Defining Your Business Identity
You open the envelope. It’s an application for a job you really want to land. To your utter shock, it contains only one request.
“Describe your personality, character and how you will benefit our organization. Limit your answer to a maximum of three words and one graphic.”
Considering the importance of getting the job, would you put serious time and thought into your answer? Knowing you’re up against any number of applicants, would you want your answer to be unforgettable?
Then why do so many businesses pay so little attention to their brand identity?
“A brand is the most valuable piece of real estate in the world, a corner of someone’s mind,” says advertising executive John Hegarty. It takes a great deal of skill and strategy to claim that corner, but it takes something else: simplicity. Author and ad man Luke Sullivan puts it well:
“Draconian simplicity involves stripping your brand’s value proposition down to the bone and then again to the marrow, carving away until you get down to brand=adjective. Make your brand stand for one thing. Pair it with one adjective. When I ask audiences, ‘What does Volvo stand for?’ I hear the same answer every time: ‘Safety.’ Audiences in Berlin, Reykjavik, Helsinki, Copenhagen, New York City all give the same answer. The money Volvo has spent on branding has paid off handsomely. Volvo has successfully spot-welded that one adjective to their marquee.
And here’s the interesting bit: in the past couple of years, Volvo hasn’t even made it onto the top ten list of safest cars on the market. So here’s a brand that, having successfully paired its logo to one adjective, rides the benefit of this simple position in customers’ minds long after its products no longer even merit the distinction. Such is the power of simplicity. The adjective you choose is key…once it’s paired with the brand, that one square foot of category space is taken and nobody else can claim it.”
People just don’t have the time or desire to try and figure out who you are, so you must make it easy for them—and your name, tagline and logo are the shorthand for your entire company offerings and culture, so they had better be damn memorable. But simple does not mean obvious. Logos that are too easy will not be remembered; they must have just enough mystery to escape boring, but not so much that no one will understand who you are. If, for example, you’re a veterinarian, using dogs or cats in your logo will make you blend into the mishmash of your competition.
Seek instead to express the main benefit of your brand. Nike’s logo isn’t the silhouette of a shoe; it is the symbol of victory, a swoosh of action. The tagline, “Just do it” speaks to the soul and is far, far superior to something like, “The best shoes you can find,” or “We make you run faster.” The best brands speak to the soul and stir the emotions.
Creating a truly effective brand identity means packing a whole lot of meaning and emotional impact into a small package—something that will resonate with viewers within seconds—but it must also be something you can unpack and expand into endless brilliant ad campaigns, content and company culture.
As a creative director, branding strategist and advertising executive, I create more than a pretty images and witty taglines—those are a dime a dozen. Truly great brand identities contain in their DNA living, breathing ads and content just waiting to be born. As Luke Sullivan writes, “A big idea is almost always incredibly simple. So simple you wonder why nobody’s thought of it before. It has ‘legs’ and can work in a lot of different executions in all kinds of media.” A pre-made logo can’t even come close; a tagline must contain executable strategy within its wit.
Since your brand identity is the most valuable asset your company has, and the touchstone of a much larger strategy, why would you not take the time and spend the money to have a professional branding process done? Buying a pre-made logo is a bad mistake. Choosing a tagline from a brainstorm session is a mistake. Naming a company without going through a brand discovery process is a…well, you get the idea.
As a fellow creative director, Ryan Carroll says, “Great creatives are closet strategists. They can see the opportunities inside of a problem, they study the behavior of the audience, and then combine those two things to create an idea that is pervasive.”
Your brand is competing with every other brand out there to “get the job.” That iconic symbol and those few words will either resonate with potential customers, or they will fall flat. It’s my job as a branding specialist to make you impossible to ignore. As our own tagline says, imagine more. Think about those two words and call me in the morning.
Kelly Walker is creative director for Resonant Agency, an advertising agency sans pareil, headquartered in Bend. His branding and advertising work has won numerous awards and, more importantly, helped scores of companies develop exponentially. Kelly@resonanceagency.com