In 2016, creative branding expert, Debbie O'Connor, met a business owner who announced they had just ‘rebranded’ and proudly showed her their new logo. When the Founder and Creative Director of creative studio, White River Design (WRD), asked about the other branding elements, the business owner glazed over and said, “No, I don’t have any of that, just the logo.”
For Debbie, the encounter demonstrated how easy to be confused about what branding is. “A good logo is just the tip of the brand iceberg,” she explains. Here are Debbie’s 10 essential elements of creating an engaging brand...
1. Understand your brand personality
"Since humans could communicate, we’ve been telling stories that capture our attention, evoke emotion and connect us," Debbie says.
As the branding guru explains, these stories tend to feature certain recognisable characters that we connect with. “Whether it’s an innocent maiden, a knight in shining armour, a wise old man or a magical fairy, somehow we understand their personalities and identify with them,” Debbie says.
“A brand personality creates this same connection between customers and the business. Knowing and using a personality for your brand is like using ninja stealth, subliminal techniques to connect customers to your brand.”
Not sure about what sort of personality your brand should project? Debbie has developed a word association system based on philosophies of brand archetypes, to assist you. The system, Brand Personalities, is designed to help you discover and understand what personality your brand is.
“If you don’t have clarity about your brand, you won’t get a result, but you can try as many times as you would like,” Debbie says.
2. Create Your Brand Story
There’s no denying human beings love a good story – we have seen this in our Women in Focus Real Stories event series, where experiences shared resonated powerfully with storytellers and audience members alike. And as Debbie points out, when they are told well, we remember stories far better than a list of features or benefits.
“Brands with a good story are more believable,” Debbie says. “People relate to stories, so if you have a relevant and enticing one, you’ll attract people who will not only love and trust your brand, but also become loyal followers and advocates,” she says.
“Stories are a great way to position yourself in the market, set a culture and send a strong message for your brand. These stories don’t have to be long or detailed, in fact, simple is always best.”
The keys to getting your story across? Repetition and a united front. “Remember to tell your brand story often, and ensure that all people involved in the business know the story too and are able to tell it well,” Debbie says.
3. Develop your logo and collateral
Yes, you do still need a logo.
“Remember: brands are like houses, they need good foundations. Your brand foundation is your logo,” Debbie says. “Have a professional create or evolve your logo. Your business is too precious to leave this important stage in the hands of your cousin’s girlfriend’s brother who is studying design!”
Debbie recommends simple logo designs, as they are more memorable and reproduce well across multimedia such as print, online, silk screening, embroidery or signage. “Logos with drop shadows, fancy effects or trendy fonts don’t translate well across platforms, nor do they pass the test of time,” she warns.
When it comes to your collateral – i.e. collection of media including business stationery, brochures, annual reports adverts, welcome kits, newsletters and signage – it’s important to consider your return on investment.
“Look first at what is critical and what is a high return on investment,” Debbie says. “If you’re selling million-dollar homes and spend $10 per brochure, it will be worth it, however, if you sell $10 widgets, then you’d opt for a 10c flyer,” she says.
As Debbie explains, it’s vitally important for the look and messaging of your collateral to be consistent and stay true to your brand’s image. “Not having enough cash for a professional design is not a good enough excuse – this is your business and it deserves to be invested in,” she says.
“The visible aspect of your brand is vital in attracting people to your service or product. To become front of mind, consistency is king.”
To ensure you’re on track, Debbie recommends doing a quick branding assessment. Put all of your printed items on your desk next to your computer, with your website visible. Does it look like it belongs together? If not, you should consider building a more consistent image for your brand. Debbie also recommends having a company style guide, as this is “a great way to ensure that everyone in your organisation represents the brand correctly.”
4. Establish your digital footprint
Now more than ever, brands must establish a favourable digital footprint in order to keep up with competitors. As Debbie quips, “The current reality is – if you’re not found on Google, you do not exist!”
“An interesting exercise is to ‘Google’ yourself or your business,” she says. “What comes up? Are you happy with what you see or are you embarrassed? Everything that can be found about you or your brand on the internet is considered to be your digital footprint – and it is growing daily!”
Debbie recommends establishing a clear digital strategy, to help you ensure that your brand’s reputation is maintained in the correct light. Your strategy may cover a website, social media, EDMs (electronic direct mail), blogs, webinars and other online programs. “Being clear on your brand will result in better communication on these platforms,” Debbie says.
The branding expert stresses the importance of using social media strategically. “Consider what platforms you use and how you use them – including what you want to post and the best way to interact with your clients,” she says.
“You don’t need to be on all social media platforms, but ensure that you are not just good, but excellent at the social media you choose to use. A clear plan of attack will ensure your brand is represented in the best online light.”
5. Craft your language and tone
Is your brand fun, youthful, creative, serious, adventurous, caring, sensual or down to earth? As Debbie explains, understanding your brand’s personality is essential to helping you craft the language and tone of your business.
“There are many possible personalities that your brand could have, each requiring different suites of words, delivered with different tones,” she says. “Once you know your brand personality type, it makes it a lot easier to know what language and tone to use in your collateral and correspondence with your audience.”
Is your brand personality fresh, youthful and energetic, like Boost Juice Bar’s? If so, Debbie recommends using entertaining, fun words and energetic tones in your messaging. Alternatively, if your brand personality is serious, a more sober or thoughtful tone should be used. “Knowing your target audience is also essential in setting the correct tone and language to represent your brand,” Debbie says.
6. Create a strong slogan
‘The burgers are better at…’
‘Lucky, you’re with…’
‘Have a break, have a…’
Chances are that you can complete at least one (if not all) of these slogans as they are constantly repeated on TV, the radio or paper,” Debbie says. “This constant repetition of the same consistent message ensures that the slogan becomes a huge part of the brand equity,” she says.
“A slogan adds interest to your brand and relates to the core message you are communicating. Invest on getting this right first time as changing your slogan too often will cause brand confusion.”
7. Design a dress code
As Debbie explains, what you and your team wear directly affects your brand.
“Having someone wearing a tracksuit and sneakers to work in an office environment is inappropriate, however if you’re a personal trainer, wearing these clothes would be very acceptable,” Debbie says.
“Dress code is often an area of branding that people overlook, but it is an extremely important aspect as it is a visual cue that can make or break a first impression,” she says.
8. Own your area
You may not be able to build an empire like Coca-Cola or Nike, but Debbie says you are likelier to be able to build a strong brand within your area of expertise or in a geographical area.
“We know the brands that dominate ‘fast food’, ‘safe car’ or ‘soda drink’,” Debbie says. “By building a brand in your geographic area or with your direct target audience, you too can become a leader in your industry,” she says.
“Some brands are so strong that they have even started to ‘own’ the product area – think Glad Wrap and BAND-AID. This doesn’t happen quickly or easily. It takes constant focus on your main message and consistent exposure. Don’t deviate or change direction, as this will cause brand confusion that’s hard to recover from.”
9. Train your team
“When everyone knows how to behave, talk and dress, the chances of the brand maintaining its correct message are high,” Debbie says. The expert cites mega-brand McDonalds, where staff are trained in systems and procedures and taught to provide the exact same service, whether they are 15 or 55 years old.
“Strong systems are critical to brand success,” Debbie says. “Ensure you have a system from answering the phone to finalising a sale,” she says.
“My recent visit to the Apple store in New York was impressive. Even though it was triple the size of my local Apple store, the process of customer service was exactly the same. Without consistent systems, clients could have inconsistent experiences, visit-to-visit.
Document your systems, ensure staff are trained and your customer can enjoy a good experience - every time.”
10. Create an Experience
For many of us, there’s nothing better than popping into our favourite cafés to get our coffee just the way we like it – every time. But it’s not just the coffee that keeps us coming back – as Debbie explains, touches such as the barista giving us a smile or better still, if we’re regulars, calling us by name, are what elevates the experience.
On a previous trip to New York, Debbie had a similarly special experience at the M&M Store. “I could get a cup of M&M’s personalised for my children,” she recalls.
“The staff were happy, engaging and quick to help with a clever way of upselling customers to a bigger cup of M&M’s – clapping when they took up the offer.
The experience of choosing colours, personalisation and sending the M&Ms down the M&M shoot for stamping was entertaining and exciting! My three friends and purchased what could be considered overpriced souvenirs, simply to go through the experience and marvel at the outcome.”
For Debbie, the M&M Store demonstrated the value of giving customers the opportunity to experience brands. Her advice? “Invest in creating an experience that enhances the client or customer’s time dealing with your company, and leaves a lasting memory.”