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Keeping it simple

The principle

Branding can get pretty complex once you get into the minutia. All too often businesses start with the detail rather than the bigger picture, for instance analysing and sweating over audience response rates and click-throughs without considering what your business stands for, how well your audiences understand that and how well you communicate it. It's like wondering if you have all the right blades on your Swiss army knife when you're half way up the Eiger. And the question you should be asking yourself is why am I half way up the Eiger!

If I've learned one thing over the last 25+ years in branding, it is to keep things very very simple and the principle below is the start of that. Without all three elements and one in particular, you will never have a brand. 


I've also learned what it is that the great brands we love and admire do better than also-rans and this might surprise you. Of course they have a great product to start with and they have a wonderfully simple big idea that they and their audience care about, that sits at the centre of their business, but by far the most important thing is that they act on their idea. Their brand idea does not sit on a shelf in a strategy document, they eat, sleep and breathe their idea and take action to share it. Generally, the focus in a branding project is the insight and the quality of the brand idea itself and I don't want to give you the impression this isn't important, it is, but if the brand idea is going to remain in the hands of a few smart people in the marketing department and only see the light of day in the odd brand ad, it is a complete waste of time.


Action is the most important part of the matrix if you want to develop a really successful brand. Thousands of businesses have a great product and a good idea but they lack conviction in their idea, or they don't have the know-how to turn it into compelling actions audiences can all see and engage with.


My job is to help you analyse and build the strength of your triumvirate (product+Idea+action) and help you become a real brand. To remove some of the over-intellectual barriers and make the process simpler and more fruitful.

The process

The work always divides into 3 stages, though depending on the nature of the project and where you are in your brand lifecycle they will vary in length and complexity.  Every project is unique, so the precise content of each stage will alter. It will be designed around you, your team, your business and the context of the project.

Here's an overview:

The first stage is always about understanding the problem, the task and the context. It might be conducted in a single team workshop or it might take 3 months of detailed work to cover all influencing factors. The time to complete the work and the complexity of it is dependent on the information available. If very little audience information has been collected and competitor positioning comparisons have not been completed then this needs doing but don't worry it needn't be too onerous.


The contextual elements that need to be researched and insights reached:


Capability - What can you achieve that none of your competitors can?

Character - What is the distinct nature of your product/brand now?

Competitors - Who are you competing against and how are they positioned?

Consumers - Who are you selling to when and how and why?

Conventions - What are the product, brand and marketing conventions of your sector?

Current - What is the situation right now in terms of performance?

Course - Where is your sector going? What are the trends telling us? 

The aim at the completion of this phase is to establish a number of key insights that frame the task. It usually comprises of 10-15 big insights that focus attention. Subsequent actions should be agreed at the end of this stage. It might be that the work you thought you needed to do is no longer appropriate or you may have been right.


Knowing what we know, the task is now to anchor and clearly articulate the brand idea in such a way that it can be easily understood, translated and communicated. It might be that we are creating a completely new brand framework or it might be that we are tinkering with the existing dynamics. Typically this means looking at a Why, How, What chart or writing vision and mission statements. Despite what other 'branders' might tell you, it doesn't matter what framework you use to articulate the idea as long as it is clear and will be understood by the internal audience and other agencies. It is also at this point that the communication strategy for the brand should be made clear - how the brand will be used in communications. Designing the brand should also take place at this stage. I mean designing in the broadest sense, it may well include actual identity design but it might not. It might include all communication design work and/or tone of voice work and behaviour models - How should the brand behave on social media streams? What role should it take with its audiences? 

The culmination of this stage of work is a clearly articulated and designed brand, with clear behaviours and an outline communication strategy.


Only one icon for this stage of work because this is when we turn all the thinking, strategy and design into real action. You can have bucket loads of strategic analysis, smart brand articulations and lovely creative work but if you don't turn your brand idea into actions your audiences can engage with, it will all be a waste of time and money. This is what separates the great brands from the also rans. Action not thinking. It's their conviction and determination to pursue their idea, not sell products.


It is very easy, with all the commercial pressures an organisation comes under, to forget the brand or assume that the strategic work completed is itself the work but it isn't. Continual activation and exploration of the idea is neccessary for audiences to buy it emotionally and commercially.


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