Branding for growth or change

Ch-ch-changes!

Apologies if you’ve now got a David Bowie earworm, but today I’d like to discuss the need for branding for growth and change.

But why?

Well, let’s say you’ve got an up and coming business. It’s expanding. You’re pushing out more services or products than ever before. The future looks bright.

However, it’s important not to overlook your branding and how this can help improve your products and services.

A general truism about change is that, in business at least, change doesn’t happen unless it becomes profitable or until it becomes too urgent to ignore. If you don’t change, and you don’t grow, then there’s a chance you’ll fall behind competitors or risk stagnating.

So, how does branding fit in with your growing and changing business?

Look at it this way: Your brand says a lot about you. You know this already. It’s the first thing people see. It also stays in people’s minds, and first impressions do count. Over time, you should keep your branding ‘fresh’ as it may become outdated and start to look ‘old-fashioned’. Your competitors may also be making sure their brand identity is refreshed periodically, so take care not to be left behind. You don’t want them attracting your hard-earned clients with their latest fresh designs. However, keeping things updated doesn’t have to cost a fortune – a little tweak here and, there can be just as effective. Some of the major supermarkets do this, and some of us hardly notice until we look at their logo from 10 years ago – subtle choices have been made over time.

As well as being an external representation of your company, it also works on the internal side of things: Your employees value your branding as it provides a sense of cohesion and engagement; a sort of ‘all in it together’ attitude.

But, beyond all this, a brand is valuable!

Whatever product or service that you are growing or changing, your competitors will catch up with you in time.

Think you’ve made an innovation in the world of soft furnishings? A sofa connected to your phone so that you can warm it up before you get home?  Well, maybe you have, but rest assured that your competitors are trying their hardest to emulate and improve on that innovation. Not only will their sofa be warmed up remotely, but it’ll also massage you and babysit the kids, too!

What they can’t do, though, is ‘be’ your brand.

Your brand is your ethos and values. It provides exceptional value to your business (when done well, of course!). Think of your brand identity as an additional asset that you can use to capitalise on the potential increase in value that growth and change brings.

Now, the best thing about this asset is that it can be joined up with all the other assets your business has. It’s versatile!

As well as being an asset, your brand is your identity and your reputation, placed prominently on your product or services. It shows that you’re out there, getting things done and that you’re serious about what you’re doing.

As your business grows or changes, your branding should mirror the journey, too.

The need for brand identity consistency

I feel that I talk about this quite a lot (and I shall continue to shout it from the rooftops). It stems from my passion, to make sure all of my clients’ brand identities mirror their visions, values, and ethos…it’s really at the heart of what I aim to achieve as a designer.

As humans, we are hard-wired to make constant judgements about everything we see, hear, touch, smell and taste.

We quite literally cannot help doing this – you would need to be bereft of using your five senses if you didn’t. A few day-to-day examples: this can be anything from walking down the high street and deciding what café to eat gauging your choice from the wafting aromas in the air, to judging how people are looking at, or speaking to you, to which of your neighbours has the best-dressed windows or maintained gardens.

Well, imagine if people were making constant judgements about your business – how does it appear in their minds? What does your brand identity say to them? In fact, this is what your clients and potential clients are doing! So, you need to make sure that your vision, values and ethos are clearly signposted in your branding, the keyword being ‘consistency’.

Consistency in your branding gives your business a personality and identity to which people can relate. People will feel they can trust your brand; the consistency has helped to strengthen this, building your reputation as dependable and trustworthy.

Customers will be so pleased with your company, they; will return to you time and time again and feel confident to spread the word to others, too.

Brand identity runs throughout everything you do, from the macro aspects of your business to the micro, such as email logos, documents, presentations, and printed marketing collateral such as flyers and brochures, so make sure you check and double-check every last detail. Make sure your staff aren’t using old branding – you could be sending out mixed signals. In turn, this could affect your ‘standing’ in a judgemental marketplace, especially if your competitors are more up-to-date than you.

Brand identity consistency is key across all your communication channels. Check your tone of voice is consistent across all your social media, your website and any packaging or signage you have. Do your vehicles carry the same identity as your website and premises signage, for instance (although we understand because of the expense, it can take time to update a fleet)? The use of your logo, brand colours and key messaging across all of your communication channels is essential and will help to strengthen your brand identity.

Pulling together all of the different aspects that make up your identity will define and solidify your branding.

Consistency in branding is the key that unlocks your identity in the eyes of others.

Clear messaging for stakeholders

The word ‘stakeholder’ is used a lot, but who makes up your key stakeholders?

Take some time out to reflect on this; it’ll be worth spending time doing this on your own, and also asking colleagues or employees the same question to get a general ‘feel’ for the breadth of who your stakeholders are. Other people may come up with ideas you hadn’t thought about, especially those with their ‘ear to the ground’ as markets constantly evolve, change, and adapt over time.

You may hear the terms strategic messaging and strategic communication used. They both mean the same thing, really – messages sent out to all stakeholders involved in your business. Whether you or your colleagues use business jargon, or just express ideas in your way, that’s fine! At the end of the day, as long as you are all clear about who your stakeholders are, you’ll be heading in the right direction.

As a starting point, though, let’s think about your employees as stakeholders – your employees need to be your brand advocates, driving your business forward in full knowledge of your company’s brand values, ethos and visions. In fact, an excellent employee won’t just be aware of these factors; they will ‘believe’ in them. After all, your brand and company’s reputation is always at stake in a highly competitive business world, so make sure your colleagues are entirely on board with your brand. If your employees don’t believe in your brand, why should anyone else?

Next, let’s think about your customers – take the time to consider what these stakeholders are looking for carefully. Develop your brand to meet these needs. Today, customers have an array of companies to choose from. It may be worth thinking about what makes existing, or prospective consumers, ‘tick’; take their emotions and feelings into consideration when sending brand messages to customers. Remember, customers don’t just buy a product, process or service, they buy your vision, ethos and values. Look after them, and they will look after you.

Are your competitors stakeholders? Yes, they are, so try to keep on top of what their strengths are, as well as their weaknesses. How does their brand identity match up to yours? Are they doing anything different? Are there any new start-up companies in your sector, who may become a more prolific competitor in the future?

Also, are your suppliers, or distribution channels, on board with your brand? Make sure you are giving them explicit brand messages about your identity. Your good reputation will, in turn, benefit their businesses, too. They are more likely to remain a long-term strategic partner if they believe and fully buy into your brand.

What about your community? They are stakeholders in that what you do, and how you make the locality ‘look’ directly affects them. It is essential to make sure your community is happy with what you are doing; consider how highly Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is regarded now.

Two key ideas to leave you to think about are these:
1. Effective branding and messaging is consistent and straightforward.
2. All businesses communicate, but not every company sends clear messages to their stakeholders.

1st impressions count…

Yes, they really do! It’s such an old cliché, but I just can’t ignore it, and neither should you.

Let’s consider a scenario. You’ve just walked into an exhibition centre filled with hundreds of stands. The businesses there will have spent varied amounts of money depending on the size of their budgets. Nevertheless, regardless of how much money a company has to spend, they can all achieve that magical first impression ‘spark’ with plenty of thought and planning into how they want their stand to look. You don’t need to spend thousands and thousands to attract your target audience, but what you do need is a clear and consistent brand identity.

In fact, some companies spend lots of money and still manage to ‘get it wrong’ by not having a clear, crisp brand identity across their stand and all of their marketing collateral, such as brochures and flyers.

So, think back to the idea at the start of walking into the exhibition centre: Which stands are people stopping to look at, but they move on? Which stands are being ignored as if they don’t exist? Which stands are attracting and retaining the most traffic? Now consider – why?

If stands have boards that are just too ‘word-heavy’, no one will want to stand and read through it all. Less is more when it comes to content. Just have enough text to attract your audience to your stand. Once you start to talk to people, then they can learn more about you, and take a brochure away to read at their leisure.

Consider your logo, typeface, colours – do they ‘speak’ the message of your brand identity? As I mentioned earlier, your brand identity should be clear and consistent across the whole of your stand. Do your staff know your visions, values, and ethos? Are they clear about the company identity? Everyone needs to be giving a consistent company message to the visitors to your stand.

The use of a video to engage your audience is really beneficial. As well as attracting them to your stand, it can keep them there for a few minutes longer. It’s also helpful if you’re busy talking to other visitors, as people watching a video are more likely to wait for you to finish rather than walk away, as they are being entertained and informed.

Check your brand identity is consistent across your internal communications. This seems obvious, but many companies spend thousands and just forget about this. At the stand you may tell a potential client that you will email them a piece of information they are looking for – it will look pretty awful if the ‘old logo’ is in the email!

Please do ‘sweat the small stuff’: you never know who you are going to meet on your stand.

It could be your biggest customer ever!

How design can improve the effectiveness of internal communications

Have you ever worked for a company (or perhaps you are at the moment) where internal communications, such as notes and memos etc. sent around the offices looked…well…a bit dull really? Were they printed on plain white paper, with standard fonts, and perhaps not a logo or a hint of colour in sight? If yes, how did it make you or your colleagues feel?

A little reflection time may be needed for that last question.

The type of thoughts that may spring to mind could be along the lines of: ‘Doesn’t give the company a professional image’…’Feels unimportant’…’Makes the staff feel unimportant’…’No cohesion’…’People say they are too busy to bother…’It doesn’t feel like we all belong to the same company’…’Feels like nobody cares enough’.

It doesn’t matter whether it was a few years ago, or today, as humans we all want to feel part of the ‘team’, and that the team we are in is the best. It motivates and inspires us to work hard and do well.

Knowing our company’s mission, values and ethos helps us to feel included in the bigger picture and goals of the company. We all want to be on the same boat, all rowing in the right direction.

So, we can make a start by ensuring all of our communications, external and internal, exude professionalism.

Develop a consistent design, tone and focus across all your internal communications, whether they are paper-based, or on your internal intranet. Embed your brand identity so that it is seen everywhere, everyday, in your workplace. Also, don’t forget to include this consistent design across the interior landscaping of your buildings, such as wall displays and signage.

When onboarding new employees, educate them in your branding message; this is a great way to make them feel connected to the company straightaway, and it is a discipline that will stay with them, and they will pass it on to others.

It’s worth asking a professional for advice when it comes to help with your branding identity, rather than trying to save money by doing it yourself, as it may well turn out to be false economy in the end.

It’s like anything really – if you want a professional ‘look’, you need a professional to do it.

Ensure everyone in your company feels inspired; give them a sense of belonging and pride.

My predictions and hopes for 2018

Ok, I know you really don’t want to hear anything else about Brexit, but hopefully I can approach it from a different angle than the things you hear on the news. I’m replacing ‘Brussels’ with ‘Branding’; ‘May’ with ‘Messages’; ‘Conservatives’ with ‘Consistency’.

Brexit has left the public feeling a general sense of uncertainty and confusion about what the future holds. The more ‘savvy’ businesses have noticed that people want to be reassured that actually everything they hold dear is actually fine. Everything will be ok. If our politicians can’t always make us feel secure, many businesses know that the solidity of their brand identity, and the clear and consistent messages they bring, help people on a deeper, human level.

I guess, along these lines, some of my predictions for 2018 have already started, as can be seen in some of our TV adverts. For instance, one high street bank shows everyday ‘poets’ talking about topics such as daily life, love, comfort and, security – expressing on a subliminal level: ‘It’s ok, we understand you. You can trust us.’

I want to see companies maintaining their brand identities in their uncertain Brexit future, guarding them closely as they are their consistent message to the world that their business is secure and solid in the face of change.

On a different note, I’m totally loving colour in design at the moment. Eye-catching, vibrant colours that quite literally ‘speak’ your identity. On a very basic level, colour touches every one of us in different ways and we all have our favourite shades, or our ‘go to’ colours – take a look in your wardrobe to see what I mean. Colour encourages the visual learners of the world to remember us, colours that define our brand identity and embed it in the publics’ psyche.

I love the use of white space…allowing a really good design to ‘breathe’ can be so effective.

Colours have their symbolic ‘meanings’, too. For instance, we all know that red can mean ‘danger’, and green is used for ‘nature’. White can mean ‘purity, simplicity, cleanliness, light’. But did you know, that if your name is in red in China, it means you are dead? Use of colour and understanding of it’s meaning is very important.

To finish, I just need to touch on the importance of good typography. Ignore it at your peril. You need to consider your target audience – the correct choice of colour, font and text size is vital to attract them and to keep them interested so they return to you time and time again. Just like colour, or the shape of your logo, people will remember the font, too. It will become an integral part of your public brand recognition.

Brand identity doesn’t need to be complicated; keep your message clear and consistent in 2018.

The Importance of Planning Ahead…

…with event season coming up time to plan exhibition graphics and ‘giveaways.’

I know, you’ve just dragged the Christmas tree down from the attic (unless it’s a real one, of course), and carefully arranged all your twinkling lights – but believe me, you need to keep the exhibition season still sizzling away in your mind.

Why? Because ideally, you should be planning your exhibition a few months before it happens. “Seems a bit much!” I hear you cry. Well, let me explain:

Like anything in life, the more you ‘put in’, the more you ‘get out’. Yes, it’s a bit of a cliché, but you know what, it’s true!

Firstly, start to think about setting yourself a realistic goal, or objective, for the exhibition. It could be, for instance, raising brand awareness or finding new leads. You can do that one sitting on the sofa after your Christmas lunch.

Don’t give yourself too many goals, as you should measure them during and after the exhibition, to see how successful the event has been, and whether it was worth the amount of money you invested in it. It is easier to do when the objectives are ‘small steps’, as they will give you a clearer picture, and something you can build on.

Next, you need to be contacting existing customers and potential prospects, whether that’s by email, phone, social media, or direct mailing, and so on. Do all of the platforms you use (and your letterheads, etc.) carry a consistent logo, colour schemes and fonts? What are you going to send them? Aha! You need flyers or brochures…and you may as well have more designed and printed ready for the exhibition stand, as you will need lots of them!

Now, you’re starting to plan ahead, aren’t you?

Your design for the stand will also need to be consistent with your company branding – note to self: all branding needs to be absolutely ‘correct’.

First things first – how much is your budget? How much do you ‘want’ to spend?

There are many types of stands out there, from pop-ups & pull-up banners to bespoke stands, choose something that suits your company vision, values and ethos, as well as your budget.

Make it as eye-catching as you can to ensure you stand out from your competitors.

We once had people queuing to get on a client’s stand that we had designed, it didn’t cost them a fortune either. Ask yourself: what would make a potential client stop and talk to me?

So, while you’re munching another mince pie this Christmas, planning ahead may sound like a huge undertaking, but it’s more than worth doing as your exhibition will run like a dream.

So for a laugh, I paid a branding consultancy £12k…

Last night my husband brought to my attention the Steve Coogan audio book, Alan Partridge: Nomad.

In it, Alan describes the new logo he has designed with his branding agency.

It is quite frankly, the funniest thing I have heard in ages.

Well, they do say that there is nothing funnier than the truth, and although I haven’t had clients quite as prescriptive as Alan Partridge, I have had some that really should leave the designing to the designer and walk away.

Have a listen. Then imagine if you were being orchestrated by a client like that. Be kinder to designers.

Listen here:

Thank you Steve Coogan, you are amazing!!

New Year: a fresh perspective

I’m thinking of refreshing my logo. It’s been awhile, and with the change in my business, I think it is a good idea. Designing for myself, however, is a total nightmare. I’m a tricky customer to design for. It won’t happen anytime soon.

I often have clients come to me who are apologetic during the design stage of a logo. They hate to inconvenience me should a logo go through one or two rounds of development. It always makes me smile.

It is rare that a logo is created perfectly in the first draft*. Extremely rare. I often think the development phase is something we need, client and designer. The logo grows with us and, at the end, it should always be a something we both wanted.

This is why I HATE crowd designed logos, or ‘off the shelf’ logos. They sort of fill an initial hole but they will, like most cheap sugary things, leave you needing something more substantial.

So now comes the thorny question of cost. I recently had someone say that I was considered ‘too expensive’ because my designs were better than the ‘cheaper alternative’. I was never asked for a quote.

Wow, so I was too expensive because I was too good. I am, in fact, cheaper. I have no idea what the cheaper person was charging, but experience tells me that cheap means it will need doing again sooner. Lack of experience in design (cheap) can often lead to inconsistencies across a brand and a slap-dash approach.

A logo, in my opinion, shouldn’t be something that is redesigned every couple of years. How on earth can you gain any visual brand recognition if you do this?

So, if you are reading this and you have rejected a designer on looks alone as being too expensive, please please take the time to have a chat.

Don’t shop for design on price alone. You will just be wasting your money.

 

*This has happened to me. It was fabulous. I had a fantastic brief, and a great client team to work with. Kismet.