What’s a brand (and why you need one)?

Brands control our emotions. Emotions control us.

Control might be a bit strong – manipulate is probably a better choice of word but control just looked better as a headline. I have wanted to write this article for some time and I finally got some time between projects so here we are. There’s a lot of confusion about what branding [1] is and how brand agencies help businesses. All companies have a brand. It represents your company’s values and motivations and aims to visualise your company’s personality. A good brand can help grow a business’ profit margin. Successful brands such as Nike and Porsche have built and refined their brands over years and as such can demand a big premium for their products.


Buying a Porsche should make you smile

You don’t buy a Porsche because it’s the logical choice. If you just want a car that takes you from A to B there are much cheaper options. A Volvo would be a perfectly logical choice and it’s one of the safest cars you can buy [2]. Yet people are perfectly happy paying a premium for a Porsche 911 or a pair of Nike Air Max. Why? Because we buy, not with reason or logic but with emotions. Modern advertising is rarely informative and never educational. Ad agencies do their best to entertain, evoke and engage. All meant to make you feel…something. Feelings and emotions are what makes advertising effective.


vintage Volvo 240
Vintage Volvo 240 – a perfectly logical choice

Nobody dreams of owning a bicycle pump

It’s easy to get lost in the vast amount of information and theories on branding. Personally, I can recommend The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier or even Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don’t Make Sense by Rory Sutherland [3]. For those of you not too bothered, here’s the short version – branding is never about the what but the why. I’ll give you an example – some time ago I was working as a consultant for a big retailer. They sold everything from fruit and veg, meats and drinks as well as seasonal products such as gardening and car accessories. I was in a meeting one day with some of their senior buyers. The meeting had been called because their car and bike accessories weren’t selling as well as they thought it should. We quickly started talking about the psychology of selling and what we really know about a customer. After a while and a lot of strong coffee we came to some sort of conclusion (which does a pretty good job of explaining the motivation of a customer) and it was this: a customer walking in to the store looking for a bicycle pump doesn’t actually want a bicycle pump. That’s not their objective [4]. They’re in the store looking for reassurance. So that when they do get a flat tyre they have the tool required to pump it back up. The pump (and shop) is simply the enabler. The question that led to this revelation wasn’t what – it was why.


The extension of the brand (and brand agency)

A common misconception about brand agencies is that we design logos and nothing more. Logos is one part of what we do but there’s more to a brand than the logo. Brand agencies often work with clients to develop everything from a brand identity (logo, tagline, brand voice etc.) to copywriting, web design and social media. Businesses of all sizes are realising the importance of being on brand and that a brand has numerous touchpoints in a business. The Coca-Cola bottle is a perfect example of how a company’s brand can extend beyond just the logo and tagline. Instantly recognisable due to its unique shape [5], the bottle is even recognisable broken in pieces or in the dark. It’s tactile branding!


coca cola retro bottles
Coca-Cola retro bottles


The Monologue approach

Our approach to brand design is a little different to other agencies. We help our clients grow their margin, customer base or reach (or in some cases, all three) through branding. We also promote a great level of ‘DIY’ or Design It Yourself. I’ll explain: On our first meeting, we’ll sit down with the client and try to understand why they want help, what their expectations are and how our experience could help them. After a successful discovery and with a signed-off creative brief, our designers start working. A number of drafts are usually presented, depending on scale of project and once the final design has been chosen, we hand over the final design files. This is where our approach differs from other agencies. We also provide bespoke training material and, where required, sessions on how to use the design files. In a recent job, we presented a new website to the client, along with a 1-hour training session so that their in-house marketing manager knew how to update it themselves. Finally, we provided manuals and other help resources, in case they wanted to find out more about their site and how it worked. The result? Less repeat business for us but happier and more invested clients. And that’s more important for us.


[1] A quick search on Google for ‘branding’ will get you 956,000.000 results…

[2] In fact, that’s pretty much their brand promise – they use safety as their differentiator and it works very well

[3] Although not strictly about branding, it does contain some good ideas worthwhile exploring if you’re interested in branding and advertising and the economics side of both

[4] No one ever wants to buy a bicycle pump. It’s probably one of the most uninspiring purchases I’ve ever had to make. And I love my bike

[5] Inspired by the shape of the cocoa bean