A New Day For BrandingBy Julius Geis
Connecting With People, Not Manipulating Them
How do you want potential customers to perceive your products and services?
That in a nutshell is brand identity. Building a brand identity is crucial to a company’s cause and results. It may be a stiffer challenge at the outset for small businesses, which don’t have corporate communications departments as large companies do. But when you have a compelling story to tell – your company’s story, its reason for being – then that seed you plant can sprout into brand identity, and with that brand awareness and brand loyalty will bloom.
And now, brand identity is becoming hugely significant in these rapidly-changing times, exacerbated by the world-wide effects of COVID-19. It goes so much deeper than the logo and marketing content your company creates. For one thing, what companies stand for is more important to customers than ever before, right in step with the nimbleness and flexibility required of businesses to meet shifting market demands.
Your branded logo is the magnetic symbol?
While the logo is the attractive or magnetic physical symbol of the company, it’s the visceral effect of a customer’s experience with the brand that acts like a magnet and compels them to keep coming back, to spread the word, to trigger wider brand awareness and brand loyalty.
So ultimately, brand identity is only partly what you set out for it to be; it is also the result of that – how your customers think about your company. Brand identity, therefore, is not only the face of your business, but also a good part of its soul – synonymous with trust and the foundation of your company’s values and mission.
And brand identity is undeniably this, in my opinion: it is about connecting, and staying connected with, people on a truly human level. Not about manipulating them, as so many brands still do.
A living, breathing organism
On that note, I go back to what inspired me to change my mind about branding and brand identity.
I’ve always seen things from the outside. But the beauty of standing apart from the herd is that you see things from a different perspective. Once I began to understand the power of this viewpoint, I started to put it to use.
During my early career in advertising and branding, I saw how branding influences consumers. However, my life shifted with the experience of my first burnout. Luckily, I met teachers who helped me not just to look at myself differently, but also at the world we’re living in. When coming back to my career as a brander, I began to reject the way branding was often practiced – as a formulaic process intended to convince companies or consumers of a problem in order to sell them a solution.
A brand, I discovered, is more. Branding in its current form is dead, and it’s time to move away from brand-fakes that claim ownership and manipulate people to achieve their objective.
I think of a brand as a living, breathing organism that is in constant motion and creating constant awareness through interactions with customers and potential customers. This life of a brand is lived in myriad ways – from your posts on social media to the company website, face-to-face communication in stores or conventions, etc. Through all of these experiences, the brand’s identity strengthens, sustains and grows.
Brand identity matters more than ever in the post-COVID world. With competition fierce, the companies with sustainable brand identity that stay consistent with their messaging have the best chance to survive and thrive. Again, it goes back to the identity being connected with a customer experience that evokes an emotional connection, a trust and credibility factor.
Branding needs more than just your purpose
There is a huge movement right now about the concept of companies needing to find their purpose. It’s a good intention, but purpose alone is not enough. It’s incomplete. The real question is, where is the purpose coming from? Identity.
If a brand’s identity is not defined, then just having a purpose doesn’t mean much. Identity’s definition means the collective answer to the question, “Who are we?” It builds a sense of self and a level of consciousness within a company that connects the reason why and the future vision with compelling execution. Simply said: identity gives the company’s purpose context that is valuable and impactful for its future success.
I believe the key is to define a brand’s identity first, and then build all the other parts of a brand upon that. A complete identity strategy includes a brand’s purpose, values, mission, and vision. But, it also is enriched by past experiences that indicate cultural behavior and cultural settings.
An example of this is what defines identity in psychology. It’s not just a matter of who someone is, it’s also the patterns and structure of past experiences and relationships that they have had, all of which influence their identity. I think it’s important to recognize that in our organizational world we have to consider the context, the environment, and the field that the organization is part of.
Deeper, broader, loftier
Building brands from their identity up involves three phases:
1) explore and identify;
2) implementation; and
3) habit building.
The first outcome is an identity strategy derived from a deep dive – the foundation of all future strategies and tactics that are built, such as brand identity, culture, marketing, product development, and sales. The second and third phases are about implementation and optimization of the identity strategy into the brand ecosystem, using tools for feedback and self-reflection on the organization’s actions. Or, closing the gap between promise, vision, and day-to-day execution.
The keys here are organizational self-awareness, feedback, and adjustments. Companies evaluate their status quo, compare it with their starting point in phase one, and see where the brand stands.
One has to think broader when building identity. A brand in the traditional sense is often viewed as a singular definition or solely as a marketing instrument. But that definition is outdated. A brand today is rather a multi-layered ecosystem working as an ever-evolving organism. Or, everything inside and outside a brand is in relationship with each other. The term “brand” consequentially goes beyond the known marketing terms. “Organization,” “business,” “company,” and “culture” are inclusive parts of the brand, influencing and building a brand in equal manners.
Finally, you must aspire to aim higher, to see your company undergo a loftier evolution. The genesis of brand identity is grasping the full idea of the identity itself – the starting point of all creation. A brand identity becomes the embodiment of its identity and builds the character through marks, terms, visual design, audio, and cultural parameters of the brand. Once the “who we are” or “The Founding Spirit” of a brand is defined, the brand identity becomes more tangible.
View branding as a process of expression
The term branding then becomes the process of expression and its relationships. Qualities of branding include the ability to listen, talk, create, execute, reflect, evaluate, and optimize. It’s an evolution that truly transforms a brand and its surroundings to a living organism, where all parties involved are in relationship with each other.
Staying connected with customers with a strong brand identity requires updating your story, staying on top of trends and communicating that your identity remains relevant through all market changes. As you update your story and stay true to your theme, ask yourself questions such as: What is it about your story that makes you stand apart from your competitors? How is your brand identity reflected in the way you solve a need or problem and how you will upgrade your products or services in the future? What new concerns does your typical customer have, and when they think of your company, do they think it’s up to the task?
All of these answers are reflected in your brand identity, the essence of which doesn’t change. But it does expand, building on its principles while adding to its arsenal of capabilities.
Consistency and integrity are the keys. What does your brand stand for and what do you want people to think and feel about it? In today’s world, connectivity and a sense of community are everything when building brand identity.
My goal? It’s to build brands that guide companies to a true sense of purpose, creating happiness by connecting people with people. That way, we remove the current siloed walls that are in place and design a world we can better enjoy and thrive in.
About the author
Julius Geis (www.juliusgeis.com) is an identity expert who has created brand strategies for over 40 companies. He is the creator of Identity Built Branding™ (www.identitybuiltbranding.com), a new branding process that builds brands from the inside-out, guides companies to happiness and connects people with people. Julius is the founder of ‘Āina, a strategy office which won the 2020 iF Design Award and MUA, an early start up helping individuals and organizations making better decisions through the training of self-awareness. Born and raised in Stuttgart Germany, today Julius lives with his family in Maui, Hawaii.