The Amadeus BrandBox is a five-part series providing resources to help small and micro businesses define, build and manage their own brands.
Welcome to Part 1 of the Amadeus BrandBox: Strategy. We’re starting at the very beginning; before the logo, colour and type; before the ‘fun stuff’. We’re talking about the foundation stones that will shape your visual brand in a meaningful way.
Of course, you can (and people do) skip this part and head straight for the logo, or the business card, or the website. But any visual decisions around symbols, colour or imagery – your ‘look and feel’ – is merely window dressing without due thought and consideration as to ‘why?’. It may look pretty, but it might not resonate with your audience and communicate what your business offers.
Strategy: Business First, then Brand
We brand strategists are clever people. However, we are not miracle workers; additional to some questions that a basic business plan should cover, we do our best work when our clients have a really clear business strategy.
Strategy is a good word. It implies that you have a plan and you know how you want to get there, which is true. What does business strategy actually look like?
Let’s use the well-known entrepreneur and Raddest Man in the World, Elon Musk as an example. His mission, grandiose as it may be, is to "guarantee the future of humankind".
He has three identifiable strategies to achieve this: (1) pumping a tonne of R&D cash into rechargeable solar batteries to replace fossil fuels (and power an electric car, amongst other things); (2) developing an electric car and (3) building rocketships to enable exploration on Mars, with the intention of sending people to Mars by 2030 and establishing a fully functioning colony during this century. Strategies 1 and 2 have the potential to improve the Earth’s physical environment, whereas Strategy 3 gives us humans a backup plan.
See how all strategies work to further the existence of humankind? And we haven’t even gone anywhere near talk of brand (bar the mention of SolarCity, Tesla and SpaceX).
The best brand strategies are built off robust business strategies. For your brand strategy to resonate as loudly and clearly as church-bells you should have an idea of:
What is your mission?
Who are your customers, and what problems of theirs are you solving?
Why should they come to you rather than a competitor?
What is your value proposition? Are you low-cost? High quality? Something different?
Which part of the market are you going to target?
What is your vision for the future (short, medium and long term)?
What competitive advantage can you focus on and leverage to achieve this?
With an idea of broader business strategy, we now have an excellent foundation for brand strategy, starting with a brand 'position'. Brand positioning is defined as the conceptual place you want to own in the target consumer's mind — the benefits you want them to think of when they think of your brand.
If you haven’t already done an audience profile, now is a good time to examine this. Who are your buyers? Which segment of the market are you targeting? Why? Importantly, how do you solve your customers biggest pain points?
Successful brand positioning can be established by following a process such as this:
When you have answers to these questions, a 'position' will begin to emerge.
“To me, marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world, it’s a very noisy world. And we’re not going to get the chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us.”
Once you’ve established your brand positioning, it’s time to look at the way you wish to operate. How do you want to behave? What do you want people to know you for?
Brand values are like guide rails that determine how you operate. Chosen thoughtfully, they can shape everything from how you answer emails through to how and where you spend your marketing efforts.
Identifying your company’s values is an invaluable step in defining a brand strategy. Calling these out early in the brand development process can assist clear, decisive thinking on the road to creating a successful visual brand identity.
Take a few moments to select five (yes, just five!) values that you feel best support your strategic business questions and brand positioning statement. If you have another value that you feel is not represented, add that in too.
Brand Personality and Archetypes
Identifying an archetype for your business can help in the brand-building process. Archetypes have been around for a while; Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung described them as ‘universally collective patterns of the unconscious’. They believed that everyone shares and understands these central themes because they are an undercurrent to all humanity.
Carol Pearson has furthered this work by developing 12 key personas which have become a useful way of personifying a brand on a human level. Archetypes create a ‘mental shortcut’ by aligning a brand with a recognizable persona which represents who a brand is and what it stands for. All excellent groundwork for building a brand.
There is a wealth of literature out there about Brand Archetypes; a concept that also flows seamlessly into discussions on personality types and leadership development. A really simple way to apply the archetype theory to your brand is to plot where you feel your business fits on the following 2x2 matrix; one axis depicting stability vs. mastery and the other Independence vs. Belonging.
Now see where you fit according to Mark and Pearson's 12 Archetypes:
For further reading about Mark and Pearson's archetypes, see the Resources section at the end of this article.
A light word of caution: Archetypes are a useful way to start a conversation about brand strategy. Much like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (used in organisational development settings) they are useful tools to use as a basis for brand thinking, but should never be taken too literally.
Pulling it all together
So now you have an idea of your brand:
- Values; and
Imagine you'd gone in all guns blazing at the beginning, had your logo designed and a website created. You had 1000 business cards printed and were handing them out like a madperson. But you'd chosen a logo and used branding elements based on your personal preferences and not guided by any branding strategy. I've seen it happen more than a few times. And you know what? No matter how attractive the branding, something fails to connect.
With these simple exercises we can start to paint a picture of how your brand needs to evolve and make sound decisions around this. Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Amadeus BrandBox where I will begin to explore how your brand strategy can translate visually.
What do you wish you'd known before you built your brand? Or are you looking to launch and in need of some solid foundations? I'd love to hear how it's shaping up in the comments below!
The Amadeus BrandBox