I've heard many definitions for what a brand is.
"A gut feeling", "a promise", "a person's perception", "what others say about you when you're not in the room".
But these have never felt like they quite cut the mustard for my brain to rationalise. Even if they've come from people who have tremendous experience in brand building, like Jeff Bezos and Marty Neumeier. So I've come up with my own.
Now how did all this come about? Because it's a pretty freakin' audacious claim to just rebrand the terms 'brand' and 'branding'. But it's something people have been doing for decades and for me, it comes down to the need of positioning these concepts in my head and articulate that to my clients to be able to best communicate what we're both working towards for their business' success. So that they're in my own words, sound authentic and I can back myself.
A week prior to the end of the financial year here in Australia, which finished up on June 30, I was having a bit of a freakout. About my business structure, cash flow, who I was attracting for my services and things were just swirling in my head constantly.
This is when I basically said to myself, "enough!". My wife and kids were at my in-laws for the day and I became a man on a mission to position my brand with the clarity I'd not yet bothered to fully execute on my own business. I know, hardly walking the walk, huh?
At about 9:30-10am I turned on Spotify, turned up the volume and wiped off a heap of shit from my whiteboard (not literal shit). With a blank canvas, I put up a heading "THE G'DAY FRANK BRAND" - which you can see in the image below. I've just blurred the goals section because there is only so much leg you show below your skirt on a first date 😉
I started with the column I titled, "WHY FRANK". It probably should have said something like "THE FRANK IDENTITY" to sound cooler. But there you go, that's what it was and included Positioning, Purpose and Values beneath it as sub-sections.
Under 'Positioning', I started with the phrase "Branding with Frank personality". To me, thinking about what I offer and how I'm different, is that I do branding and I communicate that with my own unique personality. Now granted my first name isn't actually Frank (it's Reagan - Frank is my middle name), but it's the persona I've taken on as part of my brand to be a little bit of a Jester, a little bit of a Magician and ultimately a Creator if you were to bucket it me into archetypes.
I've since realised that this is a better fitting definition for my Purpose and that my Positioning is something a little different. So I just wanted to point that out for those of you who are in branding and are going, "huh? That sounds more like a...".
However! What I did write in that Purpose section on the whiteboard was something that changed the game for me.
Firstly, under the words 'Branding', 'Frank' and 'personality' in my positioning section, I wrote down 3-4 attributes that these 3 words represented for the existing brand people know me for.
Branding = Connecting, Distinctive, Considered
Frank = Direct, Unmistakeable, Diligent, Clear
Personality = Energy, Vibrance, Thriving, Captivating
You'll notice that I boldened 3 words above. Yep, they are the ones I circled to become the Core Values of my brand:
Why these and what do they mean?
Clarity is a key outcome of any branding exercise. Having clarity helps identify your goals, why you exist, who your consumers are, why they should choose you, how you communicate with them and how you can captivate their attention to form a long-standing connection between you and them.
Being able to captivate your consumer's attention as the stand out brand over others is what helps drive sales and hit business goals. Because you have seconds to catch someone's eye, let them digest what you've said and have them form a first impression that becomes a connection. If it positively captivates a consumer, you become seen, heard & remembered.
While there are reasons why consumers choose a brand over others, like nostalgia, habit, referral, alignment and price that are emotional decisions. These are caused by connections from brand experiences and even the trusted word of others. These connections can influence one's desire to choose your brand now and over time.
The best part is that I can use this to describe not only what I do for my own brand, but also how I help my clients with their brands. This is why you can see I put them together into a Brand Purpose phrase that became:
Creating captivating moments of connection from clarity
It was at this moment I knew I might have something. I paced around the room, around the house and later in the backyard where I continued this strategy session, saying this out loud over and over like a mad man discovering the word 'moist'.
That said, I pressed on with the rest of my whiteboard sesh and noticed a pattern emerging that you might have recognised. I'm doing things in 3's. Positioning, Purpose and Values. In that initial positioning statement, I had 3 keywords and chose 3 core values from those keywords. This then played out in my targeting as I selected three industries I can best serve. They're quite broad but include, Tech, Home & Living and Health & Wellness.
Before I get off my side-track - choosing and limiting things to 3 improves recall, which is something I'm now doing for my clients as of this year. Because 1 and 2 things are easy to remember, 3 gives more context. Any more and you start forgetting. I'll never forget that I could never remember the 4th 'C word' of my previous employer's values (and no not that C-word). All I can remember is Creativity, Collaboration and Commercial. The fourth is a mystery. So let that be a quick reminder to whittle down your values because your team will then remember them.
Anyhoo, it wasn't until I got outside with the whiteboard, that I got to my Brand Messaging. In other words, what voice and message was I going to consistently communicate? Just like the core values, this was a big one for me because I chop and change my dialogue about branding as much as a pack of 24 rolls of toilet paper apparently runs out in a pandemic.
I still love my "Say G'day Today" call-to-action and my brand statement "Be more than what you sell" in reference to what a Brand Purpose is known as "why you do it beyond making money". So those things weren't going to change.
Now when it came to my tone of voice, I wrote down things like 'Clear', 'Direct', 'Frank', 'Challenging' and 'Passionate'. Yeah not too bad. But it then lead to writing down what a brand is to my clients.
What you're remembered for
How you're recognised
Why people talk about you
Why people come back
It's not the only reason they buy - but it can be a contributing factor
It's a reflection of your people (your team/your consumers)
It's a captivating moment of connection
And that last point right there is when it CLICKED! Not just the sound of me snapping the whiteboard marker lid back on to mark a job well done.
A brand is a captivating moment of connection
Closely followed by:
Branding is creating captivating moments of connection
To go back to the many definitions I've heard for what a brand is. "A gut feeling", "a promise", "a person's perception", "what others say about you when you're not in the room".
For me, a brand is a moment that could be an experience, a feeling or a touchpoint that captivates a consumer's attention. This then forms a connection to that person or business the brand represents. It’s one you can create and it’s one you can choose to have as a consumer.
Because simply saying “it is what others say it is” or it’s “a gut feeling” that implies you have no control of, dismisses the influence you have on those feelings, thoughts, actions and what someone says about you.
Otherwise, why would you need to create distinctive assets and a message that people are attracted to, want to engage with, tell others about and remember you by, in addition to the product/service you offer? Oh and be different from others in your market?
Ultimately, what one person says about your brand is the opinion or perception they are entitled to have and it might be different to another person's view. Good or bad.
But I think as the business/brand, you’re the one that is setting the tone as a result of your branding and creating those moments for people to connect with. Which shapes the 'perception', 'the gut feeling', etc, to what you want them to feel and say it is. Especially if shit hits the fan and you've gotta claw back brand loyalty by managing the conversation or if you a position of needing to outplay and manoeuvre around a new contender for brand awareness.
It comes down to whether or not the consumer at the other end wants to experience that moment and connect. If they do connect, they either agree or disagree with what you’re communicating. Rather than saying “NO NO, you’re actually THIS, to me”. Because how does a consumer know what to expect from a brand they're yet to engage with? Meaning, you're the one setting the tone for that experience of what your brand is to them, right?
However, this isn't to say that a brand can't be what others say it is. McDonald's is a good example of this. It's been in Australia for 50 years as of this year. To many Australians its known as "Macca's" purely because of our need to simplify anyone's name into a kind of shortened slang version, like Steve-o instead of Stephen. Now McDonald's have embraced this name its customers have given it as it's now used in their advertising and signage. So it does show that a brand can be what your consumers say about it. But I see this as something you can choose to embrace or not - much like KFC here in Australia has a known slur of being called "the dirty bird". Does KFC embrace that? No. They work to be anything but what their customer says about them. In essence, you're trying to influence or shape or present the conversation and level of trust your consumers have so that the way you see it is more likely to be how they also see it by way of making that connection with a consumer. So I simply think that it doesn't wholly encapsulate what you're trying to achieve as a brand and what your end consumers experience is.
Same with branding or a brand being described as "a promise". You can most certainly offer your consumers a promise that you will do X, for Y type of people, to help them achieve Z. That could be your brand purpose, positioning statement or even a tagline, call-to-action or simply the description on the back of the shampoo bottle. But to say a brand is a promise leaves out the fact that a brand can be recognised and heard without knowing or understanding what its promise is. Because again, there is a need to create these captivating moments that draw in a consumer to make these connections and those moments are what you become known for when someone thinks of your brand.
Put it this way. Let's say the language your brand uses is playful. Well, your ideal consumers will think you’re playful. Are your colours vibrant and youthful to match your early teen demo clothing brand? Then yep, you’ll be perceived as a clothing brand for young people and will most likely attract those people, or at least their parents who will pick up on those signals. It’s not rocket science but ultimately what I’m getting at is that you’re the ones creating the captivating moments that develop connections and forms a collective understanding of what the brand is and is known for.
Though to achieve this, you do so by clarifying the consumers who will respond to those moments and connect with you as a result of that brand experience. If all goes well it leads to buying into your offering if it ticks the box of serving their needs and/or wants at an agreeable price. But again, price is one of those moments people have when they either get sticker shock, think it's a bargain or that there is an impression of value.
Additionally, the clarity aspect is used to encompass not just the efforts of branding to create a brand identity and touchpoints. But also includes brand strategy, UX/CX, marketing strategy and even business strategy.
So those captivating moments that get your attention? They are the emotional "gut feelings" and experiences.
Those connections are what creates understanding, trust, positive (or negative) experiences that relate to that "promise" and "what others say about you".
While clarity from understanding what your brand needs to be and executing on that in the experience you offer your consumers, is what makes those captivating moments happen. It’s what gives those connections life.
But here’s the duality in it all.
This also applies to the impact this has on teams in business. If you can apply the same approach to growing your team, you’ll be casting and retaining the talent needed to execute the brand you’ve established and achieve business success.
At an underlying level of branding and design, people are solving people problems. Might sound a little lame, but when you rephrase it to say "the right people are solving the right people problems" because you got your brand and team in order, then I think it helps change the game in how you value your brand.
Not to mention, it helps branding consultants like myself to partner with you as a business in establishing your brand. See again, it’s coming back to that rule of 3.
And look this stuff doesn’t need to be groundbreaking either.
If you sell duck-shaped toilet cleaning tabs, all you need to be doing is creating a product that looks appealing on the shelf over others. But if it also tells you how it will make the worst poop smell like lavender. Is easy to use, easy to buy, meets their needs/wants and does what it says it would.
By doing so, you’ll have made a captivating moment where your product caught their attention and they chose your duck over others on the shelf.
You’ll have connected with their need to improve the smell of last night’s Vindaloo curry and beer coming through at 11 am the next day. Which if all goes well, will become a repeat purchase...and hopefully not a repeating fire-breathing poop.
AND! You’ll have been able to achieve this by clearly understanding who needs this (or at least who the likely buyer is), why they need it, how and when they’ll buy it, as well as who else is making something similar to be able to differentiate your Duck from their Puck.
What I’m getting at here is that this is how I now view branding through these 3 simple lenses based on my core values. So as to articulate the role branding has when creating purpose-driven brands for my clients with far greater ease and be given the opportunity to help clients simplify and clarify their position in their market to smash their goals.
In summary, I’ll leave you with my lay of the land, or playing field that I'm now playing on:
A business is an organisation that offers a product or service to a particular market for an agreed market value.
A brand is a captivating moment of connection.
Branding is creating captivating moments of connection from clarity.
So that when a business develops a brand that creates captivating moments of connection from clarity, it breeds the confidence needed for a consumer to buy in 2021.
This is my approach to doing what I do best - Branding with Frank personality.
Say G'day today if you're a business that wants to be seen, heard and remembered.