Those of you fortunate or unfortunate enough to know something about marketing will be well aware that the word ‘brand’ can carry a multitude of meanings. Specifically, whilst the lay person might think immediately of the visual manifestation of brand - the name, the logo and so on - a marketing professional will usually offer up a definition along the lines of “what a person thinks when they hear your company’s name”.

Just how powerful a successful brand of that nature can be is apparent if we play a quick game of word association. When I say “Volvo, Volkswagen, Mercedes” I would be pretty sure you will reply along the lines of “safety, reliability, luxury” and if you don’t either their respective marketing departments have wasted a lot of money or you haven’t been paying much attention.

That is a true brand - and the visual identity, logo and so on should emerge organically from that definition rather than the other way around.

That’s the textbook way to look at things, but as we all know textbooks have a pretty poor head-to-head record when up against practical reality. The truth is that in many cases growing organisations don’t yet have a clear sense of brand identity, either in their own heads or in that of the consumer. Bouffant-haired marketing consultants don’t come cheap after all. So when an organisation of this type is looking to develop or evolve their visual identity we step into that vacuum.

We do so by asking 7 key questions to a variety of stakeholders, ideally representing employees, customers, prospect and partner - although not every question is relevant to every audience. We then talk about the responses we receive and attempt to match those responses with the realities of the existing market. At the end of that process we have a fair approximation of a brand identity that we can then begin to make real. That identity informs our design decisions, but we’ve also found that clients find the results incredibly helpful when it comes to talking about their product and service in a broader context.

Here’s the 7 questions we ask. Try it yourself - you may get some surprising (and useful) results:

What does the business / product do?

It sounds obvious, probably because it is. But challenging management, customers and partners to answer this question in their own words can provide a surprising amount of variation - and variation like that provides lots of material for further debate and refinement.

Is there a unique story behind the company, or company name?

We think in terms of stories, and if a name already exists it can be invaluable to collect insight from those who helped to choose it. Customers can contribute here too: it could be an existing name creates associations or assumptions that have not previously been considered.

Who are your customers & what ’job’ does the product do for them?

This question is key. The answer to the first part is not a list of companies, but more a detailed description of the type of individual who makes the purchasing decision or uses the product, and the role they occupy in an organisation (if you are in the B2B space). The second part requires thinking creatively about the ‘job’ the product does for them. I could write an entire post about this subject (and probably will). It can be hard to get customers in particular to articulate their motivations in these terms, but the answers you get will always be helpful

Do you have any competitors? And If ‘Yes’, how do you differ from them?

This is usually straightforward enough, but again you will find answers vary - and customers and management will have very different ideas! A comprehensive answer to this question will help identify potential niches in the customer’s mind and perhaps existing approaches it may be useful to oppose or disrupt.

What are the company’s core values?

Here we are closer to conventional brand thinking. In larger organisations, you would certainly hope to hear consistent answers to this question - even from those outside the company. But in growing businesses that won’t be the case. Again, the ability to collect and then consider multiple conflicting answers will be grist to any creative mill. Remember to keep people focused on values and away from simple description of what the company does - which has already been covered.

What is your ‘point of difference’ as a company?

Although there’s some overlap with the discussion of competitors above, this is another great way to allow your respondents freedom to open up about what really makes the company tick. As the question doesn’t ask about any specific aspect of the company you’ll discover what is truly important, for that individual at least - and consequently what the brand should convey.

If the company was a….

A fun comparison game to end with. We’re all familiar with this idea: if the company was a car, animal, city, famous brand - which would it be. This question allows respondents to get creative, but you’ll almost certainly get some useful responses, particularly from the famous brand comparison. For additional context ask why in each case, but prepare for some strange answers.

Remember, the answers to all these questions need to be filtered. They support group discussion and help surface key ideas and attitudes, but they won’t give the answer in themselves. Take time to document and interrogate responses, and if necessary go back and ask again.

It will be well spend if it results in a clear understanding of what your business is all about.

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