The Biggest Problem With Brand

If I put 10 branding experts around a table and ask them to each give me their definition of a brand component – let’s say positioning – I’ll get 10 slightly different answers.

That’s okay, branding is a creative process and there’s definitely room for subjectivity.

What isn’t okay is that if I bring those 10 people back to that table a week later and ask them the same question again, I’ll get yet another 10 answers, all slightly different from the ones they gave the week before.

How can we expect branding to be taken seriously by our customers, when we don’t seem take it seriously ourselves?

Perhaps it’s because I’m a little on the spectrum, but I find this apparent lack of process deeply distressing, which is why I’m such an enthusiastic proponent of a model created about 35 years ago, long before anyone ever talked of instagram, big data or even content marketing.

The author of the model is a chap, now in his 80s, called David Aaker, and his creation is called The Strategic Brand Planning Model.

This model breaks down brand architecture in such a comprehensive way that ensures nothing falls between the cracks. He talks about the core of the brand, but then builds this out in four distinct directions:

  • Brand as person – so how does it walk, talk and act. What’s the tone of voice, etc.
  • Brand as organisation – so organisational values and other factors impacting the employee experience.
  • Brand as product – so the more rational/functional dimensions of the brand.
  • And finally brand as symbol, so all the visual stuff – the logo, the colour palette, the typeface, etc

Under this he then places the brand’s value proposition for each of its target audiences, before moving onto the execution and analysis.

This highly structured approach ensures a certain consistency and rigour that in my experience clients find hugely reassuring. After all, fear of risk and uncertainty is the primary emotion we’re trying to help the client navigate and minimise, so being the greater structure we can bring to a subject so famously vague and nebulous, the more we ease their mind and improve their experience. Perhaps of even greater importance, when their boss challenges them on the branding decisions, be it a day later or year later, they have no trouble in explaining the decisions that were reached and why. This ability for your decision maker to explain and justify each part of their engagement with you to their colleagues and superiors is not to be underestimated, particularly within a B2B context.

Admittedly a lot has changed since David Aaker’s model was released and the one we work with here has a tonne of other elements to accommodate these changes, such as “brand as content” and “brand as sound”, but the underlying framework is as relevant as ever. My point, however, is not to preach about his model or our variation of it. I’m sure there are a thousand other equally sensible ways of structuring and defining brand. What matters is that you have one.