The key question a brand must answer is, “Who are we?” The best answer to this is something that is short and clear.
The answer cannot be, “this, and this, and, oh yes, this.” No matter how complex the reality is, a brand’s keynote expression must be immediately graspable if it is to have real power. And it still needs to be true.
Occasionally we are asked to take a project without the opportunity to do brand development work first. “Oh, our brand is fine, we just need a new website that will express it better.”
This almost always leads to trouble, because more often than not, one key reason the website is not working is because there is a more general lack of brand clarity.
Reducibility to a single word is actually an indication of brand strength.
Each of these companies has cultivated its U.S. brand reducible to a single word that differentiates it from its competitors. Other brand sectors are similar. Even in the museum world the strongest brands can be similarly reduced:
Metropolitan Museum of Art: masterpiece
American Museum of Natural History: adventure
Guggenheim: parking garage (just kidding…that’s two words ;)
If the institutional response to this kind of requirement for absolute clarity is, “yes, but we also have to feature this and this and this, and how can we get this in there, and let’s not forget this.” Then, well…we have a problem. And we certainly don’t have a brand that can be understood, let alone remembered, by someone on the outside. (I would argue the inside as well, but that’s another post.)
A root cause of this problem is, I think, that internal executive understanding of an organization is often nuanced and complex, while external understanding can almost never be.
A brand always has many elements: colors, words, photography, logos, ads…many of which may have been independently developed over time, and they may not reflect or amplify a coherent and unified message.
With no clearly understood guiding principle that can illuminate the weaknesses of one argument measured against another, all things are nearly equal in the unfocused eyes of a brand. This makes it much harder for anyone to argue for the elimination of non-essential stuff. By contrast, if the same elements are measured against clear benchmarks for style and meaning, they can be easily deposed. I write about this a little bit in the inauspiciously titled post Brand Impact on CSI Reports.
All of those particular things that the institution sees in itself may indeed be true, but for the brand consumer it’s just not possible to pull all of them together into a memorable brand.
A brand, if is to be powerful, cannot be about many different things. You must have the courage to ignore those who will always be there whispering, “But this is important too.” Capitulating to this urge is a recipe for brand mediocrity: in many such cases, it’s all there, and all true, and yet in the end, nothing sticks in the brand consumer’s mind. That’s brand disaster in its most basic form.
A brand that cannot articulate itself succinctly will always be a compromise.
So let me ask the question again. “Who are you?” You must decide on the one thing that you are most—the one thing that represents you best.
Decide on ONE thing.
You really only get one.
Make THAT decision, and then we can put everything else under that. Once all the brand elements align, and they all point back to that ONE thing…
THEN you will indeed have a powerful brand.
Illustration for Tronvig Group by Sage Einarsen.