Posted: Sat 22nd Jun 2019
No. Your brand is not your logo. And no. You do not own it. Matt Davies challenges some common ideas around brand and makes the case for 'brand thinking' to be at the heart of all business activities.
What is a brand?
If you believe that a brand is a logo, a set of colours, some fonts I'd like to encourage you to stop and think again.
These things are related to a brand but are not the brand. They are the veneer. But the brand lies within.
The idea of a 'brand' comes from the concept of ancient farmers. They would burn a mark into their to cattle using a 'firebrand' - this later became the hot iron. Why did they do this? To designate ownership. To communicate meaning. That this beast was theirs. So, if you found it you could return it to them.
Are logos, fonts and colours simply ownership marks though? This product is owned by this company? I would argue not. They are signposts, marks or labels that point to something much bigger.
I define 'brand' as the meaning people attach to you and your offer. This meaning will be in their heads. It will be in their hearts. In the case of cattle, the meaning the branded mark conveyed was ownership. In the case of business, the meaning is bigger because what meaning your audience attaches to you will decide if they buy. Or not.
You do not own your brand
As a business owner you need to face the fact that you don't own your brand. They do. Your audience does. Your customers shape this meaning themselves. They talk to each other. They decide. In today's world they don't just care who made a product they want to know why it was made in the first place. They have stuff. What they want is meaning. Meaning which helps them be better. They don't buy brands. They join them.
I am a champion of 'branding'. This is the attempt to manage that meaning. To give the right signals to help customers create meaning in their minds which serves a higher purpose and which makes them stronger.
And not just customers. Branding covers leadership and employees too. Why should top talent join you over your competition? Is it simply money and convenience? If they are the only two factors, you may find it hard to attract high performing staff and retain them. You may find it difficult to innovate and create new offerings which differentiate you.
I don't believe business thinks about brand as much as it should and I'm on a mission to get branding at the heart of business.
Four areas of proper branding
There are four key business area which I think benefit most from 'brand thinking'. These are:
Company culture is built by leaders but it often creates environments that either make or break a 'brand'. The way the company is led and what it is led by is crucial. Are we led by the desire to simply make money or by some other purpose? I don't care how much money you want. But I might care about a higher purpose.
Culture can be built around that purpose and in turn it will build a powerful brand which is infused into the ethos of your staff, your HR, how you recruit, how you reward and how you recognise staff. It encompasses what behaviours you encourage. How your team collectively behaves and how they interact with each other and the outside world. Have you designed your employee experience (EX) and do they engage with the ideas behind your brand? Do they even know them?
Products and services
Do you understand the customer of now and the customer of the future? What are their beliefs? What deep human need are you meeting? What does buying your product say about them? Are you developing unique products or services which truly help specific people with their goals or needs? Business needs to get serious about innovation and customer centric product development.
As Seth Godin has said "Someone needs to make it better, and it might just be you." Branding should influence where you source your materials, how you treat partners, and how your products or services actually make people feel.
What you actually provide and the experience you give them when you provide it ultimately brings meaning to a customer. Branding cannot simply be a coat of paint at the end. Have you mapped out your customer journey and do you constantly seek to improve it? And I don't mean the engagement a customer has with you. I mean have you considered the whole story, from when they think they might need your product right through to when they are done with it?
Thinking about this can really lead to innovations which can truly help the customer. For example if you sell paint you could think about the whole journey of a customer to help them identify when a fresh lick of paint should eb considered, through to help choosing colours, through to the purchasing experience, through to the way they need the product to do its job through to cleaning up and disposal.
Not only that what about the way they feel at the end? How could you improve the whole journey? Your CX is crucial to keep on top of as customer behaviours and desires change over time. How do you enhance them? How do you make your customer stronger at every stage?
Finally we come to the veneer. The veneer which really is the signpost to the meaning created in the previous three business areas. In this era of social media customers hold the power. If what you say and how you dress does not match up to the reality of buying from you then you will be discovered. They will not recommend you. They will leave nasty reviews. But this will be your fault. Not theirs. This is why I've placed this item last.
Are your communications rooted in the longer term meaning you want customers to connect to you? Do they embody the character, tone of voice and style needed to build recognisable and distinctive meaning? Is every touch point 'on brand'? Do you articulate your purpose? Your why and not simply your what? Do you 'dress' and 'speak' in a way which your audience connects with?
So, I hope you will now agree. Is your brand a logo? No. That definition is unhelpful and way too simplistic for the business world we live in today. Your brand is the meaning people attach to you and it is down to you to begin to manage that meaning by first defining it and then living it.
Focus on meaning. Not money.