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Business owners and managers—particularly those in the early stages of a startup, or those that are in the process of expanding or evolving their company—more often than not will need to asses and evaluate their branding. And for many people, their idea of branding is getting their logo designed or refreshed, and then subsequently ensuring that all their business cards, letterheads, invoices, company shirts, and anything else they can think of is updated with the new design.

This in fact is only one small part of the branding process, with the logo itself merely representing and signifying a whole scope of aspects that are intrinsically integrated throughout the entire organisation. When the organisation itself has strong branding in place, the logo then acts as an icon that evokes thoughts, feelings and experiences that the viewer has already associated with the brand.

So what is branding then? Branding starts with the story of your organisation. What is your mission, why is your business doing what it’s doing? It sounds simple, yet so many companies get caught up in their own products and services, processes and trying to make large profits, that the core idea of the business often gets lost in the noise.

As an example, I worked on a brand of emergency beacons about two years ago. The brand already existed in the marketplace, and was about to launch an all new range of LED beacons. This was a big step forward for the product range in terms of technology, quality, reliability and performance, so the marketing that was to be created needed to make a significant impact in the market.

This was no easy task, as the market was already flooded with LED beacons. Beacons from big name brands, beacons with no names but were dirt cheap imports, and plenty in-between. This particular range was in the higher end of the price bracket though the quality and performance of the product justified the premium price.

So what to do? If we followed the typical view of branding we’d put the logo on the product, do up some product brochures again with the logo and brand styling … maybe even create a website to list the products and feature the logo once again. But how would this stand out from the crowd. Why would a customer choose these beacons over any other in the marketplace? After all, they all do essentially the same thing: they attach to a vehicle or machine and they flash when activated. And why would anyone pay a higher price for something that they can buy as a no-name product down the road or online?

This is where the story becomes paramount.

Selling the story. Communicating the idea and the mission. Making the connection with the customer. Once the connection is made and the consumer is on board with the idea or concept behind the brand, then the process of selling the actual product or service becomes simply the end game—rather than the starting point. Consider the following sales pitch and customer thought process:

‘Here’s some new beacons. We’ve made the bases from die-cast alloy for strength and to keep the LEDs cool, plus they’re bright and have been tested to meet a whole range of certifications.

Well, that’s nice. But why would I pay a premium for them when there’s cheaper products everywhere?

‘Because They’re high quality, they’re very bright, and they’ll last a long time as they’re very reliable.’

That sounds fair enough, but I’m still not sure why I even need high quality expensive beacons, when the cheaper options would likely do the job. I’m not convinced they’re even that important—they’re just a flashing light after all!

‘Because safety is important, and you wouldn’t want to risk a cheap beacon failing in such an important role.’

See how the sales pitch is all focused on the product, and the seller is pretty well on the back foot from the get-go. By focusing and telling the story of ‘why’, the sales pitch becomes more emotional and helps connect the customer to the brand, and therefore the product. Consider this same product pitch and customer thought process, but this time starting with the story:

‘Every day husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters go to work in dangerous but important jobs. All of these precious people have family and friends that care about them dearly. It is our mission to make sure they return home from work safe, day after day, year after year.’

Yeah, I work on a mine site, and it is pretty dangerous. It makes my wife worry a lot. So how are you going to keep me safe?

‘We have created warning products that are high quality, very bright, and that will last a long time as they’re very reliable.’ 

I never thought about the reliability aspect before. Thinking about it now, I’m a bit concerned about whether the cheap products I was looking at will be up to the task. How can I be sure your products will be reliable and bright enough to be able to keep me safe on the job?

We’ve made the bases from die-cast alloy for strength and to keep the LEDs cool, plus they’re bright and have been tested to meet a whole range of certifications.’

See how the whole thought process can get turned around from trying to convince someone to buy your product in isolation (normally focusing on product features and benefits), to bringing on board a range of ideas and emotions that will connect with the customer—with the product or service simply being the solution to the issues and concerns that were raised through the storytelling.

Once the story is established, then a whole range of branding elements, designs, imagery and wording can be created to support the message. All of these elements will be much more cohesive when created this way too, which will further strengthen the branding.

So when looking at branding, ask yourself this: do I want a basic logo and some nice stationery? Or do I need to communicate my organisation’s story to my customers and the world?

I sure know what I’d be doing!

Ben Johnston

I’m Ben—a branding strategist, graphic designer, photographer, videographer and writer. Evocative is my own communications and branding consultancy. With over ten years experience in all things creative—plus an honours degree in design majoring in corporate identity—I’ve specialised in branding and visual communication.  

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