Why are brands so important?

By Lucy Batley

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Graphic design Branding
Santa Claus drinking coca cola

Firstly, what is a brand?

According to Wikipedia, a brand is a "name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's goods or services as distinct from those of other sellers." Simple? Well not really.

Whilst 'branding' may have originated as a way to tell one person's cattle from another by means of a long piece of hot metal with a special design at one end it has come to mean so much more. A 'brand' in the modern sense is built on expectation and experience. In its simplest form, it is the associations people make when they see, hear or think of your organisation or product.

What does a brand look like?

I keep mentioning the word 'brand' but what actually is a 'brand? A lot of people think that a brand is simply a logo or symbol. However, whilst a brand often includes a logo it is also defined by specific fonts, colour schemes, symbols, and even sound. All these elements are developed to collectively represent implicit core values, ideas, and even personality or tone of voice. It also includes how you present yourself to your customers - how you answer the telephone, the signage at the main entrance to your office or shop front, any promotional items or banners, the uniforms your staff wear, any promotional items, newsletters or banners that are used internally and externally. ALL these elements together form the basis of your overall brand.

In contrast, a 'logo' is the graphical element, symbol, or icon that, together with its logotype (text which is set in a unique typeface or arranged in a particular way) forms a trademark or identifying mark to represent your brand.

An example of a highly successful brand is Coca-Cola which belongs to the Coca-Cola Company. Brands were originally created by marketing and advertising people in large companies, such as Coca-Cola, to seduce customers - to sell products by creating and projecting colourful but simple ideas clearly, again and again. Their adverts first appeared in 1914 and helped promote Coca-Cola as a "delicious, refreshing, thirst-quenching" drink. Coca-Cola have subsequently been associated with the creation of Santa Claus' red and white outfit following a series of annual advertising campaigns during the 1920s and 1930s. The Coca-Cola Santa Claus created by artist Haddon Sunblom had its debut in 1931 in The Saturday Evening Post and is not dissimilar to the current image of a jovial, bon-viveur version of St. Nicholas. He was deliberately dressed in the Coca-Cola colours of red and white, an image that still resonates today and demonstrates the power of a recognisable brand and associated advertising.

The genius lay not so much in inventing the product, or even in manufacturing and distributing it, but in communicating a simple, single, frequently exaggerated statement about the product again and again. Coca-cola consistently promoted the 'quality' of their product as part of their brand values to convey confidence and 'trust' to the customers.

So, why are brands so important?

In a highly competitive and visual led market place the 'look', styling and tone of your brand identity is essential. It should reflect the personality, ethos and spirit of the organisation while visually appealing to a wide audience. The power of a brand derives from a curious mixture of how it performs and what it stands for. When a brand gets the mix right it makes us, the people who buy it, feel that it adds something to our idea of ourselves.

In a world that is bewildering in terms of competitive clamour, in which rational choice has become almost impossible, brands represent: clarity, reassurance, consistency, status, membership. In fact, everything that enables a human being to help to define themselves. Brands represent personal identity.

What makes a brand successful?

A brand's success relies on the repetitive delivery of a consistent message. It is typically designed to cause immediate recognition by the viewer, inspiring trust, admiration, loyalty and an implied superiority. Therefore, the most important aspects of creating and building a successful brand can be summarised as:

  • Consistency
  • Instant Recognition
  • Desirability (Aspirational)
  • Repetition.

Why do you need your brand to be consistent and repetitive? If you repeat something often enough people will believe the messages that you are communicating.

You can see that the Coca-Cola brand is powerful because they have successfully repeated the look and feel of the brand identity by using consistent fonts, colours and graphical elements such as the graphical swoosh throughout all their products ranges and advertising campaigns.

Creating and sustaining trust is what branding, above everything else, is all about. The best and most successful brands are completely coherent. Every aspect of what they do and what they are re-inforces everything else.

A successful, consistent brand identity will distinguish and give recognition to your organisation as well as creating a 'desirability' factor for existing and potential new customers, employees, supporters and stakeholders.

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