Listen to learn: designing brand identity

Brand custodians need to rethink the responsiveness of the brand implement-test cycle, writes Graham Plant.

Article theme badge DesignWhen the theme of this issue of the new-format Marketing (which, by the way guys, looks awesome) was presented to me, it raised a number of thoughts and ideas – but one stood out more than the others.

As marketers, design and the ability to design, is a core element of our DNA. Whether that is designing campaigns, products, value propositions, competitive strategies or (and most importantly) how to drive sales – the marketer of today needs to be an innovator, creator and designer.

An area that has always intrigued me, and one in which Effective Measure is regularly asked for assistance, relates to brand identity. More specifically, in what ways does the design have an impact on customer behaviour?

In research and audience measurement, we are often looking at brand identity design with a particular focus on understanding customer perception of a brand. As an extension of this, we also investigate the values or words that they associate with a brand.

If we accept that each brand has a personality and that this is a major influencer over how a target market will respond – how does a business test this?

There are emotional and associative characteristics connected to a company or brand name that have varying degrees of influence in shaping how people feel about and interact with that company or brand. But does brand design really influence how a consumer perceives the business, or is a brand’s personality created by the way it behaves and interacts with a consumer, reducing the brand to little more than a label for the company?

First, I guess it is important to understand what a brand actually is.

The legendary, and original mad man, David Ogilvy once described a brand as, “The intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging and price, its history, its reputation and the way it’s advertised.”

Alternatively, the father of modern day marketing, Philip Kotler has stated that, “A brand is a name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of the competitor.”

I don’t know about you, but I have no intention of arguing with the views of either of these giants in our industry, and think that both are correct interpretations of a brand. Kotler was defining the functional attributes of a brand, whereas Ogilvy was defining the emotional attributes of a brand – both perspectives are critical to marketing and sales.

So what is a brand identity and how do marketers approach the design of a brand identity?

For me, a brand’s identity is more than just its visual representation to the world. The visual identity is normally presented by attributes such as the company’s name, its logo, corporate colours and fonts, all put together to create the appearance of the brand’s identity.

What is most important in the brand identity, however, are the feelings and emotions the brand invokes when seen by customers, staff, partners, prospects and shareholders.

The brand identity must encapsulate the personality of the company and generate a response, or perception, with a consumer that is consistent with the goals of the design of the brand identity.

Once upon a time, it was relatively easy to control how a brand was perceived. Channels to market were limited and communications generally controlled by the company or agency. Introduce the digital era, the rapid growth of social media and magnification of the voice of the consumer – and controlling brand identity has become a lot more challenging.

A company’s online presence is now its most active and visible brand. The way it is perceived online is a critical success factor for its business. While it may not be possible to have complete control over a brand, by testing and monitoring behavioural attributes, it is possible for businesses to ensure their brand design is consistent with the perception of their business. After all, perception is reality.

Being an online audience measurement company, we are often called upon to help businesses understand how their brand is perceived compared to their competition. An Effective Measure study of the top four banks in Australia produced some interesting results as per the snapshot of the results pictured.

Those results showed that the Commonwealth Bank was highest in terms of its customer service and ability to demonstrate to customers that it is fair and trustworthy (the Halo score), while Westpac seemed to be considered as the least greedy of the banks (although the perceived difference in this attribute across all four banks was marginal).

By testing the values and emotional attributes, it was possible to gain an appreciation of how consumers feel about the banks and their brand. Post-campaign analysis was completed to assess the perception of the physical attributes and brand identity design associated with their brand and online presence.

So what did we learn? The study helped us understand whether or not the banks were achieving their desired effect on their positioning. In addition, it was no surprise that the banks have a challenge to create and sustain a brand identity that all stakeholders perceive in the same way.

Companies cannot simply set and forget their brand identity. The days of being able to conduct brand audits every few years are long gone.

With such high visibility online, businesses need to continually monitor their brand identity and be prepared to revisit the design (physical attributes) and the values (emotional attributes) it represents.

To do this, every business should be engaging and listening to not only its customers, but its staff, partners, competitors and shareholders as well. This will ensure that your brand identity is consistent with how you want it to be perceived. Any movement in the wrong direction can be addressed.

The types of questions that businesses should be asking themselves include:

  • How is your brand perceived compared to your competitors?
  • Does your brand deliver on its promise?
  • Does your brand influence the desired behaviours?
  • Does your online design represent the position you want to achieve?
  • What words do your customers, staff, partners, shareholders and competitors use to describe your business?

As marketers, I’m sure you already know the answers to these questions, right? At the risk of challenging Messrs Ogilvy and Kotler, a brand identity is made up of many attributes:

  • Values,
  • promise,
  • personality,
  • vision,
  • value proposition,
  • appearance, and
  • products and services.

Therefore, designing a brand identity requires some consideration. Nurturing it and delivering on it is a 24/7 job. I’m sure if you ask your customers, prospects, staff, partners, shareholders and competitors about your brand, you’ll learn something new – hopefully, it’s that your brand rocks and your company walks the walk. If not, you may need to brush up on those design skills.

 

Effective Measure is a Marketing content partner – non-commercial collaborations with leading organisations on content for the magazine (like this article) as well as exclusive benefits for Marketing Advantage Members. Visit marketingmag.com.au/advantage.

Graham Plant
BY Graham Plant ON 11 May 2015
Graham Plant is CEO at Effective Measure.