Creating a brand that doesn’t lie or overpromise

Recently I have been asked to help create the branding and positioning for a new agency. I will not name them yet as I don’t want to jump the gun on their activities. But I do love the drilling down into what makes a business unique and then working out how this can be made to connect with its potential customers.

I’ve been interested by the thinking of the agency’s two founders. I find we are on the same page when it comes to how we think brands should behave, and by a firm rejection of the historical position of brands. You know the one. It tries to pin the bubble of aspiration to a product: buy car x and your life will be transformed into the idealised glamour depicted in the advert. Selling dreams in this way has worked for a long time, and you have to look no further than perfume or cosmetic advertising to see this is still alive and well in some sectors.

Increasingly this approach is threatened by the marketing ‘savvy’ (to use a word I only hear marketing people employ in real life) now alive and well in the general populace. In western societies this ‘Adland’ drivel doesn’t wash any more and some of the more effective brands realise we are not going to be obediently in thrall to their brands. In short we have grown up and don’t look up to brands any more. Of course we can ironically enjoy ads that depict dreamlands, or even be momentarily mesmerised by their beautiful production values, but do we really buy the dream their brand is selling any more?

The foundation for a more honest relationship with a brand is to be truthful. Of course you can be inspiring but you’re far more likely to have a longer-lasting and ultimately more profitable relationship with a brand if you haven’t sold them a castle of clouds in the first place. Not talking down to people, being inspiring without deceiving and, above all, reaching people in surprising ways is where my interest resides.

Orange, and bread branding

Am currently engaged in a couple of branding projects. As ever, client confidentiality prevents me from going into too many details. One job is for a line of French bread, and is really fun as I have never branded a food before.

Branding is a bit of a dark art. Some brands, like Orange, have an abstract name, which at first glance has little to do with their product. This of course is okay if you have an enormous budget so you can create an awareness that Orange spells telecommunications. The name itself has lots of positive associations. It is bright, cheerful, colourful, has no rhyme and so is unique…, it is juicy and refreshing. And so on. Much better than calling it ABC telecommunications for example.

In most cases, however, it is usually more approproate if the branding you come up with actually reflects something about the nature of the product. In my recent bread branding exercise, the suggested brands grew out of three attributes of the product: its authenticity, the mystery of traditional bread’s production, and its freshness of taste.

My client seems to have chosen one route already (around authenticity), and with any luck it should be piloted in the shops soon. Quite looking forward to sauntering down a supermarket isle, and gesturing towards a bread product and being able to show off that its name, tagline, brand story and look and feel was my idea.

The other project I am embarking on is to assess the ON TRACK publisher’s branding across its magazines, online and on concourse tactics. It has a name, but I want to get help refine how the business expresses itself and ensures that its brand expression is coherent. An interesting, albeit slightly Herculean task. But one which should bring all kinds of benefits: not least being that the range of ON TRACK offerings can be seen to be part of one product family, and complement and enhance each other.

Below an image of a French baker I found after random googling from this site by artist Walter Stephen Krane. Had it on my computer as something to put me in the mood. Notice how the colours do the French flag too.

what’s in a name for a small business?

My friend Anna is starting a business as a lifecoach. She has a solid business background, an MBA and a long-term interest in subjects such as NLP which will inform her new enterprise. I think she’ll make an excellent personal coach, something I can say with some authority as I am currently one of her guinea pigs.

In return I offered to help Anna think of a name for her new business. Over a couple of cups of coffee we began a mini branding process. Of course some people simply pluck a name from thin air and run with that. But for many others, naming your business is something that requires a lot of thought. After all, you don’t want to be lumbered with a name you loathe after a few weeks or, even worse, a name that actually prevents people using your services.

The first step I suggested was to look at naming “territories”, and here are a few examples.

  • The calling a spade a spade approach (aka the Ronseal approach “it does exactly what it says on the tin”) which would result in a name like Anna G Lifecoaching. The virtue of this is that everyone will know your name, and what you do right off the bat.
  • An abstract approach. An example of this is Orange. Orange of course doesn’t “say” phones, telecommunications – but after millions spent on advertising everyone now knows that it does. For a one person operation, having to explain that you were called Strawberry, but actually you were a lifecoach, could potentially be a barrier to business.
  • Reflecting the way the coaching works – the fact that you are helping people feel empowered to change their lives and take a step forward could lead to a name like Stepping Stones Lifecoaching, for example.
  • Describing the relationship you have with your client – to create a name that conveyed – say – trust, empowerment and confidentiality.
  • Describe the end benefit for someone coached by Anna – e.g. Transformation Lifecoaching.

There were at least half a dozen other territories which cropped up in ten minutes. However we began to discuss the most important asset in her future business, which – of course – is Anna herself. Ultimately people are either going to buy Anna’s service based on their opinion of her. And, fortunately for Anna, she is attractive, positive, sympathetic and professional. Exactly the sort of person you’d feel happy to coach you.

That’s because an important thing to remember is that when you are creating a brand for your business, the name is just one element. There is also the kind of imagery you decide to use, the typeface, logos, colour palette and any other amount of materials which will influence people.

So, for example, Anna could choose to call her business Anna G Lifecoaching. On her business card and other material she should make sure she uses photographs of herself – this means she is already at an advantage. Her personal credibility is vital for her brand too. So showing her qualifications, and telling people about her life experience as a wife and mother will all be useful, as often she will be working in a family environment.

A brochure which describes her services could also contain imagery from the “end benefit territory”. She could use images of transformation – such as a cygnet turning into a swan, or a bulb pushing up through the earth. This allows her to suggest that people using her service will change for the better – she will be letting the pictures do the talking and the will suggest transformation without having to say it in words.

Anna would then have a clear brand which does several jobs at once. It will explain instantly what she does, it shows that she looks very approachable, and it suggests the growth and positive change people will experience from using her as a lifecoach.

This is early days, for her business of course – but thinking about the name and branding has made Anna address some fundamental issues in her business: such as refining her target market – and questioning how her brand positioning will attract those people.

One thing is certain, however. Putting in this early legwork will benefit her business a great deal when it is up and running.