Choosing A Position For Your Brand
When thinking about your “brand” for the first time, it’s easy to jump straight to your logo and your stationary.
Yes, these are the physical elements of your brand, but they’re not a great starting point.
A logo is a shortcut – a reminder of the story your company tells and the promises you make to your customers.
Until you’ve determined your stories and promises, that logo is just a drawing.
Gathering Around A Story
People love communicating with stories, and they like aligning themselves with tribes.
When we find a story that resonates, our inclination is to share the story with others.
Think of sports jerseys, political party signs outside your house, surnames of designers, flags of countries, band t-shirts, car companies, rows of beer taps in a bar.
All of these are tribes you can join.
“But Isaac, I choose products that do the job, I’m not swayed by branding”
If that were true, imagine how long it would take you to get anything done.
Imagine trying to evaluate every type of car, perfume, running shoe, wine, phone company, internet provider or suburb.
Objective research takes too long, so we look for shortcuts.
You’re only looking at perfumes you’ve seen advertised, ordering beers that seem familiar, trying on clothes with famous names on them, or looking at houses in suburbs you hold in high regard.
Pretty much everyone has parts of their life where they’re rational and objective, and parts of their life where they’re “loyal beyond reason” to a particular brand.
It could be in your choice of vehicle, outfit, food and drink, university, airline, holiday destination, bank, shoes, etc.
I bet there’s something on that list which baffles you (“Why do idiots spend so much money on…”), and something you completely understand (“I would not be caught dead with…”).
My grandparents never cared about restaurants, but were very conscious about the message sent by their car.
Some people get a tattoo of their favourite sports team, but don’t vote in important elections.
Some cafes have expensive bottles of hand soap in their bathrooms, but fill it with generic soap from the supermarket.
People are weird, and we need to work with that weirdness.
Identifying Your Story
Your company needs to create and tell a good story.
It might be a story about old fashioned service, or about treating people with respect.
It might be a story about cutting edge technology or pushing the limits of what’s possible.
It might be a story about a founder and their radical views, or about national pride.
Think of it another way – why should someone switch to your brand?
What do you offer them that’s different and therefore better?
Seth Godin said:
“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”
If you haven’t defined those stories, it will be difficult to tell your graphic designer what to create.
Here are some questions that might spark your thought process:
What do you want your brand to be known for?
Jeff Bezos described a brand as “what people say about you when you’re not in the room”.
What do you want customers to tell their friends about your company?
Which other companies in your industry do you want to be considered alongside?
George Lois did this with his famous ad campaign that launched Tommy Hilfiger, instantly associating his client’s name with three other big brands.
Which other companies in different industries do you want to be compared to?
Do you want to be known as being cheap, mid-priced or premium?
Do you consider Nespresso to be cheap or expensive?
This question divides a lot of rooms.
The pods cost about 76 cents each - is that a lot or a little?
Their branding is all about luxury, from their packaging, celebrity ambassadors, stores in the fancy part of town, lavish fonts and colour schemes.
On the other hand, Aldi sell a near-identical machine, but with an emphasis on affordability.
One is for people who believe coffee should be treasured, the other for people who believe coffee is a commodity – and they’re both valid viewpoints.
Are you trying to look traditional or progressive?
Most industries have room for someone to stand up and say “we’re old school” and for someone else to stand up and say “we’re the new kid and we bring change”.
Sometimes the challenger wins, then the cycle starts again.
Each of these can look great when executed well, but it’s tough to do both at the same time.
Do you want to evoke a rich history, or use your young brand as an advantage?
Do you want to communicate in a formal or informal way?
Similar to the last question, what sort of “tone of voice” do you imagine yourself using with future customers?
Are you talking to them as their butler, their headmaster, their older sibling or their cheeky friend?
Again, each of these can be incredibly effective, but it will influence your choice of medium and style.
Can you tell me a customer story?
What was a customer’s day was like before they’d encountered your company?
What did your company do and how did it change their day?
It’s easiest to start with your customers who seem the happiest, since their experiences represent the best case scenario.
If your company doesn’t yet exist, it might be helpful to draw this as a storyboard.
If you don’t know what to put in your storyboard, then it’s time to do some customer interviews.
Brand Values In The Real World
In How To Write Meaningful Company Values, I mentioned my dislike of companies putting their values on lanyards.
That feels like wearing a shirt that says “I’m a cool person” – if it’s true then you shouldn’t need to write it so bluntly, it will soon become apparent.
That article covers the types of values your company will hold (core, accidental, aspirational, etc.), and some of these will flow through to your branding.
You can realistically have 3-4 core brand values, these are hard to articulate but they should resonate when you see them.
My suggestion is to look through lists and see which ones sound like your brand.
Here are some from Brand The Change by Anne Miltenburg:
What I find really interesting about these is that a lot of them are mutually exclusive.
You can be the best, or the most accessible, but it’s hard to be both.
You can believe in craftsmanship and tradition, but it’s hard to also be the most progressive or inclusive.
Rory Sutherland said it well: “The opposite of a good idea can also be a good idea”.
Which of these values are core to your brand?
Which ones are you willing to sacrifice if necessary?
Showing, Not Telling
Dave Trott suggests “Don’t tell me you’re a comedian, make me laugh”.
In this same spirit, instead of telling customers that these are your brand values, how can you show them?
Instead of claiming that you’re sustainable, can you give examples to your customers?
Instead of claiming that you’re innovative, can you show what innovations you’ve made?
Instead of claiming that you’re excellent, can you show what separates your products/services from your competitors?
Real World Safari
Now that you’ve read these principles, you’ll start noticing them everywhere you go.
I recommend using your phone’s camera roll to collect examples of other brands that you would like to emulate – be it their values, stories, imagery, case studies or the language they use.
What do you like about them?
What made them distinctive or memorable?
How might you sample inspiration from a wide range of clever brands?
All of these questions are designed to give you a sense of what your brand believes, and what you want to communicate to your future customers.
With that at the front of our minds, we can look at Brand Identity…