I really think that the concept of branding often gets confused with the concept of graphic design and/or developing the visual look for your organization’s materials. If you have the right logo and the right stationary, you’re done branding. Right?
Have you ever heard the expression “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear?” I’m sorry – I think that’s a gross expression, but it makes my point.
When I looked up that cliché here’s the meaning I found: “Being unable to turn something ugly or inferior into something attractive or of value.” (dictionary.com).
Here is a real example in action. In this Inc Magazine article, one DMV private contractor literally transformed the DMV experience from dreadful to dreamy.
That example worked for me – it made my point about branding. You can’t fancy up the outside and expect your an excellent brand experience to be delivered to your customers unless you work at it. What’s on the inside of your organization and what’s displayed to the public must be consistent. You can say you’re great in your tagline and then not be great! People figure that out pretty quick and you lose trust. The visual experience and delivering a quality customer experience are part and parcel of branding.
Customers need to experience your brand, as well as see your creatively branded brochures, your web site, etc. Plus, you need to broadcast how your brand delivers its promise. It’s not one and done when it comes to branding. It’s more like – you have to do it all.
Product and packaging design is one part of branding and it will enhance your brand experience. In fact, design can stimulate emotion, an essential part of your brand’s relationship with its customers. Visual designs project the brand. Details count. But you can’t project your brand until you know what your brand delivers. That’s my point in a nutshell.
If you want people to love your organization, it starts with know thyself. In the book, Brand Like a Rock Star, author Steve Jones uses examples of famous rock bands who steadfastly remain true to their genre and style. As a result, they grow to rock star fame. The message – know thyself and be true to thyself. (It’s a really great book, by the way, if you’re learning about branding.)
Before you can be a brand, know your brand
Another great read on the topic is What Great Brands Do, by Denise Lee Yohn. (In chapter 5 she talks about the inter-connection between design and brand.)
Principle one is “Great brands start inside” (Yohn, 2014, chapter 1, p. 19). In short, before your organization can be a brand, you need to know your brand, for good and for bad. I think this is her first principle for a reason. Creating a brand is about knowing, creating, and delivering an experience that meets the expectations of your target audience(s). What is your brand promise? What are you trying to achieve? How you answer those questions defines a brand.
Branding also means everyone in the organization knows, understands, and tries to deliver the brand experience that defines your organization. And it means being authentic when there are bumps in the brand experience, too.
More than a logo – your brand is an experience
So, yes, we certainly want consistency in the visual representation of the organization so your materials are immediately recognizable and professional. But instead of debating over colors, shapes, and other such things first on this journey, ask yourself, what emotion will your visual brand conjure up in people who recognize your logo or your visual branding elements? What emotion do you want to come to mind when customer’s interact with your organization? What brand experience do you deliver?