The Pillars of a Strong Brand Exposed
Branding is one of the most complex aspects of competing and winning for companies around the world. So it makes sense that companies know they need to build a strong brand. But what exactly does that mean? Before I explore the heart and soul of strong brands, let’s bust one of the biggest myths first. Are you thinking, “Wait, I thought a brand is just a logo. Don’t I just need something that looks nice and stands out?” If the thought crossed your mind, don’t worry. You’re not alone. But it’s only the tip of the iceberg. And if you really want to understand how to make your brand better, it starts with defining the essentials.
What does your logo actually do?
Logos and brands are interchangeable, but it’s a common misconception. The reality is they’re not the same thing. A brand is more than just a logo. Sure it’s the central symbol. However, it’s simply one of the elements of a visual language of a brand that includes colours, fonts, patterns, and imagery. Together these pieces direct people’s attention to the brand. But there’s more than just beautiful artwork to capture attention. The brand also uses the power of words to share its tag line, key messaging, value proposition, and even tone of voice. So in essence, a brand is more robust than a single logo.
So what’s the purpose of brand?
In its simplest form, a brand serves to influence associations with a company for positive outcomes. When executed well, a brand attracts attention and creates popularity or demand. It’s not possible to fully control other people’s perceptions, which is why it’s about influence. Strong branding helps companies stand out from the competition and expresses unique value for potential clients. And powerful brands ultimately impact consumer choice and brand preferences, which drive growth. So the big challenge of designing a strong brand is to uncover and accentuate distinguishing qualities, individual personality, and unique values to enable marketing.
A brand story is a narrative that captures the why behind a company’s existence. Many products and services appear similar from afar. But unpacking the driving force for bringing the company to life is where the point of difference lies. No two founder stories are alike. No two companies are really clones when you take a deep dive. Honing in on the core philosophy that inspires people to wake up and come to work every day always makes a powerful brand story that customers can’t ignore. It’s how brands building emotional connections that last a lifetime. It also builds a brilliant brand foundation to layer to support a cohesive brand visuals and messaging. All great brand stories bring clarity to businesses and connect with customers to solve their pains in a way that makes intuitive sense to those customers. An effective brand story is clear, powerful, and unique.
As I like to call it, “think strategically, execute beautifully”. The brand is a collection of individual elements that work together like musical instruments within an orchestra. Visual brand identity is made up of the logo, icon or symbol, colours, graphics, imagery, and company name. Brand voice includes tone, tagline, key messages, value proposition and style. Just like you have your own personality, tone, and way of communicating, a brand is the same. And its goals are to be noticed, be heard, and to be different. Thinking strategically means taking an inventory of the competitive landscape to ensure that there is a sufficient point of difference. Whether it is the logo, the brand colours, or font selection, being unique starts with grounding them in the brand story. Like the visual language, the brand language needs to originate from the brand story. The tone, the feeling, and the words etc. should not only speak to brand truth but speak to the audience well and easily.
After you’ve poured your heart and soul into defining a unique visual brand with a special personality, it’s time for consistent execution to bring the brand to life. Branding makes an impression everywhere it’s seen and if that impression is confusing, people become confused. Consistent execution is essential across every touchpoint including web, social, video, signage, email, communications, customer service and the community. It even extends to inside your office where your culture impacts how people behave and interact with each other and your customers. In case you’re wondering why consistency matters so much, here’s why. It increases brand recognition and engagement. The purpose of strong branding is to stand out from the clutter, command attention and start to build a relationship that will hopefully last a lifetime. A key strategy to ensuring consistency is using an excellent brand guide that covers visuals and voice so every single person who works inside your company or works with your brand contributes to its strength.
Need some more convincing?
If you’re still questioning the power of these 3 brand pillars, check out how one of the world’s leading brands are disrupting a traditional stale industry to shake things up and steal an impressive amount of market share. Have you heard of Airbnb? Launched in 2008, they offered short-term living quarters and breakfast for travellers competing against saturated hotel markets. In 2014 they executed a massive rebrand and redefined their brand essence, which was less about the what (accommodations) to they why: to create a sense of belonging. They pivoted and made the brand about home and its associations. With this clarity, they redesigned their brand identity, evolved their messaging and took painstaking effort to align all touchpoints to the new true north.
The meaning behind the symbol.
The new brand identity included a new symbol called Bélo. It represents four things: people, places, love, and the ‘a’ of Airbnb. As you can see, it’s not only unique in style and approach, but also incredibly meaningful. This exceptional outcome is what happens when intentional design is deeply grounded in the brand story. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky shared, “Belonging has always been a fundamental driver of humankind. So to represent that feeling, we’ve created a symbol for us as a community… It’s a symbol that, like us, can belong wherever it happens to be.” They thoughtfully brought this vision to life everywhere including a greeting message upon arrival that said, “Welcome Home”. For Airbnb, the brand story can be felt deeply throughout all touchpoints.
Brand truth infused in intentional design.
Making a brand stronger isn’t just about designing an amazing logo. Sure we love a great logo probably more than the next guy, but we love the strategy that goes into its formation. We love figuring out brand truths and then getting creative and strategic in how we can bring branding to life with serious meaning. Great branding follows a proven process to define, design, and plan every element. It means asking tough questions and doing a deep dive to really understand your business, your audience, the competitors, your industry, and your ambition. Anything less would be whimsical, frivolous and inauthentic. Every company deserves a strong brand that effortlessly expresses its excellence.
At Hunt and Hawk, we design strong brands every single day. In fact, it’s my favourite part of what I do as Design Director. So if you’re excited about branding and want to chat about what you’ve got and how you can move the needle, connect with me here firstname.lastname@example.org. And as I always say, great brands never happen by accident, they happen by choice. Choose to be great!