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5 steps to building a solid brand platform

By Branding3 Comments

Why do some great brands get bypassed, while less-worthy ones snaffle all the attention? It’s called perception, and it’s what goes right after you’ve built a solid platform for your brand.

How often do we grab one cereal brand in the supermarket aisle, ignoring a near-identical one? Or find that a car brand is on everyone’s wish-list one decade and forgotten the next – even if the quality is no different? And why do some great products get bypassed, while less-worthy ones snaffle all the attention?

It’s called perception, and it’s what goes right after you’ve built a solid platform for your brand.

That platform starts deep below the surface – way, waaaay deeper than the logo, brand colour, tagline or anything else – and extends to every interaction with the brand. You know your product or service has a solid brand platform when it’s viewed as authentic, with a story that customers feel they’re part of, and a recognisable emotion felt every time they interact.

This platform should be an important part of your brand strategy – the roadmap of tactics your business uses to address its ongoing challenges and ambitions.

No two brand platforms should be alike

Why does all this matter? Because no matter the sector you’re in, chances are you’re competing against a sea of equally valid competitors. And you’re all pitching to the same highly informed, highly connected customers. These people can describe a brand in a single adjective – ‘the bogan one/the old-school one/the posh one’ – and know exactly how they’ll feel after engaging with it.

What’s worse, to paraphrase someone cleverer than me, none of them woke up this morning wanting to hear from your brand.

Get too earnest, and you’ll bore them away – all your competitors are also claiming to be innovative, dynamic, passionate, sustainable, results-driven and at least 20 other clichés.

Overload on information – your certifications, track records, technology and a great team – and you’re just as dull. A bit like telling a first date what colour carpet you want for the house, after you both get married.

That’s because the decision to buy is more subconscious and emotional than it is logical. Old-school advertisers know this, a recent Harvard survey reaffirmed it, and you’re going to work on this now, by exploring the emotional triggers you can build into your brand platform.

We suggest allocating at least four hours for this work. Two hours to get the broad strokes in place with your team; another hour to test it among your closest stakeholders; and an hour at the end to refine everything.

  1. How your brand is different

Let’s start at the beginning with brand differentiation (sometimes also termed brand position, unique selling proposition or a number of other things). Say you are an online grocer. Are you the gourmet’s choice? Perhaps you’re about low-allergen foods? Or your focus is on bulk bargains?

Determine what you want to be known for, even if you do offer some items outside this definition. This article on Entrepreneur.com gives a good simple tool for those working out the differentiation part themselves.

  1. What’s your reason for being

This might also be called brand purpose, mission, vision or the ‘why’ of your brand (thanks Simon Sinek) or something else. Again, different strategists work with different models, because not all of them fit all tasks.

Write down your purpose as a statement, then polish until it’s around three or five words. And no, your reason for being won’t be, ‘Because we can’t think of anything else we’d rather do.’

If you’re still struggling to come up with something meaningful, think about your purpose from a conflict perspective. What annoys you about competitors in this space? What do you fight against every day, to be unlike these guys?

Finally, replace any bigger words with one- and two-syllable words, and you’ll have quite a powerful mantra. There’s a great article on Inc.com explaining how to simplify language for effectiveness.

After clarifying your reason for being, you’ll have a valuable yardstick that will help you make important business decisions under pressure. Should you add that product line, agree to that collab, expand in that area, or upskill your people in a skill? Go back to your reason for being, and you’ll have the answer.

  1. What fundamental values drive your behaviour

Supporting your brand’s reason for being is a meaningful set of brand values. Can you imagine the vibrant suite of Atlassian products, without the company’s bold commitment to shaking up corporate tech? Or the cheery wink of MailChimp’s mascot, Freddie, if they weren’t first promising to be friendly and down-to-earth?

Your brand values are the principles that will guide such behaviour. To uncover values, you might start with a block of flashcards containing 30 or more possible values. Try this list of 100 possibilities to get you started. Gradually, whittle the number down to the top 10 and then five. Finally, rewrite the values so they reflect your brand voice. (We’ll talk about voice further below).

Brand values help not just externally, to position yourself within the market, but internally to keep teams focused. For example, continuing our online grocer example, having a value such as ‘Be pure’ would prevent the team from adding cheap staples to your gourmet’s catalogue – diluting your authenticity in the process.

Once you’ve confirmed your values, survey your team and some brand fans to find out how your branding and product makes them feel. Do their honest descriptions align with the values you’ve described?

  1. Who your customers are

This is about understanding the psychology, lives and interests of your target market, not just their demographics. You’re not just aiming at, say, all professionals aged over 35. You’re targeting urban over-40s who work full-time, watch The Chaser and value ethical farming practices. You can see how that narrower segmentation will inspire much clearer messaging.

How many customer segments should you have? That depends on how big your business is. Our rule of thumb is to only have as many as you can recall in a conversation. Speak with these people regularly, and capture their feedback at every opportunity – social media, post-purchase surveys, targeted offers – to make sure they remain your biggest fans.

  1. How you project to others

You’ve arrived at one of our favourite stages – describing your brand personality. This is also a vital ingredient of defining your brand voice, which we’ll cover next. A useful tool to prod your thinking is the 12 brand archetypes model. Other tools to consider is the analogy approach, where you think about the qualities that certain cars, people or products have that are synonymous with your brand. For example, if one construction firm proclaimed itself the 24-Carat gold Rolex of its category, while another was more like a Casio, the difference in their branding would be obvious – status symbol against everyday workhorse.

There’s lots of other reading available online, to help you decide whether your brand is the coolly authoritative one, the nurturing character, the gutsy tearaway or anything else.

 

With your brand platform in place, your team can now decide whether the existing brand elements still align with your objectives – whether you need a light refresh, or a dramatically different direction. You’re also ready to develop the brand experience, language, visuals and other content supporting your brand’s core position. We’ll cover those areas in the next few articles, so make sure to check back.

 

 

Calculator, pen and notepad

The big question about what to invest in your new brand

By Branding2 Comments

Every business owner knows that investing in a new brand identity (or refreshing an existing one) is a big commitment.

Just look at the buzz around some recent, high-profile brands and rebrands – from Australia’s controversial new trade logo, to the Facebook refresh of late last year. If the first audience response is an emotional one (‘love it’, ‘hate it’), the second one is always a gasp around what it cost the client.

But what should a branding exercise actually cost? And what’s included for the different pricing structures you might expect? What are the essential components of a brand, and how can businesses build on their brand later if budget or time is an issue?

Branding in the big end of town

First things first – let’s consider what’s included. Ideally, a branding exercise should include a comprehensive package of works designed to ensure your business communicates a clear message on all fronts. That work starts with weeks of research, analysis, customer interviews and discussion. From the insights generated here, the branding agency can shape a memorable brand platform consisting of all strategic writing, customer journey map, tone of voice, logo, visual identity system and then dozens of collateral (physical and digital, internal and external, major and minor) the client needs.

(We’re quite obsessed with going deep to deliver a holistic brand for our clients, and you can understand our methods more by reading our brand audit series here).

Next, let’s talk costs. A multinational corporate branding or rebrand exercise is going to stack up in the millions, especially once you factor in the rollout of a complex and highly secure website, multiple vehicle fleets, staff uniforms, building signage and countless digital and physical brand touchpoints.

So, when the trolls sneer on social media on that “the government spent millions of taxpayer money on that logo,” they’re often neglecting to say the actual logo was a financial drop in that ocean of activity. Even a local council rebrand will cost hundreds of thousands, when you consider the amount of legacy signage that needs to change across an entire locale.

Branding for SMEs

Go deeper within the business landscape, and chances are you’re contemplating the rebrand for your small to medium-sized enterprise (from 20 – 200 employees). We love SMEs. They account for 35 per cent of Australia’s GDP and 45 per cent of Australian incomes, according to a 2019 report by the Australian Small and Family Business Ombudsman, and they’re growing in number. These are agile young businesses – regularly pivoting, growing, merging, demerging and launching initiatives, meaning their brands are often in the spotlight and they need to communicate new strategies.

We often get asked when is the best time for a business of this size to get its branding in place. Our answer is always the same – get the intangibles right first, then come and see us about the brand. That means have a compelling vision, values that inspire your people, a sensational product that meets real need, and customer service that fulfils (or exceeds) expectations every time. With these fundamentals in place, we can build a visual and verbal brand platform that communicates this to the outside world.

Most creative agencies bill using a time-and-resources based pricing model (rather than value-based), and the breakdown for a branding exercise looks roughly like this:

  • Research and immersion – between five and 10 full days of work, involving various talents on the team (creative director, copywriter, strategist and designers of junior through to midweight seniority). The typical output here is a strategic document that captures, among other things, the high-level positioning statements your team will end up referring to repeatedly as they help to grow the business.
  • Creative development – this takes another five to 10 full days of work, depending on the scale and complexity of your project. As client, you can expect to see several presentations during this phase: starting with the mood boards, progressing through several rounds of creative, and ending with your new logo and snapshot of the accompanying visual identity system.
  • Asset creation – once your new logo and visual identity are signed off, the agency needs to develop all the materials that will feature your new brand. Allow another five days for a small consultancy needing little more than stationery, presentation decks, social media templates and the odd bit of signage.
  • Asset production – production can make or break a creative concept. Imagine a stunning brochure printed on flimsy stock and poor colour reproduction, or a website full of broken links and slow-loading pages. Make sure your agency has the capacity to advise on the best possible production.
  • Asset handover, documentation and follow-up – typically, the client owns all brand assets created and should receive an orderly pack of folders containing all logos, typography and other assets. At The Offices, we also deliver clients a large file showing all their assets at a glance, and we check in to see if anything needs to be amended.

 

You’ll notice we didn’t tally any final costs yet. Will you pay $15,000, $50,000 or $80,000 for all this work? It all depends enormously on who you’re working with, what the work entails, and what time pressures or other constraints apply. A hint, though, is to take your own day rate (or that of your lawyer or accountant), and multiply by the days quoted.

And the justification? Calculate the value of sales you could generate in the first one to three years following the brand launch (or relaunch), and you’ll be able to put this into perspective.

Controlling the costs of your branding exercise  

A couple of things can blow out your branding budget. Here are our top observations.

  1. Key people not consulted in time – heard the one about the major sports organisation that had to axe hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of creative just before it was supposed to launch? That happened because their sponsor was not made aware any rebrand would take place during their sponsorship contract. True story, and it’s a cost you probably won’t want to wear. Involve decision-makers right from the beginning to avoid an expensive redesign.
  2. Due diligence not completed – or perhaps you’ve heard about a business that invested heavily in a new brand, only to find out that the trademark was not available in a valuable overseas market? Or the new brand logo that resembled a swastika when viewed in a certain way – making them open to litigation, unless they redid the work completely.
  3. Brand strategy not in place – if you’re able to write your own plausible, compelling brand strategy as a team, you can save on the costs of engaging your creative agency to do this for you. Otherwise, expect to pay another chunk of investment.
  4. Brand strategy changes midway through – while several rounds of amends are accepted practice in any creative project, that doesn’t apply if the business changes its strategic objectives midway through the project.

A side note on microbusiness branding budgets

Some big businesses start small, and their branding has to be budgeted accordingly. If you’re a microbusiness with a tiny budget (as in $1,000 – $5,000 tiny), then you should read up about branding essentials, look up some design websites to see what you like, and put together a simple brief with a strict budget.

And do aim for simplicity. Unless you’re in skilled, experienced (and thereby pricier) hands, you’ll run the risk of a predictable or uninspiring result. Partner with a local freelancer who is in a similar growth stage as your business, and you’ll then be able to co-design more valuable enhancements as the business grows bigger. There’s nothing more jarring than a brand that makes ad-hoc additions to its collection of brand assets each year, all of them by different designers who missed the brief on what properties should be unshakeably consistent each time.

 

 

Communication icons and symbols illustration

12 totally relevant ways to communicate during a crisis, without knee-jerking

By Communications, Views

Don’t sell, don’t copy, don’t pretend to help unless you mean it – marketers have many pitfalls to avoid under the present Covid-19 crisis. But what should you do instead? Here’s our ultimate guide on how communications during a crisis over the next three months. Add your own grain of salt.

 

We’ve spent the past three weeks watching brands’ response to the global coronavirus pandemic, and found ourselves cringing and sympathising in equal doses.

Cringing because even the first round of corporate messages have been so cheesy, with their familiar formats of ‘we hope you are safe in these unprecedented times’ plus ‘we’re here for you’ and finally a sales offer.

And sympathising, because frankly who isn’t scared witless that their entire market is going to fall apart, irreparably.

There’s so much uncertainty around the climate, businesses can neither carry on with their old communications as if nothing happened, nor can they plan for the long term.

A recent article by Moz founder Rand Fishkin, urging businesses to ‘read the room,’ says it best: don’t stop marketing but don’t be tone-deaf either. The best crisis communications around the world right now involve helping, not selling – giving away 15,000 free medical gowns, delivering food to the needy, offering free financial advice. All without expecting a single sale at the end.

But let’s say, hypothetically, you’re not a multinational with the capacity to do that.

So we’ll fast-forward to the medium-term, a world three months down the track. The crisis has started to abate, but life as we know it has changed – as suggested by this infographic on the emerging low-touch economy, by the Board of Innovation. If you’re listening to the chatter all around right now, you’ll have an idea on where everyone’s heads will be: craving meaningful connections, grateful for good health, newly in touch with their communities, and ready to shake off months of inactivity.

So let’s get your business geared up for that not-too-distant future, and focus on some very plausible communications during a crisis, by tapping into the following sentiments that people are experiencing.

1. Loving everything local

Being restricted in our movements, we’re rediscovering local service providers like never before. Many of your customers will stick with their local, after this subsides. What photos, faces and colourful stats can you share about your local connections?

2. Craving the tactile

If you sell any kind of sensory experience, just imagine how much your customers are missing them. The smell of fresh-cut flowers; the relief of massage therapy; the joy of an expert cocktail. Can you recreate that for your customers, with short videos, illustrated guides, beauty tips, sighting competitions or subscription deliveries?

3. Ready for boot camp

With people devouring more snacks out of boredom, and jocks everywhere locked out of their natural habitat (the gym), the kilos should start piling on soon. Demand has already surged for anything fitness or health-related, from home fitness stations to immunity-boosting vitamins, better walking shoes and apps that encourage competitive workouts. All could use interesting, enlightening communications materials. And that’s just for the self-motivated. Just imagine how many others are desperately missing your drill-sergeant’s voice, pushing them to go harder, faster, longer…

4. In need of a laugh

According to Google, comedies and feelgood films are outstripping horror and dramas as audiences turn away from the depressing daily news. Add some visual fun to your crisis marketing. This Geico insurance ad might be five years old, but it’s exactly the kind of sentiment your materials need right now.

5. More mindful

Without the daily grind of rushing between appointments, many are enjoying the new inward focus. Just look at the rush on items like gardening products, home tutorials, art supplies and pet care. What lists, kits, videos or daily pep talks can you give your customers, to tap into that slower, more self-happy pace, and stretch it out well into 2021?

6. A little fearful

To grapple with mental health issues such as depression, insomnia, anxiety and distress, your business can share encouraging graphics that explain in simple terms what customers can do to alleviate their worries. This applies to most businesses, from financial planners to insurance brokers, HR consultants and any entrepreneur.

7. Feeling a tad spiritual

As we collectively puzzle why this pandemic is happening, and how no one saw it coming (apart from Bill Gates and Nostradamus), it’s easy to predict that spirituality will experience a resurgence. Can you send your customers some pictures, poems, prayers or giving-back experiences, to put earth’s troubles into context?

8. Looking for love

We all tut-tutted disapprovingly about those naughty Bondi backpackers who refused to stop partying. But it’s tough being young, single and hot for love. Even if your business isn’t a dating app, your communications can make romance relevant to customers: whether you’re selling apartments to first-home buyers, cooking kits to singletons, guitar lessons to the heartbroken, and more besides.

9. Grateful for the planet

As we’re forced to avoid crowds and much of the built environment, nature is our source of healing. No matter what business you’re in, you can probably afford to talk for oh, maybe the next millennia or so, about your care efforts for the planet.

10. Ready for adventure

This is a tough one, given how hard-hit the travel sector is and how many operators may go under permanently. But anyone with wanderlust is dreaming of escape beyond their own boring four walls. Campers will want to know about new gear, trails and gadgets. Jetsetters will be ready to browse new itineraries to far-flung locales. And everyone will be ready to inhale fresh flavours, scents and sounds – even if it has to be the suburb down the road for a little longer.

11. Bolstered by technology

Stable, secure technology has kept us sane these past few weeks, and powered more businesses more effectively than we’d thought possible. But the unprecedented reliance on technology has also released a wave of cyberattacks. Even if your business isn’t in IT, your daily emails, social media graphics, icons and banners can put customers at ease, by showing what measures you’re taking to create a safe online environment.

12. Humbled by medicine

This story ends (deliberately) on a bow to the greatness of modern medicine. We’ve watched in horror as different healthcare regimes have either crumbled or prevailed through the pressure. No matter the current state of your customers’ hearts, lungs, immune systems or other body parts, their future wellbeing might depend on your health product or service. And don’t we know it.

Magnifying glasses illustration

Guiding light: Ultimate DIY brand audit for business owners

By BrandingNo Comments

Everyone’s talking about the brand audit. Here’s how to approach it, and why your business should do this regularly – not just as a one-off activity.

Can you think of a successful business that isn’t a brand? We didn’t think so. Because whether it’s your favourite back-lane Chinese noodle shop, or the corporation that powers your internet, everything you recall about that business is its brand. Every sound, visual, word or other experience. Did we mention the logo? That’s part of the brand too – one small part.

Brands are living entities, meaning they need to be upkept. Sometimes they need light overhauling, where the business might tweak the colours, fonts, photography or messaging so they stay relevant for customers. Sometimes they need a big overhaul, like if you’re a supermarket wanting to tell customers you’re more about quality fresh food, less about cheap basics.

Brand upkeep takes time, resources and clued-up people. It needs to be done annually, or at least biennially. And it can’t be rushed because you suddenly realise there’s a big event coming up and you’d like a new presence.

How to start your brand audit

In this seven-part series, we guide business owners through the process of auditing their brand, using a simplified version of what an agency strategist might use. Why simplified? Because the concepts can get a little lofty. If you haven’t done this before, you’re going to have a lot of questions – of the ‘am I doing this right’ kind.

And we don’t want you to self-doubt. We want you to get on with the task of probing what your business stands for, how you’re really different, and what tactics to roll out next. You can then engage various creative resources to help, knowing these efforts will be supported by solid thinking.

Here are the essentials.

  1. Five strategic steps to design a great brand

How did some of your favourite brands grow to become the success stories they are? By following proven processes to build a memorable brand platform, of course. The five steps in this brand audit will help develop clarity around your own branding, in several areas from the experience to the visuals.

  1. Get up close and personal with brand experience and business data

Is your business today the same as when it started? Of course it isn’t. But in the hustle of daily delivery, perhaps it’s been a while since you took a bird’s-eye view of emerging opportunities – or issues. Great branding won’t compensate for flaws in the customer experience, such as bounced orders or lagging communications. This part of the brand audit involves a customer walk-through of your brand experience. From this, you can see what business fundamentals have to be fixed before you refresh your brand.

  1. Major overhaul or subtle update? How to decide

Having taken steps one and two of your brand audit, perhaps you’ve decided some updates are in order. Will this take time and resource? Yep. And will it tell your sophisticated, modern customers that you inhabit the same world they do? Absolutely it will. Plus, those updates don’t have to mean a complete departure from the important elements of your brand. We’ll explain how to determine which brand features to retain, and which ones to evolve, in this rebrand vs brand refresh article.

  1. Start with simple, powerful words

Could you imagine a Panadol ad without its message of quiet freedom? Or a Nike post without its forceful go-get-‘em attitude? Voice is a powerful brand reinforcer, and this article will help you choose, craft, and polish the words your brand might need.

  1. Now move onto the core brand assets

Being two-thirds through your brand audit, and having a renewed clarity on your purpose, strategy and unique voice, you’re ready to start thinking about tweaks to your core brand assets. These include the logo, fonts, graphic lockups, photography styles and other elements. A simple test of your target audience will reveal whether you’re on track or not, and in this article we’ll share an essential scorecard of what your core brand assets are saying about you.

  1. Vary your core comms to suit different user journeys

If consistency is key, does that mean using the same look, feel and tone in everything you do? Of course not. We’ll explain how to stay on brand while injecting the right degree of variety into all foundational business materials you produce.

  1. Website facelift in six transformative steps

We’ve saved the website for last, because there’s so much to cover: the many graphics, animations, videos, articles, downloads and other content you’ll want to create with the refreshed brand materials. All have different implications for time and cost when you go to add these to your site. Plus, there’s the question of how to manage the ongoing process of performance optimization.

Once you’ve reached the end of the brand audit, you may still have questions and choose to engage a professional to help. But you’ll be much further down the process than you would otherwise be.

Rebrand or refresh?

7 signs your brand needs an update

By BrandingNo Comments

“I think my client needs to update his brand,” one of our business contacts confided over coffee recently. “But I don’t know enough about design to put my finger on it. Do you have any tips?’

Actually, yes. We have so many, we can’t contain them within a conversational answer. That’s why we’ve written this lengthy roundup instead.

Best of all, the principles of a well-conceived brand are not as elusive as you might think. If you’re already sensing something’s wrong, you’re probably right. After all, to quote Jeff Bezos, ‘Your brand is what other people say about you after you leave the room.’

Simply put, brand design is a form of communication: a tool for sending the right messages about your brand. Or your client’s brand. Or your employer’s brand.

Getting the basics right

First of all, let’s look at the basics of a brand identity. This is so much more than just a logo. It starts with the actual brand experience, from the swiping or tapping or other usage features, to the unboxing and after-sales support.

Then there’s the visual language of your business, from the logo to typefaces, palettes, graphic elements and photography. These should be consistent across every output: internal materials and external ones. There’s also voice: the way language reinforces the design, to project the business’ authority, warmth, guy or girl-next-doorness, sophistication or other defined value.

In short, the brand elements need to reflect a business’s peerless values, audience mindset and strategy. So make sure to first audit that brand platform by considering its original strategy and whether this still applies.

With the brand audited and strategy reviewed, you can go through the checklist below, loosely ordered from fundamental to surface elements, to see if your brand needs an update.

Fundamental areas where the brand might need an update

  1. Design doesn’t support brand values

Even for the uninitiated, design has some fundamental cues that designers use and audiences subconsciously respond to.

The branding for a tech firm will have movement, energy, surprise. For an artisan food producer, it’ll have warmth, craft and earthiness.

Remember, we’re not just talking obvious areas like the logo and website. Look at every output. The thoughtful packaging from a premium retailer, for example, exudes brand values right down to the nutty aroma of the organic inks used on the tissue paper.

  1. It contravenes the standard principles of good design

Multiple fonts. Cookie-cutter graphics. Conflicting styles. Photos that don’t reinforce brand values.

Think of design as a tool that conveys the qualities and feeling of the product or service. At its very minimum, it should convey texture, movement, scale and mood, which you can learn more about in an amazing 2016 talk by the prodigious John Maeda.

Even if you’re not a design pro, you’ll know you’re looking at a badly designed brand identity just from the flat feeling you get. Look away from that design, and chances are you won’t even remember what the business stands for, let alone what it might look, feel, smell or taste like.

  1. Unclear user pathway

Imagine a major hospital or university without clear signage or an ecommerce website without a distinct shopping cart. Clear thought plays a major role in good design, and not all the tricks are necessarily new.

Just go online to find the infographics created during the Crimean War by Florence Nightingale, a data scientist in her own right. We still use these graphic styles today.

Compare that with the current wayfinding graphics at Sydney’s Town Hall Station. With few signboards showing from which platform to access which lines, infrequent rail travellers are forced to flag down a staffer to ask.

Even if you don’t operate a railway, your website, onboarding systems and follow-up should guide a clear, consistent and logical set of actions.

Outward brand areas to update

  1. Get out of your stylistic rut

Remember the 90s? Yeah, so do we. Grunge. Supermodels. Madonna’s cone bra. They’ve all gone now, and so should your drop-shadow typeface or mirror-finish logo.

Nineties aside, every era has its hallmark graphic elements. Today’s crossed-oar logo or gradient graphic will be tomorrow’s joke, so make sure that any on-trend styles are relevant, sparing and combined with more timeless elements.

If you’re still not sure how to direct your team, just Google any styles you suspect are naff. You’ll soon be scrolling pages and pages of evidence. Swoosh logos, retro fonts, starbursts, websites that play music… they’ve gone the way of the dodo.

  1. Incorporate something new

Ever wondered why so many 1950s brands have a screen-printed feel, or why 80s brands look so loud and tricked-up? Simple – they reflect the technology and production methods available at the time.

Similarly, newer innovations in digital technology are leading brand elements that simply weren’t possible 10 or more years ago. That ranges from small-run prints that let you use a different colour on each person’s business card, to video everything, mobile-responsive websites, animated logos, GIFs and more. Embrace these ideas, and update them often to stay relevant.

  1. There’s too much jammed in

Clutter is the enemy of good design.

For example, a clash of stock photo styles: sleek business people in icy greys one minute, and warm golden coffees on a wooden table the next. Or multiple fonts: for headers, subheads, breakouts and body copy. Or overbearing finishes: breakouts, underlines, backdrops. Even some of the video backgrounds for the latest crop of websites are overdone. Background motion graphics should be a gentle jiggle on the screen, not epic cinematography. Otherwise you’ll start to detract from the main message and make your viewer feel carsick.

  1. There’s not enough added in

Don’t get us wrong; minimalism is a core feature of good design. We haven’t had a client yet who wanted a complicated brand identity – most yearn for the super-sleekness of Apple, Uber or Xero.

But for corporations with a lot to talk about – technical specs, news, people, projects, products and more – you can’t just expect the logo and palette to do the work of navigating users to the sections they want.

You’ll also need an entire graphic concept for the navigational elements, information hierarchies, calls to action, user engagement pieces and other parts of your physical or digital materials. You’ll need a photography concept so that all other imagery sings from the same songbook. You’ll need an actual team photo (not just sleek, square-jawed stock photo people).

 

So as you can see, good branding draws on a certain degree of common sense principles. It also takes an experienced eye and an understanding of key terms to get it right. The same applies when your brand needs an update. 

This understanding is best nurtured by reading some of the world’s great design blogs. (For the record, some of our favourites are BP&O, the Brand New blog of Under Consideration and Logo Lounge, especially its very entertaining annual wrap on logo trends). Make sure also to follow design companies you like on social media.

Soon, you’ll develop a hawk-like ability to spot good design from afar, and can guide your client or company to the right design firm to help update the brand.

 

Branding is a door-opener in business development

The rebrand or refresh: A door-opener for business

By Branding, ViewsNo Comments

The decision to rebrand or refresh is a big one. And it seems that every few months, some major business does this in a way that is either massively odd or totally right.

Think of the outrage provoked in 2017, when the NSW Government proposed ditching the distinctive brand identities for cultural icons such as the Opera House, Taronga Zoo or Australian Museum. All were to be replaced by the NSW Waratah (which thankfully hasn’t happened).

Contrast that with the welcome and highly successful 2014 Airbnb rebrand, which dropped the 70s surfboard-font wordmark. The sophisticated set of brand elements they ushered in – from photography style to written voice – all support a very deliberate brand promise.

 

Companies should rebrand when they actually want to be known for something new.

Perhaps your revised brand platform reveals that you’re still tracking towards the same goals, and keeping the same customers happy. But 10 years have slipped past and now your website doesn’t have a lead-capture function, your promotions still have QR codes (gasp) and your social media posts consist of recycled motivational quotes.

Or maybe some competitors have jumped into the space that you initially dominated. Think how Burgerlicious, Huxtaburger and even McDonalds Gourmet Creations have edged into the gourmet space that made Grill’d so unique for so long. Suddenly, customers seem more interested in those cheeky newcomers. Even the media is giving you less attention. This is where some enhancements to the brand identity can spark entire new conversations.

So, when should you keep the original brand elements and when should you turf them completely? It’s a question we take seriously, and which we make our clients work hard to clarify at the start of any such project.

 

Option #1: The brand refresh

Much of our business comes from the question on whether to rebrand or refresh. In more established businesses, what’s happened is that the brand grew dated over time and management didn’t notice. Now they need it all to change – the website, business materials, content strategy and in fact a surprisingly long list of other pieces.

And so begins the discussion on how to refresh customer perceptions around this brand. Often, there’s no need for a complete change. If your brand has a good strategy it may just need a stylistic update. Think of the meaningful and subtle tweaks made to multinationals such as Mastercard, Citi or Lufthansa. Clutter was reduced, colour palettes modernised and messaging made more compelling.

In younger brands, the focus is more about enriching the brand perceptions rather than changing them. For example, when we first helped our clients Pat and Stick launch, we created a single set of graphics to accompany the wordmark and logo. Over the years, we’ve added a rich palette, graphics, fonts, voice and photography style. For NorthConnex, we again introduced brand elements that add depth and relevance to their government-made wordmark.

Sometimes, though, a brand didn’t stand the test of time. Gumtree’s original brand projected poor customer experience at every turn, from its unappealing fonts to the actual dodgy website security. The old AGL brand just screamed 1960s, from its corporate voice to the clear reliance on fossil fuels.

When there’s a serious need to shift customer perceptions, rebranding starts to look like a good idea. The new Gumtree brand identity now suggests a seamless and user-friendly experience; the new AGL brand implies a modern company with diverse energy sources.

 

Option #2: The rebrand 

As the word might suggest, rebranding is a more intensive exercise. That’s not just because of the work involved in redefining basics, such as the customer promise or market position. Rebranding can also mean a lengthy update of physical assets, from digital footprints to legacy signage and staff uniforms. Including the old ones that peek out of your favourite company photos.

Companies should rebrand when they actually want to be known for something new. Think the Woolworths rebrand of a few years back, when it moved from ‘supermarket’ to ‘fresh food people.’ Or most telcos, now positioned as entertainment or data powerhouses rather than suppliers of sturdy cabling.

Our rebrand for rentals firm Orana came about because the business wanted to tell customers about its industry-leading customer service. Their prices are still low, so the branding had to remain super-simple across exterior touchpoints such as signage and vehicle decals. But close up, we wanted customers to experience the Orana brand of hospitality. To convey this, we used a richer set of graphics across their lounge-inspired reception areas, inspirational messaging and more.

A final point to know is that the time and cost you’ll need for both exercises are quite similar in scope. For more guidance on pricing, see our related article on what to invest in your new brand.

Both require your key people to agree on the initial rebrand or refresh strategy and final outputs. Both require you to produce new materials, including new-generation ones that didn’t exist five years ago.

But most importantly, both the rebrand and refresh require you to craft strong messages to tell your entire team and business networks, once you’re ready to launch. That will give you a nice steady stream of news to pump out to the world after that.

 

Content infographic about writing

Writing workshops that stick it to the emoji crowd

By WritingNo Comments
Content infographic about writing

For some time now, we’ve been delivering writing workshops for in-house corporate and public audiences.

The scope here is huge. That’s why our writing workshops range from storytelling for marketers to email basics for anyone and high-level reporting for executives. Original workbooks, infographics and supporting materials support the workshops, plus follow-up as needed.

Meanwhile, our writing workshop clients include government agencies, think tanks, engineering firms, accounting firms, universities and banks. And let’s not ignore the wonderful Centre for Continuing Education at The University of Sydney, which we have a decade-plus long relationship with.

So, why are we all fired about about our writing workshops, and why right now? Well, writing is usually the first point of contact made by corporations and governments. Transparency is a major issue, and this can be achieved quite easily using simpler, more approachable language. But it can be buried just as easily, using jargon and corporate waffle. (Don’t even get us started on emojis and millennial slang).

Yup. It’s a nice time to be passionate about great communications, a service we’ve always been proud to offer.

That their parents, high school teachers and university lecturers told them they sounded smarter by using the longer word. Those longer words usually lead to trickier sentences, and then they’re sounding as approachable as a 16th-century mathematician.

Global talent-flows and language

The other reason we’re getting so many requests to deliver writing workshops is actually quite exciting, socially speaking. You see, as societies around the world become less hierarchical, more people from different personal, ethnic, social and professional backgrounds are moving up and around the corporate ladder.

Each has their own communication style, supplemented with habits picked up from different colleagues and managers. Some of these habits are good, others bad and many inconsistent. When this happens, businesses find they need to give their people a solid knowledge base – usually in the form of writing workshops.

Yup. It’s a nice time to be passionate about great communications, a service we’ve always been proud to offer.

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We think there are two broad reasons why some people aren’t writing as well as they should be.

Do big words make you sound smarter?

The first reason is that we’re not really taught it in the first place. In almost every writing workshop, we’re encouraging participants to choose the simpler word (‘use’ instead of ‘utilise’, or ‘support’ instead of ‘augment’). And each time, we have people telling us they were taught to do the opposite.

That their parents, high school teachers and university lecturers told them they sounded smarter by using the longer word. Those longer words usually lead to trickier sentences, and then they’re sounding as approachable as a 16th-century mathematician.

Global talent-flows and language

The other reason we’re getting so many requests to deliver writing workshops is actually quite exciting, socially speaking. You see, as societies around the world become less hierarchical, more people from different personal, ethnic, social and professional backgrounds are moving up and around the corporate ladder.

Each has their own communication style, supplemented with habits picked up from different colleagues and managers. Some of these habits are good, others bad and many inconsistent. When this happens, businesses find they need to give their people a solid knowledge base – usually in the form of writing workshops.

Yup. It’s a nice time to be passionate about great communications, a service we’ve always been proud to offer.

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