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What Branding is about

By June 14, 2021How to

from the book "The Brand Handbook" by Wally Olins

Definitions in branding

Like almost everything to do with the world of branding, the terminology is in a state of flux. Until the 1980s or so a “brand” was a fast-moving consumer product on a supermarket shelf. It essentially appealed to only one audience of the organization, the customer.

When the corporation presented itself to all of its audiences, the phrase “corporate identity” was used. Many years ago in The Corporate Personality (Design Council, 1978) I wrote that “corporate personality” is the soul, the persona, the spirit of the organization manifested in some comprehensible way. I then wrote: “The tangible manifestation of a corporate personality is its corporate identity”. This latter, then, was the corporate personality under coltivation.

Today, however, one would probably say that the tangible manifestation of corporate personality is called “corporate brand”. Although the term “corporate identity” is fighting a though rearguard battle, “corporate brand” is winning. The word “brand” can therefore embrace both the corporation as a whole and its products and its services. The word “brand” also has more financially accountable connotations than those terms it is gradually supplementing or replacing, like “identity”, “image” and “reputation”.

The “corporate image” is what all the audiences of the corporation perceive of the identity that has been created and projected.

Guidelines for branding

Branding has now become a significant mainstream management activity. It can be, although it isn’t always, a complex, multi-faced and multi-disciplinary process. It can be consecutively – or, more frequently, simultaneously – a marketing resource, a design resource, a communication resource and a behavioural resource. All this makes it pretty difficult to pin down, but branding activity is generally associated with a few simple rules. These are that branding:

  • is a design, marketing, communication and human resources tool
  • should influence every part of the organization and every audience of the organization all the time
  • is a co-ordinating resources because it makes the corporation’s activities coherent
  • above all makes the strategy of the organization visible and palpable for all audiences to see

1. Brand Visibility

Looked at from the outside, the brand seems to consist of a few elements – some colours, some typefaces, a strapline or slogan, all topped off with a logo or symbol, sometimes of an apparently allegorical nature but frequently consisting of a simple typeface. Sometimes a brand also embraces sound or music, and even smells.

All of these ingredients seem to be mixed up and then plastered apparently more or less at random over everything that the organization owns or influences.

Wherever a brand has a “touchpoint” – that is, an interaction with an audience – it needs to look, feel or behave like itself.

Take away
  • Does your organization have a clear core idea (what is about, what it stands for, what it believes in)?
  • Can you explain what your company does and what makes it different from its competitors in a couple of sentences?
  • Do most of your colleagues in the company share similar feelings about what the organization is, what it does and how it does it?
  • Does the outside world understand what your company stands for, and how it differs from its competitors?
  • Does your organization have and effective set of visual elements
  • Do the visual elements work according to a well understood and coherent system?
  • Do they present an immediate memorable and unique encapsulation of the brand idea?
  • If your organization is large, does each company, each division and each brand understand the workings of the organization’s visual elements as a whole?

2. Brand Architecture

Every organization needs to create a framework into which its brands fall. This is called “brand architecture”.

The architecture should be clear, easy to comprehend and consistent. The brand architecture of most organizations that have given consideration to the matter falls broadly into one of three categories.

Corporate, or Monolithic – the single business identity

The organization uses one name and one visual system throughout (e.g. Yamaha, Virgin, HSBC, Easy).

Endorsed – the multiple business identity

The organization owns a variety of brands, each of which is endorsed by the group name or visual style (e.g. Nestlé, United Technologies, Banco Santander).

Branded – the brand-based identity

The organization owns a number of brands or companies which are apparently unrelated, both to each other and to the corporation (e.g. Diageo, Procter & Gamble, RBS (The Royal Bank of Scotland), General Motors).

Branding manages to make sense of some otherwise odd relationships. The motorcycle and the piano are both Yamaha products. Remember, Nokia used to make tyres.

Take away
  • Does your organization have clear brand architecture?
  • If so, what is it?
  • If it doesn’t, is there a good reason for the present state of affairs?
  • What can you do about it?

3. Why and When to introduce Branding

Some brands are created from scratch. There was nothing there before – like Orange the mobile phone business, or Vueling the Spanish low-cost airline, or First Direct the internet bank, or perhaps the most famous example, Lexus the luxury car brand. More often, though, brands are reinvented.

If it’s there already, if it exists, if it has recognition and for one reason or another it has to be changed, then it’s a reinvented brand. Or sometimes it just needs refreshing. There is, of course, a vast difference between invented and reinvented brands.

As aesthetics change with the times, sometimes corporate identities need to change, too – in order to stay in the same place.

Take away
  • Does your corporate name provide a satisfactory umbrella under which all your activities can operate?
  • Is there any confusion between the names of your corporate and one or more of its brands?

4. The Brand as a Corporate Resource

If it is effectively and sustained, the brand is a major corporate resource – sometimes the organization’s most significant financial asset. Like finance, investment, personnel, research and development, marketing, information technology and other corporate resources, the brand needs an appropriate power base, disciplines, adequate funding, commitment and management.

If the brand resource receives this backing, it will operate just as effectively as any other corporate resource; if it doesn’t, it will wither on the vine.

The Apple brand derives from, and is manifested in, everything the company does, from product design to packaging to architecture to in-store service.

Take away
  • How seriously does your organization take brand management?
  • Is every part of the business aligned to treat all of the organizations and people it deals with in a consistent way?
  • Are there any parts of the business that resist the overall brand management value or visual system, because they claim to be different? If there are, are their claims valid?

From the book: The Brand Handbook by Wally Olins

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