by Rory Donahoe September 19, 2012

A Few Words on Branding

Design

By Clifton Tolboe

 

The word branding seems to have hit a point of critical mass in terms of usage here in the last year and recently the ThoughtLab team was invited by the LDS Church to attend a seminar on the topic at the church office building in downtown Salt Lake City. The purpose and main topic of the lecture was the modern architecture of powerful brands and the branding behind them given to an audience of roughly 200 by Alina Wheeler - the author of what some consider to be the bible on branding: Designing Brand Identity. Mrs. Wheeler gave a wonderful lecture pointing out several issues with poorly contrived brands while at the same time explaining how powerful a brand can be when developed and designed correctly.

At one point she gave us a story regarding a client of hers which was a medium sized medical hospital company in the Chicago area. The company had roughly 14 hospitals under its direct control and Mrs. Wheeler asked the creative director of the company if she would calculate how many times she believed the company logo was being seen every day. The answer that the creative director came up with for the hospitals logo being viewed- be it on a bill, invoice, entryway adverting or other print media not only astonished herself but the CEO and other C level employees of the group. The company’ logo was seen over 350,000 times a month - for a small regional hospital company that number seems astonishing! This of course caused the CEO to take a much closer look at the brand and developing the right brand architecture for the company. This really goes to show that, as Mrs. Wheeler says, a brand built the right way can be a company’s most valuable asset- one far more durable than a new product or service and one that instill faith in both customers and employees.

At ThoughtLab we believe in many of the principals in Mrs. Wheeler’s books foremost of which being that a brand is alive by nature. Brands shift, change and trend. They can grow, imprint and inspire. A brand to put it simply is the simplest expression that truly represents a company. This point was driven home by the image of the alphabet that Mrs. Wheeler showed the group below:

 

Looking through this most people will be able to recognize some if not all of the brands above just by the simple design of the typography. This is because our brains process and recognize images differently than text; the thought is also seemingly tied into the say that “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

We think that this image really illustrates beautifully from a global branding prospective why it is so important to focus on and understand what branding means, can be, should be and is for your company.

Brands are something that cannot be developed concisely in a weekend, they are not something that can be set in stone, and they are not something that a designer can create alone. Brands require constant input, they require a team oriented approach that incorporates who the team really is, and they also require a deep understanding of the company culture - then, now and into the future. Good brands are constantly and consistently evolving and improving, changing to fit company trends, consumer trends and global trends. They are scalable by nature. And while a good brand is constantly changing and evolving it is also always recognizable for what it is.

A good brand requires a developed architecture that allows for not only accommodating this brand growth evolution and change but also has key identifiable identity structures that do not change (at least often). These set brand architecture guidelines are generally tied into logo recognition, its size, its scale and color pallet but also in less obvious ways such as navigation, typography and iconography. What is perhaps the most important element to focus on to develop a truly successful, lasting brand is tough to say as each step in the branding process is critical. There is one step above the others however, that in the ThoughtLab teams’ opinion is crucial and must have appropriate time, energy and resources spent in order to have any chance of branding success and that is understanding who YOU are as a company through your team, culture and work. Without a strong sense of who your company is and what it does better than anyone else - developing a truly powerful, impactful brand for your company will elude even the very best design teams.

Here are a few quick tips to get the ball rolling on your own business’ branding.

1. Develop a style – not just a logo. Branding is a holistic endeavor that should encompass every facet of your business, from the logo on your business cards to the culture of your workplace. Make sure you approach your branding from the ground up. Start by listing everything that makes your business unique, and it might help you find the right kind of feel your brand should illicit.

2. Be consistent. Once you’ve settled on a branding it’s an extension of your company. Get rid of old logos, color schemes, and anything that doesn’t tie-in with your new brand. You need people to recognize who you are and what you do, and any movement away from your brand is going to dilute the authority of your brand to your business.

3. Attack from all fronts. Just giving your business its brand is a good start, but it’s not what gets strong brand authority. You need to get it out there for people to bask in! Change up your website, send out a press release, and put full force behind your Facetwitters to get people talking. You want people to immediately associate your brand with your business, and the best way to do that is to introduce them.

Next: Establishing Boundaries: A Love Story