Throughout history, humans have used various ways of “branding” to establish themselves with their current and prospective customers. From livestock branding, hand-painted signs with lettering and illustrations hanging outside local shops, to branded flyers — the idea of branding has always been a way to establish a unique identity for a product or company. During the Industrial Revolution, registered trademarks rose to prominence, leading the U.S. Congress to pass its first Trademark Act in 1881. This passing of this Act officially allowed businesses and individuals to claim their products and ideas as intellectual property. The Act also helped to aid the creativity and innovation boom of the 1900s as people were able to protect their original ideas and inventions from competition and those seeking to copy their ideas.
As branding progressed throughout the 1900s and into the 21st century, a brand became a way to create an immediately recognizable and distinctive look amongst the thousands of products/companies vying for the attention of consumers. Aesthetically, branding allows consumers to form perceptions, associations, and emotional connections with the product/company. In fact, a recent study conducted by type foundry Monotype and neuroscience company Neurons, found that typeface choice alone plays a significant role in how people feel — boosting their positive response by up to 13%. James Fooks-Bale, Monotype senior brand director states that “even in the absence of color, logo, movement or any other traditional element of visual identity, typography plays a crucial role in conveying trust, sincerity, and reliability…”
Beyond a clever name and eye-catching visuals, another aspect of branding is the brand message. Once consumers quickly form their perceptions via brand aesthetics, the brand messaging is what helps to communicate and establish a relationship with consumers. Cohesive messaging and branding can help consumers better understand your company/product which helps to invoke trust, loyalty, and increase customer recognition.
The most successful brands are those that have cohesive, intentional, and simple messaging. Make sure your brand message is able to be easily understood and digestible for your consumers as well as the people you hire. One of a brand’s goals is to have consumers be able to connect and partner with the brand's mission/vision, become passionate about it, and then advocate for your brand to others–AKA brand advocacy. When brand messaging and identity come together, they have the power and ability to reach and impact a variety of people from different cultures. Brands have the opportunity to inspire and create a sense of community for their consumers. A simple and precise message is key to grabbing the attention of your audience in today’s busy environment with distractions at every corner.
To get started on your own branding, brand refresh, or brand evaluation, we believe it’s important to consider the following touchpoints:
Investing in your brand.
Be honest about the current state of your brand. Questions to ask yourself: Who are you? What’s your purpose? Your mission? What do you seek to achieve? Who do you want to reach or impact? What is (or how do you envision) your brand’s personality?
Importance of setting your brand up for success: We need a target audience and we need cohesiveness. We can’t be everything to all people and we need to stop trying to be that, it only works against you and your brand. People don’t want a brand that's everything to everyone or brands that try hard, they want a brand that is authentic, relatable, accessible, and simple. There’s no need for the overly complicated.
Be aware that brands can go through growing pains too. As brands/businesses grow and age, they require reevaluation and updating, whether it be strategy, messaging, or aesthetics. Your brand is an investment and requires consistent attention to keep things fresh and updated.
Know your why and stick to it.
What makes your brand ‘you’? If you or your team don’t understand your brand purpose, the driving force behind what you do and why you do it, consumers won`t either. Your brand mission and vision (the why) is what drives your brand strategy, your relationship with your clients and your company, and your future success. What problem is your brand solving and passionate about? What are the most important qualities of your brand? Knowing your why helps to inform your brand’s core values, mission, and vision. Once your why and these values are established, your brand messaging and visual identity can be developed to enunciate and enforce your values.
Don’t let your brand fall victim to trends.
Remember to build your brand for the future, not just for the now. It can be easy to get caught up in the latest trends year over year; but, trends can fade. Following trends verbatim can cause brands to run the risk of losing their individuality and looking like all of our competitors as well as looking outdated quickly. And if your brand looks like everyone else, what would make a consumer choose you over your competitors? Not that we can’t be inspired by trends (there’s nothing wrong with them!), but strategically selecting designs and language helps what makes your brand unique to stand out. Your visual identity and copywriting should support your brand, not distract from it.
Your brand has its own personality, style, and story — don’t try to fit your brand into someone else’s box; what works for others may not work for you! Using your brand’s uniqueness to its advantage is the best way to attract and maintain consumers and establish brand loyalty. Make yourself memorable and don’t be afraid to push some boundaries. Think of the success of Apple’s iconic 1984 commercial. (If you haven’t seen it, click here.) Apple introduced a new embodiment of what the personal computer could be, setting itself apart from the IBM-dominated landscape of uniformity. From the very beginning, Apple centered its brand values on creativity and innovation. In this commercial, they leaned heavily into these values and pushed the boundaries of commercial storytelling to stand out from their competitors and connect with their audience. This strategy of going beyond the expected helped Apple to become a household name and an industry staple.
"Your visual identity and copywriting should support your brand, not distract from it."
If something isn’t working, it's ok to fix it.
You shouldn’t be forcing your brand to work. You should be choosing strategies and messaging that works with your brand — not against it. Brands naturally evolve, change, and ‘grow up’, just as people and culture do. So, it’s ok if your vision, messaging, or strategies change according to what your brand needs over time. And these types of changes don’t happen overnight. It requires thoughtfulness, patience, and a great deal of trial and error to create cohesiveness and clarity throughout your brand to be able to promote your message in the best ways possible.
Sometimes, the marketplace where our brands live can feel a bit crowded. It may feel like you're having to work your brand’s strategies so hard that it feels like your brand is floating in the abyss. Similarly, maybe your target market is so niche it feels empty, and you have to push your brand harder to make any sort of noise. Perhaps you don’t have to work your brands so hard and should stop trying to force them into places where they may not fit and work against you. In either of the aforementioned cases, it’s important to be selective as using the wrong strategies can cost you time, money, and resources, and create more of a headache than they might be worth.
Think about how you are sharing your brand: does having a TikTok, Instagram, or Twitter make sense? Do billboards, flyers, or TV commercials make sense? Which platforms are appropriate for your brand and attract who you are targeting? While an omnipresent approach can be valuable, it just isn’t realistic for most brands. If the path you initially chose to pursue doesn't seem to be working in your favor, it's essential to recognize this and not hesitate to pause and evaluate the situation. Making an informed decision at this point is crucial. If you are not on the path to fulfilling your vision you should course correct.
Examples: core values not being upheld, new vision, strategies not holding up anymore, visual identity not being followed through or aging, etc. It is important and can be helpful to thoughtfully work through concerns as they arise with your teammates and marketing/branding agencies!
Ultimately, this willingness to reassess and adapt will lead you to discover the right path that aligns with your goals and brings success to your brand.
"If you are not on the path to fulfilling your vision you should course correct."
Reinvent. Re-envision. Rebrand.
Abercrombie & Fitch (or Abercrombie) is a brand you might be familiar with, an iconic brand during the 1990s and 2000s before quickly fading away into the background of the 2010s. Founded in 1892, the Abercrombie brand has been around to see tremendous amounts of change over its 130-year history. Initially, Abercrombie was known for being an outdoor equipment and apparel shop before filing for bankruptcy in the 1970s. By the 1980s and going into the 2000s, Abercrombie had reinvented itself into the preppy, trendy teen, and logo-driven fashion we think of today.
During the rebirth of the Abercrombie brand in the 1980s, the brand had completely switched gears and reinvented not only its services and product offerings, but its visual identity, messaging, and vision. This in turn created a new set of problems for the Abercrombie brand. With the rise of their 1990s CEO Mark Jeffries, the Abercrombie brand became obsessed with trying to outdo their competitors and continuously be the ‘coolest’ thing on the market. Their strategy was to appeal only to the cliche American cool kid, as described by Jeffries, “A lot of people don't belong, and they can't belong.” The idea of only appealing to cool kids in the young adult/teen market worked for a while; in fact, this is what helped to propel them into their peak icon status in the late 90s/00s. However, as this strategy aged, Abercrombie found it couldn't hold up well when consumers began to question what a brand's core values are and use this knowledge when considering where to shop. Consumers, in this instance, advocated by using their buying power to force a reckoning and changes to the Abercrombie brand.
Today, we see a whole new Abercrombie. The company spent most of the 2010s in a complete overhaul, rebranding and reassessing its values, identity, and hiring processes. All of their rebranding efforts specifically tackled their former problematic approach to consumers, building their values and centering their messaging on being inclusive and diverse rather than exclusive and cool. Since their rebranding and repositioning, Abercrombie has seen a huge resurgence in their sales and brand loyalty. Offering quality and inclusive products to their target markets.
A couple of key takeaways to learn from Abercrombie:
- You don’t have to be everything all at once. Companies fall into the trap of losing themselves to become the next big thing. For Abercrombie, an international business professor Gene Detroyer writes, “A&F always struck me as a company totally out of control. It never had a real direction in stores or product…” The idea is to be thoughtful when looking to improve and enhance your brand strategy, not to become something you're not.
- There is nothing wrong with pursuing your target audience and centering your strategies around them, but if you are doing it for the wrong reasons it can lead a brand astray. Abercrombie’s obsessive need to be the coolest brand in the room blinded them to their own flaws within their strategies and goals. As a new generation of customers came of Abercrombie’s target age, they began to find the brand exclusionary and even offensive.
- Be honest. Own your mistakes and make the necessary changes to realign with your ‘why’ and your mission. At the end of the day, every action your brand takes has to fall in line with its core values. To stray from them is to invite criticism and risk consumer trust.
- Who you hire to represent your brand matters. Who you hire and who you choose to partner with can impact your brand for better or worse. Your people become ambassadors and spokespersons for your brand, and they are your most important asset.
Choose your brand partners wisely.
When you are considering branding/rebranding, be sure to do your due diligence before choosing an agency. It is crucial that there is complete understanding, commitment, and alignment with the goals. Their buy-in plays an essential role in bringing the vision to life and ensuring success. It can not be stressed enough how utterly important it is to choose your brand partner wisely! When choosing the right partner who shares your values, sees the vision, and understands your needs, will help pave the way for a thriving partnership.
Some questions to ask when looking for/choosing a brand partner:
- Do they align with your values?
- Does their work align with where you are wanting to take your brand?
- Do they understand your field of work?
- Do they have the expertise to deliver high-quality design?
Hard work and focus pay off.
Staying true to your brand and its values instead of flowing with the current trends does pay off in the long run — helping you stand out and making you more memorable. Investing in and creating brand guidelines to work with also helps you establish where you can push boundaries and compete with competitors. Brand mission, vision, language, goals, and aesthetics all change and evolve over time, it’s important to be cognizant of this and be real about the state of your brand and where you want it to go. A brand is like a house, it needs to be cleaned, maintained, and kept up-to-date. When we see something outdated or broken in the house, we work to fix it so that the house can be at its best for you and your guests. A brand works in the same way. Think of it like this, brand aesthetics are like the welcome mat into your house, what you see on the outside should reflect the inside. Continuous investment and intentionality into your brand pays off and sets your brand up for success in the future. It keeps you, your team, and your consumers excited about your vision.
1. Reasons the consider a brand refresh: your company has shifted its focus or mission, your target audience has shifted, or you are wanting more of a competitive advantage.
At Render, we want to help other impact-minded corporations, organizations, and individuals reach their full potential. Let us work with you to design a new brand for impact.