On the surface, brand development seems pretty simple:
Step 1 – Create a product or service
Step 2 – Develop a brand by choosing a name and a logo
Step 3 – Profit!
But it isn’t that easy. There’s way more that goes into branding than a name and one visual cue. Lindsay, Stone & Briggs has been through the brand development process more than a few times with our clients, so let me fill you in on why you need to develop your brand and how we tackle that development—before you even get to the logo stage.
A quick clarification.
The word “brand” can be a little vague. We all know it’s not just name, logo or packaging—though those things all contribute. As David Ogilvy famously said, a brand is “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes.” (For an interesting history on the evolution of the definition of brand, check out this Forbes article by Jerry McLaughin.)
It’s that intangibility that makes brand development tough. We’d love to give you a definitive step-by-step list of what you need to do to develop (or refresh) your brand. But we can’t. Because different brands require different steps. How far your thought process has progressed and your idea of what your brand is about may mean you skip some things and go deep on others. Agencies that say they have the silver bullet of branding in three easy steps are at best stretching the truth.
Why should my company bother with brand development?
Your brand defines what your product or service promises to the client/consumer.
Without it, you become sheer commodity – a building block with no added value or differentiation. You’re the bin of russet potatoes at the grocery or the plastic drawer of bolts at the hardware store. People blindly choose the commodity in front of them because there really isn’t a choice. Or if you are in a crowded market, you could easily be passed over because of a lack of awareness or an inability to convey what makes your product superior or special.
If you don’t do it, the consumer will.
Overstock.com has a commercial running right now that highlights what can happen if you don’t thoughtfully define your brand yourself and keep an eye on its evolution. Take a look:
Overstock.com is a website that sells excess home goods inventory at discounted prices. Or so you would think, given the name. But the company hasn’t sold exclusively overstock items since 2011 when it acquired O.co. Now they’re stuck with a reputation they no longer want.
Seven years down the road and they really want you to know they aren’t just selling things that regular stores couldn’t unload. Their brand is so thoroughly rooted in the word “overstock” they made a commercial that tells you that despite their name, they’ve got the fresh, trendy stuff you’re looking for. They’re just selling at overstock prices.
Contrast Overstock.com with Wayfair’s message, “They’ve got just what I need,” and it looks like it could be an uphill climb for the brand. I’m sure they didn’t foresee a switch to non-overstock goods, but they could have taken the acquisition of O.com to ease the brand into that arena.
Maybe this is the beginning of a brand refresh, but it sure seems like they just want you to stop making fun of them and buy their stuff already. But the consumer has made the connection to cheap stuff no one wants and it’s going to be really hard to change their minds when you do nothing more than say, “We’re different!” without doing anything different.
Time will tell if the commercial has the effect they’re going for.
The following are a few of the high-level things we do to develop a brand. There’s a lot that goes into the process and it’s very individualized, but these should be good thought-starters to help you on your way.
1. Know your market.
We always ask any new client to provide as much information as they can about their category and competitors and any research they may have on their industry. We want to find out which brands “own” aspects of your market. If there’s a brand that has a lock on a certain segment and already provides an emotional connection, it may be in your best interest to go a different way.
For instance, consider why Coach recently bought Kate Spade. Both make purses, really nice purses. But Coach is more of a legacy brand and caters to an older audience. Kate Spade appeals to the highly desirable millennial market. So, instead of trying to force their brand into a segment it doesn’t fit, Coach bought a brand that does. Knowing their market and its different target groups gave them the ability to strategically plan the acquisition.
2. Know yourself.
I asked LSB’s president and chief creative officer, Bill Winchester where he likes to start with brand development:
“I would say, if you wanted to start somewhere, it would be to find the unequivocal thing that is at the core of your brand. For Apple it’s disrupting the complicated (the beauty of simplicity). For Nike it’s a belief that if you have a body you’re an athlete. For Lego it’s child-like imagination.”
Once you find that “unequivocal thing at the core” the doors are opened to other aspects of brand development that, in turn, help you define your brand in a way that informs your marketing, your corporate culture, even future innovations. At LSB, we express that unequivocal thing with an archetype.
One of the first things we delve into when helping to brand or rebrand a product is the archetype. Swiss psychologist Dr. Carl Jung’s twelve universal personality archetypes can apply not just to people, but to brands. Connecting a brand to an archetype provides a sort of shorthand about what the brand represents and consequently, what it can to for the consumer.
Bill’s three examples of brands who know their unequivocal thing have easily identified archetypes. Nike embodies the hero, Apple and Lego are creators. Once you see them, it’s pretty obvious. Would it surprise you to hear that Harley-Davidson is the rebel? Or that Skittles is the Jester? Probably not.
“As humans, the fact is that we’re drawn to all of these archetypes, and we see a bit of ourselves expressed across multiple dimensions and personalities. The earlier on in your company’s journey that you can uncover your brand’s true identity—the character your brand is meant to live out—the sooner your team can begin living it and leaving a lasting impression in your audience’s minds, regardless of whether you’re running a small business or big company.”
Can you develop a brand without an archetype? Sure. You’ll find plenty of agencies out there who don’t use them and plenty of brands who have no idea who Carl Jung was. We find archetypes to be a helpful way of thinking about a brand personality and a great tool to bind everything else together. You may not use archetypes, but you’ll still need to do the work of finding the core of your brand.
As Bill Winchester puts it:
“…Most brands simply don’t have that unequivocal thing. That worldview that drives and defines everything they do. So, I think that’s the first thing you have to find. You need to dig and dig and dig until you can throw out all of the detritus that, for instance with an existing brand, has built up over years and years. If you can get to a place where you can say. ‘We are x and we stand for x’ you have a shot at it. That x will be very close to an archetype. It will be a universal need and it will drive your story.”
3. Know your consumer.
It’s similar to knowing your market, but this comes after you figure out where you can fit in. Think about what benefits your product provides and who will get the most from those benefits. This requires some research (see my post on brand awareness for some suggestions on how to do it). But once you know who you’ve created your brand for, you’ll have a much better idea about how to connect with them. And don’t worry, you wouldn’t be the first to think you created a product for one audience, only to find that there’s another group out there who benefit more—or even a group that uses your products for a different purpose.
(Want to have some fun? Check out Business Insider’s article on “11 famous products that were originally intended for a completely different purpose”. I had no idea Slinkys were originally ship’s instrument stabilizers.)
4. Develop a positioning statement.
It’s a tried and true tactic to frame your brand in a positioning statement. With a strong positioning statement in place, it’s easier to build messaging and the like without straying from your brand. It defines your focus and guardrails. Sometimes, it’s more about what you don’t do than what you do.
This is the typical structure:
For (target defined psychographically),
(brand name) is the brand of
(category as end users define it),
that provides (benefit/point of difference)
because it has (list of key differentiating dimensions).
A (made up) example:
For tween soccer players,
KickStarts is the brand of
cleats and shin guards
that provides a way for kids to show their individuality while being safe
because it has
- Custom colors
- Popular tween entertainment decals
- Quality construction
- FIFA endorsement
This positioning statement says this company produces shin guards and cleats. They don’t make soccer balls, jerseys or general athletic stuff. If they made the decision to do that, it might say, “For tween soccer players, KickStarts is the brand of soccer equipment or athletic equipment…” This becomes more than just a marketing decision, it’s a business decision that involves manufacturing, supply chains, distribution and more. That affects your brand reach.
5. Take it a step further with a mantra.
Go beyond a positioning statement and into what we call a brand mantra. The mantra is an internal device to help get everyone in your organization aligned with all this great work you’ve put into your brand development. The positioning statement is somewhat utilitarian; the mantra is almost all emotion.
By this time, you know what your brand is about. Everything from the product to the customer service experience to the way your employees treat each other should be a reflection of the brand.
It’s tough to convey what should go into the mantra. It’s not just a single sentence, but a full concept. As Bill, our resident mantra master puts it:
“When you have the mantra, you need to make a thought piece. A video or an installation or something that lets people actually feel the vibe of the brand. It also starts to seed the visual language, the photo style, the personality of the brand. If people aren’t either standing up and cheering or bawling their eyes out when they experience it, you need to do more work.”
Here’s an example of a mantra we created for Loewen. They craft high-end windows and doors for premium residential new construction, renovation/restoration and light commercial construction. Their clientele is made up primarily of architects and designers and the homeowners who employ them.
How do you portray windows in a way that resonates? How are windows more than just squares of wood and glass? The mantra needed to bring everyone at Loewen together around the idea that they are about more than windows as simple building supplies. Their windows are part of an artistic vision that lends beauty and happiness to the world. They respect the artistic vision of their customers and strive to complete that vision.
All that sounds good. Can I get a logo now?
It may seem like you went through a lot to get here, but it will help you make decisions that are meaningful, not just based on what looks cool at the time, or what your brother-in-law sketched on a napkin. Logos, colors, taglines, fonts, communication style and the like are commonly bundled under “brand identity.”
Brand identity happens after you decide what your brand is about. Take the story MetaLab’s Andrew Wilkinson posted on Medium, “Slack’s $2.8 Billion Dollar Secret Sauce.” He may say they don’t like process, but read between the lines. They identified Slack’s unequivocal thing, positioning and even skated around an archetype, the Joker. Metalab may have done some of these things concurrently, but they still made those decisions and built an identity around them.
All brands need a differentiated identity to set them apart from their competition. By taking the time to find your unequivocal thing and use it in your brand development process, you’ll be able to express what your brand stands for and connect with your consumer in a more meaningful way.
In short, you’ll figure out why your brand matters, and to whom.
Need help? We’ve been through it all.
And yes, we can craft that logo.