The third costly mistake people make is Not having a clear brand strategy before getting a visual brand identity
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, but it should also 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’.
To think through your brand strategy involves deciding how to create a good business that’s reliable and known for delivering on a specific promise. How will your business idea work? Who will buy from you? What promises will you be known for?
Every brand has its own distinct ‘promise’. It’s due to this promise that we know to expect something completely different if we buy a Rolex watch rather than a Swatch.
Working out your brand strategy is essential if you want to get your business off to a successful start. Thinking through how you want your business to be known isn’t easy, but this is important work. You need to fine tune your brand strategy before you can be ready to brief designers to give your concept a visual identity.
Consider what quality or outcome you want to deliver consistently and reliably. How will customers know what to expect if they use your product or service so that there’s little risk of an unpleasant surprise? Buying a product or service from a business whose brand is not yet known is risky because it represents something untried and untested.
As my first efforts with branding were somewhat unsuccessful, I decided to rebrand a few years ago. This time I knew better than to start off the process by visiting a designer. Instead, I did a lot of introspective thinking, and worked with other professionals to fine tune my brand strategy.
I had to decide what unique angle I was bringing to the market, and how to communicate that message in a way that evoked a response in the minds of customers.
What work was my law firm focusing on? Apart from the fact that we specialised in brand and trademarks, I realised we were very technology and online business focused in everything we did.
Having done my homework and soul searching first, and really considered the business’ mission, values, purpose, and more, I turned to a designer for the visual identity work.
As I had fine-tuned my brand strategy, the rebranding exercise was a great success. We decided to use the tagline, Lawyers for the Digital World. This time the logo was designed to look more IBM like rather than an old fashioned “creative” looking script.
Some of our essential values are encapsulated in our ethos Easy Legal Not Legalese. Another important value is to be forward-thinking and to provide the solutions the market needs. Hence why we’ve developed BrandTuned, a “done with you” style service that combines branding with IP. It ends with designs. We can either do the designs for you using our own creatives, or we give you a design brief that makes it easy for your own chosen designer to translate your brand strategy into visual designs.
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.
This is a question I used to wonder about. Deep down I believed ‘brand’ and ‘branding’ to be essentially a surface, cosmetic exercise.
As for ‘personal branding’ the activity had connotations of people learning to be false and less than real. After all, if they spent time thinking about how they wanted to come across, surely that meant they would be artificial rather than authentic? Such people would be too focused on creating the ‘right’ impression rather than being themselves. This is what I used to think. I doubt I’m the only person who has thought in this way about a brand.
Where do prejudices like this come from?
I was wondering where such prejudices about ‘branding’ came from, and whether others share them.
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that there was a time when brand was all about image. Did the hangover of that era create this impression of brand being superficial surface stuff, I wonder?
Now that my views have changed I don’t like to admit how I thought about branding. However, I think there is a benefit to examining such prejudices to see whether they are widespread and shared by others.
Meaning of design
As Steve Jobs put it “Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works”.
In brand creation, the link between design and branding may be one reason the activity is perceived to be about surface veneer.
I remember a few years ago many of the big law firms were all undergoing rebranding exercises. Invariably this involved shortening of their names, unveiling new logos, colours, and slogans – but for all one could tell it was just new visual designs and business as usual. The businesses didn’t seem altered in any substantive way after their rebrands.
I could understand it more when a company like Norwich Union rebranded by changing its name and becoming AVIVA. Its old name was parochial and limiting. If the business wanted to be perceived as more international it definitely needed a name change and new identity.
Then there was BP rebranding from British Petroleum to BP, adopting the green colouring everywhere.
Yet that business seemed to lack an effective belief system to respond appropriately in the face of the oil spill disaster.
Their rebrand seemed to have been a surface exercise in design work. For all the information they put out about their values, none of these seemed to drive the business’ behaviour and response, and therefore seemed to be a surface, superficial exercise.
I have read hundreds of books on branding, and now that I understand the anthropological and social basis of it I know it’s a really important tool in business if properly dealt with.
Clarifying your philosophy and how you mean to function as a business when setting up or rethinking any venture, be it a commercial undertaking or a charity, is crucial to success, provided those decisions are embedded within the business appropriately so that they determine how the business behaves and reaches decisions.
The trouble is that many people invariably assume this branding exercise involves working with designers to get a new visual identity. This is wrong thinking that needs to be debunked.
Branding is not just about the visual identity
The prominent association some people have with the brand and visual identity may explain why I and others have perceived the branding exercise to be cosmetic and surface, rather than having any deep meaning.
My own experiences of branding never allowed the amount of time and space one needs in which to think through the brand philosophy. The branding experiences were invariably spaced out over 3-4 weeks – which is insufficient time in which to make fundamental, profound decisions about your purpose and mission, values, and what brand promise you want to be known for etc.
A Design Brief
For a designer faced with a client that hasn’t done the work on their brand yet, the problem is how to deliver a visual brand identity. So, I totally get why the designer can’t just create a visual identity without knowing what the business is all about and wants to communicate.
The problem is that clients go to designers with no real design brief. So, designers invariably and necessarily need to ask questions and delve as deeply as it’s possible to do in the time available, in order to find out about the business, and its values.
That is the way to arrive at a brief from which to design the visual identity needs to change.
The fact that businesses have done inadequate thinking about their brand strategy before they turn to a designer is the root cause of the problem. It leaves it to the designer to tease out this information so that they can do their job.
Naming calls for different skills
It’s expecting too much of designers, who also have to come up with new names and slogans too to help their clients to embed their philosophy into the business.
The naming side of a brand is really an exercise that calls for completely different skills and shouldn’t be left to designers to deal with.
For naming and slogans, you need trade mark lawyers who could involve a copywriter or linguist to help brainstorm name ideas if necessary. Designers don’t need to be involved at this stage of the process. When you’re finding out who you are, why others should care, how you will operate and so on, you just need to work with a brand strategist that understands trade mark and other IP laws, and the marketing and other aspects of branding.
It’s only when that is all clarified that you need a designer to give visual expression to the brand.
You should choose a name once you’ve understood your target market and what resonates with that market. You don’t choose the name because of what it will look like in a logo. That would be rather superficial in my view, when naming something, to be worrying about its visual manifestation as a logo.
The ideal branding exercise to give a business a brand that will be its central core and soul is one where you spend many months working out your business brand, and brand strategy, including your positioning. Only once that stage is completed would you be ready to identify a name and slogan.
This is why we have created a brand strategy offering for our clients. We can then give guidance to clients on names. I have spent years studying and understand brands – having realised it’s the optimum way forward to give clients the best possible outcome for their brand work.
Not all trademark lawyers can offer such a service yet because the lawyers would first need to thoroughly understand what’s involved in a branding exercise so they can help you create a suitable name and tagline.
So, I want to emphasise that the expertise that’s needed during this first phase is NOT design related. You’re thinking through things like what marketing messages will resonate with the target customer. Is the chosen name or slogan one that the customer would respond to? Is it capable of functioning as a trade mark? Is it available? Does it reflect the positioning without actually describing the activity? Who better to work with at this stage of brand thinking than a trade mark lawyer who has undergone a solid training in brand?
Your brand is what drives your business, a set of promises and assurances that customers should think of when they see or hear your name. It is your unique identity that resonates with your target audience and differentiates you from your competitors. The name and slogan are the root of that identity.
When it’s Appropriate to Seek Designs
Once this first stage of the brand work is completed, and appropriate legal checks have been carried out, and trade marks registered, it would be appropriate to turn to designers to create the visual brand identity.
The exercise that began with IP first to assess which IP rights are most important to the business model, and concluded with legal protection of the brand identity, would mean the legal identity would be firmly and correctly sorted out and locked down. So, a detailed brief could be produced for designers to create the visual identity.
Given this level of detail, the designers would at the very most need a one-hour meeting with the client to get the information they need to produce the visual identity.
Approach to Branding
This approach to branding should be what small businesses do, because it brings down the overall costs for the client. The visual identity costs will be a fraction of the price designers now need to charge. The visual design price would therefore drop because designers no longer need to spend time learning about the business and teasing out its mission, values and so on. Nor would they need to do work that they’re not well placed to do, such as devising new names and slogans.
As such the client is the winner. They have much greater clarity about their brand when constructing their business model and I suspect this would impact their success rate in business because they could design the business correctly and be better placed to build on solid foundations.
So, I advocate separating the legal identity and brand strategy from the visual identity. They need different advisers. Azrights supports clients with brand strategy and naming, while the visual identity is then undertaken by designers who we can introduce, or you can find yourself.
Another difference in the outcome is that instead of the brand guidelines being focused purely on the visual dimension – the logo and colours, the client would get two sets of brand guideline – one focused on the brand strategy, covering issues such as communications and embedding the brand into the culture of the business, while the visual brand guidelines would focus on use of logos and colours, as they do now.
With the correct strategy, your brand will gain in value over time. This value will come from the positive reputation your business develops. For more information read my earlier blog on how to establish your brand.
Brand strategy is one of the most important issues to deal with if you want to create a business that grows in brand value and delivers more leads and opportunities.
We’re developing a methodology to support our clients to create their brand strategy and it’s important to take a fresh look at what you think “brand” means when considering this piece and the videos here.
Brand, branding, intellectual property, trade mark, business design – these are all very much misunderstood as terms, or people don’t even know what they mean. Yet these are really important issues for a business to take on board whether it’s starting up, scaling or looking to exit.
In the blog post and first video, I explain what is involved in working out your brand strategy.
Don’t assume bigger businesses all have brand strategies because many of them don’t have one – particularly tech companies as they focus all their attention on the product.
Uber is an example of what happens when you don’t have a brand strategy. While the business is a success and has even reached unicorn status, its lack of attention to brand has caused numerous problems. In the second video, I go into Uber’s case in more depth.
If you want support to craft your brand strategy so as to build brand value, and attract more leads and opportunities then do get in touch. We can help you whether you’re a start up, scale up or a business looking to plan your exit.
If you prefer to listen/watch a video instead of reading then click hereto go to my Youtube channel.
Asking yourself the question ‘what business am I really in’ is well worth doing periodically – the answer might just help you to discover hidden opportunities or an angle for business development that you otherwise wouldn’t have considered.
Take cinemas as an example.
When I was a child I remember outings to the cinema would often start off with a visit to the shops to buy nibbles and sweets. We’d then walk over to the cinema, buy our tickets and go into the auditorium to watch the film while munching away on the foods we’d bought.
Fast forward to today when a visit to the cinema is a different experience.
What’s happened? Well somewhere along the line cinemas began to look at their business in a different way. They asked themselves this question of what business they are really in, and instead of defining it as the film viewing business, they realised they’re as much in the food and beverage business, as they are in the film business.
When they regarded themselves as being purely about film watching, that was pretty much all you got when you went to the cinema. Perhaps a lady with a tray around her shoulders would sell an ice cream during the interval but that was about it.
Now that cinemas have understood that they’re also in the hospitality industry, every cinema invariably serves up an array of food and drinks for customers to purchase before they go into the cinema. It’s no longer necessary to visit other shops to buy foods before a trip to the cinema.
Indeed, some cinemas, such as the Screen on the Green in Islington, or Kino-Teatr in St Leonards on Sea at Hastings have gone even further. They’ve transformed the experience inside the cinema too. There is a bar area as you enter the auditorium, and instead of the traditional rows of uncomfortable seats, you get roomy armchair type seating and even a little table or holders on the armchairs for your drinks. The experience is more like a bar restaurant.
By enhancing the customer experience inside the cinema, and carefully choosing the food and beverages to serve up, these cinemas have created revenue streams that did not previously exist, and in fact, far exceed the amount they receive from ticket sales.
The classic example that is given when people are talking about this topic of what business are you really in is the railroads. When Ford invented the car, the railroads saw themselves as being in the railway business. So, they didn’t respond or react. Had they perceived themselves as being in the transportation business they might have dealt with the competition that cars presented in different ways. Perhaps they may have purchased some or all the cars Ford had produced and become a major player in the emerging automotive industry.
Clearly, it makes sense to ask yourself the question ‘what business am I really in’. This is the way to ensure you adapt to the changing world and stay relevant to what customers are really wanting when they buy your products and services.
The businesses that best understand the customer and create solutions that the customer wants to buy are the ones that ultimately win.
Failing to understand the customer’s needs and wants in order to respond appropriately might sometimes mean a business is acting like the frog that gets boiled to death when it’s sitting in a pan of cold water that’s gradually heated up. That same frog would have leaped out if you had put it into a pan of boiling water.
In part two of this piece, I’m going to look at what could happen if you fail to pay attention to this question and act like a frog sitting in a pan of water that’s gradually heating up.
Every business will have intellectual property to protect, although the actions to take will be very different depending on the business and the intellectual property involved.
Say you’ve invented some innovative way to solve a problem that no one else has managed to solve. In the case of Anywayup cup it was a baby cup with an innovative lid that didn’t spill. For C-Pen it was a pen that scans the text of a document directly to your computer. A patent is available in both these situations to protect your investment. Arguably, for product-based inventions a patent is essential because it gives you a legal monopoly in the invention. The patent, if well drafted, makes it difficult for others to copy your invention. Without patent protection well-resourced manufacturers could enter the same market once they realise you are onto something, and use their greater financial muscle to produce and publicise a similar offering.
Then suppose you have selected the perfect name for your invention and had a logo developed for it with an attractive design. How would you feel if you were to find out after spending time and resources promoting the name, that it couldn’t be exclusive to you because the name is incapable of functioning as a trademark? This is what happened to Tesco’s Clubcard. The name it chose for its loyalty program has proved impossible to protect. If this was you, wouldn’t you prefer to know about it in advance, so you could make a better choice? Or, say you find that the name is not legally available and you then lose everything overnight when a trade mark owner is able to put a stop to your continued use of your name? This is what happened to Scrabulous whose business on Facebook went up in a puff of smoke. And did you know that if you don’t take the right actions in relation to your logo, you could find yourself on the wrong end of a dispute as happened to Innocent who at one point lost the right to use their iconic logo. Would you have the resources to appeal such a decision as they did? These are just some examples of what can happen when you don’t get timely IP advice.
Every business has IP issues to consider because every business has a name, a logo, a website, a database of contacts and more. These are all intangible assets which are important to the success of a business.
What is IP?
IP is the collective name for the rights that protect creativity, imagination and ideas. It’s very wide ranging and the rules are often complex.
Trademarks identify your products or services, secure exclusive rights over the name of your business and contain the value of your brand. With the right name you can stop competitors stealing business away from you. Copyright is another essential intellectual property right. Every business uses copyright works because every business is likely to have a logo, website, brochures, photographs, packaging, software etc. Design protection is another type of IP right which is often overlooked. However, it is a powerful tool for protecting your market share and preventing competitors from copying your ideas.
The Benefits of Protecting Your Intellectual Property
Strategic decisions about IP should be made early in the business so as to make good choices of IP, and determine how best to protect yourself with your available resources.
IP presents both risks and opportunities. Used wisely, IP advice and protection
increases the value of your business,
helps grow your profit margins,
creates income streams,
protects your market share,
prevents competitors from copying your ideas,
reduces future risks and liability (including personal liability of directors),
protects the effort you put into your business, and
gives you a legal monopoly.
Common IP Mistakes
A common mistake is to assume that IP advice is just needed if a business has a potential patent or trade mark to register. In the digital economy IP support is needed for every business.
Another error we often see, is businesses simply registering their trademark without doing any due diligence searches. It’s important to note that a trademark registration can be cancelled if someone else has better rights to the name. This is what happened to Microsoft who had registered Skydrive as a trademark only to have its use of the name challenged. Rebranding to Onedrive cost millions. Not every business has the resources of Microsoft to shoulder the costs that a rebrand invariably involves.
Some business owners justify ignoring IP on the grounds that they don’t have the resources to litigate. They wonder what is the point of protecting their IP. You’re actually much more likely to get into a dispute if you don’t register your rights than if you do. Owning registered IP rights can be a very useful bargaining tool if you find yourself threatened by a competitor. Unfortunately disputes relating to intellectual property may arise when your business has taken off and your IP has acquired value. Not protecting it could lay yourself wide open. So don’t expose yourself to litigation by not taking some basic steps to protect yourself.
How To Protect Your Intellectual Property?
IP help is important when you’re deciding how to implement your idea because the choices you make when bringing your ideas to life are all IP decisions. By consulting an IP lawyer at that early stage you are much better placed to make effective choices, and reduce the likelihood of having to undo ill considered decisions later on.Taking a holistic approach to IP is crucial.
We are well placed to help you to take control of your intellectual property so your business can flourish from a secure foundation. Do get in touch for a no obligation confidential discussion.