Do me a favor and take this little quiz that demonstrates how powerful a strong brand really is.
Did you get them all? All of these brands are so strong, you can completely remove their name and consumers would still recognize them.
How strong is your company’s brand?
Is a brand more than just a logo? Or are they basically the same thing?
What’s the process to develop a strong corporate brand?
Whoa! there, one question at a time! Let’s talk first about what a brand REALLY is (hint: it’s NOT just a logo).
How a ‘brand’ is different from a ‘logo.’
I used to help manage the brand at a university and I really like how they phrase it on their branding page:
The brand is the set of expectations that stakeholders associate with our university and our services. At the core of every brand is a pledge to those you serve – a promise to consistently do or offer something in a way they come to expect. What our constituents come to expect of us is built upon the foundation of what we expect of ourselves. And we expect and achieve excellence, every day.
Your brand is WHO you are, WHAT you do, WHY you do it, and who you do it FOR. It’s your promise to your customers. It represents what customers expect your company to deliver.
A corporate logo is the visual piece of the brand – it’s a visual way to represent the who, what, why and for.
Okay, example time.
What do you think when you see this? Here’s what comes to my mind:
Fast food. Cheap food. Somewhat tasty and definitely unhealthy food. Happy meals for the kids. Road trip food. Dollar menu. Burgers and fries; they pretty much always taste the same no matter which store you go to.
If there’s one thing that’s really key to developing and maintaining a strong brand, it’s this: consistency. Businesses that are constantly revising their visual identity and jumping from one look to the next are going to find it hard to establish a strong brand that consumers recognize.
McDonald’s has as strong, recognizable brand because everything they do is branded. You’ll never see a McDonald’s logo that’s purple, just like you’ll never see a McDonald’s that serves filet mignon (theoretically).
Their website, social media channels, printed coupons, television ads, and even cups and happy meal bags all look the same. They all have the same tagline, use the same font, the same logo and messaging.
Do this for 50 years and your business will likely have a strong brand, too. (They’ve used the golden arches in all their marketing since 1961.)
So how do you develop a strong corporate brand?
For businesses who haven’t yet developed a corporate branding campaign, it can be overwhelming to even figure out where to start. We hear this a lot from our clients – they feel like they don’t have the time, energy, or resources to essentially ‘start over’ with their website, marketing materials, Facebook page, etc. to make it all look branded.
But the longer a business waits, the worse it’s going to get. Trust me, I’ve seen firsthand how disjointed and confusing an organization’s brand can get after years (in this case, 100 years) without a strong brand direction.
Here is, generally, what the branding process should look like:
Step 1: Perform a brand audit.
Before you can fix something, you need to know what’s wrong with it. That’s why it’s a good idea to do an audit of your organization’s existing brand. Take a look at the current brand messaging, visual identity, how the website looks and feels, print collateral, and so on. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses that currently exist. What needs to change? What elements do you want to keep? This is a good time to evaluate the brands of your competition as well.
Step 2: Determine your brand’s promise – the who, what, why, and for.
Gather together the leaders of your organization (not just the marketing people) and hold an open discussion about what your company stands for. Your mission, your customers, your products and services, your promise, etc. It helps to have someone leading the discussion here, whether it’s someone from your company or you outsource a branding professional, to help drum it all down to your key brand messaging.
Step 3: Get everyone on board. I mean, everyone.
Now, take these key messages to the rest of your company’s employees. Distribute a survey or questionnaire that assesses how the staff really perceives the company and what they think the brand should communicate. This ensures that your organizational leaders are on the same page as everyone else.
Step 4: Make your brand come alive.
Now it’s time to take all this information and narrow it down to a unified brand strategy and represent it visually with a logo. For some businesses, this means taking their existing logo and updating it to better represent the company’s mission.
This is not the time to skimp and ask your friend you knew from high school to come up with a logo. Think of this as a long-term relationship – you want your logo to stand the test of time. Hire a credible agency with a robust design portfolio and great references.
NOTE: Avoid ‘design by committee.’
Remember, you are hiring the agency because THEY are the experts. Trust their expertise. It kills me when we deliver a concept to a client and they say “Oh, I love it! But let’s combine these two concepts, move that over there, change this to a different color and add a rainbow to the top.”
I wish I was joking.
Allow the agency to be the authority on the topic and understand everyone’s role within the project. This isn’t the time to get everyone in the company’s opinion, or else you’ll end up with a disaster of a logo that was, in the end, diminished by the opinion of the CEO’s 9-year old daughter. You’ll also end up with an endless revision cycle that goes on and on until you die.
Step 5: Develop guidelines for implementing the brand – and ‘enforcing’ it when needed.
Your marketing agency should put together a guide for how your brand should be visually represented – including colors (with the precise color builds), fonts, and how to use the logo in a variety of different situations (black and white, color, on dark backgrounds, etc.).
‘Enforcing’ is kind of a harsh word. But as the ‘logo cop’ of a major university for 4 years, I can tell you it was absolutely necessary to work with the staff to ensure they were aware of the brand guidelines and following them. If only half of your team is following your brand guidelines, you’ll lack that consistency that’s so important. You’ll end up with highly public marketing materials that are chock full of old logos, the wrong colors, and just look a mess.
What ideas do you have? Let us know in the comments.