The words ‘brand’ and ‘branding’ seem to be bandied about with varying meaning and understanding.
My personal favourite definition of a brand is Marty Neumeier’s:
“a brand is a person’s gut feeling about product, service or company”.
It’s a reminder that a brand is defined by what its customers say it is, rather than what the brand team say it is.
The brand key, therefore, should not be mistaken for a statement of fact. It’s an aspiration: a dissection of the brand as they’d like consumers to reflect it. Brand strategy is about making this vision of the brand fulfill the business’ objectives. Brand teams should ask themselves three questions.
Firstly: What does our brand stand for, as defined by our customers?
We can answer that with research. Research reveals the truth about brand meaning by asking those people inside whom the brand lives and dies: the customers. It’s the final word in what your brand truly stands for, and a measure of the success of the marketing team in getting the brand to stand for what the brand team had hoped.
For example, Stella Artois might convey the idea of Belgian suave sophistication, but that’s only validated as the brand meaning when it’s played back from consumers’ mouths.
With an understanding of the brand established, the brand team should then ask: What do we want our brand to stand for, to best serve our business objectives?
Here begins the delicate art of connecting the logic of strategy with the magic of creativity. Again research can help here by forming an understanding of what drives consumers of the brand’s category.
Nike, for example, demonstrate a real understanding of their customers, and consistently come up with creative ways of connecting and engaging wherever the consumer may be. With platforms like Nike+ and Nike Fuel, they engage with their consumers on a level which demonstrates a rich understanding of their psyche—as evidenced by the success and spread of both.
Finally, brand teams then need to ask: How can we close that gap through creativity?
This is where brands need to harness the power of design. Good design has the power to take a brand strategy and bring it to life for consumers in a way that will make them not just want to buy products, but tell all their friends to as well. Apple is the best brand in the world at doing that. They brought design into a world of beige boxes and unintuitive systems, and it’s no coincidence that they’re also the biggest brand in the world.
About the Author
Stuart Chapman is Associate Director at The Big Picture, a design research company. From a background in architecture, Stuart turned his attention from design to design strategy at The Big Picture. His work there has influenced the direction of many of the world’s most recognisable and prestigious brands.