Here at Liquid Light we build websites. But this is a very simplistic summary of the services we offer to our clients, and in today's competitive landscape to build a successful website that differentiates from competitors and talks to potential customers in a meaningful way we not only need a deep understanding of our clients business goals and aspirations, we also have to interpret and work within our client's brand framework.
Before I explain the advantages of using a framework to create and manage brand strategy I should define what I mean when I use the term ‘Brand’. I am not only including physical assets - the logo, colour palette, typeface, graphic treatment, tone of voice of marketing messages etc., but also the intangible associations one has when interacting with a brand - perceptions and emotions. Often these intangible associations are referred to as the ‘Brand experience’.
Much of brand communication and interaction can be controlled: we can control colour usage, typography, iconography and make sure messages are communicated in the same tone of voice, but we can only influence those intangible parts - how customers feel about a brand.
By using a brand framework you can make sure that all customer communications and messages are supported by, and evolved from, a set of brand values that make up your brand ‘personality’. A well defined brand personality can help position an organisation against its competitors, find a niche in the market and influence perceptions customers have - how they feel when they experience one of the many touch points a consumer can have with a service or product.
A simplistic way to sum this up is as follows:
- The tangible parts of your brand can be controlled, this is your brand Identity.
- The intangible parts of your brand can be influenced and controlled to a degree, and a well thought out brand strategy can help support this.
So how does a brand framework help?
A brand framework is a conceptual structure that serves as a supporting tool that guides the creation and management of brand assets - it acts as a starting point and frame of reference for the creation of all brand communications, be that a positioning message, how a printed brochure is designed, how a tweet is composed, or how a sales person talks to a customer over the phone.
What a brand framework is not, is a manual or guideline document outlining the usage of your brand assets.
A brand framework overview
Anyone who works with brand(s) will have seen framework models or diagrams describing brand strategy - they might be pyramids (icebergs are a metaphorical favourite), prisms, flow diagrams, pillars, circles, mazes, wheels, spider diagrams, etc.
I want to talk about the model I am most familiar with: the Aaker model. There are many framework models out there, but the one that seems to be the model of choice for many of the clients I have worked with over the years is Aaker's model. First produced in the 90s, it is still relevant today.
Below are steps taken within the Aaker model to produce a brand strategy - I have simplified the process and I am just giving an overview, but hopefully this gives enough information to illustrate the usefulness of a model such as this to create and manage brands. Although I am focussing on Aakar, other framework methodologies include similar steps with similar outputs.
1.Do your research
With the Aaker model it all starts with research made up of customer analysis, competitor analysis and self analysis. This is possibly the most important piece - if you know your market, your competitors, and have an honest evaluation of your own organisations purpose, you have the solid research that will influence all the other steps in the framework.
2. Define your brand identity
It is worth noting that ‘Identity’ in context to brand can often mean the visual language of a brand - the logo, colour and type etc. Aaker uses the term ‘Identity’ to describe the one thing (and it has to be just one thing) that your organisation stands for, or does well. The aim is for this attribute is to be unique to your organisation. All your brand strategy must reference and be based upon this one core attribute. This gives focus: ideally you want your customers to think of one thing that you do well, one thing you stand for, rather than diluting the experience your customers have by attempting to push several attributes or messages.
Aaker also has a further step that breaks your brand identity into into four themes called the ‘Extended identity’. This step is designed to add nuance and detail to your core identity and to give you a rich understanding and description of what your brand stands for and what it should be communicating. The four themes are as follows:
Brand as product
By relating your brand to a product, you understand those tangible things consumers want - price point, quality etc.
Brand as person
By relating your brand to a person you develop your brand's personality and get understanding on how a consumer might develop an emotional relationship with your brand.
Brand as organisation
Brand as organisation is all about defining your business culture - the attributes of your organisation. A culture of innovation, for example, is fostered by the people and values that make up your business.
Brand as symbol
lastly brand as symbol explores the visual: is there imagery that best sums up what you stand for and how you wish to be perceived?
3. Create your value proposition
A value proposition should clearly communicate why you are different, and why should a customer care. Your value proposition should reflect and touch on the decisions your target customer makes, the customer’s problem, and the product or service itself. The value proposition builds on your core identity and is the basis of your customer facing messages.
As previously mentioned, this has been a very simplified overview of one particular brand framework process but I hope that this taste has been enough to show that by producing and working within a brand framework the following should become clear:
- Your organisation's focus - either your reason for existing or your end goal as a business.
- How you are positioned in the market you operate in, and a clear understanding how this positioning relates to your competitors, and how this difference is realised in marketing collateral and marketing messages.
- How to talk to your customers - the tone of voice to use, and an understanding of the issues your customers have, the problems your product or service can solve.
By producing a brand strategy in such a way the creation of supporting brand assets and the creation of campaigns and advertising - all can be based upon your framework making sure that all brand communications are coherent and consistent.