Over my 30-year career, people often pull me aside for casual brand advice and to hear the hilarious and occasionally outrageous stories behind great brands. I encounter the same questions and problems over and over again, so I thought I’d take a moment to share my top five tips for creating a powerful brand.
1. Understand It’s All About Them
The brand is built for your customers. Embrace the idea that your product or service is made to fit into your customer’s story, not your own. Although a corporate identity (including positioning, value proposition, etc.) is essential for selling, investor relations, and corporate communications, it is not the brand. The brand is a customer-centric concept built on a strategic foundation.
Think of what Nike is as a company, and then think of what Nike represents as a brand. Nike designs, markets, and sells athletic apparel and equipment and the brand is about personal empowerment – Just Do It.
2. Develop A Strategically-Driven Creative Concept
A brand identity is a creative concept that delivers on a set of requirements. It is a conceptual framework designed to make an emotional connection. The creative concept allows people to see things in a new way by accessing the emotional part of the mind. It might even overturn established logic and create a new perspective. Think of a product that has a large warning label that product use might kill you and think of the Marlboro cowboy and the #1 cigarette brand in the world.
Think of how Apple changed the way people saw computers by leveraging creativity, or how Lululemon elevated yoga apparel to luxury fashion with an aspirational lifestyle. Powerful brands have a creative concept and that concept changes how people view the product. Think of it as conceptual wrapping paper that sets the context.
3. Strategically Design an Ownable Look and Feel
Graphics, user interfaces, and even audio come together to bring the brand to life. A distinct visual style and audio signature that express your brand strategy resonate with customers. These artistic expressions are based on consumer insights, not personal taste. Remember, keep your audience in mind, and don’t simply express your corporate identity. These expressions should evoke responses that meet the goals you’ve set for the brand.
Ask yourself how you want people to think and feel when they interact with your brand. Many branding efforts go astray by forgetting that design is for the customer and not a flag for the company to waive.
4. Keep the Architecture Simple
Ideally, build one brand. Avoid sub-brands that bring different logos and competing ideas. With branding, less is more. Multiple brands make it more complicated and create a risk of confusion and dilution of not carefully managed.
I only recommend building a sub-brand if there are ideas/feelings/beliefs that cannot be captured within the boundaries of the main brand. This can happen when a brand enters a new market and its existing equities do not translate. By creating a sub-brand, you can transfer the perceived values that do resonate and add the messaging needed to connect with the new customers. For instance, there is Ralph Lauren, Polo, and Chaps. Three different brands capturing different markets.
5. Write A Great Line
A memorable and meaningful tagline goes a long way to building a powerful brand. It’s like poetry. It should be provocative and sync with the emotional narrative you are building with the customer. A good tagline is both a motivation for action and an affirmation of your customer’s experiences. Consider these taglines:
“Be All You Can Be”—U.S. Army
“The Antidote to Civilization”—Club Med
“Find Your Beach”—Corona
“When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best”—Hallmark
With few words, these lines speak volumes and resonate on a practical and emotional level.
Most people don’t realize how much work happens before a brand is born. Developing the brand strategy is an essential process that requires empathy, imagination, logical and keen insights gleaned from consumer research. Understand how best to make an emotional connection with your customers, what your competition is doing, and where the market is heading so you know the world your brand will be operating in, and create it accordingly. Without building a strong strategic foundation, it’s impossible to create a winning brand.
As Warren Buffett says, a brand is a moat built around the company. When deciding to invest in a company the resonance of the brand is one of the two characteristics Buffett looks for. Companies with powerful brands consistently do better in the market. They soar higher when things are good and suffer less when things are bad. Building a brand takes investment and ongoing stewardship, but the result is a priceless asset that can deliver a sustainable competitive advantage under any market condition.