Business leaders of the past incorrectly assumed that a brand was merely its logo. Today it’s more widely understood that while a corporate logo is a critical brand element, it’s only one of many tactical expressions of strategic brand positioning. That said, businesses sometimes fall into old habits when undergoing brand refreshes. Organizations that jump immediately to their visual brand during a refresh will struggle to deliver a memorable, consistent and differentiated brand experience that builds emotional connections with audiences.
A well-developed strategic brand position drives organizational growth. It advances the corporate strategy, goals and priorities, establishes the company’s strategic position, and differentiates the brand. Brand positioning boils the business strategy down to an emotional connection and expresses it through many forms — including a logo.
Align brand positioning with strategic business elements
A brand is the strategic articulation of an organization’s goals, purpose, values, workplace culture and desired market position. These strategic business elements are interconnected, and each must support one another through the brand’s position. Businesses must first complete the following strategic exercises before defining and activating their brand positioning.
- Establish purpose or mission: An organization’s purpose or mission defines why it exists. A business must first understand its reason for existing because this guides all corporate decision-making, including how a brand chooses to position itself within a market.
- Define and activate organizational values: Values are what an organization believes and the behaviors it agrees to live by every day. They provide guidance to employees on how the company expects them to do their jobs and interact with all stakeholders. Organizations must know and activate their values through a values-aligned workplace culture before they define their brand position.
Once identified, values must be integrated clearly and consistently through the brand’s promise and customer experience. Misalignment between these can result in a quick breakdown of trust if the marketplace senses inconsistencies between how an organization says they’ll show up and how they do in reality. The marketplace is ultimately responsible for deciding whether a brand is authentic and trustworthy, making values critical to the internal and external experience.
- Assess the competitive market and macro trends: A competitive audit evaluates a brand’s current position in the marketplace compared to its key competitors. Discovering the company’s current position enables the organization to assess where the brand is today, whether that aligns with where it wants to be and what ownable territory the brand could claim. This audit, combined with an assessment of emerging global and industry trends, helps the company define a relevant and differentiated brand position aligned with its objectives.
Only after an organization defines all of these strategic business elements can it bring its brand to life through various tactical expressions, including:
- A brand persona: How an organization’s brand would manifest as a human with a personality, tone of voice and aspirations, challenges, motivations and skills
- Customer journey maps: Identify all of the key cross-channel interactions each of the organization’s targeted audiences has with a brand, including where they find, engage, buy and stay in touch with the business
- Brand voice guidelines: Distill the brand positioning down to adjectives and rules that help communicators deliver a consistent message and tone of voice wherever the brand shows up
- Visual brand elements: Include all of the graphic elements that bring a brand to life visually, including the logo, colors, images, icons and typography
- Visual brand guidelines: Provide standards for how an organization should use graphic elements of a brand, including the logo, brandmark and typography to ensure consistency of look and feel
Why brand identity is important
Brand identity, including a corporate logo, is still a critical and foundational aspect of brand work. It’s a visual reflection of who the organization is, what it stands for and believes, and how it’s different from competitors. A refreshed visual brand can create an eye-catching platform that starts conversations with audiences about the changes happening at the organization to support the new brand position.
Graphic designers play a vital role in translating a brand’s strategic position into visual forms that capture attention, resonate with audiences, transfer seamlessly across cultures and render well in various visual environments (e.g., print, digital, black and white). Skilled designers use tools like mood boards to bring visual elements of a brand together to communicate the visual tone and direction for a brand provide an opportunity to react:
- What feelings do the visuals evoke? Do those match the emotions the brand is trying to convey?
- Do the adjectives included in the brand voice guidelines come through in the chosen visuals?
- Will the brand resonate with the targeted audiences?
Organizations that pair their strategic brand position with a strong brand identity can establish clear competitive differentiation, stronger brand affinity and loyalty, improved brand experience and trust and greater employee engagement. Together, they create differentiated brands that grow with purpose.
About Nicki Gibbs, EVP, Strategy
Nicki Gibbs leads strategy and services development at Beehive Strategic Communication. She has more than 20 years of strategic communication experience at Twin Cities PR agencies and on behalf of clients ranging from family-held businesses to multi-national organizations. Nicki helps companies discover, articulate and activate their authentic brand positions to reflect their purpose and values, and to meet the changing needs of the marketplace. Nicki’s ability to imagine what’s possible creates contagious enthusiasm that moves businesses forward.