Demystifying the ‘BAM!’ – Brand & Approach

A little about me. I have a background in business consulting, graphic design, and design management.  I work most comfortably in huge multi-disciplinary undertakings that involve multiple vectors – print, digital media, film and video, social media, event and experience design, and of course organizational structure and operations management. Whether it’s a finite project or event, or growing with a business that in turn is growing, I create the tools to manage targeted perceptions from clients and prospects to internal staff. From designing corporate semiotics to generating corresponding internal policies, I brand.

Ok. Spill it. What is Brand.

I have never seen brand as something that is smeared into the cracks of an existing infrastructure. Rather, it’s shot through the fibres of corporate structure from the bottom on up. For every great business ‘EUREKA’ that has ever shaped a company, there is an equal and complimentary communications strategy. That communications strategy is an integral part of the business from the word go, and it’s the birthplace of brand.

What commonly happens in the beginning is this. Either because of strained resources or due to a hurried need to establish corporate structure and ‘get things moving’, marketing and brand are left in the dust ‘until later’. I’ve heard this from clients. It’s not uncommon. It’s only when they’ve sat down and written 10 drafts of their business plan (focus on mission and product/service plan with an embarrassingly sparse marketing plan) that they feel they can bring attention to the fripperies of design, and getting their message out there.

When they’re ‘ready’ they look at securing a website, and a brochure. Oh, and a logo that they can easily bastardize into low-grade jpegs and apply to MicroSoft templates for letterhead and invoices. And PowerPoints. Because that’s really all they ‘need’. Hmm. Sound familiar?

But that is not what brand, or marketing a business is all about.

Brand out of 10.

If you think that brand is ‘a logo’ or an identity, you get a nod, but no marks.

If you think that brands are streamlined corporate subsidiaries targeting specific demographics in the same market (in the spirit of Banana Republic, Gap, and Old Navy superpowers), you get a half mark. Out of 10.

If you think that branding is a way of communicating the intangibles of a product or service to an audience (like the tone, or manner, or style of something, for example) you can also give yourself a half mark.

Which (if you accumulated a full mark while reading this) leaves 9 points of the puzzle sadly out of reach.

There is no criticism here: I have found that some people think of my approach as zealous to say the least. My good friend and associate James Basnett of Slatewest Media coined us both ‘brand psychos’. This does not mean that I go around neurotically applying logos to random promotional merchandise (like the coveted whistle/flashlight/pen) or that I compulsively think in ‘Campaign’. It’s more about subscribing to a philosophy that makes brand central to business development from the minutiae on up, inseparable from the foundation blocks of the business mission, processes, or policies.

Here are my 10 points about brand.

1. Brand starts with internal aspects of a business.

Brand is not just about getting your message out there. It’s about internalizing your message with policy and procedure, creating a sense of team cohesion, unity, and motivation in your operation. If you’ve ever stopped to think about how your company does something ‘how do we handle client complaints?’ or ‘what kind of reporting do we send out’ then you’ve intuitively thought about internal branding. Spin The Idea looks at your processes from the inside out, and creates tools and procedures that embody your message, and build your brand. Brand definition will influence how you answer your phones, how your team executes Quality Assurance, the tools and techniques you use to train your staff and sell your products, and how your clients’ experiences evolve from administration onward.

2. Branding elements go beyond images.

Yes, there are certain staple components to corporate identities. But this goes beyond your basic logo, fonts and colours. Brand policy is the super glue of corporate semiotics. Policy is the structure behind the creative that ensures consistency and stability when anyone, anywhere encounters your business. Where does the logo appear on stationery, on internal documents, and in advertising? How do your corporate colours translate from print to web? Does your company have an image library for both internal and external use? What are the icons commonly used throughout your client-facing FAQs? Is your corporate identity going to evolve at all over the next 5 years? A good identity design provides more than a simple delivery of an EPS. Spin The Idea not only designs and develops brands for application to any medium, but we strongly believe in creating the process and writing the policies so everyone on your team can use the tools. Brand Manuals are not those dusty binders or dvds kept in the fire safe. They should be centralized knowledge, available and understood by every level in your company.

3. Brand continuity communicates strength, dependability.

This isn’t magic. As I said before, policy goes a long way. When you have structure and process to apply to your brand, the result is undeniable. From a business card, to signage, to corporate videos, to your web presence and any client-facing administration tools and then some; your company should be easily recognizable. Every vector should clearly state who you are, it’s as simple as that. Whether it’s always making everything neon yellow (ouch) or using the same strong typographic treatments throughout your brand, each piece should hold its own, but harmonize with the group. This kind of uniformity makes an impression. It communicates stability, track-record, concrete method and approach, and builds trust. I have seen tons of businesses that have 3/5 marketing tools looking consistent, only to have the last 2 pieces of the puzzle look like they were done either by a receptionist on a deadline, or another designer who decidedly felt there needed to be ‘a change’. What that ultimately says to clients is ‘we don’t really know where this is going.’ Spin The Idea works with you from the ground up to figure out exactly what you need. Do you need your brand developed and rolled out to additional communication points? Do you need you brand managed properly and your needs reassessed in terms of marketing tools? Or do you need a creative director to come in and translate your needs to your internal team or to your outsourced designers? If you don’t know the answer, we do.

4. Branding is a built-in foundation for scalability.

When you look at a plan how do you rate it? Generally you look at viability. Sustainability. Risk.. At least I hope you do. Brand is no different. So many people think that ‘branding’ applies only to multi-nationals that need to maintain billion dollar campaigns. Not true. A small firm with a strong brand presence is simply a small firm with a strong, clear voice. Whether your intention is to stay small, but be the best; or go big and populate the market with tons of little sub-brands; it all starts at the beginning with a modular growth strategy. Spin The Idea has seen it happen. I’ve worked first hand with companies that relished the tidy, behind-the-scenes appeal, only to burst forth with 4 sub-brands of products and services over 2 years. We can handle that. 

5. Brand strategy opens doors for targeted returns.

The beauty of branding stems mostly from positioning. If you have one company that offers 3 distinct services that appeal to 3 different targeted demographics, you have yourself a marketing mess. Let’s use construction as an example as I’ve seen lots of this while sourcing contractors for my new house. OK. Service 1 is high-end marble and natural stone custom tiling. Service 2 is an around the clock plumbing service. Service 3 is an affordable student-based landscaping program. Hmm. One targets relatively high net worth households, while the second targets mid-earning shift workers, and the 3rd smaller income families. What to do? Even a small company can learn from those big, infamous, brands like Banana, Gap, and Old Navy. There is no shame in creating a parent brand (your company) and sub-brands that are comprised of your service packages. Doing this makes 100% of your sub-brand focused on your target, instead of 1/3rd of it struggling not to get lost. As well, a modular approach means you can jettison a service package with little or no impact to your parent brand if things aren’t working out the way you wanted them too. Spin The Idea doesn’t just stop at design auditing for needs assessment, we look at your business model and processes.

6. Brand can ensure Openness and Transparency, and build trust during all kinds of times.

If things aren’t going the way you intended, everything is not lost. In fact, you’ve been given an opportunity to get even closer to your audience. So much of the ‘preservation of corporate image’ used to revolve around an impermeable defence where campaigns kept going strong and clients were kept in the dark no matter what happened. That doesn’t wash anymore. People expect a certain amount of disclosure to ease their minds, to ensure quality or reassure their integrity. And sometimes things go wrong. Like the economy. Or a missed launch date. Or an abrupt about-face in the product roll-out. This is life. Sometimes as strong as our risk strategies are and however much contingency we’ve built into things, the shit hits the fan. Creating a brand that is centred around the relationships you have with your clients is very different than building that impregnable visual defence that says ‘nothing to see here, everything is fine..move along now’. By integrating a touch of ‘humanity’ into your business process and into your brand, say, with mandates of Openness and Transparency, and progressive reporting, you can change the way people percieve you for the better. Your clients become part of your process. They are participants. They are alongside you in your trials and tribulations, and victors when you experience success. Spin The Idea has worked to develop corporate blogs, social media strategies, and client communications for just this purpose.

7. Brand policy creates solid infrastructure for partnerships, and joint ventures.

About now you are probably wondering if I am or ever was talking about a logo or anything graphic. Only 3 points left. You can make it.

Brand continuity, brand presence, and policy, all point to solid structure and stability among other things. If you have ever looked into doing a joint venture, a dealer contract, or even a sponsorship strategy with another company or non-profit, you have probably experienced the miserable headache of ‘how to co-brand’, or the migraine of ‘how many instances of my logo does this get me?’ We thought of that too. This should ideally be a part of your Brand Manual. However, if you don’t have a brand manual, (not to mention one that we’ve done for you) and you need some help creating brand policies that nail these negotiations into place, Spin The Idea has done co-branding for dealer environments, joint ventures and partnerships, and of course for charity and sponsorship campaigns.

8. Brand can always be measured. Always.

Short and sweet? Do not dismiss the empirical. Whether it’s complex brand equity analysis or campaign-based metrics, your efforts can be measured. Every strategy that we create is centred around success-measures and metric analysis. Numbers speak volumes. Period.

9. Brand strategy is risk management.

Let’s go from our construction company to a financial firm. The company has 4 successful funds and wants to start a 5th. Luckily, they have a strong brand strategy in place. They have a parent brand and seperate brands for each fund, with each offering carrying a themed variance. Each fund has seperate web presences. Each fund is also written up on the parent site for association. Because this arms-length distance has been maintained, adding a 5th fund to the mix is easy. And so is removing it without any major disruption to the parent brand. Spin The Idea’s modular brand strategy and design treats business as a whole, and always keeps risk management at the forefront.

10. You are your business. Ergo, you are your brand.

You have an idea. It’s amazing. You madly scribble it down and quickly graduate to typing passionately with sweaty fingers to your legal counsel about incorporation. You won’t stop until your succeed. Everyone on your team is a chip off the old block, and you all share a vision – your vision. In 5 years, you’ll be selling your idea to global retailers, and they’ll be just as ignited by your enthusiasm. Does your brand say all that? It should. Spin The Idea looks at the big picture. We analyze graphics, language and semantics, client-facing content, and most of all what your brand says about you.. and what it could be saying. Don’t compromise.

Next time:

Marketing tips for those ready to break the mould: MicroSoft cookie-cutter death, and PowerPoint torture. (Avoid both and win…)

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