An Overview of a Brand

Alister Shapley | 01 April 2024

A little jargon warning; I’ll be using terms such as user, consumer, client and audience throughout this blog, but they all mean the same thing: someone who is buying a service/product

To introduce this blog, it’s worth defining the term “a brand”.

The Design Council in the USA classifies a brand “as a set of associations that a person (or group of people) makes with a company, product, service, individual or organisation”.

What that means, as a general definition, is that a brand is a company’s personality – what they represent, what they’re saying, who their audience is, what their audience is saying, their history etc. It’s the emotional portrait of a company to the world. I use the term emotional for a reason, and I’ll go into that later.

Coke is a great example of how important branding is for a business. Coke as a product is just a carbonated soft drink, but as a brand it’s a shared experience of friendship, refreshment and unifying the world by sharing a drink. This is clearly shown through their 1971 advertising campaign, “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke”.

Their visual identity reinforces this by use of friendly and readable typography, and imagery of people of all ages, races, genders, and backgrounds, sharing and enjoying themselves. Unified by Coke.

A Coca-Cola executive said this about Coke’s brand:

“If Coca-Cola were to lose all of its production-related assets in a disaster, the company would survive. By contrast, if all consumers were to have a sudden lapse of memory and forget everything related to Coca-Cola, the company would go out of business.”

This quote sums up nicely that socially we connect more to a brand than the actual product itself.

To create a brand we often start by asking some important questions: what is the purpose of the business? What does it do differently? Who are our target audience? How does it want to be perceived?

These questions overlap with marketing and business strategy, but they form the foundations of the visual identity that will be one of the main points of communication with the brands audience.

Visual identity comprises of elements such as your logo, imagery, typography, colours, documents, packaging, mailouts; basically, anything which is seen by the audience. If curated correctly, the right combination of these creates a brands most powerful asset; it’s emotional response. If a positive emotional response is created then that’s half the battle won.

A quote from Salesforce sums this up nicely:

“84% of customers said the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services”

When they talk about experience, they are referring to a user’s interaction on all platforms (be it verbal or visual communication, email response, digital presence (which is reviews, social media posts, influences, website) and so on).

The experience someone has with a company is a journey. For example, say you’re selling a new soft drink. The customer sees an add on a social media platform, then an advertisement on tv, then sees your product in the shop, buys it, drinks it, enjoys your drink, and therefore becomes a repeat customer. To get to the point of buying the product the user must engage with the product in a positive way. They must relate to it and think “this is something for me.”

“Brands need to be created from the customer’s perspective.” This is a quote by Thomas Mueller from Fjord which is a global design and innovation consultancy. How we can create these emotional responses is by thinking “if I was a potential customer why would I buy this product?.” This also falls to brand consistency.

Consistent messaging, across all media, targeting a specific audience is easy to talk about, but in practice is incredibly difficult. To show how hard consistency is, “in a recent Monotype survey of brand leaders, while “consistency” was the most highly prioritised element in a brand identity strategy, only 44% of those surveyed report maintaining consistent typography, colours, and imagery within all of their customer touchpoints.”

Consistency is not only expected, but it also reassures customers that they are buying a professional and reliable product from a company they can trust. According to Salesforce:  “75% of consumers expect companies to provide a consistent experience wherever they engage with them—both online and offline.”

It’s hard to stress how important consistent branding is.

Consistency doesn’t mean brands are stationary. Businesses change, their customers will change which means their brands will change. There’s a term in branding called dynamic brand identity. This was a term coined by Paul Scher from Pentagram, which is the world’s largest independent design consultancy. A dynamic identity is one which allows for the visual output of a company to change over time. This means something created ten – twenty years after the initial identity was formed keeps up to date yet still looks and feels like the original, expressing the same values and ideas. Consistent messaging with the ability to adapt built in.

As society changes so does its expectations of a brand.

“Today, brands are more than what they say, they are what they do.” This is a quote from Simon Gill from Isobar, a global digital agency. An example is Volkswagen who wanted to reach a target audience for a family car range in the Netherlands. Volkswagen started by reacting to a Daily Mail article which stated, “7 out of 10 children are now glued to their devices while in the car”. Working with Isobar Volkswagen created an app which utilises augmented reality. The app was part of an interactive campaign to engage the imagination of children by partnering with noted children’s book authors. The app contained modular stories which mapped the roadways getting children to think creatively during a ride in the back of the car. This strategy of creating something to tackle a problem seen by their target audience helped parents feel that Volkswagen was the car designed for them and created trust in the brand.

This is a bit of an extreme example; but younger generations are engaging with brands in a different way, and they do expect that if a company says they’re “environmentally friendly” or “for a fairer society” that they’re active on those grounds.

There’s a lot which goes into branding and brand building. It’s the sum of all its parts which are complex, interchangeable, sometimes intangible and ever changing. Culturally they have significance as well, sometimes changing a name or logo can cause public outcry or a loss of revenue. Branding and visual identity has always been more than just a bit of visual aesthetics and should always be considered.

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