Co.Design

$100K of Free Branding Advice, in Just Three Words

Here's a simple formula for successful branding, employed by the best brands in the world.

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There is a moment during every branding presentation I give when I offer something enormously valuable--for free. I tell clients to write down what is essentially the formula for successful branding employed by the best brands in the world. With their undivided attention and pens in hand, I summarize this formula for them in three words: Unify. Simplify. Amplify.

This is how the world's best brands tell their stories effortlessly. Apple. Virgin. Lego. Dyson. Prada. They all apply this formula. But the good news is that this can work for any brand, old and new, large or small-- when designing a new brand identity or refocusing an existing one. This is how it works:

Unify

Know who you are and believe it.

As a company, if you are not unified in your vision, your branding effort will be DOA. Without consensus, your aspiration to become a great brand is a non-starter. No matter the nature of your company--a high-powered law firm, an Internet startup, a new fashion label--you need to speak with a singular voice and agree on who you are and what your value is to your customers.

Naturally, a charismatic visionary can lead the way (i.e. Napoleon, Henry Ford, Sir Richard Branson), but even those titans needed to get their key players aligned. Most often, it's a group of senior executives to start with, but it applies to every individual in the company. There is no other option. They all need to say "yes."

Simplify

Create a clear and compelling message, in words, pictures or both, so that everyone--from your employees to your customers to your mother--can easily understand your brand promise and why they should care about it.

The more memorable this message and image is, the easier it is for "believers" to become "ambassadors" and communicate it to others. The result: They will love you for your clarity.

Amplify

This is where a lot of brands fall short, because it takes determination, commitment, and real money to reinforce your brand identity everywhere. To optimize design and marketing dollars, brands need to work consistently and strategically to activate all touch points with target audiences. Great brands do just that and they never miss.

Take a moment and test this model on your favorite brands. Walk into any Lego store, and you can feel the unified brand message, from each individual Lego brick to the holistic constructive creativity in the space. When your Netflix envelope arrives exactly on time, you know this is what their core values simplify down to: customer service, fulfillment, and delivery. When you lovingly unwrap a new product from Apple, you see their dedication to detail amplified in every respect.

Is it a simple formula? Yes. Easy? No. I estimate that this "free" advice is worth about $100,000 if a company really gets it right. Don't apply this formula and doom your brand to bland.

In the coming months, I'll be showcasing brands that unify, simplify and amplify, and those that do not. I'll be examining ?legacy ?companies and those born yesterday from a wide cross section of industries. If you have a suggestion for a brand that you love that employs this formula well--or examples of ones that don't--I'd like to hear about it. Please share them here.

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4 Comments

  • Taylor Thompson

    These three words definitely produce a simple formula that
    leaves a strong, lasting impression.  I
    would like to say that I think “simplify” is the most important of the three
    that companies and people tend to forget. 
    There seem to be many companies who try to do too much with the brand,
    and instead of successfully branding the company and its products/services,
    they end up disseminating an overly complex and confusing message, which
    actually has the exact opposite of the intended effect.  But after rereading these three steps, I
    realize that they are all just as equally as important; without a single, unified
    voice and vision, a company and its values are lost to consumers; and without
    the determination and commitment to strengthening the brand, the hard path to
    success may not always seem worth it, and failure will almost be
    inevitable.  Successfully executing each
    of these steps will create what Neumeier (2007) calls “trust creation,” the fundamental
    goal of brand design, and will enhance the meanings associated with a
    particular brand.

     

     

    Neumeier, M. (2007).  The
    brand gap: Expanded edition.  Berkeley,
    CA: AIGA, Newriders & Peachpit Press.

  • Guy Parker

    Well said about the need for unification within an organization and even more important is the need for leadership, along with employees, to be in alignment with the brand’s mission, vision and values. A brand should regularly re-assess their core values to determine if they still resonate with the brand promise and personality. If not, then they need to realign their brand position. Simplification becomes more complicated. A compelling message is important, but even more so is its relevance to the target audience. Is the brand targeting the correct audience, and if so, are the communications authentic to the brand? Ravi Sawhney speaks about brand advocacy in his blog post (FastCoDesign, June 23, 2011). Brand adoption occurs when products are useful and beneficial to the consumer. True advocacy takes place if the consumer’s expectations are substantially exceeded. Sawhney calls these loyal consumers brand evangelists. Amplification is the culmination of “unify” and “simplify.” Amplify works if the unify and simplify phases have been executed accurately and adopted by all of the stakeholders. The ambassadorship starts from within an organization and emanates outward, then the essence of the brand can then be integrated into an authentic brand experience.

  • Chris Henley

    Agreed. Great post Ken, simple, informative and above all damn effective.

  • Josh Silverman

    Ken, this is a brilliant and (naturally) memorable tool. Might I add QUANTIFY as a 4th step?