Brand governance

An in-depth look at the branding process, from A to B

Through the use of the brand building and development process, we explore the operations involved in building a brand. As well as what can occur during each phase and what branding success looks like.

The outlined operations and processes have been adapted from our private framework.

Firstly, what is a brand?

A brand can be defined through the emphasis of the customer’s emotions, stories & ideas associated with an organization, individual or entity.

A brand’s success can be determined through its reputation, as the identity of the brand is defined through a customer’s viewpoint. The reputation and associated meaning is in some part, the brand itself. A brand’s reputation can be generalized (e.g., “they’re a good firm”) or associated with specific areas (e.g., they’re the thought leaders and experts of our industry).

The higher the reputation of a brand, the more likely it is to eventually receive a greater amount of referrals. While seemingly obvious, the strength of a brand’s reputation can have a direct impact on the net profit of the organization in control. “The greater the visibility of a reputable firm, the stronger its brand.”

Google’s ‘pixel’ phone, part of their brand identity.Type image caption here (optional)Type image caption here (optional)

The process, overview

The branding process is the methodical approach used to create, communicate and strengthen the perception of a brand. It consists of a number of chronological steps. Varying in length, depth and importance depending on who is implementing the process and the desired outcomes.

As an example, a design-based agency may dedicate the majority of their focus on creating a logo and other visual aids, in order to further the visual brand experience. Whereas, a shoe-manufacture may emphasize increasing the visibility of the brand. Building the brand is only the beginning, the next step is converting that brand into real market value. “Many firms make the mistake of putting all their effort into an elaborate brand launch when that money would be better spent on a long-term brand building program. But this takes on a strategy of its own.”

“Not all brand-related marketing efforts require a full branding process. For example, when a firm updates the look of its marketing materials — without changing its market positioning — that is unlikely to require a full branding treatment. Since only the visual aspect of the brand will be revised, the firm doesn’t necessarily need to revisit the foundational strategy behind its brand.”

Initial research & exploration

During the beginning stages of the branding process, previously created ideas and thoughts may have been formulated. Dead ends are to be expected, and hiccups during the process will occur. However, creative briefs, business plans and any other supporting documentation can be used in order to convey marketing objectives and ideas.

Rather than quickly jump into a competitive analysis of the competition within the brand’s industry. It has been found that analysing and questioning the chosen industry leads to better results produced. As an example: Apple is just as much in the “computer” business, as it is in the digital lifestyle business. If Apple was to compete with the surrounding computer-based organisations, they would be marketing against conglomerates such as Sony and Samsung. However, by reshaping the assumed foundations for their marketing campaign, Apple was able to create a unique brand identity and selling point. By simply reforming the ideas and thoughts through research, brain-storming prototyping etc… New ways of thinking can be formed.

Through compiling a large body of (valuable) data, differentiators can soon be. These major differentiating factors between one brand and another can be described as characteristics. Take Nike as an example, the ‘tick’ is the trademark of the brand, without it, Nike’s success would have been unlikely.

“Be careful that you select actual differentiators, however. It’s easy to fall into a trap and choose characteristics that simply describe what you do rather than set you apart. And it’s just as easy to choose characteristics that are so common in the marketplace that they have little power. Examples include: “we have the best people,” “we have a proprietary process,” and “we offer the best client service.” While these could be real differentiators, you will need to present a great deal of evidence to convince a jaded marketplace.”

Exploration in order to determine the likelihood of long-term success through a value proposition, so as to allow the branding to remain anchored, relevant and timeless. Can be titled as “finding your pivot point,” so that a central theme can be created, resonating throughout the entirety of the brand. Working towards the goal of ensuring that a brand identity is properly aligned with the company’s core strengths and focuses. Through this, during an industry cycle, the brand is less likely to suffer from change as it has built upon the foundations of agility.

Branding criteria

Through properly conducting the operational process of researching through collaboration, teamwork and development, a pivot point has hopefully been created. In order to then successfully convey the created message, questions need to be asked.

Developing an outline in order to ensure the most important parts of the brand are prioritized is a useful way of keeping the project on track. Naturally, there are a number of drivers in the branding process, but without utilizing and identifying them, the least important factors can inadvertently take precedent over the more crucial aspects. By agreeing early on that the brand must communicate x, y, and z, this avoids the tendency to use individual subjectivity as the basis for judgment.

Branding Diagram

Prototyping & Brainstorming

Once the focuses of the brand have been outlined, and all ideas have been summarized into actionable plans. Initial prototypes for the brand may be developed. A number of branding strategies can be utilized, each with their own positive and negative aspects. Some brands are built off of a blank slate, so as to explore the possibilities and create truly unique selling points. While others are transformed from previously created ideas, concepts identities etc…

Regrettably, almost all organisations fail to see the value in proper branding, most are content to play it safe and embrace what’s familiar. This is the reason why blue (especially dark blue) is so prevalent in every industry. It’s why ‘cookie-cutter’ imagery is showcased on the majority of websites. And it’s the one reason almost all brands are completely, and utterly, forgettable. The brand identity is a rare opportunity to make a bold statement and pop out from a bland, standardized crowd. For the few organizations with the courage to stand out, their brand identity can make a real difference.

Typically, prototyping and brainstorming is utilized in order to transform the endless possibilities into a single, actionable guide for the brand to follow. This is where it helps to properly test each idea… how will the brand appear to others? where will it be seen? Etc…

Brand names

“It’s often in the discussion of the brand names that the team gets the “ah-ha!” moment. Someone will share a new twist or insight that transforms a good name to a great one. Or one name sparks a train of thought that leads to other possibilities. That’s the purpose of this process, to help find and define the essence of the brand. Once in a while, a name will pop right out, but more often, one or two of the names begin to rise to the top and make more sense with each discussion. The “story” behind the brand will begin to emerge and the name will gain traction.”

Development

Formulating the right brand strategy, creating a clear and distinctive brand identity, and positioning that brand in the right market segment are vital for both current and long-term success. Expanding the organizational mindset from that of “business as usual” organisations have the ability to innovate and transform, advancing their brand and furthering their success.

“Manage your brand by understanding and leveraging your brand’s value, by protecting your brand through usage rules and legal rights, and by delivering an unfailingly consistent and positive brand experience that creates allegiance among those who represent, choose, and remain loyal to your brand.”

Brands, when properly designed, can have their own marketing “lexicon” or language. Sounds weird right? However, by developing the key associated brand aspects, organisations can create a more meaningful and congruent brand message, highlighting the core strengths.

Example

In 2015, Google re-branded their entire design ecosystem. Culminating into a single, functional language available and adaptable in any situation.

“We challenged ourselves to create a visual language for our users that synthesizes the classic principles of good design with the innovation and possibility of technology and science. This is material design.”

Maintaining a consistent brand identity over an extended period of time can be incredibly challenging. This is where style guides come into play. Style guides (in this context) are used to define a brand and allow for explanation as to the choices made, and the rules to follow. The guidelines can be all-inclusive, determining how the brand is applied in every situation, or they can be kept simple: with room for diversity and innovation.

Logo overhaul

Brand launch

Without the necessary time to explain the brand to your team, you’ll be lost. When individuals are left out of the process, at all, misunderstandings will occur. People will fail to understand the reasoning behind decisions, and things can, and potentially will, turn bad. It is easy to criticize something you don’t understand.

“A new brand’s introduction to the world is a chance to make a favorable first impression. It also provides a forum to explain what you stand for, how your firm has changed and why your firm matters to your audience.”

The success of any branding effort depends on how it’s carried out. In this article, we have laid out a phased brand building process. While you may be tempted to cut corners to reduce costs or speed up the process, doing so comes with risks of its own. It’s easy for a branding initiative to stall and sink into the quicksands of internal debate. Or worse, you could roll out a brand that’s based on faulty assumptions or damaging misconceptions.

Rylan Ziesing

Founder and Director, Rhino Design.