Marilyn Monroe or Cristiano Ronaldo: What type of person is your brand?

Nike, Audi, Apple – they all have one thing in common and that is they have a brand.  And we’re not talking about a logo or an advertising campaign. We’re talking about how they have a discernible business identity which makes them memorable and instantly recognisable. We’re talking about how people know exactly what to expect from them and why they are different from the competition. We’re talking about how they inspire loyalty in their customers and attract and retain great employees.

And while many companies think they have a brand, many just have a (not always) pretty logo and a couple of half-decent marketing messages, as successfully creating a brand is by no means an easy task.

It’s one of the reasons why in our branding workshops we suggest you imagine your brand as a person. This means you need to consider how they think, sound, behave and look. Not sure where to start? Let’s take a look.

Think before you speak

How your brand thinks underpins everything your brand is about. From your long-term mission, how you plan to fulfil your goals to what values your brand stands for. Or to put it another way – if your brand was a person, it’s what makes them get up in the morning (and the answer isn’t the dog!)

Get your brand purpose right and it will help you distil the essence of your brand and come up with a brand proposition that clearly identifies what you are offering and how you will connect with your customers. And contrary to what some people think,  this should never be about making money.

While that’s an inevitable and essential driver for companies, the most successful brands don’t focus on profit but rather on their competitive advantage. Amazon aims ‘to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online…’, while Google’s mission is ‘to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’.

If you get this part right then it will help position your brand in the mind of your target customers while setting you apart from the competition.

That’s why we weren’t too enamoured with the new brand positioning of John Lewis. Yes, ‘For all life’s moments’ is nice enough, but does it really focus on their competitive advantage?  Couldn’t ‘For all life’s moments’ refer to a supermarket, off-licence or even another department store?

Your voice can change the world

Once you have a clear idea about the purpose behind your brand, you need to think about how you want to convey that thinking to your target audience both through the words you use and the tone of voice you adopt.

Or to use the ‘brand is a person’ analogy, how does that person talk? Are they professional, humorous or irreverent? Do they talk in jargon, love tongue-in-cheek comments or are they overly sentimental?  And what type of language and tone of voice would they use to talk to  your target audience?

Get the brand language and tone of voice right and it won’t just mirror your brand’s values, but will also reveal your brand’s personality helping you build that all-important emotional connection with your audience.

Wendy’s is considered one of the most influential brands online because their brand voice is humorous and they take great delight in roasting both the competition and consumers. In fact, people now follow the brand for that very reason, which hasn’t done any harm to their bottom line.

Meanwhile Paddy Power’s approach is witty, outrageous and full of banter, perfectly reflecting their target audience.

But like anything in branding – consistency is key. Whatever tone of voice and language you decide to adopt make sure it’s consistent across every piece of content you produce, as it’s this consistency that will ensure your brand is instantly recognisable. 

The way you behave says more about who you are

If you want to know how your brand should behave, then just look at Patagonia. Everything, and we mean everything they do, is ‘on brand’. 94% of their lines use recycled materials; they have a self-imposed earth tax which supports environmental non-profits; and their employee handbook is called ‘Let My People Go Surfing’. So, if the surf is up, staff are allowed to take time off work to catch those waves. Not surprising then that their staff turnover is a mere 4%.

And if you know how your brand should think and sound, how it behaves should be obvious. It’s just a shame more brands don’t realise it’s that simple. Dolce & Gabbana talks about ‘Respect for people’ in their brand values, but then produced a series of ads which showed a Chinese model trying and failing to eat different Italian dishes with chopsticks. Nothing like using racial stereotypes to show you really respect people.

Then there was Nike who released a new ad campaign promoting gender equality, only for several female athletes to come forward and reveal they had suffered pay cuts when they fell pregnant.  Sadly this wasn’t the first time Nike had been pulled up for gender pay issues.

The bottom line is; everything you do, from how you treat your staff to your marketing activity, needs to reflect how your brand thinks and sounds. Get it wrong and you’ll be called out as being inauthentic and cynical. Just ask McDonald’s about their International Women’s Day stunt!

Good looks only take you so far

So now you fully understand your brand’s essence, how it should communicate and how it should behave, you can decide on how it looks. Logo, colour palette, typography, graphics, imagery, physical assets – this is your opportunity to shape perception and create an emotional impression of your brand. It’s a chance to use your visual identity to express what your brand stands for and how it’s different from all the others out there. In other words what kind of clothes does your brand wear?

Ironically, some of the best logos haven’t necessarily had that much thought go into them. Back in 1971, Phil Knight decided to create his own brand of athletic shoes and asked a young graphic design student Carolyn Davidson, to come up with a logo. The brief was ‘a stripe’ that ‘conveyed motion’ and wasn’t like Adidas, Puma or Onitsuka’s Tiger. Thirty five dollars later and the iconic Nike Swoosh design was born. Fast forward 22 years, and Nike threw Carolyn a party in her honour. She received a diamond ring made of gold and engraved with the Swoosh and shares in the company in recognition of the fact she had helped create one of the most well-known logos of all time.

Not only does this provide a great example of a brand doing the right thing, but it also highlights how important it is to recognise the value of your brand and to keep investing in it. Just as somebody might try to eat more healthily, go to the gym more often or be a better friend, so should a brand be continually nurtured and supported to make sure it stays true to its values.

So, if you are worried you just have a pretty logo rather than a real brand or if your brand is failing to build relationships with your customers, give us a shout and we’ll help set you on the right track.