Finding North

Branding – Science or Art?

Some of the best Branding experts in the field travel with a tool-kit full of models, pyramids, matrices and flow charts. “Tried and Tested” is often offered up, usually at the pre-engagement stage, during discussions at early planning meetings with the Agency or Branding Consultants in question.

But how much weight should a client put on the science behind Branding? What about the art and the inspiration that leads to breakthroughs, especially when naming a new Brand?

As a long adherent to the school of ‘apply whatever works’, one factor above all else, dictates the speed and effectiveness of genuinely mould-breaking Branding, and that is integrity. Integrity is not a science, I’m not even sure it’s an art in the purest sense of the word, but to cut the Brand mustard, integrity of approach and integrity in relation to the credibility gap that exists between the Brand promise and sustainable Brand delivery has to be at the fore.

Ethical considerations being a given, Brand Integrity is also dependent on nurturing a culture that places the Brand at the heart of the organisation’s behaviour. There is an art in finding the connection points that ‘join the dots’ and painting a panoramic picture of how to behave and communicate towards external and internal audiences. The Art of Branding is based in the rational, but holistic in terms of emotional accuracy and understanding.

Generic values, like ‘dedication to high service standards or high production quality’, or ‘best price per proposition’ are not Brand values, no matter how much clients and customers may appreciate it.

The RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institute) a venerable British Charity that happens to be fairly savvy about their marketing of late, is not about eliciting donations for new Lifeboats and rescues stations (although they do need them). Their Brand proposition is based on a deeper emotional understanding of their existing and prospective support base. It’s all about ordinary people, someone’s brother, father or husband, being brave and risking their safety and lives for the wellbeing and rescue of others. In a word, it’s about bravery.

Volvo’s brand is surprisingly not just about solid cars with excellent safety specs, Volvo is about you and your loved ones being safe and feeling protected.

The art behind effective and long-lasting Branding has two facets. It’s about finding the natural harmony of the rational connections and benefits that stem from the organisations offering and proposition (the science bit) and blending this with the emotional wants, needs and hopes of prospects and customers, that the Brand satisfies or promises to satisfy (the art bit). It seems obvious when you read it, but I continually meet clients who still view Branding as the Logo and the design styling across all materials!

Look beyond your Brand Pyramid – stand atop it and ask honestly if you or others in the room ‘feel it’. Dig deeper into the psyche of your different audiences. Uncover the tone of voice, the visual stimuli and the crafted messaging, that both delivers the proposition as well as hitting the ‘bulls-eye’, when it comes to empathy, connection, comfort, and the joy and safety of your clients/prospects.

Virgin Atlantic’s Brand was built on the perfectly simple but powerful Brand Truth ‘You don’t deserve to be treated with arrogance, we believe everyone deserves to be served respectfully (not ripped off) and greeted with warmth and it’s our pleasure to do so’. Price and access to flights were important factors, but the attitude and dedication to living a friendlier Brand that recognised each client as a person, not just another ‘bum on a seat’, has sustained Virgin Atlantic’s customer loyalty, whilst enabling it to survive BA’s best efforts to see it fail over the years.

Brand success is never just about the science, it’s always about ‘head and heart combined’, and it always will be.

The author, Daniel Frohwein is a Brand Impact specialist based in London.