Countdown to Branding Eminence

Episode 2

7 Steps to Building a Breakout Global Brand

All too often the value of a powerful brand is well, undervalued. Shallow, linear thinking will lead you to presume that business success is all about the product or service, the value proposition, the team, the logistics, etc. And don’t get me wrong; those are all essential and their importance not to be minimized, but they do not cancel out the importance of a strong brand. 

And the world’s biggest business geniuses recognize this. In many instances big corporations have invested well over 1 million US dollars for a new logo alone, and hundreds of millions for a complete rebranding process. If branding is of little value, then the fiscally conscious, biggest players on the corporate stage would never invest in rebranding. In fact big corporations typically go through a rebranding every 7-10 years.

Naturally a startup has to be choosy about where it puts investment so as to not overextend itself. However, placing little importance on branding is extremely shortsighted, and will hurt you in the long run, because you will inevitably need to go through the branding process at some stage when your business grows. 

The visionary, avant garde companies out there started out with a great brand from the onset, making their corporate identity development and brand recognition smooth and natural – think Google, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Netflix, Slack, Wayfair, Salesforce, Starbucks, Nike, and on it goes. These brands are iconic and unique from early on (some of them such as Google, Nike, and Starbucks actually launched under different names) and remain memorable and distinguished. Lackluster brands have to be constantly propped up, or later replaced which is much more troublesome and expensive. 

But powerful branding is a process, not simply a quick brainstorming session, and in the interest of providing you with a headstart in the branding of your new venture, please join us through these “7 Steps to Building a Breakout Brand”.

1. Position: Determine your primary target audiences, in order to position your brand effectively

Before you start thinking of cool sounding brand names, you want to look at the primary audience you are communicating with and be thinking about how to reach them effectively. 

Remember that a brand is far more than a name or a logo. A brand is the identity of what you are communicating – it is essentially what you and/or your product are. And to communicate effectively, you must know your audience. 

Part of this process involves association and recognition – that is to determine the perception that your target audience will have and how they will identify with your brand. Seek out recognizable elements of brands in various sectors and implement those into your branding identity and style. 

So if you are thinking luxury, how do the luxury brands identify themselves and how are they perceived?

If you are thinking corporate finance or banking, who are the industry leaders there?

If you wanna reach a certain generation – millennials, Gen Z kids, what resounds with that audience?

If you are in the automotive industry, what are the recognizable branding elements there?

Once you have a general conception and stylistic direction based on your target audience, it is time to take things to the next level, which is:

2. Reference & research: Analyze how leaders in your industry are branded

Once you have established your business, purpose and target audience, go back to studying industry leaders in the field, because like it or not, those are the brands that essentially set the standards. It is never good to copy, but creating a sense of familiarity is needed.

A key goal with branding is to seem familiar and yet be unique. You will find that oftentimes there are distinguishable qualities that reign true in certain industries, with brands choosing bold elements to stand apart as well. 

For example the primary colors plus green or “unique hues” are used in various shades in three of the major tech companies’ logos – Microsoft, Google and eBay. Clearly there is some commonality that is perceived there, although of course this is by no means a hard and fast principle (a much larger number of tech companies choose shades of blue – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, IBM, etc.). The point is to look for certain styles and trends in your chosen sector, emulate those, and then determine distinguishable qualities that can be uniquely you.

Let’s look at some examples:

Assuming you want to brand a hospitality project, well, Accor Group’s latest rebranding was very effective in my opinion. Incorporating their traditional goose symbol into the A in the logo reinforced brand recognition while simplifying, improving and modernizing the brand. This brand communicates exceptionally in the hotels/hospitality field.

On the other side of the spectrum, a toys or children-targeted brand could look to Lego which is arguably the best toy brand around (at least that’s what I think). Lego is a simple, brief, unique and extremely memorable name derived from the Danish phrase leg godt which means “play well” ref. The design elements are very child-friendly and eye-catching with bold design and bright colors.

As far as car brands, it doesn’t get much better than Mercedes Benz, with the iconic three-pointed star, and general design elements – simple, yet sophisticated while employing the metallic style emblematic of automotive marques.

A major growth sector today is ecommerce, with so much retail going online. This industry typically has very strong branding, which is important in order to grab attention in this highly competitive area. The go-to standard-setting brand there is of course Amazon. Another brand I think is quite good is the South-East Asia based Lazada – a unique, 3-syllable, easy to pronounce name that has become synonymous with ecommerce in this region. The packing box-inspired icon facilitates mobile screen placement as well.

3. Brainstorm: Create a shortlist of brand options that work

Now the hard work begins – brainstorming your actual brand name. I say hard work because doing it properly is harder than it seems. First of all, people get attached to certain name ideas for various reasons, but this attachment can stand in the way of better name options. 

I will go into brand name development in greater detail in another post, but here are some important points to bear in mind:

  • Keep it brief. Ideally brand names should be no more than four syllables long.
  • Think global. At this point you may be a small startup, but we live in an increasingly connected world with disappearing borders, so you want to consider a name that can be used and pronounced universally as much as possible.
  • Don’t be afraid of choosing a name that is a new word, created word. This could be an acronym that can be pronounced as a word (such as Laser, Radar, Unesco, Nasa, Esso, etc.), combining parts of words to create a new word (like Netflix [net + flicks], Facebook or Minecraft), combining parts of words to create a new word (like Spotify, Accenture or Kleenex), using a proper name or surname (like Honda, Toyota, Hyatt or Swensen’s), or breaking all rules and just forming a totally new word that is easy to pronounce, simple and cool sounding (like Kodak, or Vitol). There is very strong precedent for the advantages of creating a new and unique name which will be fully owned by you and which you fully define the meaning of. There is also a lot of precedent for naming fails related to choosing overly commonplace names which are impossible to fully take ownership of. Unique names will also show up in Google results very quickly as opposed to standard words. 
  • Avoid alphabet soup names or abbreviations because invariably they will already stand for something and can even have rather foul meanings in slang, pop culture or urban dictionaries. Even in the extremely unlikely case that you are the first to use that combination of letters, no one can stop the shift of abbreviations into crass territory. (Believe it or not there is a “WTF Group” a “MILF Limited” and a huge conglomerate in Thailand called RS Corporation [RS stands for rat shit in Aussie slang]).
  • And PLEASE Google your name ideas before using them. I can not even count the number of times I came up with a name that I thought was fully unique, that I loved, and started getting attached to but had to let go of because it was already in use. No matter how awesome my name ideas are, I ALWAYS Google them before developing brands further, and I will generally always reject names that feature meaningfully in Google results because a major goal of mine in branding is ownership of the brand and being able to define that brand. 

Unless you hit a home run and have a name that is unchallenged in quality, It is advisable to come up with a shortlist of at least 3-4 name ideas that you take to the next step which is…

4. Soundboard: Run your brand by trusted friends/confidants that have a sense for branding and marketing

I admit, I don’t like forums. I don’t like putting my ideas in front of groups of people that may disagree with me and shred them to bits, but this painful process is necessary in most cases. I do not believe in being overly influenced by others’ input and opinions, but branding is a function of marketing, and marketing involves communicating with people. In the end your work will be paraded in front of others, so it is a good idea to get feedback early on which can save you lots of time and money later. 

I advise starting with a small group of quite trusted people at this stage because for one thing, if you have a great idea, you don’t want it to leak out before things are more solidified, and also too many opinions can overly bog you down in the initial phases of development.

More important than the amount of people you run the ideas by is the quality of people. The fact is, some people just have no real sense for branding, creativity and marketing, but are all too willing to have major opinions. This really doesn’t help you much. I have been through decision making processes that have been completely crippled by ill-informed, opinionated people that just bog things down and do not contribute helpfully at all. Forums and opinions are essential, but can be totally derailed with the wrong people involved. 

The intention at this phase is to narrow down your shortlisted name ideas and hopefully pick the name you want to go with.

5. Develop: Create the core elements of your main brand

Once you have picked your winning brand name, it is time to start developing the brand. I advise at this point that you secure the .com domain name for the brand. If you are lucky, the .com will only cost about 10 US Dollars. Dot com domains for many good names have already been lapped up by companies or individuals eager to profit from reselling them, so if it is not available, this does not mean that the name you chose is a bad one. I prefer to develop brands for which I can secure the .com, however, because this is a strong indication that the name is original and unique. In the event that the .com is up for resale, prices will be rather high in most cases. If your budget allows this, it is wise to go ahead and buy it. If not, you can get the .net, .co, or other domain options, or simply add something to the .com domain name. 

Initially developing the brand includes:

  1. Your main logo and icon. Whereas in the past many brands only consisted of the brand name in a certain typeface or style (and many big brands are still like this, for example Ikea or Bloomberg), in today’s world it is a good idea to have an icon or graphical symbol of some kind as part of the brand because of how relevant smartphones and the internet have become to all forms of communication. It is advisable to start with a black and white and “flat” logo to start with, rather than applying colors or graphical effects. A good icon will stand on its own without the need for colorful or graphical effects applied.
  2. The main font to be used. Fonts used in your brand contribute heavily to your brand identity and style. Conversely, badly chosen fonts will heavily detract from your brand and be distracting. You want to make sure the fonts you use are easily readable and characteristic for the positioning of the brand. And it is also important to bear in mind that common fonts are intellectual property and improper use of licensed fonts can land you in a heap of legal trouble later on. This is one reason why many designers create new text in their logo designs, or make graphic adaptations to existing fonts. Even free fonts, like Google fonts, are often only licensed for royalty-free private use and subject to copyright when used commercially. 
  3. Basic color(s). Once you have determined the icon and text of your brand, you want to decide on the colors to use. Generally you should stick to one main color and one secondary color (unless the brand identity calls for a colorful representation like in the case of the NBC logo). Additional parts of the color palette can be decided upon later. 
  4. Tagline/strapline/slogan. I am a firm believer in having taglines. A good tagline solidifies and clarifies your main message and identity. Taglines are not always needed, but I always make them part of my brand development process. Tagline creation will be covered in detail in another post.

6. Review & Critique: Run your brand draft by some focus groups, experts, partners, and/or advisors

Now that you have created the building blocks for your brand, you can take it to a larger forum for feedback and critiquing. It is good to get reactions here before everything is finalized and developed in detail.

If your brand features a unique and new name, it is likely that a number of people won’t really “get it”. This is expected. Creating strong brand recognition and familiarity takes time, and many of the most iconic brands of today would likely have been faced with scorn by some, before becoming the actual dictionary words they are today (think band-aid, xerox, zipper, etc.)  So again, move forward with caution, but don’t go it alone either, you can get some invaluable insights by putting yourself in the vulnerable position of getting feedback, and in the event that there are some substantial flaws in your branding options, the embarrassment you may face in a small forum, is certainly much less than what you will have to deal with after launch. (I once hastily proposed the name “Favella” in a brand brainstorming session, bringing me some major blushes since I overlooked that favela is the word for slum communities in Brazil. But I am glad someone called me out before I went further off track and would be more embarrassed.)

At this stage you can confidently pick your winner brand name and take it to the final stage.

7. Finalize: Creating the complete graphic identity of your brand

The finalization stage of creating a brand involves rounding out the development of all of the components of a comprehensive brand. Establishing clear guidelines for brand usage helps to protect its integrity and character, which ensures that you maintain a consistent, clean and professional look across all media and usage situations.  

A complete branding package is sometimes called “corporate identity”, which I will delve into more detail about in the next post of this series, but briefly, here are the elements that you need to incorporate in order to finalize the branding process:

  1. Full font family/typeface. You have already established the primary font used in the actual logo, but you also need to determine the official fonts used in all of your official media and communications – Headings, Sub-Headings, and Body Text, etc. 
  2. Complete color scheme/palette. You should limit the use of colors in all media to the specific color palette that is established, using the exact color hex codes determined. 
  3. All logo variants. You should develop a complete set of logo variants. The typical ones are vertical, horizontal, icon only, dark on light, light on dark, grayscale, and flat (if you have gradients or 3D effects in the logo). In today’s world, logo usage is diverse and the best logos are adaptable to various usage situations, the main ones being horizontal and vertical, but you also need black and white or grayscale variants for some print media, as well as the icon-only format for social media and “brand collaterals”. 
  4. Official Brand Book. A complete brand includes an official Brand Guidelines Handbook where all of the brand elements are presented, and brand usage rules are articulated. It does not have to be a long or complex document, but it is important to codify your brand usage rules – even if just for the purpose of remembering them personally and internally. Brand Handbooks are covered in detail in another post, but the elements you need to include are: 
  • Logo Variants
  • Font family
  • Color palette
  • Brand messaging and communication style (tone of voice)
  • Brand/logo usage rules/dos and don’ts 

There you are! You made it through. That wasn’t so painful.

However, powerful and effective branding is a unique skill and can require professional help. If you need a strong partner to help you position your brand for global greatness, feel free to consult us at Ultimise. We have navigated some very complex, yet impactful brand-building processes and are very proud of the results. Contact us for your free consultation today!

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