Alistair Fowler

Design and branding

The word ‘brand' has developed from an effective means of identifying cattle, to a sophisticated global industry. / By Alistair Fowler

Over a couple of hundred years, the word ‘brand' has developed from an effective means of identifying cattle, to a sophisticated and sometimes nebulous global industry. Where a picture paints a thousand words, a visual brand instantly conveys your company’s values through typography, tone of voice, shape, imagery, colour, and texture. Think you don’t have a brand? Think again - everybody has a brand, and if you’re not convinced of its importance, you could be doing your company irreparable damage.

The familiar quote from Warren Buffet that “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it” could be adapted to branding: a well-considered and implemented brand strategy could help place you at the forefront of your industry. Getting your brand wrong could mean people don’t give you a second glance, or worse, consciously avoid doing business with you.

While many people understand the value of effective corporate branding, explaining it to those who don’t can be difficult. Yet, according to Reuters, 82% of investors believe that brand strength and name recognition are becoming more important in guiding key decisions. Like money, a brand is an abstract concept, a set of values, a promise. It could be a promise of solidity, competence, reliability, strength. It could be a promise of cheapness or no-frills. Your brand attributes are embedded in your corporate culture: how your workforce is treated; the way the phone is answered; or your corporate social responsibility strategy.

If a budget airline made headlines for their poor service, staff mistreatment, large carbon footprint and cramped seating, they might be perceived as being cheaper than their competition, thus attracting more sales interest (that’s right, deliberately ‘bad’ branding can be very good for business). At the other end of the scale, if a luxury hotel wanted to appear exclusive and desirable, it might accommodate a celebrity for instant passive exposure, reach out to other premium brands for product and service partnerships, and adopt a confident, minimal visual brand using high-quality and beautifully-designed materials across the board.

With their massive 92% share of the smartphone market, the chances are you have an Apple product in your life. Why is it that Apple has moved from being an eccentric niche product to a global household name? The digital revolution has been key, but the world’s most valuable brand this year, worth $170bn according to Forbes, is also one of branding’s ultimate success stories. In 2017, you no longer need to see the ubiquitous Apple logo to recognise the product. Minimal packaging, aspirational advertising, the clean white look and feel of the website, and a direct, conversational tone of voice all contribute towards an instantly-understandable brand that has many instantly hooked. The intuitive operating system, neat product design and easy-to-use software seem almost of secondary importance. 77% of B2B marketing leaders say branding is critical to growth (Circle Research), with the same principle applying to B2C marketing strategy. Looking at Apple’s brand journey, it’s easy to see the results.

It’s a misconception to think of a brand as just a logo. A brand is a story that you want your public to believe; a well-conceived and properly-applied brand imbues credibility and eliminates confusion. The average revenue increase attributed to presenting the brand consistently is 23% (LucidPress), and, to help achieve this, brands are strategised, positioned, and then built from a painstakingly defined kit of parts. Brand guidelines are a vital toolkit that set out these elements and show how to bring them together, with consistent application cultivating professionalism and trust. Applications are likely to range from stationery and presentation decks, through social media and websites, to environmental graphics, wayfinding systems and transportation livery. A brand landscape is created with graphic devices, colour palettes, typography and imagery as players of equal importance. The logo - frequently assumed to be 'the brand' - is just as crucial, but appears within this broader landscape with varying degrees of presence.

Brand guardianship is a never-ending task - nothing should leave your office without you asking ‘How will this affect my brand story?’. A successful, ongoing dialogue between brand and customer is an important one to maintain; 89% of B2B marketers say brand awareness is the most important goal (Content Marketing Institution). The devil really is in the details, and every aspect of your brand, no matter how large or small, is critical in making you memorable and believable to a fickle global audience.


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