As Steve Jobs noted, design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.
Designing your business brand, methodology or process is therefore about a lot more than getting a visual identity for it. So, learn to leave Visual Identity Till Much Later Don’t assume branding is synonymous with getting a visual identity.
Mistaking what brand means
I myself made that mistake when I first set up my business in the mid-2000s.
The words ‘brand’ and ‘branding’ were very confused in my mind because I was a new business, and a less experienced entrepreneur back then. So, I spent thousands on “branding” without getting anything more than expensive design work.
Your brand is more about the way you design your business than designs you get for your business to use.
Although, the visual element does play an important part in the long-term growth and prosperity of a business, it’s all too easy to turn to a visual brand identity, when what you actually first need is to sort out your brand strategy.
I’ve explained in other posts why you need to go to different providers of services to get your brand strategy and brand identity, and then your visual identity.
Clarity About Your Business Brand
Only once you’re clear on your business brand would it be appropriate to turn to a designer for a visual identity. You could brief the designer properly, avoiding the need for them to spend hours and hours trying to understand your business, mission and values – which they, of course, need to know, in order to be able to deliver your visual identity.
A brand is much more than a logo, and branding is about a lot more than visual designs.
Just because you need some sort of visual identity to start your venture, doesn’t mean you should undergo a costly branding visual design exercise. You could just use some basic designs more affordably so as to get started testing your business concept, leaving the more comprehensive visual identity work till much later.
Once you’ve thought through and tested your positioning, name, niche, and business model, and identified a winning formula, protected your intellectual property – THAT’s when the time would be right to engage designers to create a visual identity to reflect your brand brief.
Until then, something temporary – or your existing visual identity (if you’re rebranding) will be just fine.
Confusion About Branding
As mentioned, I myself was confused about what branding meant when I started my business some 14 years ago.
I made the mistake of paying for expensive “branding” for my business by engaging some designers who provided “branding” services. They had a process to help work out what my brand was, which involved completing a questionnaire, having a meeting and some discussions which I don’t remember at all, nor did I really understand what they meant by their questions. I know they were also trying to understand what intellectual property meant!
They sent me some logo designs afterwards and I picked one I really liked – it had an old fashioned distinctive looking font. And that was it. My brand identity was created around that logo. I had picked brand colours that I liked before they created the logo, so that was my brand identity work completed.
Why the Brand was Unsuitable
The website they designed for me featured many pictures of musical instruments, including violins and pianos.
At the time being new to business I was quite clueless about all things branding. So, this is the brand I got. It gave a cliché impression about what an intellectual property law firm was all about. The trouble was that I wasn’t a music lawyer, but due to all the musical instruments featured on my site, I kept getting enquiries from musicians who couldn’t afford our services.
This is a mistake I see many businesses making, because they assume branding is about getting a logo and other designs. They hand themselves over to designers to brand their business and remain clueless about what brand really means.
I should add that the designers were lovely people, and very keen to do their best for me. The problem wasn’t with them. It was simply that I wasn’t ready for the branding process at that time and should have started with someone else who could help me understand what a brand is, and to provide guidance so I could develop my business brand strategy before visiting the design agency for the visual identity work.
How different it was for me second time around, a few years ago.
I decided it was time to rebrand and get a visual identity that was more reflective of our focus as a law firm – namely technology and online business.
This time, I did my homework on my business, mission, values, purpose, positioning and more – as well as some of the research I advocate everyone should do before launching their positioning. I then only opted for the visual identity work AFTER getting clarity on my brand strategy on my own (with the help of a marketer). Therefore, the exercise resulted in a more successful outcome.
Every single business, charity or entity has a ‘brand’ in the sense that they all have an identity rather like you or I have an identity as people. To work out the details so that what you say, how you operate and what you promise reflect the way you want to be known as a business and brand takes time to think through.
Values and Beliefs
It involves working out which values of founder are to be paramount in establishing what the brand of the business or charity represents. What its personality is, and what it wants to stand for – it needs to be something that resonates with its customers or those they serve.
Working out what you want to uniquely provide to the market, and your marketing messages to evoke a desired response in the minds of your customers through your brand promise is the first step involved to brand your business. Until your business can consistently deliver that, you will not have a brand
Wally Olins, a thought leader in brands and branding says
‘A brand is simply an organisation, or a product, or a service with a personality … Branding can encapsulate both big and important and apparently superficial and trivial issues simultaneously … Branding is not only a design and marketing tool, it should influence everybody in your company, it’s a coordinating resource because it makes the corporation’s activities coherent and above all it makes the strategy of the organisation visible and palpable for all audiences to see’.
While design helps support the overall impression and feelings a brand wants to evoke and convey, if you don’t first work out your brand strategy for creating a successful business that meets a market need, then no amount of ‘visual identity branding’ will make your business into a successful, coherent brand.
An important point to note is that the good associations that customers have with a brand are, for the most part, transferred to the brand’s name. Just as individuals are identified by their name, so we identify a business primarily by its name.
The name plays a very significant part in the way the law protects a brand. Even if a business has many other symbols, like Coca-Cola has with its distinctive logo or bottle shape, the name is still the most critical component of its identity. This is why you need to work with a trade mark lawyer who “gets” branding for the initial first phase of your branding exercise when you’re developing your brand strategy, and identifying suitable names.
More than 70% of the value in businesses in our digital economy comprises intangible assets. These intangibles include your brand name, logo, website, brochures, and more. They’re impacted by intellectual property laws the world over. Income follows assets. If you own physical property it can generate rental or other income for you. This is well understood in relation to physical property but not so well appreciated when it comes to business assets, such as a brand name or a piece of software. These assets underpinned with IP protection are where the value in your business will lie as you succeed and grow.
So, start your brand thinking by consulting an IP lawyer, that focuses on trademarks and has a deep understanding and interest in what brands are all about.