What makes a brand?

What makes a brand?

Proposition, Personality and Purpose

There are some brands out there so well known, you don’t even need to see the full advertisement to recognise which company they belong to – I’m thinking Marks and Spencer, John Lewis, PG Tips, and even Aldi who has become a firm contender among these big boys.

As a little girl, I remember my Dad seeing this billboard and saying, “Wow, there’s a brand that’s made it.”  Do you know who this advert belongs to?

Brands are everywhere – they are part of our lives, culture, politics – whether we like it or not.  We all recognise these images, but what actually makes a brand?

A brand is so much more than a logo.  A brand is an idea system made up of a whole network of associations that represent a particular company, object, organization, or even a person.  A brand isn’t a product either, as Walter Landor once said, “Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind.”  If you look at those well known logos in the graphic above, each one will conjure up a particular context or image.  For me, Coca Cola makes me think parties and sharing; Nike makes me think running and fast; Starbucks…delicious coffee; Apple… better than a PC.  A person thinks and feels things about a brand and thus, each one is a standalone entity that exists outside of the product or consumer need.  Jeff Bezos defines it nicely, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”  A brand encapsulates everything an organization stands for, including: how the organization expresses itself, the perceptions people have of it, and the sum total of every interaction that takes place with it.

When building a brand, there are many things you need to think about ranging from visual identity to voice.  But I want to focus on an area that many smaller businesses tend to neglect – the three P’s of your brand: Proposition, Personality, and Purpose.

  1. Brand Proposition – also known as the brand statement or brand promise – this is the most inspiring and compelling information an organisation can convey about its brand to its audience. It is the promise of what you will deliver if a customer buys/uses your brand.  It should summarise the single most convincing reason to choose your brand, which could be functional or emotional.  A strong emotional connection can create valuable brand equity and fierce brand loyalty.  The most powerful brand propositions are short and concise, as well as authentic.  The challenge for the writer is to communicate what the brand believes in, its values and personality.

Some examples of great propositions:

  • Nike: We bring innovation & inspiration to every athlete in the world.
  • Starbucks: The ‘third place’ – your home away from home.
  • Coors Light: The World’s Most Refreshing Beer
  • BMW: The Ultimate Driving Machine
  • Apple: Think Different
  • H&M: More fashion choices that are good for people, the planet and your wallet.
  • Tag Heuer – Success. It’s a Mind Game.
  • PlayStation – Live in your world. Play in ours.
  • Ajax – Stronger than dirt.

In order to come up with your brand proposition, think about how you want to project your brand forward to where you want to be; how do you want to be perceived and why should a customer believe that you can meet their needs?  The proposition should encapsulate the essence of your business – it should be motivating and engaging to your customers and distinctive from the competition.  This is an opportunity to establish the brand’s ‘tone of voice’ – and will usually be the first words associated with the brand.  Advertising alone often struggles to deliver value if the brand proposition is not clear and meaningful.  A strong proposition, however, stands very well on its own.  In a recent study, the value of brands that focused on their propositions rose 76% over 10 years, even where they didn’t have excellent advertising.

  1. Brand Personality – is the brand’s character. In order to make a brand stand out it’s important to assign human characteristics which will shape how the brand speaks, behaves, thinks, acts, and reacts.  Red Bull has it. Dove has it.  So do countless others.  Apple is young and hip, whereas IBM is mature and set in its ways.  A good question to ask yourself is, ‘If your brand were a person, how would you describe its personality?’  It gives people something to connect to.  This is relevant whatever size your company is, whether you’re freelance or a huge corporation.  Think about what is special about the way you do things.  Are you lighthearted and fun?  Serious and businesslike?  Down-to-earth?  How do you want people to experience your services/brand?  If you’re freelance, let people know what’s unique about you – share your quirky hobbies.  Be interesting.
  1. Brand Purpose – is all about establishing a deep connection with your audience. It sounds a bit lofty, but a powerful brand purpose sets out how a company intends to change the world for the better.  It’s one of the major things that separates the big players from the little ones.  When thinking of your brand purpose, ask yourself why. Why are we in the business that we’re in?  Yes, you’re in it to make money, but if you want to connect with other people, you’ve got to have a deeper philosophy than just that.  The evidence is clear: brands with purpose are more attractive.  Simon Senek, author of ‘Start with Why’, puts it like this, “People don’t buy what you do.  They buy why you do it.”

A good example of a purposeful brand is Dove whose mission is something far more profound than selling soap and hygiene products.  Dove is using its brand to help improve the self esteem of girls and women worldwide.  They have recognized that low self esteem is a problem, particularly for females.  Through their #speakbeautiful movement, Dove is seeking to help women gain more confidence in their beauty and encourages these women to use social media to say positive things about themselves and others. Does this earn Dove a profit?  Not directly, but it makes their brand easier to relate to and gives them a greater presence.  It’s a purpose you really can’t argue against, and is a great way for Dove to impact the world while making money. 

The three P’s of your brand are equal to your compass; they guide every interaction and every decision you make at every level of the organisation – they are your identity.

Finally, remember that consistency is key.  As award-winning branding consultant Simon Mainwaring has put it, “Define what your brand stands for, it’s core values and tone of voice, and then communicate consistently in those terms.”  It’s as simple as that.