Quick, picture these brands: Apple. Target. Amazon. Marvel. Facebook.

Okay, now picture McDonald’s.

Bet you $74 the golden arches popped into your head. (The lawyers tell me we’re not allowed to bet. So, let’s make it a wink-wink, nod-nod thing, okay?)

Us humans — we’re assuming that extraterrestrials aren’t reading our blog — are visual creatures. We connect with people, places, and things that please our eyes. We remember things that strike our fancy. We navigate via landmarks and signposts.

So, it’s not uncommon that we equate an apple, bullseye, arrow, wordmark, f, or golden arches with a brand. Yet, that’s not the brand. That’s the logo, the visual manifestation of a brand. And, yes, a business must stand out amongst a crowd. That’s not the point here.

So, what is a brand?

A brand is the amplification of a company’s core promise.

That amplification comes in many different forms, including logo, messaging, strategy, communications, and in some cases, pricing.

Pretending that a brand is a logo ensures that any marketing, sales, or communications efforts will fall flat. Adding the critical texture of who, what, why, and how our company will make your life better is the fuel that powers business.

In our examples above, the McDonald’s “brand” is the total experience of what happens when you’re engaging with the company. It’s the uniforms, how the cashiers talk to you, the menu, the advertising, the smells, the interior decoration, and that bag of yumminess that you carry out. (Or not yumminess. Judgment-free zone here.)

At Apple, the brand is more than the, um, apple. It’s the technology, hardware, software, apps, and almost most importantly those gorgeous stores with beautiful displays, clean lines, and BIG windows. Oh, and you know the most important piece of the Apple brand? The Genius Bar. 

 

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

 

Like Apple, Tesla, Rolex, or Hermés, luxury brands are signals of affluence and influence. Scott Galloway, professor of marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business, has said on more than one occasion that holding an iPhone, wearing a Rolex, or driving a Tesla shows the world that you’re a worthy partner and will offer more than some schlub using an Android phone, wearing a Timex, or driving a Corolla.

Further, a brand sets Company A apart from Company B and helps determine what messages to send out to support that difference.

Gotcha. How do I build a brand?

Long story short, you hire us! Haha.

It’s a long road, but when traveled well, you come out with something more than just a pretty logo.

In a very general way, here’s how we run a branding project:

1. Research & Discovery — This is a crucial step where we meet with clients to refine the answers to the questions above, talk about what makes your company different/relevant/sustainable, dig into your goals, and explore how you want your company to be perceived. The question we ask is simple: When you hand over your business card, what do you want people to think. Then we look at the industry and competitors, and often related industries and competitors, to find how best to stand out.

2. Interviews — If CMOs or business owners held all the answers, marketing would be a one-person department. We believe it’s important to talk to people in management, staff, and your current clients to learn what they think makes your company stand apart. In best-case scenarios, we’ll survey as many people as possible to uncover hidden truths about your company.

3. Brand Audit — Let’s look at where you are, your company’s branding history, and what makes it work (or not, as the case may be). Sometimes, the most efficient branding is cleaning up what you have, depending on what we find out in the Discovery process.

4. Creative Development — We explore positioning, looks, voices, messaging frameworks, and the like. We pressure test it against the industry and competition. Refine. And then present our ideas.

5. Brand Strategy — It’s one thing to draw and write pretty things. It’s another to put a whole lot of oomph behind those things to drive business. Here’s where we deliver a strategy that will help your business succeed, not just look good.

6. Creative Execution — You’re about to see your brand come to life with final artwork, messaging frameworks, voice definition, brand strategy, templates, and all of that good stuff. If we’ve answered the business card question correctly above, your brand will reflect who you are, where you’re going, and how you can help your clients.

From there, we typically talk about bringing the brand to life, and we’ll talk more about that in a future post.

How much is this going to cost?

Yep. The price question is the first thing on everyone’s mind and usually the second question we get on any phone call.

The immediate answer is “it depends.” Sorry.

As you can see from the section above, many things go into building a brand. It’s not just sketching something on a napkin and handing it over.

You’re frustrated that we haven’t answered the question. Okay. Our agency has executed branding exercises for a range of $15,000 to $350,000. What moves that number is the company’s size, the industry’s challenge, what you need, and the ever-mindful eye of the CFO.

The goal here is to give you the rocket fuel for your business to take off, not bankrupt it before it launches. So, like everything, this is a conversation. Our goal is always to work with clients long-term and help their business succeed.

Anything I can do to start?

Absolutely.

Here are some questions to answer before engaging with an agency:

  1. What does your company do? (Sell a product, offer a service?)
  2. How would you describe your company?
  3. How would your employees describe your company?
  4. How do you want your customers to see your company?
  5. What do you want people to see when they see your logo?
  6. How about when they read your content?
  7. Or see your ads?
  8. Can you identify your competition?
  9. What makes your company different and better?
  10. What’s your industry?
  11. Do people know your company?
  12. What’s the big opportunity leading you to establish a brand?

That’s a start. From there, a creative team can ask follow-up questions, start to come up with look and voice concepts, and hone in on something unique.

By the Way

It’s easy for us to say that branding is purely a visual thing. Not true at all. There are some fantastic agencies like Audiobrain that specialize in sonic branding. We first became aware of this work while working on an article for Variety magazine years ago.

A company’s signature sound — imagine the Netflix ba-bong or the Apple start-up sound — helps it stand out and serves as an aural cue.

Anything else?

There’s always something else.

As Scott Galloway explained during the Brand Strategy course we took through Section 4 — highly recommended — a brand is a framework. What you do with that framework will decide whether your business succeeds or fails. For that reason, we are always looking for ways to extend our branding work to marketing, communications, and digital executions.

You can read more about that in an upcoming blog post or drop us a line. We’re happy to answer questions to see how we can help.

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