Branding 101: Branding as Story Telling.
One of the most potent storytelling aspects of your company occurs through your company’s logo branding. “Wait,” you might say, “isn’t logo branding part of the Design section of this blog?” This is true for a majority of the logos created in the global marketplace. They are aesthetic icons, fashioned with the name of the company, in (hopefully) an interesting font.
But great branding equates to visual storytelling. A well-developed brand tells the story of the company. Superb designers are visual – and visceral – storytellers. Instead of words, they most often use shape, color and tone. Every line and every color block of the brand image is meant to convey and portray some meaning and aspect of the business operation.
IT’S MORE THAN DIFFERENTIATION
Differentiation is a given in branding. The most novice designer or agency recognizes that a developed brand must set itself apart from its competition. As designers, if our created brand too closely resembles another brand we risk facing litigation. Even a seven year old can create differentiation and uniqueness in a crayon sketch.
When the barrier to entry in the design world eroded, through highly intuitive and low cost design programs, the market flooded with would-be creatives. Many of their logos still reside on corporate buildings and the sides of fleet vehicles today. While those designers created art, they often neglected to craft stories. They developed “unique” icons that failed to evoke action. At best, their imagery helped delineate one company from another.
A great brand developer addresses 4 major components of the company’s story: Its Vision, Culture, Customers and Capabilities.
VISION: Where is this story going?
A great brand not only communicates the current state of a company, but also prophetically addresses its future vision. As I said in chapter 10, you must always be innovating. A great brand is not stagnant. It has its own life, its own energy. It is a forward-thinking energy. As I stated previously, one of our NBA questions is, “where do you see your company in five years?” We then create the new brand to reflect their five year vision.
This often occurs through the brand mark. But it can also be realized through the company tagline. The tagline is a powerful opportunity to linguistically communicate your message in a way that accents the visual or adds to the conversation. A good design agency spends as much time crafting the tagline as they do developing the logo mark itself. Taglines can be informative, often detailing the specifics on the operation. They can be inspirational, drawing the viewer into an energetic experience with the brand. They can be questions to evoke future conversation. Consider the UPS tagline, “what can Brown do for you?” It encourages the viewer to answer the question in his or her own frame of business.
CULTURE: What are my story characters like?
One of the arenas most missed by brand developers is reflecting the company culture. As a business owner or independent contractor, you not only create an organization – you create a culture. People gravitate to various cultural personalities. Growing up in Silicon Valley, the culture of many dot.com startups was whimsical, irreverent and energetic. Would you qualify IBM with the same adjectives? I doubt it.
Based on its brand visual, I would consider IBM to be more of a left brained operation. It draws that type of employee and customer. If that is the customer they are pursuing, they have done their job well. If not, they may have missed the mark for decades. By creating a brand that reflects both your employees and your customers’ personalities, you draw in those of like mind. This can be done through color, font type, sharp lines or soft strokes; it all matters.
CUSTOMERS: Who is most interested in the story?
A great story brand reflects all aspects of the customer. It must resonate deep in their souls. Story genres often draw certain types of individuals. It is unlikely that a sci-fi horror enthusiast would be drawn to the latest romantic drama. So the movie trailer production team doesn’t craft their story pitch to tantalize the person who just caught the latest Alien hack-and-slash picture. Recognize your audience, then craft a visual story that is both recognizable and resonant.
If done correctly, you create brand ambassadors strictly based on the brand itself. Consider the power of the Under Armor Brand. Originally geared for athletes to address the rigors and results of exercise, the brand has taken on a life of its own. It is now worn by anyone inspired by the iconic U and A that formulates the logo. Under Armor became a fashion mark, transcending the company’s message and products.
EXPERT LEVEL BRANDING – TRANSCENDENCE
This leads to the expert level of branding: customer (or demographic) transcendence. A great friend of mine, Brian Church, author of Relationship Momentum, refers to transcendent customers as “Unlikely Ambassadors:” individuals or groups that crave your brand based on the energy and experience of the brand itself:
“It is the sixty-year old millionaire businessman sporting a pair of Chuck Taylor All Stars. It is the 300-pound ex-NFL player who buys a Snuggie and then tweets (twitter) about it.”
The best designers create brands that become fashion and cultural icons. When the desired customer wholly embraces the story, the brand pendulum creates such a sway that the unlikely ambassador wants in on the movement.
CAPABILIITIES: What is accomplished through my story?
This is the most obvious arena; which is why I placed it last. Any decent designer will address a company’s capabilities in the brand story. Often, that brand simply reflects the most generic motif of that company’s capabilities:
A law firm that uses a scale in their logo; A doctor that uses a simplistic rendition of the medical cross; An accountant who uses a rising arrow or a fiscal chart… these are not only basic, they are also benign. They have little or no power. It’s like a movie with a plot line so basic and formulaic that people walk out and demand their money back. In the case of your brand, they will avoid offering you money in the first place.
For a brilliant explanation of branding, we recommend that you read the following article on Design Rush’s site: https://www.designrush.com/trends/business-branding
Look at your company’s current brand and ask yourself if it tells the right story. Show your business cards to others and ask them describe the culture, customer, and vision of your operation. Look at the fonts chosen, the colors and the visual mark; are they all on target? Is the logo too generic of a motif? Does the brand need additional messaging and marketing to communicate the full story? If you, and your relationships, fail to answer the questions in an acceptable manner, your customers and prospects may see your company in the same light. Devote the time necessary to finding an effective design and branding agency that can address these issues.