an avatar or a fan’s tattoo. Not a short list of brand launch objectives.
Here are some tricks of the trade that I witnessed following a b(r)and over this peculiar long period of time. The least my strange addiction can do is help you create a better brand. Here’s what you can learn and instantly implement during your new brand introduction:
Your new brand is put in place to do something that has not been done before, or at least not in this particular configuration. Make sure your Brand Atmosphere shows that you are here to disrupt.
Ensure your brand identity stands out, is meaningful and relevant, but always keep it extremely simple to allow for easy application by brand adopters, employees, vendors and of course your groupies.
If you innovate through your brand marketing, people will notice, and that’s the first step to create a following. The more unique, the more interest it will generate and the more press your brand will receive in return. Yes, unique design will lead to sales.
“Words are very unnecessary, they can only do harm,” is the chorus of the band’s biggest hit, which you may recognize. Music art relies on imagery and imagery alone. In a world of infographics, A.D.D. and information overload, your new brand should adopt that mantra and say less with more…imagery.
Nearly a given for any band leader, it also holds true for your brand launch. If you strategically infuse a brand character into your launch, it will instantly make your brand more likable. That persona could be the CEO (‘Richard Branson‘), a fictional character (‘Mr. Clean‘) or a spokesperson hire (‘The most interesting man in the world‘) that embodies what your brand stands for.
5 b(r)and takeaways that I firmly believe will make your brand stronger at launch. Now look at your own small obsessions and find out why it makes you say ‘I am with the brand,’ then share your findings with us.
Just Do It? Not so fast we say.
When introducing a disruptive, innovative or different type of product or service to the market, your tagline presents a huge opportunity to convey not how the new brand makes you feel, but instead what it actually does.
Using a descriptor in place of a traditional tagline can get you further, faster at the time of your launch. You can, and should, over time transition into a tagline that dives deeper into the emotions consumers should feel when using your product or service. For Nike, a descriptor may have been something along the lines of “Peak Performance Running Shoes Driven by Design,” and as the brand gained traction, it would have eventually changed to the famous three words “Just do it.”
Our brand consultancy nearly launched with the tagline “We know brands before they exist” (which I felt was clever), but decided to hold off and use it only in company presentations instead. As our offering is highly specialized and unique, we now clearly spell out what we are in business for: “Naming, Identity, and Digital Design for Brand Launches.” It enables us to immediately set expectations with our target audience whereas a clever tagline would have been just another piece leading to the actual answer your target is seeking: What is this new brand doing exactly and is it what I am in the market for?
An additional startup benefit? If you choose the descriptor path, there is no need to get overly creative; just clearly spell out what your brand delivers to its user in the simplest, shortest way possible. It’s not sexy, but they will be grateful, and so will you when looking at your incoming leads.
Granted, the subject of creative agency clients wanting to make their logos as large as possible to ‘get more bang for the buck’ and to ensure people ‘will notice’ their logo on their brand marketing efforts has been beaten to death and plentiful poked fun at (The Product, The Song, Etc). With new brand introductions this notion feels more in line with reality than any other marketing efforts as you have not only an urge to see your (often first, but definitely brand new) logo large, but you are also under a lot of pressure to ensure the customer notices and recalls your new identity design and brand name.
Above: Still from the hilarious ‘Make Your Logo Bigger‘ ‘infomercial’ (2007)
Instead of opting for the ginormous logo though, introduce your brand identity as part of a visually strong and unique design language. Brand is much more than a logo. Of course it is also much more than color and layout, but unique colors with specific application manners (Eg: a vertical bar or a cropped circle of consistently same proportions, within the same locations across all initial communications) not only creates brand design consistency but it makes your marketing efforts be truly your brand.
More so than an existing brand you need to penetrate the market (however small that penetration effort is, may it only be an e-marketing campaign and your web site) with a very unique and consistent design and color approach to get your new brand into consumer’s minds. Upon creation of that distinct visual brand language, step and repeat is the best way to stay in your consumer’s heads in the first phases of your brand introduction. You can slowly minimize the branded aspect and introduce campaigns over the course of time.
After 17 or so years of introducing brand identities, I can attest that this approach works well while using a completely normal sized logo. Guaranteed.
Once you have established a solid brand platform, name, and identity design, you are ready to breathe life into your brand by expanding it through tangible materials and experiences. At FINIEN, we call these your Brand Atmosphere® Touch Points. Each company has unique needs in terms of developing branded elements for print, display, digital, and environment.
Regardless of which ones your strategy calls for, remember that all brands should focus on how their Brand Platform is integrated into each touch point through consistency in visual cues and messaging. Seemingly small details in layout and design can have a huge impact on your brand’s cohesiveness and success.
“Design choices like color, layout, and font, can compel the right audience to buy when they are used correctly—or repel your audience from buying when they are not,” states Maria Ross, author of Branding Basics (2010). Furthermore, these design choices will speak volumes about the values of your brand. “Visual expression often reveals the unspoken intentions behind corporate strategy” (2007) confirm both Uli Mayor-johanssen and Klaus-peter Johanssen in World Branding. How do your business cards, storefronts, and social media outlets harmonize to tell a larger story about your brand?
Here are 3 points to pin to your desk (standing desk, I hope!) and to follow religiously when at this stage in your (next) brand launch process:
Cohesive/Holistic/Systematic: Call it what you want. Your brand and all of the elements that make up your brand need to visually speak the same language and communicate the same message. It will make or break a Brand Atmosphere.
Don’t try to be on all social media platforms at the outset. Strategize where it is most relevant for your brand to exist and apply a cohesive look-and-feel and brand voice to those channels first. You can always expand to other channels as time allows and needs arise. Also focus on only a few select traditional marketing pieces to get your brand started. Ensure that these pieces communicate the essence of your brand and are well designed.
Each touch point associated with your brand has the power to diminish or enhance your Brand Atmosphere. Never rush through creating your touch points, and do sweat the small stuff.
Adapted from our bestselling book “How To Launch a Brand.”
We get asked this question a lot. The simple answer is: You can’t. Will a strategic and design-driven brand launch generate ROI? Definitely. As you have no before/after metrics and are dealing with a new, often innovative and disruptive brand, this is a tough nut to crack.
Yesterday, FINIEN client Martian Ranch & Vineyard sent us above reprint of a New York Times article that ran a couple of weeks ago, entitled “California Wines Score Style Points.” We were grateful and proud of our collaborative achievements. Their wines are truly other worldly so it comes as no surprise that the winery receives praise on the highest media levels. But as one of ten featured wineries, their product is the one that has been picked by the editors to be featured with a rather large photo of the product packaging, including…the cork.
Now that is true ROI on a strategic and design driven brand launch. Seeing the wine brand rather than just reading about it creates immediate product recognition, leading to impulse buys and elevated brand perception. Most wineries make their branding effort the last agenda item with the smallest piece of the overall budget left over and they wing it days prior to bottling their wines. Martian hired us to create a brand with a focus on product packaging that stands out on the shelves and has a cohesive brand story to tell that is unique and interesting.
It showed…and now it sells.
Brand Atmosphere for 20 Goodwill retail stores: The resulting theme “Find/Give” speaks directly to finding joy as a shopper, while giving recognition and purpose to support Goodwill employees who suffer from disabilities and other disadvantages. New merchandise racks, signage, and floor graphics tie into the theme which doubles as smart way-finding.
Creative talent agency Match chose FINIEN to spearhead an all-encompassing re-branding effort of the firm’s dated identity system. The scope of the effort ranged from a strategic look book to branding materials like collateral, signage, brochures to an exclusive promotional box for new clients.