brand design, brand strategy

In introducing our firm, I often use the phrase, “We bring together strategic and creative services to achieve a shared goal.” I was asked to speak last week at the marketing forum of the Utah Technical Council on the subject of Delivering the Art of Brand Design from the Science of Brand Strategy, which seemed tailor-fit to our distinguishing position. I’m sharing with you some of the main points of my presentation.

I started with the story of the Intel Inside campaign—a textbook case study of tech branding success. Before 1989, almost no one knew, or more importantly, cared what kind of micro processing chip their computers contained. And they certainly didn’t know who made them. But as personal computers gradually became more common with consumers, Intel recognized an opportunity to brand its processors. They were really a B2B business, selling their component parts to IBM and HP, but they decided to focus on the end user. It’s not unlike today’s pharmaceutical companies, who market directly to the end user, even though you need a doctor’s prescription to buy anything. The Intel Inside branding campaign was developed locally, by Salt Lake advertising agency DahlinSmithWhite. And my good friend Steve Grigg designed the original Intel Inside logo. The initiative was very successful. Not only is Intel a leader in semiconductor manufacturing today, but also the awareness of other chipmakers is remarkably low. I asked at my presentation how many could name another besides Intel. Only a handful responded.

The importance of C-level management support for branding initiatives cannot be over-emphasized. Bruce Law of Sprout Marketing, and former director of Intel’s national advertising, told me that Andy Grove, the CEO of Intel, personally approved Intel advertising, demonstrating its importance to the man that oversaw a 4,500% increase in Intel’s market capitalization from $4 billion to $197 billion during his tenure.

The problem is that in most companies, brand strategy is separated from creativity by a wide gap. On one side you have the strategic thinkers, MBA types, who are numerical, analytical and logical. On the other side of the building are the designers, with funny clothes and hair, who think visually, intuitively and emotionally. Too frequently the creative right brain never joins up with the strategic left brain. Following are three brand-building disciplines to help bring the two sides together.

Differentiation is the first discipline. Here’s a test: read a paragraph from your web site about what you do, to a random employee at your company. Then read a similar paragraph from the website of one of your competitors. Can they tell the difference? Often they can’t. You need more of the first discipline: differentiation.

Who are you? What do you do? Why does it matter? When we are engaged for brand strategy, we conduct executive interviews and we always start out with these same three questions, no matter who were talking to, no matter what the industry. If you want to stop a business meeting cold in its tracks, ask these three questions. If you can’t answer these three questions succinctly, particularly the last one, you need more focus, the second discipline.

What is your brand promise or position? Do you promise the “Ultimate Driving Machine” like BMW? Do you “Think Different” with Apple? A brand can only have one true promise or position. It explains why customers should buy and use your products and services and not your competitors. And it defines why you meet their needs better than the competition. Establishing your brand promise is the third discipline.

When defining and differentiating your position, it’s helpful to think more abstractly about, who you are, what you do, and why it matters. We use metaphors, images and adjectives in our process. Images are more emotional than words. They elicit feelings. Go to an online stock photo agency and gather images that are aspirational and inspirational—that represent where you are or where you’re going. Don’t look for images that are literal photos of your industry, but rather those that might resonate on some deeper level with the true meaning of your brand.

With a group of 5-8 others from your company, choose the images that make emotional connections. Pay attention to the conversations surrounding the selection process. Look for relationships and patterns in the images selected. What do the selections tell you about your brand and where it’s going?

You can do the same thing with adjectives. Select 60 adjectives that are positive attributes about your company. Have 5-8 your executives independently narrow them down to the top 20. Select the top 5 adjectives. Look for patterns and relationships between selected adjectives. Compare results between executives. What kinds of consensus patterns emerge? Compose a statement about your company using the adjectives. Craft a paragraph or two and use that adjective rich statement as a guiding philosophy on your Web site, marketing collateral and sales presentations.

Don’t try to be something you’re inherently not. Be true to your character. When I’m working with a new client, I like to understand the company culture. I look at what employees hang on their cubicle and who their heroes are. It’s all an insight into company culture and should be reflected in the brand message.

It often takes someone from the outside to help objectively find and articulate what is already there—someone who is an experienced creative and strategic thinker, but you should not let others do your job for you. A good firm can assist in developing a holistic brand approach, but they are not the ones tell you who you are, or what your company is about. That’s your basic responsibility.