Not Exactly. Here’s What Makes a Brand
You can be forgiven for thinking a company’s logo is the extent of its brand. After all, it’s the most obvious portion, and the word ‘brand’ comes from the practice of branding or searing an identifying mark onto livestock. That mark is analogous to today’s modern logos, though thankfully today we can carry loyalty cards in our wallet to show our devotion to our favorite brands instead of having their logos burned into our flesh (no amount of free gas is worth that).
Modern brands involve far more than just a logo. Brands include every bit of visual collateral associated with a company or a product. This includes color schemes, typography, shapes, website designs, marketing materials, advertisements, office, and store decor, and much more. A well-designed brand will enable consumers to recognize the company even when the name and the logo aren’t present. But brands aren’t solely represented by visual collateral. Jingles, taglines, specific voice talent, and other audio references are also included within a brand. Brands serve to distinguish one company from another in the marketplace. Therefore any distinguishing media is included in a brand.
Brands extend beyond physical and audiovisual representations as well. A company’s brand voice is the way the brand speaks about itself. It’s the way its advertising copy is written, and the personality that’s infused into marketing efforts. A brand’s identity is also included, which summarizes everything the brand represents. In short, a brand includes every single salient distinguishing item that sets a brand apart from the competition. A logo is to a brand the way your face is to you. It’s certainly the most recognizable part of your person, but it only scratches the surface of who and what you are.
Think of a Brand as a Person
A brand is the summation of a company’s or a product’s differentiating features. Framing these as a person can help gain a better understanding of how this works:
When comparing two people, the most obvious and immediate differentiating factors are visual. You can take account of their hair and skin tones, facial features, relative sizes, proportions, clothing choices, and more. This is the visual aspect of their brand. Their face is their logo, and all of the supporting visuals help you to learn more about them. These visuals can be haphazard, or they can be carefully crafted. A person’s sense of style can tell you a lot about what’s important to them, the things they appreciate, and the things they hope you perceive about them. This is true for brands as well. Visual messages are carefully crafted to tell consumers important things about the company. Companies might use leaves, trees, and a lot of green in marketing materials if they want consumers to assume they’re eco-conscious and/or natural. Large chunky fonts made to look gritty can convey the idea that a brand is hip and savvy. These visual cues are found in a logo, but also extend far beyond.
When our two friends open their mouths we can compare their voices. How do their tone and their other vocal qualities compare? Are they warm and welcoming, manic and excited, or quiet and reserved? This represents the audio cues we get from brands. One restaurant might choose festive music and excitable voice talent for their ads because they want to convey the idea that dining with them is a fun experience. Another might choose a more sedate, dignified delivery. For them, the quality of the food, and the elevated dining experience is what they’re trying to sell.
What a person says is just as important as how they say it. What they choose to tell you about themselves, how they talk about the world around them, and whether they’re serious or funny, dignified or casual, and friendly or distant, tells you a huge amount of information about each person. This is their voice, the sum total of what they say, and how they say it. Brands have voices, too, and this voice can be found in all of their written materials, websites, online, television, and radio ads, social media, and more. In the same way that you can identify a friend based on their voice, tone, and the types of things they say, a brand’s voice is equally distinguishing. Like people, this voice can vary based on who the brand is speaking to. You’re likely to speak to your friends far more casually than you would the judge deciding the fate of a speeding ticket. Brand voices have certain core messages that are consistent, but these messages can be altered slightly to be more appealing to specific audiences. Home Depot has crafted a very specific brand voice. They’re the voice of the do-it-yourselfer. The weekend warrior that takes pride in their home and in a job well done. This voice is consistent because they don’t feel market segmentation affects their brand. McDonald’s takes a different approach. They have a core message, but their voice skews urban for certain markets, value-conscious for others, and flavor-centric for still others. They recognize that a brand their size can’t possibly appeal to all people with a single voice.
Every identifying factor we’ve talked about so far is a part of a person’s identity. Their identity is how they think of and represent themselves, and it involves so much more. A person’s values, assumptions, and beliefs are all essential features of their identity. So too for brands. Compare large grocery store chains with a company like Whole Foods. Whole Foods does things differently because their brand identity dictates it. Whole Foods believes food should be ‘natural’ and healthful. They value organic produce, favor whole ingredients over-processed foods, and promote concepts like fair trade and cruelty-free products. This is their brand identity, and because their messaging promotes this identity, their customers tend to share their values. Other grocery brands, like Giant, don’t take a moral position on food. Instead, they focus on value, savings, and customer service. They believe consumers should have choices, and they stock their shelves to reflect this value. Both Giant’s and Whole Food’s messaging, and their behavior, are, as a person, dictated by their identity.
This last section is a bit harder to appreciate. Think about a time when you said something and it was misinterpreted by someone. Or a moment when someone made an improper assumption about you based on some external characteristic. This happens because people have their own biases and their own assumptions about the world through which they filter all of their experiences. This means that a person isn’t just what they think about themselves. They are what other people think about them, too. These outside perspectives are just as valid, particularly for the people that hold them. You may see yourself one way, and I may see you very differently. For me, the way I see you is who you are, even if it doesn’t quite jive with how you see yourself, or how you’d like to be seen. Therefore a holistic view of brands must include outside perspectives. The way a consumer perceives a brand is just as important as what the brand says about itself, and these external perceptions are, in the mind of each consumer, integral facets of the brand. This means that brands are, in the end, a feedback loop. They’re a relationship. A brand includes every way a company promotes itself as well as the ways in which the audience perceives the brand. These perceptions can then alter a brand’s messaging, which can, in turn, alter consumer perceptions. Brands aren’t just a logo. They’re an ongoing conversation. Now that you understand what a brand is it should be clear why it’s important to enlist the help of a qualified firm when working on your own brand. You need a group of people that appreciate the nuances and deep interconnectedness of branding matters to assure successful outcomes. We can be that firm for you. Give us a call and let us analyze your brand. We can shore up your weak areas and successfully promote your strengths. And if you need a new logo, we can do that, too.