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Much a brand about nothing

Written by
Christos Helmis

A short guide to get your teeth into the first steps of branding without having to employ Shakespeare to write your literature.

In my 35 years of experience I have seen hundreds of executives and business consultants who are more ready to speak about branding rather than actually do it. They view branding as an exercise of a snazzy logo, a few trendy illustrations or photos, some "disruptive", over-promising or outright utopian texts and they’re done. This is not branding at all. It’s shooting from the hip blindfolded and hoping that one bullet hits the bullseye.

So what could be the proper way to branding? What do successful brands succeed in, so that we live in their environment and under their influence, without even noticing? We’ll get to those brands and how they do it in just a minute. The good news is that you don’t have to be a Shakespeare or a Caravaggio to brand correctly. You just require a little more patience than going with quick-fix solutions and some willingness to engage in a process, where each step builds on the previous one. So let’s get to it!

What do we mean by brand?

A brand is the name that belongs to and matches a particular, product, service or destination, uniquely identifying and distinguishing them. So before we get to the logo, we absolutely need a name. It can be a word, words, initials or abbreviations. In any case it should be something pronounceable that can carry meaning. 

Look at these examples: Google, Apple, Nike, Toyota, Coca Cola, U2. I expect that in at least three of them you can already “see" the logo. In the others you are perhaps not exactly sure about the image. However, in all six the name means something clear and forms a small narrative in your mind. Do this exercise back to front with the brand logos you see here.

Logo examples

Most of the time we confuse “brand” with signs, logos and corporate identity. This is because brands are initially identified by their visual content, that is, by symbols, colours, shapes - what we usually call "image." It’s easy to be tricked into thinking we have a brand because we’ve simply designed a logo for our product, service or destination. However, a name is more powerful than a recognisable image. Think about it. Without a name the image is indefinable and powerless. So, the brand image exists to direct you towards the brand name and serves its purpose only if the brand name has been firmly planted in your mind. Well-chosen and recognisable brand names bring words to life and take on new and significant meanings as they filter through the public’s collective consciousness. The right name is that powerful. 

So, the brand is first and foremost a name. Now that we have established that, there are three dynamics that we must first examine as we begin to imagine what name to give to our product, service or destination.

The brand name must…

…match the expectations and experiences of the people group it addresses, because it reflects the values that concern them and promises to stay true to them. The right name will build confidence in your target population towards the product, service or destination for its entire lifespan.

…have a clear ownership so that it is distinguishable from any other product or service and not easy to imitate. This results in a two way protection: One is for the company who can register the brand commercially, profit from it and use it in its communication. The other is regarding the trust its audience who have learned about, believed and added another name to their vocabulary. It would be unimaginable for Apple’s audience if an iPhone (even the older models) were to suddenly lose its high quality wouldn’t it? The brand audience always knows what to expect from a successful brand.

…be recognisable by a growing audience as its unfolding narrative, establishes itself in the public’s heart and mind. Only then do we see (and in our profit margins too) what we mentioned above - the value of the right name and the reason for creating clear commercial and legal boundaries for it.

What is branding?

Branding is the systematic process of establishing the brand.
The more a name is recognised as belonging to and matching its product, service or destination the more successful it is. These three dynamic factors interacting with each other and the market place is the branding process. The more harmonious these factors are, the more the brand actively engages with the marketplace and takes on a life of its own. We will now focus our attention to the basic steps you can take to make your brand come alive and establish itself amongst us.

Logo examples

1 - Find, first, the name that can become your brand.

If you haven’t been convinced about the importance of getting the name right, or feel companies should be named after their owner, have another challenge! Be willing to change your existing name. Don’t be held back thinking, "But that's how everyone knows me," because it's usually over-estimated. Look far ahead. Your clients today are fewer than your clients tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and probably speak another language. Even today, people may not recognise you for the right reasons. When you are a leader in dairy equipment, you are not called Inox Centre, even if you use stainless steel, but Milkplan and you now export from Greece to 70 countries.

Logo examples

2 - Convert the name to an image, to a logo, so it can evolve into a brand.

Or change the image of your name to fully express its potential. Do not stick to wooden statements such as "the logo does not change". It can change just fine and evolves too, whether it could use a clear and fresh approach, or discrete and minor adjustments. Carefully pick your new image because it is the currency with which your customers and audience will buy into, value and come to rely upon, even before it translates into hard cash in your bank account. Remember, a good image will implant your brand name into the minds of its audience.

3 - Decide on your myth and tell your story.

Not your fairytale, but a telling narrative that personifies your product, service, or destination; that evokes a deeper emotional connection, not dissimilar to what yours should be. Your narrative needs to be told through your vision, your values, your goals and, above all, the brand, that will ultimately testify to it. The more you tell your narrative through all you do, the more you crystalise and enhance yourself to your market.

You will know by now that branding is about much more than graphics. It’s about the systematic process of building the brand and you will now need messages (texts and pictures), thought through arguments and careful management and prioritisation of the information that you want to communicate. It’s about talking to people in simple language, dead easy for your audience to get. Remember to pay attention to the style and formality, or general tone of the text. It will need to be the right kind to attract your target audience.

You will also need to come up with two sentences: one describes how you want your customers to describe you to others. The other will become your motto - the words or phrase that along with your logo describes, inspires and supports consumer preference. This will be your tagline.

4 - Now save it - nail it down.

Register it as a brand name and as an internet domain name. Create a set of guidelines, for example visual guidelines - background colour, small size, font, etc - to standardise the brand, which makes it more easily and uniquely identifiable in your newborn or reborn brand. Have it visible everywhere from inscriptions, headings, packages to the website and social networks. It will require design nous to provide both uniformity and creative variety as it finds expression across these various visual platforms

The branding process is not an exact science. So as you standardise the brand consider several possible alternatives and then collectively evaluate them. Don’t be unwilling to retrace your steps and go in another direction. For each new step you have the previous one for your guide. And each new step will strengthen the brand identity and add value to your currency.

logo examples

5 - You are ready to launch and present the brand to its audience.

Choose the right time - it can be the 25th anniversary of your company's incorporation (time to redo your website?!) Do it with enthusiasm. It is contagious. Do it with the right tools - from an ad campaign to a video on YouTube or a slideshow. Do it from the inside out: talk first to employees, staff, associates, then to the core of your audience and expand. Use as many communication channels as you can. Spend wisely and appropriately. Personally, I find it completely inappropriate for a businessman to spend more on his wedding than he ever invested in the launch of his new brand.

So, let’s recap

A good start was made through the visual design of a name and the beginning of a process of producing recognition and bonds of trust between the public and the brand. This process required strategic thinking and may have helped you rethink your business idea and refine it before it's tested in the marketplace. It will continue to require professionalism, collective effort and time.

The bottom line, however, is that the branding process must ultimately be reflected in increased sales. Whatever the creative explosion in the conception and design phases, it will simply end up resembling wedding logos if the brand does not become a branded product, service or organisation; if it is not useful and enjoyable, as promised. So, please turn all your attention to your products and services. Its quality content is in your hands. Branding has experts to take care of how you communicate what you and they are about.

Now that you know the process of establishing a really strong brand, it’s time to continue talking about branding! But with a change. Our doors are open for you to come and consult with us. Let’s see what it could mean if we together branded your company, product, service or destination properly. As an international branding and design team we will combine both our design and market strategy skills to launch your brand as we have been doing for the last 30 years. You don’t have to be the Shakespeare of your field, just be willing to give it a go.

On Brand Manuals

Written by
Christos Helmis

Supposedly the brand manual is where a brand should start and a branding agency should finish. It rarely happens that way though. While in rebranding (especially the corporate or institutional, see the Cedefop case here) both sides are able and in great need to produce a clear set of rules to guide management, employees, partners, agents, resellers and others onto the new image, with newborn brands this is totally impracticable if not altogether impossible.

At Colibri, we usually advise our clients to save their money on the manual and keep us onboard for more brand applications that need design and copywriting as the brand grows. To miss its first trade fair or its first interaction with the consumers on social media, a new packaging line for a new market even, it is like missing the other half of the Aristotelian “Well begun”. We’ll go with Abraham Lincoln on this one: “Half finished work generally proves to be labor lost”.