A brand is infinitely more than a logo design – it’s a bridge of relevance from an organization to an audience.
The qualities necessary for a brand to succeed are the same as those necessary for a person to succeed. They must have a clear sense of who they are. They need to know which unique promise they have to offer. And they need a definable, concrete goal to strive toward.
What’s your brand story?
While the current fancy in the brand sphere is “the story,” we believe the notion of a single story more likely will restrict a brand than to give it wings. Plus, stories end. What do readers do at the end of a story? Likely pick up a new book. A story on its own is not a brand strategy.
Being a brand development and design company, Tugboat believes that successful brands continually write prequels, sequels and spin-offs to keep fresh and maintain relevance with audiences that are becoming more and more fickle. But how can organizations with many stories to tell, decide on which one to tell first? Tell last? Never, ever tell? What will be the central narrative that binds all stories together? While being spoiled for choice is a good problem to have, it’s still a problem.
Here’s how business branding happens at Tugboat.
For many clients, our branding experts have been the solvers of such good problems (and the bad ones), leading clients through self-discovery to arrive at a focused position that is clear, unique, targeted, and, most importantly, championed by the people who created the position: you.
Sometimes, a brand just feels off. You can feel it. So can your audiences. Sometimes, a second opinion is a good call. Maybe that rebrand the team is clamoring for doesn’t really need to happen. Then again, maybe it does.
Just before we get going on most branding projects, we define and examine the core competitive set, identifying their Strengths, Weaknesses, Threats and Opportunities. We also look at other non-competing brands in the same space to identify what resonates.
Tugboat brand consultants dissect mission and value statements, taglines and positioning statements and challenge them at all brand touch-points, from corporate identity right down to auto-attendant greetings.
The resulting report offers actionable remedies (such as identity refinements) to correct brand deficiencies and disconnects. Or, the recommendation might be to rebrand with a pro and con rationale supplied.
Relevant branding starts with a visioning/discovery session, which yields the raw elements of the brand. These elements will later be spun into pillars and arranged as supports for a brand statement (position) and the outward reflection of that statement: the tagline. We also identify the brand’s emotional and rational characteristics.
Depending on format, schedules and availability, this usually takes ½ to ¾ of a day, either at our offices in Vancouver, or we can come to you. This session is fun and the exercises are designed to fully extract the brand underpinnings without over-thinking them. The objective is to establish a framework for our goals, offerings and personalities to work within. These efforts will begin to define the brand character and personality: if this brand were a person, what would it be like? How would it act? What would it wear? How would it speak? Of the competitive set, who’s doing it right? Wrong? Why?
How can we capitalize?
The second step is to look at ourselves and our competitive set through the eyes and ears of our current constituents and targets. What are we saying? What do we need to be saying? How must we say it? Where is the stakeholder value? Where is there space for a defendable position? How can we protect ourselves from and exploit weaknesses in competing organizations?
Best and lasting results are achieved when all stakeholders participate in a single session, all at the same time. Thoughts and assumptions are challenged and prodded, defended and conceded – all to ensure that this brand base is derived from the DNA of all participants. Great stories rely on great characters!
Brand architecture, positioning, personality and tagline development
Branding is for livestock. A brand is not a mere mark; it’s a tribal community, built on core beliefs and held together by customs, heritage and identity.
The distillation of the visioning session is further condensed and is presented as a brand positioning document where we define positioning (our stated commitment), create the outward-facing tagline that sums up our essence, the pillars that support our claim (made of key points), an ownable definition/description of the intangible and emotional product we’re selling, examples of how we might bring this brand promise to life and, finally, the brand inspiration – our mojo.
This summary, or document, can be called by many names: brand architecture, brand outline, brand positioning statement, etc… Whatever we call it, it will act as our filter as we begin to fill in the communications gaps in the organization. Once we have established the rational and emotional characteristics that embody the organization, it becomes very easy to know when something is right for the brand and when something is wrong for it. It also de-personalizes feedback and spares hours of debate. We can point to what we all agreed on at the beginning and determine if what we are writing, mailing, designing or broadcasting in any way speaks to what we have agreed to create. What’s right for the website? Social media? Ads? Reports? Menus? Community outreach? Personality standards are also created to live alongside a graphic standard.
Also based on the visioning session, a mood-board will be created to visually express the emotional characteristics of the brand. At the same time, the organization will be described and depicted as a person. Both of these tools are designed to help stakeholders adopt a tone a manner consistent with the brand.
Brand messaging platform
“Look famous. Be legendary. Appear Complex. Act easy. Radiate presence. Travel light. Seem a dream. Prove real.” ~ Unknown
What will our different audiences need to hear, see and feel when they interact with our brand (and/or) sub brands? How will we justify our existence? How and why are we something a target desires or desires to be aligned with? How do we make sure that our existing cheerleaders understand the brand enough to explain its virtues to their networks?
From the visioning session and subsequent distillation into brand pillars, key points will emerge that will form the basis for a brand-messaging platform. The platform is a collection of key messages that will drive brand communications and keep our communications focused and consistent for what may turn out to be a collection of audiences – each with their own messaging requirements. What’s this brand all about? Why should anyone care?
This is the brand manifesto.
Visual identity development
Now that we have defined who we are and the elements that make up the brand, it’s time to make sure we actually look as we think we look. This is where we reconcile new brand positioning with any current identity and organizational imperatives and realities (such as having to repaint a fleet of vehicles, change plates for packaging, etc.).
Tugboat can alter a logo design to better align with the brand. New type choices, graphic correction, smoothing or edging: any number of techniques to bring the existing identity into alignment with the brand positioning and tagline.
All likely applications and reproductions of the identity must be considered to negate having to make artwork adjustments later. Simple always wins.
This is essentially the easy part, as all the key building blocks have already been aligned. The design brief is written so that the wizards in creative have the direction to deliver a corporate identity (or identities in this case) that is spot on.
Each identity design project evolves differently, but a general overview of the milestones for the creation of a new corporate identity can be described as follows:
Creative brief in hand, our designers hit the sketchpads and work a stream of consciousness approach to the development of visual metaphors that reflect the business brand essence. This is a collaborative exploration with all creatives, running in cycles until the team has three solid concepts that they can stand behind. These concepts are presented to the client.
With client-approval on a concept or visual, the process continues onto the computer platform where details and typefaces are explored. This again is a collaborative process, but the designs are getting more personal and are explored and refined in league with the energy behind them. In most cases this results in at least three logo designs for presentation, but sometimes more, and sometimes less, all depending upon the inherent strengths of each identity.
At this stage, a final identity suite is selected and in is refined to suit the final applications. Alternate colours and typefaces may be explored, but the concept and icon suite is complete and we are down to polishing the final artwork.
Brand management tools
It will be important to keep the new brand top of mind with every initiative.
Tugboat Group delivers a brand bible (kit) with any brand project. This book is the complete brand blueprint for the organization and anyone who wishes to represent it. Style guides for identity use, copy, type and colour are supported by a detailed brand positioning that is expressed by an engaging tagline.
With a brand outline, tagline, personality document, mood-board and messaging platform, stakeholders will be able to easily maintain brand focus and integrity with the ebb and flow of partners, staff, investors, customers, media and regulators.
While strong and resilient, the best brands are living things that must be cared for, nurtured and helped to evolve. Every brand must be regularly examined for relevance with audiences, as they are the real drivers of a brand.