What’s in your brand?
An overview for considering a brand identity for your business
What this is: This article is more about beginning a conversation about evaluating your brand and whether you need to think about and consider a brand identity. My goal with this article is simply to define what a brand identity is, what the core components are, and perhaps hit a few touchpoints along the way to get a conversation started with yourself and your business.
What this isn’t: This article is not a step-by-step on how to build a brand identity. The actual act of building a brand identity is custom to each individual’s business needs and is a whole different ‘animal’. There is however, enough here to provide you with plenty of information and some guidance to get started on establishing a brand identity for your business.
What is Branding?
Branding creates an awareness of a company’s goods and services. Branding is all about the identity. Branding is a set of expectations by the consumer which is managed by the business. Branding is both a visual and emotional response to goods or services provided by a business. Branding looks to establish long-lasting relationships with those who have made an emotional connection with a brand.
If you’ve ever said something like “I love Doritos”, then you are a success of their brand identity. Typically, when you see the Doritos logo, you immediately associate things with having eaten Doritos (regret might be a part of it but we won’t go there) at some previous point in time. You can almost taste them with just a mere thought of them. This is what a successful brand identity can do.
Note: I feel it is important here to point out that a product is not a brand. You may need a product but you will want a brand. For example, I need coffee but I want it from Starbucks. In short, products equal functions (needs) and brands equal emotions (wants).
Branding is all about relationships. Branding builds trust and loyalty. Branding is what distinguishes one company’s goods and services from another company’s. Think for a moment about when you go to the grocery store. Are there specific ‘name brand’ products that you buy? If so, why do you buy them? What is it about those products that have you going back for more?
Branding is kinda finicky though. You could have the best designed logo and a beautiful branding system but if you do not get customers to buy into your brand, the brand identity has failed. Conversely, you can have a horrible looking logo and everybody ‘eats it up’ and thinks that your brand is the greatest thing ever.
So how do you determine whether you need a brand identity? Your sales will tell you. If your business steadily grows, then what you have is working for you and there’s no need to fix-it at this time. You know the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. If you’ve tried everything else except a brand identity and sales are still soft, then perhaps it’s time to create a brand identity.
Components of Branding
Your logo is only a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to branding although it is a very integral component. Your logo is the catalyst here for much of what needs to follow in the brand identity. Your logo also helps with the brand experience by bridging the gap between the emotional responses (intangibles) it looks to create with the actual consumption or usage (tangibles) of that product. This is achieved through the brand identity system with the careful construction of associations, relationships and synergies between every component.
Your logo has elements (or should have) within it that will help push a brand into a full brand experience for the consumer. Not all brands however, can have all of these elements. Let’s take a closer look at what these elements are.
Without a name, who knows what it is? The name is usually what the product and logo is built around. The name is typically a unique word or words to simply identify what that product is. Even though the name is what a logo is built around, a properly designed logo will have some of the other components (listed below) incorporated into the logo, carrying some of the other essences of the good or service.
A visual indicator that becomes immediately recognizable. Many companies will have their colors trademarked. Tiffany and Co. has a very distinct blue. The orange of Home Depot is another example. Even before you can read the name, there is recognition and association with the colors.
There is no mistaking the intoxicating aroma of Chanel No.5™, which is trademarked. Nor is there any mistaking of the ‘interesting aroma’ produced by Aqua Velva, yet both of these and many more, can trigger things like emotional responses. Not just a stimulation of sense but also flashbacks to earlier times in our lives. I can for example, think about Drakkar Noir and I am immediately ‘mentally tossed’ back into 80’s.
Like them or not, if you’ve ever had a Dorito®, 3 things almost inevitably happen; 1- You say something to the effect of ‘blech’ and make a ‘face’ when you eat it. 2- You then proceed to reach for another… and another… and another… 3- Next time you see them in the store or in a bowl at a friend’s house for a party and immediately remember what your experience was the last time you ate them. So you go back to number 1. Don’t feel bad. It happens to almost everyone.
How something feels in our hands is also an association we can have with a brand. There is a tactile quality to the build or construction that is unmistakable. Perhaps it’s the ergonomics of the design or even how it ‘feels’ in use. It even extends to the act of opening a product you just purchased. I haven’t checked the trademark on this but I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple trademarked the actual ‘act of peeling the plastic off the screen’ for it’s iPhone. Odd as it may seem, it is a sensation that is ‘tapped’ and part of their packaging and branding for their iPhones.
Fire-up that DVD or Blu-ray player and listen for that awesome THX Surround-Sound ‘sound’ to come on at the beginning of the movie. This is a trademarked sound that does a pretty good job about getting you a little more excited to see the movie you are about to watch. Even if you’ve watched it dozens of times. The little jingle that accompanies T-Mobile commercials and their phones is a trademarked sound. Even sounds like the deep growl of a Harley; the note by a Porsche as it shifts; the symphonic-cord that plays when you start-up a Mac. All these sounds are part of the brand experience.
Some products move. Cars, for example are something that an auto manufacturer will use to convey the feeling or essence of driving in their branding. Aside from beauty shots and intricate camera movements and angles showing you the car from its ‘best sides’, they will employ taglines or slogans. Mazda for example, used Zoom Zoom for it’s RX-7 model. BMW states ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’ to convey a sense of quality, power and ability of their cars while driving them.
These aren’t the components you’re looking for…
So you might be saying to yourself at this moment, I deal with eye care. None of this has any bearing on my business. Oh contraire. As with many things, they are transferable. You just need to think a little ‘outside the box’… and not pressed right-up against it either. True, eye-glasses do not really possess things like smell, taste or sound (if used in a manner approved by the manufacturer) but they do have elements like color and touch, in terms of how they fit and feel. So how can you tap into all of these ‘goodies’ for your brand? Simple. Your business.
Do not dismiss the power of having a Red Swingline Stapler on your desk for customers to see. It’s a little touch and detail like that which allows for a comfortable and casual conversation… provided of course you’ve both seen the movie.
As an ECP, you do have tangible products that your customers walk away with. However, unless they are your own private label, they are not actually part of your brand. Your business is a major component of your brand. So with a little thinking outside of the box, here is how the aforementioned elements of a brand, can translate to your business.
Obviously here, you have a logo and signage for your business. You also will likely have business cards, some print collateral and a website that have your name and logo on it. But what else do you have? Do you have personalized cleaning cloths with your logo?
Does your office have a color scheme that matches your brand identity from your logo? Is it unified and feeling like a whole or do things feel out of place, lacking in synergy? Does it feel like hodge-podge, pieced-together and not working in unison? It’s amazing what a simple coat of paint and ‘pops’ of brand colors can do for your space.
Nothing worse than walking into a place of business that smells a little musty or has ‘other odors’ that smack your customers in the face. Customers will remember this. If you have electrical outlets, you can get one of those plug-in air fresheners. They last a little over a month and have seasonal scents available. Just don’t go overboard with the smells though as you want to be sensitive to those with allergies.
Do you offer-out coffee or little pastries’ of some sort for your customers? Consider partnering with a local coffee shop on this. A Keurig machine and some condiments can go a long way and provide a personal touch for your customers. Being a coffee snob myself, I make this recommendation for a Keurig (or other similar machine) simply because it’s ‘on-demand’ for your customers and always fresh. The last thing you want is that nasty-old, burnt coffee from a neglected pot that tastes wretched and creates one of the aforementioned ‘other odors’ in your business.
How comfortable are the chairs or seats in the waiting area? How about in the exam room or at the fitting table? Don’t you be the judge… you’re not the customer here. Make sure you solicit feedback and input from customers and co-workers on their level of comfort. Even a couple of inexpensive throw pillows (color coordinated with your branding of course), can add a nice little touch of style and comfort for your customers.
What kind of music do you have playing in your office? Is it neutral for as many as possible to enjoy and not be annoyed by? Yes. I understand that you are there all day and I also understand you have your favorite artists or genres of music which can motivate you and put you in a good mood but make sure it’s appropriate. And that goes for volume too.
So aside from your examination chair, what moves? How can this one be a component in your business? I would look at the ‘ergonomics’ of your business for the customer. Is your business arranged in such a way that it provides a smooth, comfortable and natural ‘flow’ for the customer. From a customer’s point of view, how does it feel when they first walk in? Is it open, warm, inviting? Are displays and racks easy to identity quickly and easy to navigate around? Is it handicap accessible and easy to maneuver a wheelchair or scooter? Is there a lot of ‘visual clutter’, causing confusion and indecision on where they should go first?
All of these elements directly relate to your brand because they are part of the brand experience the moment a customer comes upon your business and enters it. Your customers are guests; patrons, who made it a point to come to your business. You want them to tell friends and to come back, right? Be honest with yourself and evaluate these elements as it pertains to your business and the brand you wish to convey. Do they provide an enjoyable customer experience?
Why worry about branding?
An excellent question. If I were to sum it up in one word, it would be perception. It is all about what the customer thinks of you and your business and it goes above and beyond providing great customer service… although that is also an important aspect of your brand identity. Your brand as an ECP is your livelihood. It serves people and the community around you. It has a positive impact on people’s lives and the opportunity to have a positive impact on more lives.
It’s about pride too. The ability to speak with confidence and being a brand champion for what your business has to offer. Who wouldn’t want to have that feeling and ability and opportunity to share it with others? How your business is perceived is really paramount in the scope of a brand identity.
When you are looking to consider elevating your business by establishing, executing and enforcing a brand identity, there are three approaches you can take. These three approaches are based on the needs of the business:
A Brand Refresh
This is the most simplistic form of brand identity and is typically reserved for a business that is well established, has a good track record with customers and steady growth. This usually only requires a few tweaks which begin with a freshening-up of the logo, new business cards, signage, print collateral and a web design refresh.
A Complete Overhaul
This is generally reserved for those that have come to ‘face the facts’ and realize that growth is stagnant, customers are not returning and there is too much down-time resulting is a reduction in staff and operating hours. This is what I refer to as the ‘crumpled paper approach’ whereby you accept that nothing is working as it should, call-in reinforcements and alternative viewpoints (possibly consultants) and start over. This is not however, a reflection of doing business poorly… although that could be a factor. It is more rooted in not keeping-up with the times and evolving to stay competitive.
Your business has steady growth and you are wanting to keep-up with the times, stay fresh, be modern and progressive. This is typically done with new brands, goods, or services but can also be an evolution of sorts and can work for your business. There is a possible downside here, though. If you do a brand revival because you added something new to your business, or you just like to change it up frequently, you may cause some confusion with your currently accepted branding.
A brand revival could also stem from the previous scenario of a complete overhaul due to a poor public image. This is more akin to ‘Under New Management’ and unless that’s the case, your primary choices are doing a refresh or overhaul.
Why is Branding important?
Remember that branding is all about the experience that the customer has and that the brand identity is the managing of that brand. A good brand identity is like a marathon, not a sprint and is not something that can be developed quickly or executed quickly.
A good brand identity will build recognition. Your logo will take on more power when it is viewed by consumers. There will be an association of quality, care, and trust (provided you provide that) with current customers and will generate intrigue and inspire new customers to buy-into your brand.
A good brand identity can inspire your staff to be brand champions for you. If quality and service are part of your branding, surely it makes the statement that you have a great place to work. You have coworkers that take pride in what they do and are more likely to do whatever it takes for the sake of the business and the care of the customer.
A good brand identity will pay dividends. Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Patience is important here as it will take time to develop and roll-out the brand identity. Not only is the goal of a brand identity to keep current customers happy with your goods and services, but to also gain new customers. Simple math states that current customers + new customers = increased profitability. Who doesn’t want that? Do you really make too much money?
Some final things to consider
As with everything, there pros and cons and do’s and don’ts to consider when deciding on doing a brand identity. Make sure that you define your values. Your values are the foundation of who you are and what your business is about. These values need to timeless and have a long shelf life. Never deviate from your values either. Include those you work with on this, as their perception of the businesses values matters too.
Make sure that there is passion behind the creation of a brand identity. This is not a chore. This is ‘your baby’ and you want to make sure you take care of it and give it all of the attention it deserves. Note: Not to be confused with your actual children or family. They matter too so make sure you allow for a good work/life balance.
Do not ignore your brand or do it halfway. Creating a good brand identity takes commitment. 110% goes into it.
Your brand identity is a ‘big deal’ and should always be considered as such. For as difficult as it can be in today’s world and competitive marketplace to stand-out and gain brand loyalty, you must remember that it is the complete opposite when it comes to losing customers. It takes time and repeated efforts to gain a new customer and only a small misstep to lose them. Give your customers multiple reasons to come back to your business instead of them going to one of those ‘big box’ retailers. The personal, small touches and details make a huge difference and they will be willing to spend a little more for what you have to offer.
Always keep in mind that you are creating a brand identity for your customers and potential customers… not for yourself. You will be taken care of after your customers have as a byproduct of a good brand identity.
Where to go from here?
You will need a partner or partners when embarking on a brand identity. I understand that for small businesses, there may not really be enough budget allowed for this. So how can you begin? The logo… and more specifically, a graphic designer is a good place. You will also want to spend some time yourself researching online for outlines and structures of Brand Identities.
Why a graphic designer is a good starting place to begin this process is because they are the ones that will work with you on establishing the base of your brand identity with a new or refreshed logo. Graphic designers by nature are creative problem solvers and are always seeking creative solutions. The creative solutions they can offer don’t have to be specifically in the design-realm. They are good sounding-boards because they are analytical and critical thinkers (for the most part). Make sure you do your ‘homework’ when looking for a graphic designer.
A graphic designer is also someone who will bring consistency across the board as it pertains to your brand identity. Each designer is unique though and each one has their own processes and methodologies as well as a certain ‘signature look’ to their work so make sure you like what you see before beginning with them. A good graphic designer with a good education and experience, will embrace the opportunity to be a part of a brand identity. They will be immersive and relentless in their quest to provide you with the best they can offer and will be a partner for the long-haul.
The next step you will want to take, is to grab yourself a pumpkin spice coffee or latte, find some nice, quiet place to sit down and begin to think a little more about your branding and what the next iteration can look like as well as what it can do for your business. Make sure you take some notes too. Of course, keep your eyes posted on optMAGAZINE… as I’m sure there will be an additional article as a follow-up.
– Woodie Guthrie