Brand identity gets thrown around a lot in the industry, but how do you know if you’re doing the right thing? Peter Harris (pictured below), CEO of franchise marketing platform Digital Stack, breaks it down for you, dear reader.
Brand identity is not a new concept – it’s a fundamental part of any marketing strategy and has been for decades – but enforcing brand guidelines across new business models and evolving channels throws up new challenges.
Brand identity is the reason you haven’t changed phone brands in five years, why you won’t think twice about getting into a stranger’s car instead of a taxi, or how CRM sales software became sexy.
We all know its purpose and importance – what a good branding strategy can do for your bottom line – yet so many companies are getting it wrong.
Chris Murphy, creative director at branding agency Motherbird, puts it well: “A truly successful and powerful brand must do much more than look pretty – it must define your entire business, touching every aspect of it and all those who interact with it.
“It must be succinct, inspirational, memorable, measurable, and consistent.”
Here are four elements that are key to building an effective brand identity:
Know your customer
Too often, brands don’t actually know who their target market is, beyond a few unfounded assumptions. The most important asset to a business is its customer. If you don’t know who they are, you can’t expect to build a strong brand identity that resonates with them. This is where market research is key. Speak to your customers, learn about who they are and what values they hold. Generate data sets about your customers, understand the trends and build them into your brand identity.
Don’t over complicate it
Don’t waste your time on complicated, text-heavy brand guidelines and regulations. Instead, define the audience of your guidelines before you put pen to paper, keep the document focused and only include practical, relevant content.
Your brand guideline should be an easy-to-navigate resource that covers brand vision and mission, logos, colour palette and fonts, tone of voice for different purposes, approved templates, and basic procedures. It should be malleable and evolve with your company. Most importantly, it should empower the reader, whether it’s your marketing team, agency, staff or customer service team.
According to Murphy, marketers should “always consider who the guidelines are being created for, their technical capabilities, experience and their purpose. Effective guidelines should work in parallel with branded templates and should facilitate efficient, consistent and impactful application of your brand”.
Be firm on the ‘non-negotiables’
While brand identity can be fluid and grow with the company, it’s important that it contains some ‘non-negotiables’. Consistency across messaging, tone and all external-facing content is key, particularly if multiple parties are responsible for brand management. Ensure you have a framework that can be easily replicated at scale. Something as simple as uniformity across fonts or logos can greatly impact the perception of the company. For example, Subway’s iconic yellow and green arrows are instantly recognisable despite thousands of global franchises.
Credibility and identity go hand in hand, so it’s important marketing teams act as custodians of the brand. Being too lenient will skew your image, but too many rules and regulations will throttle creativity.
All the non-negotiables – the logos, colour palettes, fonts and tone of voice – should be locked down, with some flex allowed for local content and offers.
Turn staff into brand evangelists by giving them the tools (such as templates, image libraries and buzzwords) to create approved content that aligns with the company image, but enough leeway to engage with customers genuinely.
Give real-world examples
Where possible, don’t leave things open to interpretation. You can’t afford to have your brand misrepresented across different locations or franchises. Using staff as brand ambassadors is great for engagement, but keep in mind they aren’t marketing specialists and can use brand guideline gaps as excuses for going rogue.
The best brand identity guidelines give ‘show, not tell’ examples of brand-compliant executions, especially for channels like social media or customer service.
With the right research, frameworks and tools, branding can transform the way your company is perceived by customers and, most importantly, drive business growth.