mat martin | Creating Designs
This series of posts is intended as a resource for people working with designers and developers on sites or graphic assets. Guest posts include thoughts and essays from other designers as well as site users and clients.
The Site Maintenance posts are particularly aimed at clients using WordPress sites which I have created for them. Much of the content is applicable to any wordpress.org site but some of it may reference specific functionalities or plugins which I have written or installed and set up. Where third party code is used or referred to I try to give the appropriate credit. Please contact me for further or more specific information.
In order to clarify the message of a brand it can be useful to create a series of statements of intent for a business. Doing this can focus a branding project and make a business much more effective as a result. Whether or not you choose to share your branding statements publicly, they should clearly express the core values of your business, of which your client should be aware.
Branding statements express the various aspects of your business’ persona in language. This is similar to the areas defined within the Kapferer Brand Identity Prism, and along with that diagram they can give us some resources with which to understand the nature of a brand. An effective way to arrive at these statements is by answering a set of questions designed to elicit detailed reflection on the brand in question.
Questions for creating Branding Statements
The questions included here are researched and designed to help you identify, develop and communicate the key qualities of your brand. Note that this is not a one-time exercise, and that successful brands revisit, fine-tune and sometimes outright change up their branding statements, identity principles and assets according to the market and to the development of their business. The more experience your company gains, the more accurate and insightful the information it will be able to feed into this process and the more precise your branding statements will be. Make a note in your diary to come back in a year and see if anything can be adjusted or has changed.
A quick SWOT analysis will never hurt to prepare you for the more specific questions which follow. It’s good practice to have a sense of your business in these terms in any case. To the best of your current knowledge, jot down some thoughts on the following subjects with regard to your business.
- Strengths: Characteristics of the business or project that give it an advantage over others.
- Weaknesses: Characteristics that place the team at a disadvantage relative to others.
- Opportunities: Elements that the project could exploit to its advantage.
- Threats: Elements in the environment that could cause trouble for the business or project.
Your Vision Statement is “a one-sentence statement describing the clear and inspirational long-term desired change resulting from an organization or program’s work”. Is is a simple expression of your company’s intention and desired end-state. Consider the following things, without worrying at this stage about how you intend to achieve them. This is about what you want to achieve.
- What are your most important products and services?
- What products and services will you never offer?
- What is unique about doing business with your brand?
- How would your customers describe your brand?
- Where do you want your company to be in five years?
Now – what, in one sentence, sums up your company’s vision? For example, here is the Oxfam vision statement: “A just world without poverty”.
Your Mission Statement should clearly sets out your company’s purpose. This should be free from specialist language (it should make sense to the average general reader without further explanation). The Vision Statement is where you say something inspiring – here it’s more important to be clear than anything else.
Be careful to consider the Vision Statement’s intentions when creating this. Consider the difference between these two of Apple’s Mission Statements:
“To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.”
“Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.”
Both of these statements have been part of the Apple brand at different times, and they are quite different in meaning. The first clearly puts quality of life and the advancement of humanity at the fore, where the second concentrates on a purely technological set of values.
Consider the following:
- What are the specific market needs the company exists to address?
- What does the company do to address these needs?
- What are the guiding principles that define the company’s approach?
- Why do customers buy from you and not your competition?
So, what is your company going to do to achieve its Vision Statement? Example: Google’s mission statement is: “To organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, whereas their Vision Statement is: “To provide access to the world’s information in one click”.
The search for the Essence of your brand can be reduced to a simple question: What does your archetypal customer feel when using your service? Examples include “safe” (Volvo) or “magical” (Disney). Perhaps your customers will feel “enabled” by the support and/or information you offer them, or perhaps they will feel “luxurious” when experiencing the richness and extravagance of your product.
- What emotions are elicited by your customer’s experience of your product or service?
- If your brand were a person, how would you describe its personality?
- Take a look at this blog post on cultural archetypes in branding for some guidance on defining the personality type of your business.
What single word would best describe the experience of interacting with your brand? How will your customer feel?
This is, simply put, the manner in which your brand’s Essence is communicated. Think about the various messages we send via the decisions we make about how to present ourselves and interact with others. For some businesses it will be appropriate to have a fun, mischievous personality; for others a serious, even old-fashioned tone will be more appropriate (consider the difference in tone and style between Apple’s and IBM’s brands for example – they are effectively selling the same product but have vastly different personalities). When thinking about this, give attention to the frame of mind your customer is likely to be in (e.g. Does your service offer help at difficult times in people’s lives?) but also the frame of mind you would like your product or service to elicit (see Essence).
- Are you playful or serious?
- Is the nature of your business one which requires a certain style or tone?
- Is it more important to inspire – for example – trust or excitement in your clients?
- How does your client feel about approaching you?
Again, this blog post on cultural archetypes will give you some labels which might help you to identify what kind of personality your business has.
In one or two sentences, your company’s Brand Positioning Statement expresses the unique value and benefit of your product or service. It should “define the audience, define the category in which the brand exists, cite a clear product or service benefit, set your brand apart from your competitors, and instill confidence the brand will deliver on its promise.”
Think about the following:
- To whom are you speaking? (Target market, demographic, and persona)
- Which market segment does your product or service serve?
- What is your brand promise? (Both rational and emotional)
- Why is your product or service different from the competition, and why should your clients care?
A strong statement of this type will take into account the target market/consumer, the frame within which the decision to buy this product over an alternative and the points of difference between the product/service in question and the alternatives on offer.
For example, ZipCar’s Brand Positioning Statement is “To urban-dwelling, educated techno-savvy consumers [target], when you use Zipcar car-sharing service instead of owning a car [competitive frame], you save money while reducing your carbon footprint [points of difference].” [source]
How would you describe the position and unique benefit of your product or service in a single sentence?
Use this series of questions to define five concise and definite branding statements. They will offer you most if they avoid vague language and are explicit in their intent and meaning.
In an increasingly online marketplace businesses can consider branding from a perspective of visibility and/or searchability. When deciding what language to use to describe your business, it may be very useful to do some keyword research into using a word or words which link directly to the USP or Vision Statement of your intended brand. This can apply to anything from choosing a name to deciding how to title your latest blog post.
The Importance of a Consistent Business Language Style
Branding is about personality. The Kapferer Prism shows us that in large part the reality of a brand is defined not by the intentions behind it but the way in which it is received by the public. As such, the tone of voice and style you employ in language can be as important as your logo, the choice of fonts and colours or the shape of the packaging your product comes in. A consistent style will help with this, and is also likely to create a more pointed message that may be more likely to reach your core demographic.
When considering how to approach this it is important to balance the tone and style of your message with keyword research about the way that language is performing in searches within your sector. This kind of information costs only time to gather, and can make a huge difference to your ability to reach the audience who are interested in what you are doing.
These considerations are not only about making the big decisions associated with defining and creating a brand – established businesses can benefit hugely from this practice, and it is one which can be entered into to an almost infinite level of detail. SEO is a huge and complex beast, and there are highly qualified experts out there who can help you refine your targets, keywords and optimisation in highly targeted ways, but even some broad strokes can be very useful.
Keyword Research – Identifying Useful Search Terms
Be aware that search terms evolve and that you will find it hard to maintain brand recognition if the static language of your business (business name, mission and vision statements etc.) evolves with them too specifically or too quickly. For these aspects of your business try to be broad enough to overcome this whilst still keeping your research in mind – just being aware of the relationship between what you are putting out there and what people are looking for can be a very powerful position to start from.
There are a few simple things you can do right away:
- Open a Google window and begin typing everything you can think of to do with your product/service. As you type, Google will offer suggestions – these are based on most common searches and thus actually offer you some very valuable information on keywords and search behaviours.
- Make a note of all the Google search term suggestions which seem relevant. Once you have these you can research them a little, and try to come up with some key terms which people are likely to use to find services like yours.
- Try to find out/predict the keywords (and -phrases) your potential clients are likely to use to find you online. Google offers tools for this, and it is possible to leverage the analytics of social media, too – see this article, and the resources below.
In this way you should be able to create an initial list of words and search terms associated with your business’ proposition(s), and perhaps even a sense of which of them are most used by the demographic which best fits your ideal client profile (see Brand Questions Sheet).
Online Tools for Keyword Research
- Google Trends Tool – https://trends.google.com/trends/
- Google Keyword Planner – https://adwords.google.com/KeywordPlanner
- Don’t underestimate simply typing into http://google.com and paying attention to the autofill.
- Facebook Graph Search (intro video) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3k1USQbq80
- Twitter Trend Search – https://twitter.com/search-home
- Google+ Trending – https://plus.google.com/explore/Trending
- YouTube Trending – https://www.youtube.com/feed/trending
It may be useful to compare these keywords to the language you have used in the first drafts of your Vision and Mission Statements, to see to what extent you are already speaking in the language of your potential clients.
When you have a shortlist of options it’s a good idea to use these tools again, to see what associations each has in search trends. You may find that some of them are ‘cleaner’ in this respect than others.
Finally, keep a note of your key search terms – they will be invaluable when writing copy for your website and print documents.
- Ways in which you can try to work out/predict the keywords your clients are using (HubSpot): https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/how-to-figure-out-what-keywords-your-potential-customers-are-using#sm.000010748l65m5eavy3w7wzybl7bu
- Tools to use when starting a business (Forbes): https://www.forbes.com/sites/kenkrogue/2012/06/21/3-google-tools-to-check-before-starting-a-business
- Ways in which to check the value of a keyword (Yoast): https://yoast.com/focus-keyword/
- Keyword research tools curated by Yoast: https://yoast.com/keyword-research-tools/
The identity of a brand is traditionally understood in terms of its intended clients’ experience and perception. The Kapferer Brand Identity Prism attempts to create a map or diagram of the DNA of this. It sets out a number of distinguishing qualities which come together to create the facets of a brand based upon the ways in which these experiences and perceptions are formed.
Brand identity differs from brand image significantly in terms of the direction in which attention is focussed. Where brand image is considered mainly in terms of the receiver’s decoding of a brand, brand identity as a concept allows us to focus on the intention of a brand and therefore assess its efficacy and adjust approaches to improve results. To put it simply: brand image is perceived, whereas brand identity is projected.
The Kapferer Brand Identity Prism
In 1986, professor Jean-Noël Kapferer sought to identify the key elements of a brand which contribute to its identity. Considerations such as the nature of the service or product offered, or the name chosen for a business, led him to use a language of human qualities to do this. He laid these out in what is now known as the Kapferer Brand Identity Prism.
These key elements are defined as follows:
In these terms Kapferer defined what he considered to be the six distinguishing features of a brand’s identity. As the distinguishing features of a person help us to identify them, so is it with a business or service. A strong brand helps a business not only to make a clear and useful impression but to be remembered and recognised (how many times have you spent on a service or product from a source you consider trusted due to your experience with and knowledge of the provider, compared to investing merely on the basis of price or circumstance?).
Kapferer put it this way:
Strong brands are capable of weaving all aspects [of the prism] into an effective whole in order to create a concise, clear and appealing brand identity.
The Kapferer Brand Identity Prism places these six features in relation to one another by considering their position between the business (sender) and client (recipient), and back again. The areas it defines between these points range from internal (subjective, implied, emotional) to external (objective, defined, tangible), and the shape of the prism makes it clear that many paths can be drawn to join them up.
To better understand the nature of a brand’s behaviour in this space it’s useful to look at each of these terms separately.
The physical features and qualities of the brand. Think of the shape of a bottle of Coca-Cola or Orangina, or of the physical qualities of almost any Apple product (sleek, minimalist, elegant) and you’ll be considering the physique of a brand. Kapferer stated that this should be considered the basis of the brand, although this is a simpler consideration if you are selling a tangible product rather than a service.
A brand’s character is nebulous at best. It can be communicated through a choice of colour, typography or even a celebrity endorsement (think of George Clooney’s association with the Nespresso brand). It really is about personality – what is your brand like to be around? Would you be more likely to go to a board meeting with your business, or out for a drink?
This refers specifically to the culture of a demographic in which it is necessary for a brand to base its behaviour. A brand like Budweiser trades on traditional, even stereotypical North American values, and yet markets another version of their product – arguably further to its core than its main one – as a traditional Czech product. A clear example of a company adapting its brand identity culture to distinct markets.
We are talking here about the relationship between brand and client. Where does a brand sit on the spectrum between client-focused red carpet treatment and haughty aloofness? Again, Apple provide an excellent example of a company who successfully walk a very delicate line between providing a high end luxury product alongside a level of customer service and focus on customer experience which appears to value the individual client very highly. This article’s analysis of brand identity relationships makes a strong comparison between BMW and Lexus).
This refers specifically to the reflection in branding and promotional material of the stereotypical user of the brand in question. For example, Coca-Cola’s focus on the 15-18 age group with strong messages of fun and friendship, or Marlboro’s strong, masculine and neo-mythical cowboy styling. Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign uses this aspect of brand identity very effectively. This article at Brand Manager Guide has some very interesting breakdowns of these brands and more, drawn directly around Kapferer’s Brand Identity prism and demonstrating very clearly this particular concept.
It is important to note that a brand which effectively reflects to a very specific audience can also perform very well in much broader terms (again consider the real demographic for sales of Coca-Cola compared to that brand’s reported 15-18 demographic).
There is an important yet subtle point of difference between reflection and self-image. Where reflection works with the sender’s perception of the client image, self-image deals with the client’s own idea of self. Often the client of a luxury brand doesn’t buy into that brand because they are in the targeted demographic, but rather because they want to identify with that demographic: People may well borrow beyond their means to buy a luxury car so as to project an image of success to themselves and those around them. Both Zeynep Çıkın and Tools 4 Management point out in their articles on this subject that customers of the Lacoste brand appear to see themselves as belonging to a sports club, even when they do not.
Kapferer’s list provides a means by which to identify some key aspects of the communication of a brand. Thinking in these terms invites us to consider the role of the client in forming a brand identity and take this into account when managing that brand. The Kapferer Brand Identity Prism illustrates the various relationships we can seek to nurture between these areas, and thus between business and client.
When defining and/or developing a sense of brand identity it is important to be familiar with a basic set of information about your business. This may seem obvious, but it is surprising how often we cannot answer simple questions if we haven’t put some thought into what they mean for our practice. Brand design questions can be as simple as “What does your business do?”, but can lead to answers which help a brand to gain clarity and really define what it is trying to communicate.
Try working through the questions below, and making a note of your answers. Put together, they should go some way towards providing a basis for the decisions you make about how to present your brand to your clients.
If you are considering working with a designer on your brand assets (logo, style etc.), website or print material, the more time you have been able to spend considering such brand design questions, the better you will be able to get them to understand what you need. Good designers may well be able to see further into ideas than their clients, but even their best ideas can only come from what they are given to work with. Take some time to prepare yourself for this kind of investment in your business – it will make for much more rewarding results.
Brand Design Questions
Many of the questions in this article are owed to some fine work done in this article over at SitePoint, with a few tweaks here and there. I have included some of the information again here as part of a series intended for clients’ reference, but highly recommend reading the full article too.
About Your Business:
- What does your business/product do? (1-2 sentences)
- What problem do you solve for your clients?
- Who are your three main competitors?
- What do you like about their brand/presence?
- What do you dislike about their brand/presence?
- What makes you different from your competitors? Why should your clients choose you? This is your USP – see this article for a more in-depth discussion of how to define yours.
- Describe your company in 5 words of any kind.
About your Clients:
- Who is your ideal client? If you need help defining their attributes have a look at this article.
- What is the main message you would like to convey to your clients? This can be a feeling as much as it is verbal – think about how you feel when someone mentions some of your favourite products.
- Describe your ideal client in 5 words of any kind.
About your New Brand:
- What is the reason for doing this? Why now? What do you hope to achieve from this exercise?
- Share 3 examples of a brand whose identity works for you. Why are you drawn to them? What do you like about them?
- Share 3 examples of a brand whose identity you dislike. What do you find weak? Why don’t they connect with you?
- If you have an existing brand, what is no longer working for you about it?
- Do you have any specific guidelines about the brand you wish to create (dos and don’ts on e.g. colour, imagery etc.)?
- Describe the desired look and feel of your new brand in 5 words of any kind.
If you’re working on a specific project with a designer or consultant it may be useful to ask yourself the following questions, too. The clearer you can be about your needs and expectations, the more likely you are to have them met.
About the Job in Hand
- What are the desired deliverables on this project (logo, stationery, brand guidelines, fonts and colours etc.)?
- Do you have existing materials which need updating?
- Who is leading this project for the business / who is the decision-maker on the project? What is the turnaround time on decision-making?
- Do you have budget/timeline restrictions?
Take a look at your answers to these brand design questions. What have you learnt about your business that you didn’t know at the start of this exercise? How could knowing how to express your business’ strengths, qualities and intentions more precisely help communication with service providers, colleagues and peers? Better still, how could knowing this shape the decisions you make about how you present your business to your clients?
The document you have created is one to which you should be able to refer back regularly, and one which will benefit from regular updates as you come to know your brand better over time. The clearer your communication with your clients, the better the feedback you will receive, and the more you will be able to refine your answers to these questions.
The following articles go into greater or lesser depth on the type of questions included above – depending on how much time you have to spend on this it may be useful to read through them and see how other people frame these questions or break down their constituent parts.