In any walk of life, you don’t take advice off anyone who hasn’t been there and done it before.
You wouldn’t take advice on parenting from a twenty-something, single, Shoreditch hipster more concerned if he has oat milk or soy milk in his flat white – he has no clue as he has never experienced it. People are quick to give advice based on what they think they know but there are few that can back it up.
As hard as it was, we at ikon put ourselves through a long and detailed brand strategy process to really get to the core of what drives our business and our people. You have to walk the walk if you want people to listen to what you have to say. This has not only shown people we collaborate with how serious we are about what we do but how deeply we understand branding and what is necessary to help their business grow.
As we are so passionate about branding and the positive impact it makes, we will dive deeper into what we have learnt, why it’s so important and how it can help you.
We have come a long way since the early days of branding cattle to the digital age where technology has allowed anyone and everyone to bombard people with marketing messages 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The increase in these messages plays a big part in why getting your branding right is more important that ever before. You need to rise above the noise, and there is a lot of noise.
A common misconception of branding is that it’s often seen as the visual identity of a business but your brand encompasses so much more. As Marty Neumeier states “Your brand isn’t what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.” They being your target audience and if you haven’t spent the time on a strategy to figure out who they are, and what you need to say to them, it’s unlikely to translate into business for you.
This perception in people’s mind of what your brand means to them comes from every single touchpoint you have with your customers, whether it’s on the phone, in an email, on your website – how you communicate and what you communicate will give an indication to whether you can be trusted to do what you said you would.
Seth Godin sums the definition of a brand perfectly - “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”
With no unique brand, you are seen as a commodity and that’s when you compete on price and we all know where than ends, a race to the bottom.
Whether you are an individual or a business, the answer is definitely.
There has been an explosion of personal branding in more recent years with a face at the forefront of a business to encourage a more human connection and to also show personality rather than a faceless company. Richard Branson has mastered the art of this with Virgin for a long time and it’s an approach inspired by what we use at ikon.
We want businesses we collaborate with to know that Alex Colley, our Creative Director is responsible for everything and he is on hand to ensure everything runs as it should on the client side and as a creative team. Part of buying into ikon and our approach to branding is buying into Alex and that is important to connect on a human, emotional level. It states to the world we have nothing to hide and there is someone to speak to at any stage of a project.
The most prevalent form of branding as it’s aimed at everyday people, the consumer. Brands competing in this space need to be fiercely competitive to stand out amongst the crowd to grab our attention. With the impact of how quickly ideas can spread with social media, it’s given even more fuel to disruptive brands that challenge industries and even put some companies out of business.
Key examples of complacency are the likes of Blockbuster who were put out of business with the surge of video streaming from Amazon and Netflix. Kodak was another household name that took their eye off the ball and went bankrupt as their business didn’t adapt to the rise in popularity of digital cameras.
This is where regular reviews of a brand strategy can reveal holes in your future direction as a business and help you adjust your strategy accordingly. Just because you are successful now doesn’t automatically mean you will continue to be so innovating and adapting should always be a continuous process, not something you do last minute when you realise you are in trouble.
The principles of how you approach branding for a B2B company are the same as B2C but the approach in how you market to that audience becomes very different. Rather than impulse buys and quick sales cycles, B2B tends to involve bigger financial commitment and often can involve convincing a board of people you are offering the right solution.
Just as B2C, it’s just as important to define what you do and how you differentiate as you rise above the noise of other companies who take a more scattergun approach desperate to take on any business they can get their hands on.
We see it all the time, so many businesses are failing to effectively communicate what they do which usually means you get ignored and customers look elsewhere. Before you waste any money on marketing, a brand strategy helps you understand who you are targeting and what kind of messages will resonate with them.
Look at the stats, over 90% of startups fail within the first 3 years. We are not saying a brand strategy is the only answer because if your product or service isn’t desired, you can consider yourself in the 90% bracket. Derrick Daye clears up what brand strategy is:
“One of the big misconceptions startup CEO’s have about brand building is that it is a marketing activity. In fact, these are two separate (yet related) activities. Brand strategy is about knowing the DNA of the value offered to the marketplace, marketing is the process of communicating that value through various channels."
Marketing can be seen as a dirty word and yes marketing can be used in unethical ways to sell things to people who they really shouldn’t be marketing to but it can have a massive impact to create change and do a lot of good in the world.
Whether we like or not everyone is a marketer. You market yourself in a job interview to a new employer, you market yourself to the opposite sex and you definitely need to market your business if you want people to know who you are. A brand strategy ensures what you say in your marketing is speaking to the right people to take action.
Before you do anything, research is essential.
How do you know your are different until your analyse the market? You don’t so the first thing to do is see what you competitors are doing so you can find your differentiation points. Is it more technologically more advanced like Uber who have made hailing a cab so much faster and more accessible? Or is a new business model like ikon who deliver agency quality work with a freelance team so a client’s budget can be maximised without a drop in quality?
Not only should this research inform where you should position your business in the market, it should give a clear indication of how to stand out visually from what your competitors are doing. At ikon we have a process to ask the right questions to ensure we define what problems and frustrations your audience is facing so you can develop the next stage of figuring out how to communicate with them.
The next stage is to define a mission statement and your key differentiators, develop a strapline, set your brand values then decide what your tone of voice will be and finally to set a messaging framework to influence all of your marketing moving forward.
Why are we talking about marketing when we should be talking about branding? It’s like talking about a logo without considering the rest of the identity, your branding should look at your how your identity and strategy influences your marketing. They are not mutually exclusive.
If you brand strategy isn’t right, you will waste an enormous amount of money trying to market something that’s unlikely to hit the mark. A lot of businesses think a strategy isn’t necessary as it will be a lot of work and it will be costly but it’s short term thinking. Lay the foundations at the start and you will be clearer, more focused and more consistent with every piece of marketing after.
This tends to start with your logo which is important but this is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to building your brand.
You will find plenty of logos on the internet with clever designs of either a word or icon depicting the most cliche element associated with the industry of that company. For instance a plumber using a leaky tap but these types of logo might get some likes on Instagram but will often never been seen on any reputable brand’s website.
The iconic graphic designer, Massimo Vignelli sums it up beautifully “I don't think that type should be expressive at all. I can write the word 'dog' with any typeface and it doesn't have to look like a dog. But there are people that [think that] when they write 'dog' it should bark.”
Every aspect of your brand identity is an opportunity to stand out, whether it’s colour, typography, iconography, illustration, photography and even the way you speak and what you say. Take every opportunity possible to rise above the noise.
Typography makes up a monumental part of your branding but it is often overlooked and free fonts can often be the default option based on accessibility.
Designers can get obsessed on picking typefaces to experiment with and showcase the latest font they have been itching to use on a project but it’s not just about how good typography can look, there a psychological reasons grounded in science to how it makes people feel. Just ensure your brand font matches the impression you want to give and works well across print and web.
Seeing your brand plays a huge part in how you make people feel and that people buy on emotion, it’s amazing why it is often neglected.
Ever come across a site with light grey text or fonts not formatted properly that causes users to head to the close button on their browser tab straight away. It can have a profound effect on how users interact with your content.
Mikael Cho, a Co-Founder/CEO at Unsplash writes about the science of fonts and how they make you feel:
“Understanding the way we read is important for designing how words look because you can directly impact someone’s connection to your writing with the right font and layout.”
To pay attention to how you present information is just as important as what you say and if that helps engage people to read what you have to say, it’s worth investing the time to do it well. Again, from Mikael Cho:
“People exposed to the well-designed layout were found to have higher cognitive focus, more efficient mental processes, and a stronger sense of clarity. The researchers concluded that well-designed reading environments don’t necessarily help you understand what you’re reading better, but they do make you feel good, causing you to feel inspired and more likely to take action.”
The cost involved with paying attention to the design and the quality of your typography will not only look good but encourage people to engage and read about your business with a more positive outlook.
Not only does typography make sense on a psychological level, choosing from the same Google Font library as most of the world is like saying “Yes please, I would love to look like every other website on the planet”. Done well, typography not only elevates your brand identity above most branding out there but your brand font (or fonts) become synonymous with your business.
More recently this has been highlighted by the fact that more and more brands are commissioning bespoke typefaces for their brand so it truly is unique. One of the most recent talked about and distinctive typefaces designed was by the renowned graphic designer, Neville Brody for the Channel 4 rebrand.
F37 Foundry run by Rick Banks hits the nail on the head: “A custom brand font is deeply ingrained in a brand’s identity. It works away tirelessly and seamlessly, even when other brand assets such as colour, logo or imagery aren’t around."
Even if a custom font is only reserved for big brands with big budgets, which is not always the case, choosing a higher quality and less common typeface can give you a visual edge over your competitors.
Another element of your branding that can give you a visual edge is printed marketing literature. With the ease of creating digital copies of everything from brochures, to guides and even ebooks, spending the time and money to create an elegant piece of print can make a lasting imprint in your customer’s mind.
With the advancement in printing techniques, the possibilities of creating something of beauty is more possible than ever, especially in the luxury market where the experience is everything. Brands are embracing story, ritual and mysticism to take people on an unforgettable journey but this is not limited to the physical as it needs to be seamless across their digital presence too.
James McCrae, Director of Brand Strategy at Blue Fountain Media talks about how technology is challenging brands to embrace technology and the ones that do are likely to be ahead of the curve and win:
“Technology is once again creating new challenges and opportunities for brands. We are now entering the “third wave” of the internet, which introduces immersive technologies like virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, wearable devices, and conversational interfaces like voice-controlled speakers and chat bots.
You can’t engage audiences by ramming your message down their throat so brands have to be clever about how they use technology to attract their tribe. We have to be more transparent as a business because social media will quickly expose any lies and that will do more damage than good. James goes on to say:
“To prepare for what’s next, the question brands should start asking now is: How can we utilize technology to make communication with customers more natural? Just as social media made brands more personal, the third wave of the internet will widen the gap between brands who tell stories and build community and brands who merely push products.”
Branding and marketing is changing dramatically and we need to shift our thinking to be more about the customer. Take Amazon or John Lewis for instance, their customer service is second to none and this is for good reason. With any business if you don’t look after your customers they can easily go looking elsewhere and you will find no shortage of competition.
Even if you have to lose money to keep them happy in the short term, the amount they are likely to spend over the long term far outweighs the insignificant amount you would be set to lose. More importantly, a bad experience can reach a lot of people of social media so not only their opinion of your brand would be shattered, they could shatter it amongst everyone they know. Big business with antiquated thinking are being caught out by challengers willing to deliver exceptional standards of customer service.
People are being sold to daily in massive excess and we are getting numb to it, the trust in advertising is at an all time low. You see it on TV, on your phone, on your way to work, it’s incessant so we need to build that trust first.
Yuyu Chen, who is in charge of Agency and Brand Partnerships at TikTok writes about the mistrust millennials have in advertising: “Marketers today face a huge obstacle when trying to reach young consumers: 84 percent of Millennials don’t like traditional advertising nor do they trust it”
And then goes on to quote Matt Britton, a CEO and new media entrepreneur: “To embrace people-powered marketing, he suggested brands should deliver their value by “showing” rather than by “telling.
That offers the difference between content and advertising,” Britton said. “Advertising tells ‘buy this,’ [because] it’s better, faster, and stronger, while content usually shows [and] allows consumers to learn it and understand it on their own.”
Understanding your target audience through a brand strategy allows you to deliver content to educate and inspire rather than beat your audience into submission.
Our advice would be not to skip the strategy. Whether you’re a personal brand or in B2B or B2C, everyone needs a strategy to understand where they are, what makes them different and where they want to go. Without this, people or businesses tend to float around with no direction and are likely to disappear into obscurity.
Like the earliest form of branding when cattle were stamped with a hot branding iron, businesses need to create this same metaphorical imprint in the minds of their customers that they are the brand you turn to when they have a problem you solve.
You do that through trust, understanding your audience and knowing how to stand out.