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What's In A Brand?


For most, branding is seeing a label at a department store, or on a product and that’s the end of it! But many, if not most people do not realize the extensive time and effort that goes into creating the marketing and graphics that is the first thing that either draws in or is ignored by potential customers. A brand is in essence a set of expectations that customers associate with your services or products. It strategically targets their audiences, draws out a feeling, and entices interest. It is not just some “pretty colors and fonts”, as one of my former clients tried to claim is all we designers do! I just laughed and walked away!!


My background began in graphic design and later evolved to corporate branding, so how did I get here? I believe the pivotal moment, was while I was in middle school when I became fascinated with advertising, and somewhat funny, that brand was Absolut Vodka. I was far too young to even drink, but I was drawn to their amazing and utterly creative advertising. I would tear those ads out of magazines and hang them all around my bedroom to stare at them endlessly, wondering how they were made and how the designers came up with the ideas. Absolut Aspen featured a snowy mountain with the bottle outlined by pine trees, or Absolut LA showing a bird’s eye view of an Absolut bottle shaped pool. They were stunning and that was the point when I knew that I wanted to grow up to be in some form of advertising.


It is that out-of-the-box thinking and striking imagery that draws customers in. I know that although I wasn’t their target market at the time, other people have been big fans of their advertising campaigns. Your product or service may or may not be amazing, but if you do not self-promote with the appropriate branding, you will not reach your target markets. No matter what your industry is, you need to strive to be the king of the jungle, not just the cub still learning to be self-sufficient. So how do you get there? Here are five steps to building a unique brand that becomes easily recognizable and speaks to your core customers.


1. IDENTIFY YOUR TARGET MARKET

When developing your brand, you have to identify and understand who your customers are, what demographics they fall into, what they care about, and most importantly, who your competitors are. For example, if your company produces a new shampoo/conditioner that promises to clean better, provide more shine all while using less product than the other leading brands, the most important thing to do at this point is to clearly identify who the clients are that you are trying to reach. Is this for men or women, Caucasian or another ethnicity, are they typically for example 20-40 years old, is this an expensive or inexpensive product, is the product free of additional chemical ingredients that health conscious people stay away from, who are your competitors and why do you think your product is better, etc. Defining these kinds of factors which relate to your brand will help you to determine who your target markets are and how to stand apart from your competitors.


2. KNOW WHAT YOUR BRAND STANDS FOR

Your brand is what your company stands for; your mission, your core values, that you provide a reliable product or service. When people see your logo or your advertisement, it means something to them. It can convey excitement, or trust, loyalty, reliability, or any other feeling. Maybe it makes people mad because they don’t like your mission or your beliefs. A perfect example was BP’s tragic disaster in the Gulf of Mexico on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. People were outraged at the company for the damage to wildlife when the rig exploded, pushing out 200 million gallons of crude oil in the Gulf. Some people boycotted the company because they were furious at the incident, but the company immediately took huge public relation steps to show the public that they cared about the environment in order to regain trust with their old and potential new customers. They showed what they valued as a brand to bring back trust from their customers. This is why it is important to clearly define your messaging, because when people see your logo, they are remembering what you stand for.


3. LOGOS ARE AN EXTENSION OF YOUR BRAND

Some people think you can just slap a logo together and bam, you have a company. (Technically you can do this, but I don’t recommend it). As mentioned above, your logo is what your brand stands for, and it is what creates brand recognition. A great example is Home Depot, a popular home improvement store. Say you are driving down the road and a half a mile away you see that big bright orange sign, you immediately know what store it is. Do you think that color was just chosen because the owner liked orange? Probably not. It stands out from other stores and it is easily recognizable to stand up to its name as a one-stop shop for your home needs!


I have always been fascinated with design, as I better be, since it is my life! I look for font use and graphical elements to see if it represents the products or services or even demographics that envelops their target markets. Take for example a bank, notice that they often use navy in their logos. This is because navy is a color that signifies trust, and wouldn’t you want to make sure you trust the financial institution handling all your money! Or if you are targeting new parents, a baby’s toy logo is probably using fun playful fonts with bright colors. Logos aren’t just thrown on a piece of paper, they are well thought out. Colors are important too as they signify different feelings as well. Red is used for warnings or love, green for finance or fresh, gold for elegance, or lavender for something that is soothing like the massage and spa company Massage Envy. You get the point!


One thing I really enjoy is when company’s use symbolism in their logos. I typically do this as well because I think it is fun! Creative nerd here! Symbolism helps to convey what your company does. Have you ever noticed how Amazon’s logo has an arrow that goes from A to Z signifying that they have it all regarding products? Or FedEx has an arrow in the middle of their logo, which symbolizes the movement of your packages. Take Baskin Robbins logo, which has a “31” in the center to signify its 31 flavors of ice cream. So, as you see logos are an extension of your brand that tells your customers what your company does and what you want them to feel when they see it.


4. GREAT PHOTOGRAPHY AND GRAPHICS GO A LONG WAY

Have you ever been in a department store or maybe Times Square and saw an amazing photo on an advertisement and you just could not stop staring at it? Maybe it enticed you to Google what that company does or what products they have. That is because beautiful and eye-catching photography and graphics tell a story about your products or services, as well as your company. These kinds of companies have already defined their target markets, and they use the appropriate and consistent photography and graphics to entice their customers. For example, if you only use black and white photos, stick with it because it is an element of your brand. Dior, a high-end fashion line uses beautiful, sultry, and warm photography that eloquently introduces their high-end products. Or maybe it’s a lawn care company showcasing gorgeous landscaping. Both of these brands target their audiences and uses imagery in hopes of drawing customers in. As for whether their actual products/services live up to their name, that is on them, but their brands are executed exquisitely with the proper use of imagery.


5. CONSISTENCY ACROSS ALL PLATFORMS

Finally, being consistent with your branding across all forms of media is crucial! Whether it is marketing materials, a website, social media, an e-news blast, or at a company event, it is important to stay true to your branding elements. For example, if you always use swirls in your print materials, make sure that element is used at your trade show, or on your social media, as this assists in brand recognition. I like to develop branding guidelines for all of my clients to assist them going forward. It lists items like logo usage, company primary and secondary colors, correct fonts, photography usage and placement, and other graphical elements as it relates to the overall brand. Consistency = Recognition!


Creating a brand is not just an element, it is a vision that has meaning, draws out feelings, tells a story, entices your customers, and creates recognition! Be consistent through all of your branding efforts and always remember who your target audience is and what matters to them!


Author: Kimberly Dillon of Altheta Design Group LLC

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