Once your encompassing brand ‘promise’ is in place, you need to consider how you will communicate it and then how you will manage and develop it over time.
Getting your message across
When it comes to communicating your brand to the public, there are a few techniques and issues that are worth considering:
An established technique in branding a business is to tell its story through communication elements such as corporate identity, packaging, stationery, marketing materials and so on. This can be quite low key, but it paints a picture of the provenance of the company and its products.
Sheffield butcher John Crawshaw, for example, hand-picks the meat sold in his three shops, whilst most of his competitors have their meat delivered in vacuum packs from an abattoir.
So, to illustrate this aspect of his service - or brand offer - a logo showing a butcher carrying a carcass over his shoulder was designed for Crawshaw’s business.
The credibility of your brand’s offer must also be solid. For example, a Yorkshire drainage company called Naylor launched a range of lifetime-guaranteed flower pots, but the Naylor brand was inappropriate to market this range because it was associated too directly with the drainage side of the business. So the company set up a new brand called Yorkshire Flowerpots, with its own tone of voice, personality and visual identity so that it could sell the products with greater credibility.
A great deal of branding is about defining and presenting a point of differentiation in the sector you’re operating in. Get this right and your organisation will stand out brightly against your competitors.
Construction company Hilti provides an example of differentiation in a sector. Whilst most other construction companies use technical images of buildings and products in their communications, Hilti emphasised its relationship with the people involved in construction, showing black and white photographs of workers using Hilti tools, which are highlighted in the company’s corporate red.
Engaging with customers
Part and parcel of creating differentiation is engaging with your customers or users. If you stand out of the crowd for positive reasons and your tone of voice and communications are credible customers will look at what you’ve got to say.
When Orange launched in the mobile phone market in 1994, its identity, language and offer were very distinctive from its established rivals. It presented an optimistic vision of the future based on technology, but from a human rather than technical point of view. Its logo and name were abstract, creating stand out against BT Cellnet, T-Mobile and Vodafone, and its services were organised into simple talk plan packages.
For over a decade, this approach has remained more or less unchanged. For instance, the 2008 Orange campaign revolved around the slogan 'I am who I am because of everyone'. Adverts featured a series of individuals (including recognised entrepreneurs, artists and writers) listing the people that have most influenced the course of their lives.
By appealing to everyone's sense of individualism and focusing on the value of human interaction and communication rather than competitive price plans or the latest technology, Orange are able to extol the benefits of their service without ever having to mention mobile telephones.
Focusing your product portfolio
If you have a number of different products or services it may help to consider how you can streamline or organise them to make the offer easy for consumers to understand. Sometimes, the logic of internal company structures can dictate how a product offer is organised, but this does not necessarily make sense to an external customer. So think carefully about the best way to present what you do, even if it means setting things up differently from your internal organisation.
Rationalisation of products or services might also allow you to focus your investments more efficiently. After working through the Design Council’s Designing Demand programme, household cleaning product manufacturer Challs did exactly this by shifting the focus to four key products, rather than the 92 it had previously been promoting.
Multiple brands and brand ‘stretch’
If your company operates in more than one sector you will have to consider how you present the business in each area. One approach, as illustrated by Virgin, EasyGroup and Tesco, is to have a single brand identity which is applied to sub-brands for the areas you operate in. So we have Virgin Money and Virgin Atlantic, Easy Pizza and Easy Cruise, Tesco Entertainment and Tesco Finance and so on.
Just how far you can ‘stretch’ your primary brand in this way depends on the core ideas, values and associations you have to start with. In some cases it may actually be more effective to develop a completely distinct brand for the different sectors you want to operate it, rather than stretch your existing brand to meet new markets. As mentioned above, for Naylor’s flower pot business it made more sense to set up a dedicated brand called Yorkshire Flowerpots than to associate it with the existing Naylor drainage business.
There have been some notable and high-profile failures when it comes to brand stretch. A natural cleaning vinegar launched by Heinz bombed as a product because people associate Heinz with food, not cleaning. Harley Davidson (over-)extended its range to include perfume. This failed because it was perceived as being at odds with the Harley Davidson brand values of masculinity and strength.
A slightly more sophisticated possibility is to set up ‘endorsed’ brands. This is where you create a new brand in its own right but allow the ‘parent’ brand of your main company to feature as an endorsement of the new brand. Playstation, for example, is a powerful brand in its own right, but it has always been endorsed as Sony Playstation, leveraging the reputation of Sony Corporation.
Reinvigorating your brand
Whatever sector your work in, keeping your communications fresh is essential. Using designers to help reassess your designs, language or identity every few years should be seen as an ongoing investment in your company rather than a costly extra.
All successful companies revisit their communications periodically, even the world's most recognisable brands. But reinvigorating your brand doesn’t necessarily mean you have to start from the very beginning, reconsidering your big idea or vision and so on.
Take Coca-Cola for instance. In 2007 they commissioned design agency Turner Duckworth to produce a range of new packaging designs that would breathe new life into the cornerstones of Coke's visual identity; the classic logo, the contour bottle and the use of red and white.
If you're happy with your company's big idea, vision and personality, these things can remain the foundations of what you’re doing - but the implementation of your brand should be refreshed to keep things on track and ensure it remains relevant to your target audience.
Brand names are an important aspect in setting the tone and personality of your brand, as well as being a key element in marketing activity. Along with design and tone of voice, a name can be a means of differentiation and should reflect the overall brand strategy you’ve developed.
Choosing a name can be a difficult task in itself, but it’s made even harder because so many are already in use and trademarked. By sure to check carefully that any names you’re considering for a company, product or service aren’t already in use and protected by law.
On the whole, a name falls into one of a few types, which can be arranged along a kind of spectrum of attributes. These attributes are:
Names which simply say what the company/brand does. For example:
- Easyjet – makes flying easy
- Toys ‘R’ Us – is all about toys
- AA (Automobile Association) – is for motorists
Names which suggest associations to the brand but do not try to describe the offer precisely. For example:
- First Direct – first bank to offer instant telephone banking
- Innocent – natural purity of the fruit juice
Names that break sector rules and stand out. They make no clear reference to the nature of the business. For example:
- Orange – bright, optimistic, Modernist
- Aviva – an invented name than suggests dynamism and movement
- Toast – suggests familiarity and warmth
In branding and brand management a lot of importance is placed on achieving consistency, so that the same attributes and characteristics are evident in all areas of the business’ operations. Essentially, ‘the big idea’ touches and informs everything you do.
Some contemporary brands are less heavily ‘policed’ in this way. There is a trend towards encouraging customers to generate their own content or interpretations within a framework of branded elements or templates. The London 2012 Olympics logo, for example, was designed by Wolff Ollins with these types of user-generated adaptations in mind.
Evolution or revolution
An important question when undertaking any reassessment of your brand is whether to go for small, incremental changes as a refresher, or to plump for a major overhaul of your company’s or product’s image.
Broadly speaking, evolution is preferable if you are already in a strong position with a solid customer base and you just need to keep up with a growing or developing market. Revolution, on the other hand, might be more appropriate if your customer base is in decline, the market has changed substantially since the inception of your current brand or you have no point of difference from your competitors.
To work through these kinds of questions it is a good idea to consider hiring a designer to look at the current status of your organisation and explore possibilities for developing it. To find out more about this process, read our free guide to Finding and working with a designer.
BP: evolution, then revolution
A BP corporate identity designed in the early 1920s was used for over 80 years, with refreshed versions appearing periodically to keep the logo looking contemporary.
However, in 2000 there was a break from the past when the corporate identity was completely redesigned to create the current tessellated 'sunflower' or Helios identity. This change was a reflection of a change in the company’s approach to environmental concerns.
BP's emphasis on the development of renewable energy sources was encapsulated in the tagline ‘Beyond Petroleum’, along with other similar aspirational, environmentally themed messages, such as ‘bigger picture’ and ‘better products’.
Apple: revolution, then evolution
The original Apple Computer logo was a complex, illustrated picture of Isaac Newton sitting under a tree. Company chief executive Steve Jobs thought the overly detailed logo had something to do with the slow sales of the Apple I computer, so he decided on a complete change in identity – a revolution of the corporate visual design - and commissioned the rainbow striped logo, which then ran for 22 years. A revolution in branding was needed to kick-start demand for the company’s products. But by 1998, Apple was firmly established as a successful computer manufacturer and so the rainbow identity underwent an evolution to become the more contemporary ‘transparent’ Apple logo in use today.
Condom manufacturer Durex decided to broaden its appeal by positioning the company as being concerned with sexual wellbeing, rather than just condoms. It’s an evolution of the existing Durex brand that adapts to a changing marketplace and keeps the company’s identity and associations fresh.
Carrying the slogan ‘Lucozade aids recovery’, the product was originally manufactured by a Newcastle chemist as a source of energy for people who are unwell. But its market share was declining in the 1980s, so the company opted for a revolution of the brand, targeting a completely new customer base. Its energy-giving qualities were promoted to the sports performance market and an advertising campaign featuring athlete Daley Thompson used the new slogan ‘Lucozade replaces lost energy’. Product packaging was completely redesigned and sales subsequently tripled between 1984 and 1989.
Housing charity Shelter had changed its focus to the problems of poor housing conditions, but a strong association with homelessness – its previous focus – remained. So its identity was evolved to emphasise the fact that housing is at the core of its activities.
To achieve this, the letter ‘h’ was adjusted on all its typography so that the top of the ‘h’ looks like a pitched roof.