One of the best things about working in a design agency is dealing with lots of smart and successful businesses. Many are up-and-coming with innovative new ideas while others are well established, having firmly established their credentials in our business landscape. You quickly spot those who have a clear understanding of where they are going, how they are getting there and what the drivers of value in their business are.
What always surprises me is the widespread lack of understanding of brand and the role it plays in business success. Many CEOs and CFOs still see branding as a name, logo, colours or the design of their letterhead, business cards, website and brochures. A CEO of a major corporate recently referred to his marketing and brand team as ‘the colouring-in department’ clearly signalling a lack of appreciation of the role brand plays in his company’s success.
There are (too) many definitions of brand. Some reinforce that false myth that it’s about the visual elements that make up the look and feel. Others talk about the feelings brands evoke in audiences while others focus on reputation, defining brand as what ‘people say about you’. Surprisingly, one of my favourite definitions of brand is an accounting definition that draws a direct line between financial success and brand value. If you look at some of the most financially successful companies in the world, they all have very clearly defined and well understood brands.
In accounting terms, a brand (often referred to as an intangible asset or goodwill) is often the most valuable thing on a company’s balance sheet. Companies manage their brands carefully to create shareholder value with asset valuation the measure of a brand’s worth. What I like about this notion of putting an asset value on a brand is that it forces businesses to focus on the long-term stewardship of the brand, making active decisions that preserve and grow its value.
“Many new businesses invest heavily in R&D, sales and operations but don’t put enough time and money aside to begin building their brand properly from day one … Getting the structure right means that every new product, service, offering and contact with the market builds equity in the underlying brand that can be transferred to subsequent new products and offers. Poorly structured brands are much harder to steer back on course than those that aren’t as well designed.” Steven Giannoulis.
To me a brand sits up there with the company’s vision, values and strategy in that it defines who you are, what you do and how you do it. It expresses what you stand for and differentiates what you deliver to, and for, your defined target audiences. A brand gets baked into the DNA of an organisation, permeating all business decisions and behaviours of the collective and the individuals within it. Along with culture, the brand strategy is embodied in the organisation, process, service and HR design. It drives prices, sales practices and is fundamental in the design of every product and service the company offers.
And at an operational level it also underpins the consistent look, feel, tone and messaging of all your communications.
It takes time but the most successful companies invest into building a level of association and trust in the core brand and what it stands for. This undoubtedly contributes to higher sales of branded products and makes it easier to launch new products and product extensions, all of which benefit from the equity exchange that comes from brand association.
Many new businesses invest heavily in R&D, sales and operations but don’t put enough time and money aside to begin building their brand properly from day one. We often advise clients to invest their budget in defining their brand personality, essence and story and in developing, and future proofing, their brand architecture. Getting the structure right means that every new product, service, offering and contact with the market builds equity in the underlying brand that can be transferred to subsequent new products and offers. Poorly structured brands are much harder to steer back on course than those that aren’t as well designed.
A good brand is a business enabler that delivers both better short-term business execution and longer-term shareholder value. It’s circular in nature with good business practices creating stronger brands that facilitate even stronger business growth. But like anything worth having, you have to invest to realise the true value of your brand.
Insight Creative is a branding and design agency with over 40 years’ experience in developing and refreshing some of the best-known brands in New Zealand. They specialise in brand, marketing and investor communications thinking and design, across both print and online mediums.
Steven Giannoulis is CEO & Strategy Director at Insight Creative. [email protected]