brand development

Why brands need vision.

Does your brand know where it’s going? More importantly, do you know where you want it to go?

When developing a brand or briefing consultants it’s critical to consider what you want your brand to look like in, say, ten years time. Don’t focus on where you are now.

Where do you hope your business will be? Will it have grown, or relocated? What mix of products or services would you like it to be providing?

What do you think the world will look like – how will your market change? At the top of the list, what will your audience be – will you be selling to just the same people or perhaps a wider market, maybe more international – people who want different things from you.

A brand’s relationship with its audience is primarily an emotional one, so you need to spend some time considering what you want the nature of that relationship to be.

Where’s the brand going – and where are you going?

You also need to consider what your ambitions are for your business. Will it be a lifestyle business or will you be looking to sell? This could have a major impact on how you want your brand to be.

Consideration of your brand vision can be enjoyable and fun. It’s about looking at a big picture and your wishes and desires for that brand. You may be just at the start of that journey and are having to deal with all the day-to-day issues of the business. Taking time out to crystallise your dreams can re-energise you and your budding brand.

The same is true for a brand that’s been around for some time.  Is the vision that existed at the start still there – is it still relevant for today – is it fit for tomorrow?

Practical steps

Take some time out to dream, then write down your vision. Allow your imagination to fly, don’t anchor it down.

Talk to others, discuss your vision. Colleagues may add to and enhance it. The more it is talked about, the more substance it will have and the more likely to be realised.

If you are working with outside consultants or specialists, your vision may be the most useful starting point you can give them, and a benchmark against which to measure results.

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Three great brand tools come together.

3 great ideasImportant disciplines combine in a powerful branding approach.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of timing that familiar techniques and technologies can be sparked by a catalyst arriving at the right moment. Not only does the time have to be technically right, but the intellectual and cultural environment needs to be open to the opportunities.

The three branding disciplines I’m thinking about are semiotics, grounded theory and big data.

Semiotics

Semiotics provides us with an approach based upon cultural and societal meanings and the signs and signifiers that point to them. Currently there is a movement to understand emotional significance rather than declarative knowledge about brands and how deeper meanings are embedded in the brand narrative.

A semiotic approach to branding and brand development needs an analytic understanding of the cultural environment that a brand and its consumers inhabit. We need to discern the history, myths, metaphors and symbols that shape the consumers’ world and behaviour.

The major challenge has been the difficulty in finding our way into the data. As much of the meaning is unconscious, traditional research using primary survey techniques is not effective. Asking for views and opinions is of little value as people won’t or can’t answer truthfully – this is not because they want to mislead, but they honestly can’t access those deeper meaning.

Grounded Theory

This is where grounded theory comes in. Grounded theory is a very different qualitative approach. Rather than beginning with a series of questions we are looking for answers to, we approach the data without a theory. It is an ethnographic approach collating all the data we can from the environment. This may include published information, commentary from the media surrounding the subject, observation of the environment and practices, visual images, perhaps video, film and advertising, historical data, songs – in fact the whole cultural tapestry.

What the practitioner is looking for are patterns – recurrences of structures across a wide range of data. There is no pre-conceived theory but we are looking for codes and meanings that are emergent from the data.

As you can imagine, sourcing and amassing the masses of data necessary and then applying meaningful analysis can be a daunting and very labour-intensive task. This was the case in the past, but now we have the final piece in the jigsaw – big data.

Big Data

It is now possible to access amazing volumes of data from a mass of sources – textual, visual and auditory. Equally importantly there are now the analytical tools to process and understand the data – to look for those illusive and emergent codes and recurrences. One of the significant advantages of ‘big-data’ is its cultural richness.

Bringing together these three threads provides us with an approach to branding which allows us access to deep emotional understanding. We can get to grips with the deep meanings that drive the human essence of markets.

Culture, brand values and evolution

Internal culture is the most powerful determinant of brand values, which, in turn affect external brand perceptions. It directly impacts the brand development as it lies at its core.

culture, brand values and perceptions

If we think of corporate culture as an organism, evolving over time, it could develop as a goldfish or a piranha.  Cultures contain positive and negative traits – each can thrive or die depending upon its environment. Continuing the evolutionary model, it is the survival of those best suited to that environment that will prosper.

It is on the management of this environment that brand leadership can have its greatest influence in ensuring positive traits are encouraged and negative eliminated. The internal culture can be nurturing or cynical, fearful or cooperative, innovative and creative or conservative and static. We have all seen the ‘power of the group’ in action in organisations – for good and ill. People who fit the current culture survive and those who challenge cultural norms and have the potential to change it leave or are marginalised – if the culture is a sound one, this may be a positive activity, but often it leads to the perpetuation of undesirable attitudes or practices.

The evolutionary view, on a wider stage, will dictate that brands best suited for the market environment will thrive and prosper – but internal cultures are often evolving independently – to paraphrase Richard Dawkins, we have the ‘Selfish Culture’. Its only purpose is to perpetuate itself. So if, for example, we have a grasping internal culture that considers customers as dumb punters, no amount of tweaking the brand image or fine words about being ‘customer focussed’ will make any difference. To build a strong brand requires strong brand values and that needs the right cultural envirenment. Corporate culture is the DNA of the brand values.