15 Jun 6 Steps To Take To Make Sure Your Brand Is Both Current And Built To Last

People don’t love companies.
People love brands – big difference.

Think about a brand you love. What do you love about it? It’s probably a hard thing to put your finger on because a brand is very much like a personality. It’s the sum total of a lot of different attributes, all of which, when taken together, make you unconsciously think, “This brand understands what appeals to people like me.”

And while a great brand often seems like it just kind of inevitably arose out of nothing, it takes an awful lot of effort and discipline to create a brand people love. You have to have a great product, but that’s just the start. At my company, we’ve broken down the rest of the things you need into a 6 step process:

  1. Strategy
  2. Naming
  3. Manifesto
  4. Tagline
  5. Logo
  6. Visual identity


1. STRATEGY– The rest of the process is only as good as this first step.

This is the most under-appreciated step, and maybe the most important. Before you can come up with a name or a logo or anything else, you need to do the work to understand who you really are and what it is that it is that you do or sell or offer. And it’s vital that you understand your audience – what matters to them and what they are prepared to believe about you and your product.

There are several key questions we like to explore to get to the truth of your company. To find the essence of your brand. For example:

What are your goals? What is the environment like that you do business in? Who are your target audiences? Where are they? What’s important to them? Who are you? What does your product do better than its competitors? What does it do worse? What are your emotional attributes? What’s your vision? What’s your mission? What are your values? What’s your soul…your company’s dna? Why are you doing this? How do you want to change the paradigm?

We take strategy very seriously and expect to invest a few weeks (minimum!) to a few months in this exploration. We speak with all the key stakeholders in a company to make sure we cover all the angles and perspectives. And we work hard to boil it all down to its essence: the truth of exactly who and what and why you are. This is the foundation upon which the rest of the brand gets built, so it has to be rock solid. It has to endure.


2. NAMING – Anything can be a good name, but not anything can be your name.

A name says a lot about a company and what it’s like. Think Apple vs. Microsoft – both great names in that they immediately tell you something important about the companies that bear them. Names can be made up words, or they can sound like they’re made up. (“Google” actually means a VERY large number.) Kodak? Zero meaning. George Eastman liked the letter K, said it felt strong. And he believed his company’s name should be short, easy to pronounce and not resemble any other name or be associated with anything else. Hard to argue with that.

Names can also be taken from another language. Akamai, a global leader in content delivery, is a Hawaiian word meaning smart or intelligent. Keurig is Dutch for excellence (and was chosen, according to the company’s founder, because “everyone likes the Dutch.”1) Or it can be an abbreviation: IBM stands for International Business Machines. (Not very sexy, eh?) The fact is, there are many ways to come up with a company name. We always start with a feature or benefit as our focal point, and we see where it leads. We generate scores of options – sometimes as many as a hundred names. You never know what will resonate with people. Better to explore too much than too little, because you’re going to have to live with that name a long time.


3. MANIFESTO – Exactly who you are and what you’re all about.

What’s a manifesto, you might ask? The manifesto is the end result of the strategy process. Okay, but what is it?? Your manifesto is the document that states who you are and what you’re all about. It clarifies; it summarizes; and hopefully it inspires. It’s your bible…your reference for everything and anything you. And although it’s internally facing (i.e., it is NOT your mission statement or your marketing brochure), language can often be pulled from it and used elsewhere. It’s a starting point from which to build your marketing messages and your brand identity.

The manifesto is the document you read that makes you think, “Yes! THAT is us!”


4. TAGLINE – “Short. Simple. True.” would be a good tagline for taglines.

Okay, so now you have a strategy, a name, a manifesto…now you can write your tagline. Sometimes, it reveals itself during the writing of the manifesto, and usually, the manifesto builds to and ends with it. (That’s how we like to do it, anyway, because it ensures everything holds together.)

Your tagline needs to make sense. Vague head-scratchers are a wasted opportunity to say something meaningful about your brand. It has to be honest and memorable. It has to tell your audience in one short phrase what you’re all about. Some great examples? Nike – Just do it. Apple – Think different. BMW – The ultimate driving machine. Skittles – Taste the rainbow. All short, simple to grasp, and perfect summaries of their brands.

Hitting on the right tagline takes time and a lot of deliberation. Sometimes there’s an obvious winner and it just comes to you; other times you try out a few because the nuances are different and you really need to think about it. And taglines do change over time. For example, McDonalds has had quite a few: LOOK FOR THE GOLDEN ARCHES. YOU DESERVE A BREAK TODAY. MAC TONIGHT. DID SOMEBODY SAY MCDONALDS? I’M LOVIN’ IT.

They all worked because they were all relevant and a reflection of the brand at a given time in its history.


5. LOGO – Part science. Part art. All you.

Ok, now let’s get visual. Let’s get to the part everyone thinks of when they hear branding: the logo. As you see, we’ve been through a long process just to get to this point, so we have lots of information and knowledge to work from. And we also have a lot to consider: typeface, imagery and, of course, colors, which can change the feel of a logo dramatically. You have to do your research, too. You have to look at your competition’s logo; you have to know what feelings and emotions different colors evoke and understand how different typefaces create different impressions…you have to join the science with the art. Once you have your logo, it’s the face you present to the world. You need to be happy with it and stick with it for a while. It’s a long-term relationship. That’s not to say your logo can’t change, but it certainly shouldn’t change often.


6. VISUAL IDENTITY – Get it right. Then guard it with your marketing teams’ lives.

Here it is. The culmination of all this creative effort: your visual identity. And we mean everything: business cards, website design, letterhead, iconography, brochures, animations, everything and anything that has your brand name on it. Your visual identity is sacrosanct and must always be consistent. Come up with rules that need to be upheld and compile them in a brand book that will be your visual identity bible. It’s the law, your marketing team’s job is to be the brand police. With these guidelines, any designer you work with (as well as all your employees) will know exactly how (and how not) to treat your logo, what your brand colors are, how large your tagline should be relative to your logo…everything they can and cannot do.

Too often, people will try to take liberties with your brand. They’ll stretch the rules. They’ll make up their own because it “looks cool” or they have a different aesthetic. Don’t let them! You’ve spent so much time and energy and money on building this identity, you need to make sure everyone sticks with it.

Consistency is essential to build a brand. Across all media, across all communications, presentations, events, articles, etc., you must always present your brand the same way. The same way of talking, the same message, the same look and feel. That is the only way people will learn to recognize you and seek you out. Think of your brand as a person – a friend. You know exactly who they are the minute you see them from a distance because they’re familiar. Imagine how unsettling it would be if you ran into a friend and found they had apparently undergone a personality transplant. Don’t let this happen to your brand through careless management of it.


A word about rebranding. (Okay, 150 or so words.)

I just want to mention one more thing: rebranding. Now, after you’ve put all this work into creating a strong and memorable brand, why would you change it? There are lots of possible reasons. Maybe your business has changed. Or you have a new partner. Your logo is outdated. Your name doesn’t fully reflect your changing reality. (American Telephone & Telegraph, anyone?)

My agency has done many rebranding projects – probably just as many as new branding. And more often than not, the logo change is an evolution, not a revolution, because you have brand equity. It’s recognizable, but perhaps it’s a bit outdated and needs modernizing. Or maybe it’s just not working for you and you need a whole new face instead of a simple facelift. Whatever the situation, we always recommend going through the entire process again. Oftentimes, the foundation was not laid properly in the first place. And perhaps the results will surprise you.

As you can see, creating a brand takes a lot of work. A lot of people have to buy into its importance and make it a priority. But the results are more than worth it, as anyone fortunate enough to have a well-loved brand will surely tell you.


1 Atlantic Monthly, March 2, 2015


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