The short answer is yes. It’s a vital component to a successful business. So there you go, no need to read any further!
But if you’ve got questions or are not utterly convinced that branding is utterly central to your business success, then read on and I’ll explain…
The myths of branding
“Branding doesn’t apply to me – I’m a small business/startup.“
Lots of small business owners think a brand is something you create when your company gets bigger, and so it doesn’t apply to them yet, but it’s relevant to EVERY business, not just the likes of Apple and Nike, and you’ll see why as we go on.
“It’s just a logo and I can get one from the internet for a couple of quid.“
Yes, you can get a logo “designed” for a small fee, but that isn’t the whole story with branding – it has a much wider scope than that. And as for what result you’ll get from your bargain-basement logo website, well that’s another story…
“Branding is what huge expensive agencies do – I can’t afford that!”
It doesn’t have to involve a swanky London agency with a name that sounds like a firm of solicitors, nor does it have to cost you a lot of money – just a bit of forethought.
So let’s deal with a key issue first of all – what do we mean when we say ‘branding’?
What is a brand?
Quite often when people say ‘branding’ they really are just talking about the company’s logo. But its scope is much bigger than that. They might mean the company’s colour scheme – which is closer, or the style of their advertising (yep, getting there), but it’s much, much bigger than even that.
In fact, the description I like most is –
“Your brand is what people say about your company when you’re not there”.
And that actually has nothing (directly) to do with logos, colours or anything else. It’s how people “feel” about your company. Think of some of the big brands you know – how do they make you feel? Hungry, excited, disgusted, depressed? We all have companies that we love and those that we hate, and not all of it will be based on logic or limited to our experience with them directly – we may never have actually used them.
Take Apple for example – it inspires a wide range of emotions but its customers are incredibly loyal. It doesn’t matter whether you believe they make fantastic, pioneering products or just piggyback existing technologies and charge ridiculous prices, the truth is that it would be impossible for every one of their products to be the best in its class. Yet they inspire absolute devotion in some people. Some of their customers have bought into their brand so much they’ll queue overnight for the latest iPhone, despite being able to get one the next day just as easily.
Harley-Davidson has such a clear market and loyal following that some fans even have tattoos of the logo on themselves. Can you imagine many people that’d get a tattoo of the Asda logo or Shell or Google?
These are extremes, and you probably aren’t worried about reaching these dizzying heights of brand loyalty, but you can apply the same basic principles that they do, without needing a huge marketing budget.
The key is consistency
You can’t directly control your “brand” as it’s the feeling your customers have about your business, and even those that have never (and will never) use your service. BUT you can indirectly influence it and your best chance to do this is with “consistency”.
Your product or service needs to be consistent
Now I’d argue that it should be consistently the best service possible, but Ryanair is proof that you can have a successful business where you arguably have a terrible (but fairly consistent) reputation amongst your staff and customers, but the customers keep coming. Why? Because they constantly advertise some of the lowest prices for flights. Whether those prices are achievable or not is another matter, but the headline price is what attracts them. Does it inspire true “loyalty”? I’m not sure and if the price is your only brand message you could be in trouble as there is always someone prepared to go lower.
So I’d advise providing a good, better or best service rather than take Ryanair’s policy, but whatever level you aim for make sure you can achieve it consistently.
Think of those times you’ve visited a shop/hotel/garden centre or anything else and your first experience is amazing, but a subsequent visit is terrible. As a customer, you want to know what you’re going to get, and this inconsistency damages its reputation for you. Not only that, but you may well tell other people as well, which weakens the brand further.
Your message(s) need to be consistent
It’s not just about using the same strapline everywhere – like Nike’s “Just Do It” for example. Everything else you say in your marketing needs to have a consistent approach, not just in “what” you say, but also “how” you say it – this is your tone of voice.
What message do your adverts (TV, Radio, online, print) say about your business? What subconscious impression are you trying to convey? If you appear to be all cuddly and family-friendly one minute, but aggressive and contentious the next, this change in style will confuse people and they won’t know what to believe.
Your corporate identity needs to be consistent
Your corporate identity or visual identity or corporate style is the thing most people think of as branding – it’s the things you can actually direct control. It’s your business cards, your website, leaflets, magazines, adverts, exhibition materials, building signage, vehicles, social media and everything else visual that people can see, touch and feel.
That doesn’t mean everything needs to look identical – that would be dull. But everything should look like it’s from the same “family”, i.e. like it has come from the same place. This means defining a set of design styles (fonts, colours, graphics) and ensuring that everything refers back to them. Again not identical, but two adverts from the same business should have a strong style that links them – especially if they are part of a single marketing campaign.
Lastly, your imagery needs to have a consistent style. And even here you don’t need to be so prescriptive that everything looks monotonously identical. You might say that all of your images – should contain people; that they should never be looking directly at the camera; and that they should be mainly images of families enjoying life outdoors. Alternatively, you might simply say that the imagery should be bright and engaging and that it should not contain anything contentious. You also need to consider whether you’ll ever use illustrations and if so what style(s) they should be as well. Using a mix of colourful, detailed 3D illustrations, sketchy line-drawings and simple flat icons may be a confusing mix of styles that detracts from the message you’re trying to convey.
Your communication needs to be consistent
You might want to define how quickly you’ll respond to email enquiries, you might use the same phrasing when you (or your staff) answer the phone, and you might want emails to be written in a specific style.
A strong brand is a reliably consistent one
No matter how much you define each area, and how tight the restrictions are, it should amount to one thing – someone who deals with you knows exactly what they’re going to get. Every single time.
If you’re really quick to respond to a sales enquiry the first time they ring, but then mid-project they can’t get hold of you for weeks on end that will damage your credibility and your brand.
Where do you start?
Well in most cases your brand starts with your corporate identity, and that all starts with your logo. And when it comes to logos there are some key things you need to consider –
- It must be a Vector file, NOT a JPEG. Lots of people get this wrong. A Jpeg of your logo is fine for some uses, but if that’s all you have you’re going to have problems. Unlike a vector file, it’ll become blurry and pixelated if you enlarge it, and it simply isn’t versatile enough.
- Your logo should be simple, versatile, and appropriate. This way it’ll work in a wide variety of instances. And it’s best to avoid trends as these will date it very quickly.
- It doesn’t HAVE to say what you do, in fact, often it can be better to not do so, especially if it makes it complicated
- It doesn’t HAVE to have an icon or image at all, lots of big brands just have text-based logos
What does all this cost?
Whether you’re creating a new logo, brochure or a website there are always a number of options
Do it yourself
If you have the skills, the right software, and creative ability, go for it! It’ll mean no cash outlay, but be aware that it will take you a long time and you may not explore the same creative options a professional would.
Use a budget service
There are lots of online services that cater to a wide range of design needs. but research them carefully. You may not get a good result, the service may vary and you’ll be liaising with someone remotely or using an interactive system. This means you’ll need to provide a lot of input to get the result you want. And often cheap services charge extra for lots of things that would be standard from a traditional agency.
Use a professional
Again always do your research, look at reviews and seek recommendations. A good agency will work with you to carefully understand what you need, they’ll probably also challenge your brief in order to get a good result and will be focused on you and your needs first. And of course, if you can find one that offers a 100% Satisfaction Guarantee, then even better!
Do your research
There are lots of great design professionals from freelancers to large agencies, but over the years I’ve heard a few scare stories from my contacts when they dealt with other designers and although rare, this highlights some rather dubious ways of looking at branding and how it’s important to do your research and get recommendations where possible.
Inventing new work
In one a contact had commissioned a web designer to create a new website, but the designer said they didn’t like the company logo and it should be changed.
To me, this is totally irrelevant. Whether you do or don’t like a company logo is none of your concern as a designer, unless there is something fundamentally and objectively wrong with it that should be fixed. To me, this approach suggests the designer was looking to create extra paid work for themselves which I believe is utterly wrong.
Getting it the wrong way around
In another, a website was also being designed and when it was near completion
they suggested that they could change the logo to make it match the new site better.
This is the wrong way around. The logo is a key part of the branding and shouldn’t be changed on a whim – all future materials should complement the logo, not the other way around. Can you imagine Shell, Apple or Microsoft changing their logo because they had a new website designed?
Building a trusted brand
Everything people see and hear about your business influences how they think about your company (i.e. your brand). Choose the elements that are most important to you and do them consistently. Well thought out and consistent branding is the foundation that can be built on as your company grows and it helps give people reassurance that you’re serious and stable as a company. Then the rest is up to you to deliver a product or service that meets your customers’ needs.