Hello world! I am back after a bit of a hiatus to share a few thoughts and an insightful interview with you about something that has been inundating my work lately: branding. You see, when I first started my business and working with clients on writing and editing a variety of copy (everything from technical reports, to proposals, brochures, and website material), I went through a process. That process went something like this: research the compay, their competitors, their target market, establish objectives (what messages were they trying to communicate), then write in a voice that represented their company. Just like every great author has a voice, every great company needs a distinct way of communicating with the public. I had no idea, until I stumbled into a conversation with Kristin Moore, owner of KMoore Creative (www.kmoorecreative.com), that what I was really doing was helping companies brand.
For a long time I thought branding meant coming up with a company name and a logo. It all seemed very segregated to me; writers wrote copy, web designers made websites, graphic designers made pretty designs on computers for books or brochures or billboard signs, and the marketing department or advertising agency came up with catchy slogans. Not until recently did I realize that all these elements were interconnected and integral to a company distinguishing itself from the rest. In fact it was that conversation with Kristin that turned the lightbulb on. The most important duty of any creative consultant, whether it’s a writer, designer, or marketing expert, is to help shape a company’s brand. And the mark of success is company recognition.
As a follow-up to my conversation with Kristin I asked her if we could do an interview for my blog. As a designer, but more so a branding guru, Kristin has shaped some of the most recognized companies in the world today, like US Airways, Hyatt, and T Rowe Price. I wanted Kristin’s opinion on what business owners, and all of us creative types helping them, should be thinking about when we work to go from no-name to a household brand. Here’s what she had to say:
I don’t think a lot of people understand the difference between creating a product or service, and creating a brand—what is branding?
Anyone can create a product or develop a service, but it’s the brand of that product/service that communicates to its audience. Creating a brand is a way of speaking to your audience the attributes that set your product/service apart from your competitors.
What is the connection between branding and marketing?
There is actually a lot of overlap between branding and marketing. You need both to be successful. Without a quality brand the marketing strategy will fail. And without a quality marketing plan, a brand is useless. Many people get confused by the two words, but the way I see it is the brand is the visual and voice representation of a product or service. Marketing is a plan to make the brand visible; whether through a website or collateral development, social networking, advertising, sales presentations, TV, radio…you get the idea.
What is the most important element of a brand?
That’s a hard question. A brand is never one element, or it is not successful. So many clients think that if they have a strong logo they have a brand. But a logo is just a small piece of the total pie. A brand includes visual elements, like color and imagery, and also has a consistent tone of voice.
What to you is a great example of a brand and why?
It’s funny that you ask this question. I need to tell a little story, so many clients come to me and say that they want a logo like Nike. This happens quite frequently; my answer to them is do you have billions of dollars to put into a marketing campaign? Nike is a perfect example of how extreme impact can make a brand successful.
A different example is Google. When a name of a company becomes the phrase for an action, they have hit the big time. People don’t say “I’m going to use my search engine to find the information”. Instead they say, “I’m going to Google it”. That’s a serious brand!
But a company doesn’t have to spend billions of dollars to have a successful brand, or become the next “it” word. They just need consistency across all of their materials, know their competitors, and have a good marketing plan.
You are a designer, but more so, you specialize in helping companies with brand identity. What inspired you to focus on this creative aspect?
I am an artist at heart, but the idea of how powerful design can be with the right communication is inspiring! I enjoy working with clients to create a brand that works best for them to get the result they are looking for. There’s nothing better than happy clients!
What is the process you go through with companies to help them define who they are?
Well…if I told you that I would be giving all my secrets away, wouldn’t I? Just kidding. I usually start with a discovery phase where I interview key decision makers, ask them specific questions about their industry, competitors, and goals. I then complete a design audit where I review all of their existing materials and ask about their sales process. I review their competitors in detail and discuss with the client what their differentiators are. We may work on their “elevator” pitch (a short sales pitch), mission statement, and tagline. The next step is creating a communication plan, which is like a marketing plan. This plan describes all the deliverables that I am recommending to reach their end goal. It may be a phased approach depending upon budget. Then we go into implementation.
What is the biggest reason for brand failure?
Consistency. That seems easy, right? But generally companies have a hard time keeping the visuals and voice consistent across all forms of communication. Typically they try to re-invent the wheel every time they work on a new marketing piece, instead of using the same visuals and consistent voice from other materials. Audiences need to be spoken to with repetition for a good brand to soak in.
How much does psychology and target market analysis play in branding?
If a client has the budget, I recommend a thorough investigation of who their target market is. There may even be focus testing involved where you get reactions and opinions from random people before launching a big expensive campaign. It’s very important to know your audience and how to reach them. Depending upon the client’s service or product this can be easy or difficult.
If someone can’t afford to hire a branding specialist like you what is the one thing they can do to set themselves apart from the crowd?
Do their research. Look at their competitors, and focus on what makes them different.
There are different cost levels of brand strategy though. For a lower cost you could do some basic discovery and research and move forward from there. On the higher end would be a more in depth discovery and research phase, which can take months, but in the end the brand positioning is right on point with no question. I recommend at a minimum for any company to do some basic brand strategy, or they may end up spending thousands of dollars creating all the elements of a brand that in the end has no result.
Thank-you Kristin for all of your expert insight on a topic that is often a mystery. For more branding expertise, contact Kristin through her website: www.kmoorecreative.com or by phone: 323.747.3192.
If you have any questions or comments for me, please contact me through my website: www.aohwrite.com