Premium POV

Branding Beyond the Logo

Building a brand is like raising a child. It requires much more than a name and a picture. Parents establish values, set parameters, essentially grow a personality. They make introductions. Then, they launch their “baby” into the world, after a few betas along the way. If you’ve done your job well, returns appear in the form of financial support. (That last bit may be a stretch, regarding kids, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility.)

In the same way that a person’s life consists of a series of tales that produce one biographical story, a brand’s story should be recognizably cohesive. While there may be character development along the way, the character is still the same person with the same default personality.

In short, a brand consists of more than just a name and a logo.

What’s Your Brand Story?

While the history of a brand may bleed into the brand’s story, it should never be the crux of it. Why? People want stories they can join and relate to. The history of your company and how it came to be in existence may be inspiring, but if consumers struggle to see their place in that story, it doesn’t resonate to the same degree. However, if your brand invites consumers to participate in a story and they see no façade to the setting, you’re well on your way.

Discovering your brand story starts with asking decision makers which narrative you’re inviting prospects to join. For example, Nike invites consumers to rise to the occasion and enter the competition, even if it’s difficult. Disney invites consumers to experience the happiest place on earth (even though most of their animated movies kill off a parent or two along the way). Jeep invites consumers to take an adventure with them. Duluth Trading Co. invites people into the hands-on way of life, using humor to confront everyday challenges, like pants that can’t withstand manual labor.

Great brand stories do more than help consumers see the “after” of using their brand’s product or service. They invite consumers to join the journey on the way to “after”. It’s the difference between saying, “This deodorant keeps you smelling fresh all day long,” and “Hard-working people need a hard-working deodorant to combat a good day’s sweat.”

Brand Archetypes

Your brand story informs your brand archetype, which then informs your brand personality. To unpack that sentence, it’s necessary to discuss briefly what is meant by “archetype.”

Archetypes are based on universal stories that cross the barriers of time and culture to relate to humanity in its entirety. They are stories people may know by different names, but they include recognizable characteristics. Take, for instance, the Hero archetype. Whether it’s mythology, psychology, or kinesiology there is a universal understanding of a hero’s story. They must overcome something standing in the way of helping someone/something they care about.

The Caregiver archetype includes mothers who will do anything to keep their children safe as well as husbands looking after their beloved in the face of terminal illness. These are just a couple of examples of the universal stories that carry over to brand archetypes. A Hero brand works alongside consumers to overcome an obstacle that impedes their way of life. It might be a security company. It might be medical research. It could even be a fitness trainer. An archetype is less about the stereotypes associated with individual industries and more about the brand stories they want to tell.

While you should steer clear of industry stereotypes, it’s also worth noting that some archetypes just don’t fit within certain industries, at least not at face value. Imagine the insensitivity of a Jester archetype in the palliative care field, the abrasiveness of an Adventurer in the diaper industry, and the questionable ethics of a Rebel in accounting.

With a new understanding of what an archetype is, let’s talk about how they relate to brand stories. A brand archetype should marry well with the narrative into which you want to invite consumers. The two should work in tandem to present a unified brand identity. The archetype informs the look of your brand (colors, logo, font, imagery, etc.) as well as the feel and the voice.

New York Times writer, Alice Rawsthorn, recounts a remarkably cohesive branding campaign from the early 18th century. The archetype: Pirates. The skull and crossbones flag, also known as the Jolly Roger, told the story of what happened to seafarers who encountered a pirate ship: doom. It wasn’t the skeletal symbolism by itself that evoked terror; it was the well-spread stories associated with it that served as a foundation to the “brand”.

Unfortunately, this is where too many brands begin. With colors and logos. When some clients ask agencies for “branding”, they limit their thinking to a mark. It’s like expecting someone to design the Deathly Hallows symbol without telling them the story of Harry Potter. It might be possible, but it will fall flat without the story behind it. Branding is about far more than something that would look good embroidered on a tradeshow polo or as a tattoo.

I digress…

Brand Voice

A brand archetype enables a brand to find its voice. The way you “talk” to your target market. The words you choose. The tone with which you say them. In the end, you want your brand voice to be recognizable. You want customers to be able to distinguish if another entity is pretending to be you.

I babysit for some friends who have a Google Home. When the kids go to bed, they’re used to sleeping with nighttime sounds that Google Home plays on the speakers in their rooms. Great plan. Noise cancelling pleasantries. Soothing crickets. It’s wonderful… in theory. The problem is that Google only recognizes their mom’s voice for that designated command. Otherwise, the background sounds must be started on her smartphone… which she carries with her if I’m staying with the kids. I’ve tried to mimic her voice to keep from interrupting her evening, but Google is quick to let me know that “she” doesn’t recognize my voice and won’t obey. Google understands vocal nuances well enough to distinguish a person’s voice. As frightening as that may be to those of us who grew up reading Orwellian novels, it makes my point. Your brand should have a voice so distinguishable that customers can discern when something doesn’t “sound right”.

When you spend enough time with people, you discover their catch phrases, how they interact with others, and what their values may be. The same should be true of your brand. As people spend time with it, they should be able to “predict” what you will say and how you will say it. Consider Geico’s “Fifteen minutes could save you 15% or more,” or CapitalOne’s “What’s in your wallet?” Those aren’t just taglines or turns of phrase. They represent the brand’s voice as spoken by the archetype within the story. Would your customers notice if something was “out of character”? Or is your brand voice so monotone that it never communicates anything distinguishable enough to set you apart from the crowd? Or from Siri for that matter.

Brand Experience

Not only does branding go beyond the logo, but it also goes beyond the personality. How people experience your brand becomes part of your brand identity. For better or worse. It can be the difference between the online dating profile and the actual date. How you see yourself and the way you present yourself to people isn’t always aligned with how people experience you. The same holds true for brands. If your product doesn’t live up to the branding, the business is experienced as smoke and mirrors. Bait and switch. Lacking integrity.

Brand experience includes messaging, product quality, delivery timelines, attainability, UX/UI, website, people, reputation, and more. The experience begins with the first touch point and lasts throughout the relationship with your brand. It crosses all media channels and marries digital and in-person interactions. It even bleeds over into the vendors you use, whether or not they enable your business to keep its promises to customers.

Brand experience also includes how your employees experience your brand. Do you follow through for clients, but not for them? That mars their brand experience and impacts an employee’s ability to represent your brand identity accurately.

As you can see, there are layers of nuance and meaning to branding. It is a company’s coming of age story more than it is a well-sketched emblem. There’s a good chance your branding will need a mentor or guide to assist with the process of discovery.

Warren Douglas Advertising can do that. Just ask.

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