In the first of our three part series, we will be talking about Brand, understanding how it works, and how to secure its consistency for the future.

So you and a friend are in a heated debate about whether Apple is better than Microsoft or if Google is the frontrunner that will beat them all in a race to take over the world. Suddenly someone pipes up that they still believe Lotus Notes was a good idea and you all have a good laugh at his expense.

Why do conversations like this so often become personal? Why does your blood boil when someone thinks your expensive smartphone is lame?

 

One word – brand.

 

Brands aren’t just logos (though a logo is important) – a brand, well done, is the feeling you get when you think of a company, as if that company was a friend or relative, which is why you defend it so vigorously. (“No one talks about my family like that!”)

How do good brands get created? By looking at two things – the common characteristics of your employees, and the common characteristics of the products or services you offer.  Looking for common characteristics helps your business grow because when you develop a new product, it can be designed based on the characteristics of your brand. A great example of this is Google, who has gone through a major brand initiative – though you may not have noticed its impact until now, with Google Glass. Here is their story:

In 2009 designer Douglas Bowman resigned from Google and published an  article on his experiences and frustrations trying to bring design to the then extremely data-focused Google. Because of this article, Google gained a reputation for stifling creativity through data, which is not what any company priding itself on innovation wants to be known for. If anything, Google was TOO innovative, producing hundreds of apps that were inconsistent, both in look and behavior, giving the overall impression that Google wasn’t on top of things. Google was becoming a product company and in order to grow and maintain market share, it would have to start laying foundations for the tenets that make a ‘Google product’.

This initiative was attempted in 2007 but failed because there were too many tenets. So Google wrote a manifesto of what they believed in to help guide the creative and user experience teams. These product teams retried successfully in 2011 by focusing purely on unifying successful products under this philosophy– Drive, Gmail, Hangout – to create a consistent and usable experience across the entire suite.   You’ll note that Google now offers a consistent experience across all products, and this creates a sense of brand.

A common philosophy also means that when designing a completely new product such as Google Glass, it becomes easier to have ‘controlled innovation’ – invention with that unique secret sauce that makes it a Google invention. Think of Google Glass and read the manifesto– you’ll note how it makes perfect sense for Google and how this could never have been an Apple product because Apple believes in different values.

So how do you create a strong, well-defined brand across your own organization? The first thing is to define your philosophy. Write it down: what do you and your fellow employees believe in? Value?  A survey can help collect the answers objectively. Solicit your customers’ point of view as well, so as not to limit yourself. Look at characteristics of what you’ve done previously and look for the commonalities (e.g. you may have done everything from a large CRM database to a mobile app but if the methods you did had common elements such as high quality, or speed, then those should become part of your philosophy).

Once your values and your philosophy are written down, everything else flows from them. The tagline, which can change over time, is really a boiled-down version of your philosophy into a crisp phrase. Your processes, the way you do things, should be aligned to your philosophy. Finally your logo, printed materials, and digital materials should be the visual expression of your philosophy. This is often challenging for companies because they don’t understand how a graphic can express a philosophy, so I’ll give a few examples:

Google – two things make up the logo here, the word which is a derivation of googol (10 to power of 100), suggesting many, and the visual version of that – the use of multiple colors to suggest a wide ranging database, the serif font suggesting inclusiveness, friendliness (compare this to IBM’s logo which has a more powerful feeling)

 

 

Apple – The apple suggests invention, discovery. The design of the logo is about simplicity, saying the most with the least elements. Premium. High quality. These are an expression of their philosophy which is about innovative premium products, well designed. (Note the change in time for the logo to reflect this current philosophy.)

 

 

IBM – powerful, technological.  The logo conveys solidity and permanence while being lightened by the horizontal stripes, and is timeless enough to have lasted 40 years without a revision.

 

 

 

Facebook – simple, friendly, content platform (it’s a purposefully underdesigned logo, because facebook’s brand is realized from its users content.)

 

 

So, in summary, here are the steps to creating a good brand:

  1. Research – research yourself, and research companies you’d liketo emulate, and check if they are similar to your vision. Include your employees and customers in this research.
  2. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to make your brand like a brand you really admire but which frankly has nothing to do with your business. For example, if you are a consulting company, look at brands like Deloitte and Accenture. Don’t choose Apple or Microsoft because those are product companies that have entirely different needs in expressing their brand.
  3. Look for commonalities in your people and your products/services and describe them using words like ”beautiful”, ”authentic”, ”dedicated” etc. It is also fine to use words to describe your aspirations, as long as they are extenstions of what you currently are (e.g. “creative” is not an appropriate extension if your core words are “intelligent,” “diligent,” “detail oriented”). Be aspirational, and be positive.
  4. Design your mission statement, tagline, logo and visual brand and benchmark against these commonalities (ask “Does this logo communicate a feeling of authenticity? If not, what does it describe? Is it too flashy, too cold, etc?”)
  5. Once all aspects of your brand are defined, standardize them to ensure consistency. Producing a style guide that explains the brand but also how to use the logo/fonts etc. is a vital manual for your brand to succeed. It’s important to nominate someone internally to ensure the brand follows the style guide rules.
  6. Finally, communicate the change internally to your company. By making them part of the research you are setting up the expectation of change, and by taking the time to explain how their input resulted in a great brand, you are enabling them to be advocates and ambassadors when they communicate the company value proposition to others.

The brand, once defined, must be safeguarded to ensure a consistency globally. Assigning someone to ‘gatekeep’ the brand is an important step in ensuring its growth and correct application.

In our next post we’ll talk about translating your brand to digital experiences and maintaining that standard.