While most businesses recognize the importance of a brand in the abstract, it’s sometimes considered something that you just have to have, like a phone number or a company name.
Understanding the true importance and potential of a carefully created brand (and the depth of thought and creativity needed to develop it) is not always as obvious. At the most superficial level, you could consider a brand a logo, a set of colors, a font, maybe a tone of voice, but the true power of a brand comes when you dig deeper, connecting each of those elements that are a part of a brand to what will really build a connection with your audience: emotion.
Because a brand is such an important yet intangible thing, developing a brand means that you need to stretch and explore to find what feels right and authentic. One of the most challenging aspects of a branding project can be getting everyone in the mindset to do this important and creative work. It can be helpful to start your branding (or re-branding) project with a creatively focused discovery meeting to allow you the space to break out of the box and start thinking about your brand in a new way.
According to Brad VanAuken of Branding Strategy Insider, people become emotionally connected to a brand for a number of reasons:
- Because the brand stands for something important to them
- Because the brand is intense and vibrant
- Because the brand is unique.
- Because the brand is admirable.
- Because the brand consistently interacts with them and never disappoints
- Because the brand makes them feel good.
Who’s Your Crush?
A great way to begin the branding process is to take a step away from your own brand and focus on someone else’s.
Think about the companies that come to mind whenever you think about what a really great brand experience looks like – we call this part of our discovery process “Who’s your Branding Crush.”
A brand crush is different from a competitor and can be from any industry, however unrelated. In thinking about brand crushes, the aim is to get a different understanding of your taste, preferences, and aesthetics that are completely detached from any kind of conception (or misconception) of your goals or how you think you should be positioned in your industry.
Honing in on the Vibe
Marketing crushes identified, it’s now time to move into a brand voice activity that helps to hone in on how to think about your brand’s identity and how your brand presents itself.
This is an exercise best done quickly – the goal is to elicit a clear and emotional reaction without overthinking things. Take a list of opposing terms and choose which one your brand is more like.
For some companies and even industries, the answers are obvious: a general contractor is unlikely to have much confusion about where their brand is more aligned between MASCULINE or FEMININE, but a homey neighborhood restaurant might find that one more challenging.
Pay attention to which attributes feel completely clear and which ones are more challenging – this grey area is useful information, and you’ll want to consider what it means if you can’t quite decide if your brand is more GREY or COLORFUL, or more NECESSITY or LUXURY. Here are a few of our favorite opposing terms to get you started:
- Masculine OR Feminine
- Grey OR Colorful
- Modern OR Classic
- Necessity OR Luxury
- Conservative OR Extravagant
If Your Brand was a Person…?
Hopefully at this point the creative juices have started to flow, and we can start getting even more abstract. Now’s the time to anthropomorphize your brand and start thinking about what type of person it would be.
Some questions we like to ask are “If your brand was a person, where would it hang out?” “What types of clothes would your brand wear?” “How old would your brand be?”
Ultimately these types of questions are deeply tied to identifying your audience, but coming at them from a different perspective can help to make it clearer who your brand is speaking to and how.
What’s Your Spirit Animal?
Once you’re able to talk about the brand personified, it can be valuable to push that abstract thinking even further. While thinking about your brand as a person can give you some insights into your target audience and brand voice, thinking about your brand as some non-human objects or creatures will help to give you a better sense of your brand’s vibe and personality.
One of our favorite of these questions to ask is “if your brand was an animal, what would be it?” Client answers are always incredibly revealing. We’ve had answers ranging from “a literal workhorse” to “an elk – a strong, good-looking animal that’s still nimble” to (a personal favorite) “a liger mixed with a golden retriever.”
You can learn so much from the specific animal that you choose, and just as much from the reasons behind it. You can also play around with other types of abstract questions, things like:
- If your brand was a car, what would it be?”
- If your brand was a movie, what would it be?
- If your brand had a superpower, what would it be?
Branding brings together two important but often separate (though not disparate) areas of building a business – the most practical and realistic elements of understanding your audience, and the more abstract elements like vibe and positioning.
Not exploring these more creative elements is a mistake, and even if your company, industry, and brand are ultimately pretty buttoned up and straightforward, it is worth exploring all the possible ways you can distinguish yourself.