That looks different
Anthony Coombes, Creative Director, takes a look at what it takes to build, create and maintain a high quality brand.
Any alteration by a brand can lead to a re-evaluation by audiences. For a business, this is useful when announcing a meaningful change. For example, it might make sense to rebrand following a merger or acquisition; a milder brand refresh might be called for at a time of organisational transformation or when launching a new flagship product or service.
One thing is certain: as your business evolves, your brand must adapt to reflect your changing ambitions and the shifting needs and expectations of your audience. So how do you make sure it all stays in sync?
Seeing is believing
First, visual language is just as important as written language. How your brand appears should not only help you to stand out against your competitors, it should also make you memorable and therefore easy for your audience to recall when they are shopping around or making a recommendation.
A visual identity is also a shortcut your audience is using to understand and trust what is being offered. We’ve become adept at reading symbols and colour association, as well as typographic and photographic styles. Whether consciously or not, we all share an expectation of what a sports brand, a bank or airline should look like.
But designing something to look familiar isn’t enough. To grab attention and hold interest, you need a creative approach that adds the right amount of novelty.
Step 1. Find the gap
To develop an effective visual identity, you need to understand where there is a lack of alignment between what your brand promises, the expectations of your audience and the reality of the experience.
Do you do what you say? For example, it would seem wrong for a leading sportswear brand to be associated with cakes and chocolate. But why is it then less problematic for a confectioner to sponsor kids’ athletics? Is the reality better than what you are promising? Think about the gaps between perception and reality and aim for alignment.
Step 2. Clarify the brief
Businesses that reach out to branding agencies typically ask something along the lines of:
“We’re looking to develop a clear proposition and how to communicate it.”
“We’re looking to understand why our communications have no cut-through and how we can improve.”
“We need to better understand our customers’ journey and tackle pain points.”
“We want to think about the wider user experience.”
Approaches to branding differ and strategists use a variety of models; brand pillars, pyramids, keys, funnels, etc. But there are three key questions that will focus the brief and drive innovation:
What is viable? Define the problem or opportunity — and who will benefit.
What is desirable? Form an idea that will attract people.
What is feasible? Can an organisation or technology deliver it successfully?
Step 3. Set a measure of success
Track the metrics you value: revenue, recommendations, website traffic, news columns or social followers. Agree on a baseline that you can return to after launch and continue to monitor changes.
Step 4. Agree what is unbreakable
Take an audit of current assets and what is working. This might include the heritage story or things that are culturally significant. History is often an indicator for future direction and evolving a brand is less scary than a revolution.
Step 5. Build a platform
Vision, Mission, Values is a common platform for a brand. A vision describes where your organization is going and a mission statement is what you will do to get there. Both direct efforts toward a common goal and should be evident in your communications. Values inform people inside and outside your organisation about your top priorities and core beliefs. They help identify with and connect to targeted consumers, as well as guide employees to make the right decisions.
Personally, I prefer a different brand platform, Purpose, Promise, Personality. It’s less dependent on organisational structure and more human therefore, I believe, easier to relate to. What is it that you want people to think, feel and do?
Step 6. Be creative: there is no one right answer
Design thinking — exploring different options through design routes, mock-ups, and prototypes — is a tried and tested way to define a problem or opportunity, form an idea and test it.
Test designs that ask ‘what if?’ in a safe environment, use a steering group to gauge the reactions — work out what the brand is not, as well as what you want it to be. Work towards a core idea that is adaptable enough to work across all communication channels and open to future development.
Step 7. Get buy-in
Change is often unsettling, but people will usually adapt to — even embrace — new ideas if they believe in why things need to change. Show your internal audience how and why the brand is changing and test the changes with a variety of stakeholders.
Remember that a vision is not a vision unless you can see it. Design visuals are very compelling in showing the way ahead.
Step 8. Support the change
Even once a design concept has been signed off there is still plenty to do. First, create a guide to help others to understand the rules and techniques of the new visual identity.
Self-serve is the quickest route to launching a new visual identity. Make templates available and share the key assets, logo, image library, etc. so that future communications are consistent.
Usually, there is a long list of deliverables that have been waiting for the new look to arrive that can add to a bottleneck of things to do. Rather than blanket everything with the new look and feel, we recommend a phased approach: brief your brand advocates to identify what is urgent, what is important and what is not. They should also promote good practice and highlight what isn’t working.
To mark the change and share the ambition it’s also important to tell the story of how you got there — a short film that explains the thinking is a popular way to do this. Remember, if people believe why things have changed they’ll be more receptive to new ideas. And hopefully, you’ve listened and learned throughout the process so that a post-launch review will hold no surprises.