You know you need to redefine or develop your brand, you know a brand is foundational to your success and you know you can’t develop it alone.
The next decision you’re evaluating is what branding company you should partner with to bring your organization’s identity to prolific reality. More than likely, you’ll look at what each agency, group or consultant has to say about how a brand is cultivated. Based on your impression, you’ll set up a string of interviews and hear what they have to say.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of mistruths floating around about branding and what it takes to fully nurture a rounded identity from dust to living flesh. To help your process, I’m going to pull back the curtain on some of these mistruths and why they’re incorrect.
Here are five lies Pittsburgh branding companies may try to tell you:
Lie #1: “The Branding Process Starts with Design”
To be quite honest, this is an easy lie to believe because so much of what we see from a brand has to do with visual identity. So often when we think “brand” we think logo and color scheme.
The truth, however, is this—a brand is more than a logo or any other extension of visual identity. A true brand is a spirit, a movement and an thoroughly consistent experience. These soul-filled elements aren’t created from a visual design, although they should propel them. They stem from what should begin any branding process: narrative development.
The Truth is Narrative is Where the Branding Process Starts:
Your narrative is the story of your brand, who’s involved, what it does, why it does what it does, how it does it, what it’s done and what it will do. It’s the foundation of communication and properly representing any organization.
An International Example of Branding Ruined by Design-First Process:
The design community has made an absolute mockery of Olive Garden’s visual identity refresh, which occurred in July, 2014. There’s a good reason too—it barely even gives us a glimmer of what the “Olive Garden” brand represents. Even you’re not an Olive Garden fan, you can probably manage to agree just from a glance at the logo showcased below.
I appreciate the attempt at refreshing what was a then-hideous logo at the time (in my opinion), but they took it from bad to worse.
You might think I’m being critical, but pretend you suddenly know nothing about Olive Garden. Yes, forget about those meals, experiences and knowledge of this chain. What impression does this logo leave you with if you know nothing? If you’ve never been to one of their restaurants?
From a quick glance, we have no idea what Olive Garden is, but thankfully there is a punch line that reads “Italian Kitchen.” Alright so we know it’s an italian restaurant more than likely.
Does anything about that logo scream Italian kitchen? Not a single thing.
Design was at the forefront of thinking. In more or less terms, they wanted a design that would reflect the updates they’ve done to restaurant locations. They almost tapped into narrative, but trumped the restaurant’s story with this specific, design command for the refresh:to create “a clean, fresh and appealing logo.”
As you can see, they accomplished that, but lost an element of identity because they didn’t design with narrative in mind.
Is this hurting sales? Probably not because this is a well-established chain. The consequences of a younger organization or pure start up making this design-first-process mistake? It could be the business going under.
An International Example of Visual Identity Designed After Narrative:
When narrative is developed, everything is effected. When done properly, it will inform the impression and experience your logo creates for both prospective and active patrons.
In the theme of Italian restuarants, BRAVO! is a great example of a visual identity designed with narrative in mind. The evidence? BRAVO! proclaims themselves as a “traditional, authentic italian restaurant.”
Defining that narrative noticeably informs several active features in the above logo:
- Classic italian colors
- Writing the phrase “Italian Kitchen” in Italian
- Roman Pillars
This visual identity successfully delivers a genuine italian impression.
Lie #2: “Design Outweighs the Value of Copywriting”
Still, this is an easy one to fall for because, as we established a moment ago, design is often the most face-value feature of a brand.
Yes—design is extremely important. I’m not undermining the value of it, but I also wouldn’t say that design outweighs the value of copywriting.
This argument is like trying to decide what’s more important—your arms or legs.
The Truth is Copywriting is Just as Important as Design:
Copywriting is powerful. It drives the content of your marketing materials, website and advertisements. If your ability to express your narrative—who you are, what you do and your place in the world—is missing then you’re going to have problems connecting with your target audiences and the public in general.
The Formula for Successful Design/Copywriting Balance:
Quite simply, the branding formula for successful design/copywriting balance is 50/50. Copywriting isn’t more important than design and design isn’t more important than copywriting. Both are equally vital to your success.
Lie #3: “SEO- and User-Centered Website design & development Experience Isn’t Necessary”
In the final stages of the brand process, corporate identity pieces are created. One of these assets is a website, which has become an extremely valuable digital platform for strategic brand positioning in a changing buyer’s world.
There are so many considerations to take note of when either building or re-building a website and they include, but aren’t limited to:
- True search engine optimization (SEO) and how the site will rank for competitive search engine keyword phrases
- User experience—how a user explores your site and what action they take
- Calls to action—encouraging those visitors to click on relevant resources and behavior points and convert
- Information capture—exchanging content offers or other informative resource for visitor information (name, position, company, etc.)
The Truth is SEO- and User-Centered Website design & development Experience is More than Necessary—It’s Vital for Your Brand in Digital:
To say that the above asterisks aren’t necessary is a dangerous lie. It usually stems from a point of ignorance. Whoever may try to get you to believe this has proven themselves either unable to properly design a site with SEO and user experience in mind or too lazy to do so.
Even they say it may make a website more expensive (and depending on the project it may), a branding company should be able to at least introduce you to the concepts and why they’re important. From there, it’s your decision as a brand whether you want to do build your website correctly or not.
Lie #4: “This Won’t Take a Lot of Time”
How Long Should the Branding Process Take?
If you’re seeking a fast fix or build for your brand then you’re going to be susceptible to this lie.
The Truth is Building a Successful Brand Takes Time—More or Less Time Depending on Your Situation:
To go through the full process, and pull all of the necessary nutrients into the equation, it will take time and patience. I can’t give you a set timeline because it really depends on the nature of your organization and situation.
Branding Will Require the Time of Your Decision Makers and Thought Leaders:
This also has to be taken into consideration. The key members of your staff are going to be required for several brainstorming meetings and follow up conversations.
To this point, it’s important for your anticipated branding company to have boardroom manner. In essence, this is just how well they can lead a potentially spirited conversation (the identity of an organization always is) and mediate ideas. It’s a vital talent to have and without it, your time may be wasted be off-topic conversations stemming from the overall branding talk.
Lie #5: “Branding is a Vertical Concept—Not Horizontal”
Perhaps the most dangerous lie you can spot is this one.
When we’re discussing what’s vertical vs. horizontal in this industry, we can break it down like the below graphic:
The Truth is That Branding is Horizontal and Touches Everything:
It’s important to understand that branding isn’t a vertical concept—it’s horizontal and can’t be contained.
Vertical concepts manifest as customer service, marketing/PR, operations and etc. Each one has its own requirements and integration, but at the end of the day, branding touches each of them.
Branding is DNA:
Another way to think of branding is DNA. The DNA of the human body controlled the formation of your appearance and everything within your appearance. It also controls the way your body behaves and reacts to any number of situations. Without it, you’d be nothing.
Branding is much the same way. It is the factor that controls the output of everything of your business. I’d say that makes it pretty important.