The Second Costly Mistake people make is to assume “brand” means a logo or other visual design.
Due to the widespread confusion about branding: what it is, and what you need to do to get a brand, people tend to start by getting a logo and other visual designs, assuming this is what’s involved to “brand” their business.
It’s essential to understand what “brand” means. You don’t need to be a household name for “brand” to apply to you and your business. Brand applies to everyone whether large or small business because we all have a brand whether we know it or not.
What’s involved to create a brand nowadays is much more than the visual identity. That’s enormously important, of course, but before you can get a logo and other visual designs that reflect your business, it’s vital to first work out what you want them to communicate. Who are you? What are you all about? What is your brand promise going to be?
The designer will need some essential information from you about your values and what you stand for to guide the visual identity work. Thinking this through can take months. It’s important to have meaningful answers before engaging a designer. Otherwise, you will make hasty decisions during the branding process, as I did, which will give you an unwanted “branding” outcome.
When I first set up my business back in 2005, the words ‘brand’ and ‘branding’ were confused in my mind. I spent thousands on “branding” without getting anything more than expensive design work. The designs didn’t help me attract the right sort of clients either.
The creative agency I used had a process to help their clients work out what their brand was all about. This involved completing a questionnaire and having a meeting.
I really didn’t understand their questions. For example, when they asked me about my values, I wondered what values they had in mind. Values about what? The designers were also trying to understand what intellectual property meant!
Based on that meeting they sent me a variety of logo designs. I picked one I liked – it had an old fashioned distinctive-looking font. And that was it. My brand identity was created around that logo.
The website they designed for me featured many pictures of musical instruments, including violins and pianos.
At the time being new to the world of business, I was quite clueless about all things branding. So, this is the brand I got. The visuals gave a cliché impression about the work of an intellectual property law firm.
I wasn’t a music lawyer, but due to all the musical instruments featured on the website, I kept getting enquiries from musicians who couldn’t afford our services.
This is a mistake I see many businesses making in that they hand over to designers to brand their business before they’ve thoroughly thought through their business idea for themselves. It’s important to think about the type of client you want to attract.
I should have started the branding process somewhere else. I needed help to understand what “brand” meant and what type of client I wanted to attract. This is something that requires business and marketing thinking. Developing your brand strategy is essential before thinking about visual identity.
Far better to start with temporary, low cost designs. There’s nothing wrong with that. Many of the clients I support have generally spent a year or two getting started with a temporary name and low-cost designs. They’ve tested the market, understood what works, who their ideal client is, and then they’re ready to identify a good name and get a visual identity.
Your brand is the reputation and identity by which you and your business are known. How do you want the world to think about your offerings? What do you stand for? The answer to such questions impacts your choice of brand “signs”, ie, your name and logo and other designs that reflect your brand.
The word “branding” derives from the identifying mark that was burned on livestock with a branding iron when farmers branded their livestock. It was done not only to enable identification but also to make a certain ranch’s cattle unique.
Sometimes the brand mark told you the name or the symbol of the ranch or owner of the cattle. If any rustlers stole the cattle, the evidence was right there that they were stolen. In this way, branding served as
(1) a legal mark of identification
(2) a physical mark of identification
(3) a way of linking the cattle to the owner
(4) a way to stand out from other cattle
(5) a source of prestige for the ranch.
Just looking at the branded livestock enabled people to distinguish them from other cattle. You were also able to see the connection between them and the farmer or the ranch. If the cattle were very strong, numerous and healthy, people knew who they belonged to. “Those are Mr. Miller’s cattle. He owns five thousand cattle and one of the biggest ranches around. See how healthy his cattle are? That must be a big ranch to own all that livestock.”
A brand mark discouraged cattle thieves. It’s like stealing a company car with the logo and company name on it.
For business today, branding has moved on as a concept from its roots in visual imagery. Although the visual element plays an important part in the long-term growth and prosperity of your business, what you first need to do is to sort out what you stand for, in other words, your brand strategy.