Branding Done Right: Research, Strategy, Consistency

When we talk to people and organizations about marketing, pretty much every one of them understands they need a professional, strong, attractive logo and visual identity. Ditto an overall message. All of this (and more) falls under the broad category of branding.

What isn’t always as clear is whether and why their current brand is either on point or missing the mark, what goes into developing a brand that works, and why it’s so important, once you begin to develop it, to remain consistent.

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Indeed, we see it all the time: a new client comes to us after having spent significant resources developing a new logo and associated branding elements, only to discover months or years later it’s simply not resonating. Or the execution and messaging has gone off-track bit by bit until the organization’s actual brand is not close to the original intent.

When Cara speaks, I listen.

Cara Robb, ALINE’s chief designer and branding expert, says there are a number of common mistakes organizations make that will sink their brand. To avoid that from happening, she advises organizations to do the following:

  • Above all, be authentic. “If your brand isn't authentically you, people will see straight through it, and you won’t be proud for it to represent you,” Cara said. “I think authenticity is the very most important item in a brand.”
  • Everyone must be on the same page. “If everyone internally is not ‘bought in’ it will show,” Cara said. “The brand must be part of the entire culture. That means everyone should know WHY and HOW we do things as a company — from what we wear, to how we answer the phone, to what our presentations look like.”
  • Caring for your brand is a balancing act that never ends. It certainly requires consistency. But don’t confuse care and consistency with rigid uniformity.

And on that last point, Cara had a lot to say. I found it so compelling that I’m going to share it verbatim here:

"Really caring for you brand, in my mind, is putting it out there and interacting through it, taking feedback from your fans and critics alike, and having FUN with it. Caring for your brand is ensuring it stays authentic and if you change, letting it change with you.

Caring for your brand is trying new things, apologizing when they don't work and learning from it, and running with what does work. Caring for your brand is being YOU — authentically you — but also knowing each audience needs a different version of you. For example, my grandmother doesn't want to hear the same things my best friend does, but they would both know the authentic REAL me.

Caring for your brand is telling stories that move you and your audiences to action.

Caring for your brand is rallying your fans and getting them to evangelize for you through Facebook, twitter and email.

 Caring for your brand is NOT about colors or typefaces or even logos. It's a fluid process by which you engage, share, react/respond and create an avid following of fans.”

So, how you do that? Well, it starts with research.

I cannot overstate how important it is to have a complete understanding of your position in the market, your competitive advantages, and who your target audience or ideal customer is. All too often, organizations rush headlong into a branding exercise by first talking about colors and fonts and design aesthetics. While those considerations are incredibly important, getting accurate answers to the strategic questions about your organization and its place in the market should come first.

At ALINE, we recommend organizations start by answering a series of questions that probe into what makes the company tick and who its ideal customer is. The answers to these questions can be gleaned in a number of different ways, but it is important to go through this exercise. Sometimes, the conventional wisdom developed within an organization is not accurate. This leads to organizations perpetuating a brand that does not connect with the audience it is trying to engage.

Next comes the development of a Positioning Statement. Done correctly, a Positioning Statement will restate to the customer “who they are.” It also states their competition, their place in the market, their key differentiators, and their main marketing goals.

Once the Positioning Statement is finalized, ALINE will create a Brand Voice Document for any client we are going to write content for. This document establishes a voice the company will use throughout all marketing initiatives.

Only then — after research has enabled you to answer your marketing questions and develop your buyer personas, and a sound Positioning Statement and Brand Voice Document are in hand — should you move into the creative process. We include a logo spec sheet and sometimes a “brand board” with the logo packages we deliver to our clients. Together these pieces explain the different logo layouts, file types, color selections, font selections, and any other important information.

When strategy drives creative, beautiful things happen for organizations and communities.

Collectively, the research and development of your position in the market, your voice, and your logo spec sheet and brand board will help the entire organization understand not only what your brand looks like, but what it sounds like and why. These documents can and should be referenced regularly — even daily, if necessary — to reinforce the brand and ensure things don’t get off-track.

So, there you have it. If you have been wondering about your brand or think it might be time to give it an update, drop us a line. We’d love to help.

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