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What exactly is 'brand'?

09 Oct 2018 by Mike Tisdall

It’s just one of those words, isn’t it? So open to interpretation. So dependent upon the predisposition of the listener or reader. Even after all these years in the branding and communication game, there are...

Brand
what exactly is 'brand'? mike tisdall

it’s just one of those words, isn’t it? so open to interpretation. so dependent upon the predisposition of the listener or reader. even after all these years in the branding and communication game, there are still plenty of client folk out there who hear ‘brand’ and think ‘logo’.

in my blog post on brand lingo, i talked about all the branding terms that get bandied about and attempted to lock down some logical definitions the help differentiate one from the other. but even the word ‘brand’ itself means different things to different people at different times. i alluded to that in the opening paragraphs of that earlier post, where i let slip my most favourite of definitions, jeff bezos’ “a brand is what people say about you after you leave the room.”

but over the years, i’ve actually quietly been collecting quite a hoard of definitions of the word. some of them are actually really good, others not so much. and from my select few favourites, i tend to pick the one most relevant to the client discussion at hand that will help them move their thinking forward in the most appropriate context.

the best ones, like bezos’ ‘after you leave the room’, have a go at deflecting thoughts of ‘logo’ and ‘visual identity’ to something a lot broader that captures the total sum of parts ethos.

here are a few more that i can find myself nodding to:

“a brand is a promise. it’s a promise that your company can keep. and you make and keep that promise in every marketing activity, every action, every corporate decision, every customer interaction.”

“a brand is an authentic reflection of the company’s true vision.” 

“a brand is the organising principle of how a company operates and communicates.”

“part art, part science, ‘brand’ is the difference between a bottle of soda and a bottle of coke.”

and

“a brand is really a way of remembering what something is like for future reference. something you value. something you feel attracted to.”

 

beyond the above succinct one-liners, i’ve also collected a few slightly more fulsome narratives that help give boundaries to the word ‘brand’.

“the brand is the character, style and purpose that serves as the foundation for your business, like the roots of a tree. you have to stop thinking of ‘the brand’ as a layer of polish that makes your brand pretty.”

“businesses often think about branding after they’ve built the core of their business, when the branding should have been the core of the business.”

and a series of sage phrases from brand strategist, matthew fenton, out of chicago:

“think ‘experience’ not ‘branding’, and your branding will get better.”

“branding is not about logos, taglines or heartstring-tugging ads – they are merely coats of paint.” 

“brands are built in the doing, not the saying.”

 

what’s your favourite definition of the ‘brand’ word? 

if we can narrow the frame of reference, individual words can actually mean what we think we’re saying. just don’t get me started on ‘sustainability’!

brand, branding, brand definition

Brand Lingo – let’s speak the same language

07 Aug 2018 by Mike Tisdall

Despite the fact that I deal with the term ‘brand’ on a daily basis, the irony is that I have a love/hate relationship with the word. And that’s because whenever a client uses the word, I have to stop them and...

Brand
brand lingo – let’s speak the same language mike tisdall

despite the fact that i deal with the term ‘brand’ on a daily basis, the irony is that i have a love/hate relationship with the word. and that’s because whenever a client uses the word, i have to stop them and ask them what they mean when using it because it means so many things to so many people. do they mean their logo? do they mean the brand colour? do they mean the customer experience? or are they using the word in the fullest sense of what i like to think the word really means – in jeff bezos’ words: “what people say about you after you leave the room”. 

and there are so many nuances within all that. so let’s have a look at some of the branding terms that get bandied about and define what they mean, how they describe slightly different things, and where they sometimes overlap:

brand equity
this is the commercial value of all associations and expectations that people have of a brand based on all their experiences with, and perceptions of, the brand over time. that sounds very academic, but think of it as the reservoir of goodwill that a brand can rely on, as long as the reservoir remains full. if people think highly of a brand, it enjoys positive brand equity, but when a brand consistently disappoints enough for people to talk about avoiding it, then it has negative brand equity.

the great thing about positive brand equity is that a company can charge more for a product under that brand; or introduce brand extensions so that the company can sell a wider range of products under that brand.

brand image
brand image is the sum total of perceptions resulting from all the experiences and knowledge someone has had of the brand. it is the impression of the brand in a consumer’s mind.

brand associations
anything a consumer brings to mind, consciously or unconsciously, when presented with the brand. these associations could be organisational, product related, symbolic or personified. they can include awareness, accessibility, value, relevance, differentiation, emotional connection, preference, usage, loyalty and vitality. for example, when somebody says kfc to me, i think of the colour red and an old southern american dude.

brand positioning
this is the way the brand is perceived comparatively within a given competitive set in the consumer’s mind. so it's all relative - a relevant differentiation is the most important aspect of brand positioning because it allows your brand to ‘own’ a distinctive position within your target customer's head. 

the brand’s brand position should be a function of the brand promise, and may relate to quality, innovation, leadership, value, prestige, trust, safety, reliability, performance, convenience, concern for customers, social responsibility, technological superiority etc.

brand essence
this is the heart and soul of the brand – a brand’s fundamental nature or quality, usually stated in two to three words. it’s often emotional and intangible and so speaks to the heart more than the head. examples include nike (‘innovation and inspiration’), southwest airlines (‘freedom’) and volvo (‘safety’). this is powerful stuff!

brand promise
sometimes called a brand value proposition, a brand promise is your brand telling the world what to expect from it. it states the differentiated benefits that are relevant and compelling to your consumer – they can be functional, experiential, emotional or self-expressive.

brand personality
basically, it’s a bunch of adjectives that describe the brand, such as fun, kind, safe, sincere, sophisticated, cheerful, old fashioned, reliable, progressive etc. it’s something to which the consumer can relate because, more often than not, it’s a set of human characteristics attributed to a brand name.

brand identity
this is where we get a bit closer to the stereotypical 'brand = logo' ignorance. your brand identity is a combination of sensory components that create recognition and represent the brand promise, such as what it looks like, what it sounds like, and sometimes, even what it smells like (think peter alexander or lush retail stores).

brand portfolio
the mix of brands and sub-brands owned by an organisation. these brands can sometimes be related in a ‘branded house’ configuration with overt connections to each other, and, conversely, they can be part of a ‘house of brands’ where the various brands aren’t obviously related to each other at all. basically, when you’ve got a handful of different brands or sub-brands, you need to start thinking about how they relate to each other or not. and most likley what you’ve currently got is some degree of chaos brought about by the legacy of past management decisions, some acquisitions along the way and some competitive realities involving strong brand equity situations that you dare not meddle with. and that’s where some ‘brand architecture’ planning can prove life-changing. see below.

brand architecture
brand architecture is a system that organises how a family of brands relate to one another. it indicates how many levels of hierarchy there are, which brands sit at which level in the hierarchy, which relate as brand/sub-brand, and which remain independent of each other.

 

and that's a good place to end, as brand architecture opens the door on another whole raft of branding jargon which we can perhaps take a look at when we’ve all had a lie down and a cup of tea. in the meantime, hopefully the above list and descriptions will help you separate the different notions in your mind, so that when we talk, we're talking the same lingo.

branding, brand essence, brand architecture, brand promise, brand identity, brand personality, brand portfolio, brand positioning

Storytelling for the Charities sector

03 Oct 2017 by Mike Tisdall

The charity sector in New Zealand is facing new reporting standards with the gradual adoption of Statement of Service Performance (SSP) in addition to the traditional financial reporting. RSM New Zealand, an...

Brand
storytelling for the charities sector mike tisdall

the charity sector in new zealand is facing new reporting standards with the gradual adoption of statement of service performance (ssp) in addition to the traditional financial reporting.

rsm new zealand, an accounting and audit firm with a leadership position in the not-for-profit sector, held a seminar in mid-september to coach management in the skills needed to meet the new requirements, report beyond financials, and optimise the telling of their story.  

insight’s founder and strategist, mike tisdall, outlined some key tools to help these organisations structure their thinking, understand their audiences, plan perception shifts, and simplify and clarify their key messaging. using mainly corporate best practice examples, mike was able to show the audience how storytelling can reach out to both hearts and minds by capturing the soul of the organisation, painting the vision and supporting the big picture with facts and data to indicate progress towards the goals.

examples from the corporate world included mercury, vector, sanford, auckland airport and ravensdown. but insight has also been applying these storytelling principles to selected nfps for a number of years, and shared a series of award winning reports for stand children’s services (previously children’s health camps) to show how the principles can easily make the transition from corporates to charities.

mike tisdall, storytelling, reporting, not-for-profits, charities sector, statements of service performance

5 Secret Sauce ingredients for an authentic annual report

01 Sep 2017 by Mike Tisdall

Telling your story powerfully is central to brand strategy, and when Mercury rebranded last year, their annual report was one of the first vehicles off the rank. Now winning the accolade of ‘Best International Annual...

Brand
5 secret sauce ingredients for an authentic annual report mike tisdall

telling your story powerfully is central to brand strategy, and when mercury rebranded last year, their annual report was one of the first vehicles off the rank. now winning the accolade of ‘best international annual report’ in 2017’s global arc awards, the report reinforces our assertion that annual reports are one of a company’s most powerful brand positioning assets.

it is now the key lens we look through when discussing investor communications with clients - because the annual report has become so much more than an investor communication. one ceo briefed me last reporting season that he wanted his annual report to be his new 'international calling card' because he had such a new and different story to tell. we delivered that in august.

when this 'corporate repositioning' trickle trend started to turn into a rapidly flowing river lat year, i asked myself whether the annual report was the right vehicle for this task - wondering whether a corporate profile and website upgrade wasn't the more appropriate approach. and then i realised that the annual report is being seen as the 'ultimate corporate profile' - because it has the gravitas, the stamp of corporate authority, signed by the board itself to send the strongest possible signal that this is who we are.

in august we launched two other reports with perception-shifting goals. the first was for vector - a report that signficantly changes the game in terms of what business they're in. and the second was ravensdown's first integrated annual report - taking a highly authentic approach by lifting the shrouds and exposing their soul. another report that will shift people's perceptions of the company.

we first saw the power of this 'brand soul' expression in the first integrated report we produced for sanford in 2014. the respect for sanford accelerated rapidly over the weeks and months following publication. the perception needle shifted demonstrably and people looked once again at the company and saw it with fresh eyes that matched its fresh leadership. this report too went on to win many awards, locally and internationally.

so what's the secret sauce here that has made these reports really 'work' for the companies behind them?

  • first, it's leadership. like all such things, it starts right at the top.
  • second, it's authenticity. these companies don't try to pull any wool. they embrace the notions of corporate citizenship, shared value creation and 'doing the right thing' and have embedded these values deepy within their company cultures. it ain't ever lip service. it's genuine behaviours, their core belief systems, the way they naturally think. and more and more, it's about transparency - believing that honesty and openness will win out over any concerns about feeding strategies to competitors. they've come to realise that a competitor might be able to copy a strategy, but they can't copy the 'package' of authenticity that gives it true differentiation. the companies are simply organised this way, from the top down. and they hire the right people who think incredibly responsibly. at the end of the day, it's about 'trust'.
  • third, the companies' strategies and visions are exceptionally well conceived and thoroughly thought through. they're elegant in their cohesion, with no hint of hedging bets, commercial dilution or dissonance.
  • fourth, the visions, values and implementation strategies have utter clarity and are very simply articulated - internally (critically important) as well as externally.
  • fifth, they work with us to clarify and amplify that articulation and adopt powerful storytelling techniques - both visual and voice.

we've shared our stories about vector, ravensdown and this year's mercury reports elsewhere on this website, but by way of explaining the above theories in practice, here's a little background about how we went about last year's mercury report that has just been judged last year's best international annual report by arc. 

the 2016 annual report was the first major publication following their rebrand from mighty river power, expressing everything the new brand stands for. it set the tone for how they wanted to be perceived from that day forward.

because the brand shift from mighty river power to mercury was so visually striking, our challenge was to not spook investors about the change but to clearly show continuity while boldly illustrating everything had changed under the new brand. no easy ask.

we made the new brand the hero, unfolding the brand story over the opening three spreads. showcasing the visual identity and positioning the brand as a new expression of their ongoing customer-led business strategy was key. 

a new strategy spread and business model diagram were introduced to tell the continuing investor story in a fresh way, more aligned with a more dynamic retail-led brand. magazine style case studies were used to showcase the brand story in action, highlighting how the core aspects of the brand manifest themselves every day in 'what matter most.' 

see our full case study in our work section

arc awards, best international annual report 2017, mercury 2016 annual report, insight creative

Airways appoints Insight Creative as their design agency

12 Jun 2017 by Mike Tisdall

We're excited to have been appointed as Airways Corporation's design & digital agency after a rigorous competitive pitch. Airways controls all domestic and international air traffic across 30 million square...

Brand
airways appoints insight creative as their design agency mike tisdall

we're excited to have been appointed as airways corporation's design & digital agency after a rigorous competitive pitch.

airways controls all domestic and international air traffic across 30 million square kilometres of airspace in new zealand and over the pacific, handling over 1 million air traffic movements a year.

but what's a little less known in nz is that they are renowned globally for leading innovation and development in the aviation sector, with 780 staff delivering air navigation and air traffic management consultancy and training services in over 65 countries!

it's going to be a fascinating and fun journey . . .

airways, insight creative

Inside Out Branding

03 Nov 2016 by Mike Tisdall

The November issue of Idealog magazine features quality branding advice from our CEO, Steven Giannoulis. Some particular gems: "Making the brand rhetoric true has wide-reaching implications, requiring a review of...

Brand
inside out branding mike tisdall

the november issue of idealog magazine features quality branding advice from our ceo, steven giannoulis. some particular gems: "making the brand rhetoric true has wide-reaching implications, requiring a review of everything from organisational design, culture, sales practices, products and services and operational processes." and "in many ways, developing an appealing brand and sales story is the easy bit. making them true is how brands go to that next level in creating enduring value."

click the image to read.

 

The Evolution of the Ports of Auckland brand

02 Jun 2015 by Mike Tisdall

While the Ports of Auckland are currently embroiled in a public standoff over wharf extension into the Auckland Harbour, there's still no doubt about the short- and long-term economic impact the Port has on our city....

Brand
the evolution of the ports of auckland brand mike tisdall

while the ports of auckland are currently embroiled in a public standoff over wharf extension into the auckland harbour, there's still no doubt about the short- and long-term economic impact the port has on our city. and their visual identity needs to operate by the rules of commercial necessity too. and so, in mid-2014, we embarked on an evolutionary update of their logo, colour palette and typography to keep them fresh and contemporary. creative director, brian slade talks about the process and the lessons for other companies looking to refresh their visual identities in this article in the may/june edition of marketing magazine. you can read it online at stoppress here.

 

ports of auckland, brand refresh

Major law firm gets a rebrand

02 Jun 2015 by Mike Tisdall

May saw two exciting developments for law firm, Meredith Connell. First, government announced that the firm had retained the warrant as Auckland's Crown Prosecutor after a lengthy - and much delayed - assessment...

Brand
major law firm gets a rebrand mike tisdall

may saw two exciting developments for law firm, meredith connell. first, government announced that the firm had retained the warrant as auckland's crown prosecutor after a lengthy - and much delayed - assessment process. and second, the firm's bold new brand was launched. it's difficult to be different in the higher echelons of new zealand law firms, but meredith connell were determined to express an explicit point of view and powerfully differentiated personality. you can see a full case study on the 'work' section of this site, and also have a look at the new website we launched as part of the new brand launch: www.mc.co.nz

 

 

brand, meredith connell, insight creative

Workplace graphics to 'live' in the brand

16 Apr 2015 by Mike Tisdall

To design, produce and install signage in Transpower's new Auckland Office in time for their opening day meant we only had 15 days from briefing, through design to installation. By knowing our clients brands intimately...

Brand
workplace graphics to 'live' in the brand mike tisdall

to design, produce and install signage in transpower's new auckland office in time for their opening day meant we only had 15 days from briefing, through design to installation. by knowing our clients brands intimately through long working relationships, at least the design part of the project becomes easier . . .

Do you need an Investor Brand?

28 May 2014 by Mike Tisdall

If you're a stock exchange listed company, investor perception of you as an investment is crucially important to encourage ownership, and help underpin share price. Well built, an Investor Brand can give your share...

Brand
do you need an investor brand? mike tisdall

if you're a stock exchange listed company, investor perception of you as an investment is crucially important to encourage ownership, and help underpin share price.

well built, an investor brand can give your share price resilience

an investor brand won’t stop the market panicking, but it should help investors make more informed and rational decisions about how they perceive your stock, and it should ensure that your stock is more resilient in the face of market panic.

what is a ‘brand’ anyway? and why does the concept apply to investment?

before we go any further, we should perhaps consider what a brand actually is, and why the notion applies to the ‘investor’ part of your business as well as the marketing side. a brand is more than a product, and more than a logo. one of our favourite definitions is: a brand is what people say about you after you’ve left the room.

so, it’s the set of value-associations linked to your name. in the case of marketers, that translates into higher margins. in the case of investors, it translates into stocks that are more accurately valued and that are more likely to be directly associated (by recall) with your strategies. investor brands carry a greater degree of familiarity for investors. people feel they understand them and where they’re going.

a strong brand creates space between you and other stocks competing for the investment

it differentiates the value of what your stock offers from that of your competitors. so it’s about your stock’s overall reputation and profile, and it’s about ensuring that your stock is chosen over another investment options in the same or another asset class. equally, when markets fall, it’s about having the information and awareness in the marketplace that minimises your downside.

to help achieve that, churchill pryce ir suggests that a robust investor brand needs to have associations and present messages to the market that are:

  • meaningful
  • 
memorable
  • 
clear
  • concise

  • comprehensive and

  • compelling
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