Copywriting and Brand Identity

The process of creating brand identity from copywriting is an old one. It’s been around for as long as language has existed. But its evolutionary pace has been staggering, especially over the last fifty years which have seen the explosive growth of schools of thought, identified strategies for success, and well over half-a-billion documented examples and case studies of branding’s impact on organizations and individuals across societies and cultures around the world.

For a field as old as medicine, law, and music, the language of branding is still primarily a mental projection of ideas and concepts. To add to the complexity of brand identity, every projection is open to interpretation. In a nutshell, branding is big, complex, often misunderstood, always under scrutiny, and plays a vital part in every kind of business imaginable. That’s because branding creates differentiation, and differentiation is key to survival and growth.

A brand’s identity used to be differentiated on the basis of features – what the product could do. This gave way to differentiation based on benefits – how the product could make life easier for you – thus paving the way for branding to target people. Then came differentiation based on emotion – how the product could make you feel. Differentiation based on emotion is powerful. It invoked feelings within consumers and created deep-root bonds for the very first time. Simply put, people felt good when they bought a brand that communicated emotions. Today we’ve gone considerably further. Brands differentiate on the basis of identity – who you are.

The Clan Brand introduces or reinforces an identity for like-minded consumers who collectively create and establish a clan that shares values and ideas with the brand. Consider Apple – the most powerful brand today. Apple customers are a diverse group of people from virtually every type of background. And every single one is united by a common Apple value thread. Whether it’s Apple’s incredibly sleek designs, progressive outlook towards software and hardware development, reliability and robustness, commitment to cleaner environments, or simply a way of dressing and accessorizing – these values permeate Apple’s brandscape and unite every single human being that buys an Apple product. Apple and other mega-brands have enjoyed such success largely due to a simple realization that affects brand identity today.

Brand identity is no longer created by organizations. The evolution of branding vis-a-vis the exponential growth of social media, technology, and information sharing, has led to the control of brand creation and growth being taken away from organizations, and given directly to consumers. Today it’s consumers who make, define, grow and destroy a brand’s identity. Consumers create the boundaries in which brands are allowed to grow and operate. They call the shots together through mass consensus – a relatively easy feat in our hyper-connected world. The majority makes the rules. Word-of-mouth is law. Judgement is based purely on the wisdom of the crowds. The so-called masses pass the verdict on a brand’s performance. They, the consumers, are in power. So what happened?

To put it succinctly, organizations began to create choice. Consumers welcomed it and bought into it. The buying led to more choices. Consumers were even more empowered. They started calling the shots. Brands that refused customer demands were replaced with others that ceded. A precedent was set. Customers were always right even when wrong. Many, many brands accepted the precedent and the age of brand-mediocrity was born. But some brands resisted the urge to sellout. Instead, they chose to bolster their brand’s value by showing why they were different. These brands went for collaboration.

When a group of protesters gathered outside the White House, President Kennedy was asked how he would like the matter to be handled. The President invited the protesters inside and sat them down for a discussion that led to satisfactory outcome for both. Instead of deciding on how to handle, the President actually handled it. And in the process he became permanently identified as America’s most popular and beloved of presidents. Great brands do the same thing. They step up and they take the handle. They involve people in their brand identity. Great brands know that the wisdom of the crowd will always be greater than the capability of the few intellectual elites. These brands grow their brand identity out on the playing field, with real people and real issues, not in boardrooms with only a select group from marketing and public relations.

Involving your customers in your brand identity construction phases is critical because you are drawing from a massive collection of ideas and insights – something no agency, marketing department, or CEO will ever have in full. Best of all, this collaboration of brand identity construction is free. Brands with solid identities like Coca Cola, Apple, Facebook, Google, and IBM have built their brand identity together with their customers. Neither did they cede fully to the crowd, nor did they disperse them. These brands collaborated and in the process seeded their brand identity in many more minds.

A brand boundary is simple notion of what a brand is associated with. Colgate, for example will mostly be associated with Toothpaste. Nokia with phones. Google with search engines, and Ferrari with sports cars. Now imagine a Colgate mobile phone, a Nokia toothpaste, a Google soft drink, and a Ferrari family MPV. To most people, these will seem like anomalies and this in itself is dangerous for brand identity. To customers of the brand the results are far worse. The dilution of brand identity happens when set boundaries are crossed by the brand. Customers who buy a brand repeatedly come to expect certain associations. In their minds they draw boundaries for the brand’s identity. These boundaries are fluid at first when contact is still new, but tend towards permanence as interaction continues. After some time, the brand begins to resonate with the customer, recognition takes firm root, and expectations are clarified. This is brand equity – or the value of the brand as perceived by the customer. What happens when the brand oversteps the line?

First, brand identity begins to dissolve. This is because the overstepped boundary sets of a reaction in customers’ minds – the brand is not easily recognized since its identity is being spread over a larger brandscape. Common associations are weakened and the brand boundary becomes blurred. Suddenly, that feeling of being special and unique is eroded. The guiding light is no longer a laser, focused and pure. it’s now a ray that is easily disregarded in the dazzle of other lights and sparkles vying for attention. The essence of the brand identity is lost. What’s even more deadly to the brand identity is the insidious nature of this phenomenon. In the short-term, revenue may actually increase due to customer curiosity. In the long-run however, customers want to belong to a brand, not be pigeon-holed into a product category. Without the initial brand identity to provide the guiding light, customers will go looking for another brand identity that does.

Brand identity is everything. It’s more than logos, typography, symbols, icons, and colors. It’s an association, a connection, a gut instinct, that creates immediate recognition and centers customers in a world of fleeting products, razzle dazzle services, and noisy marketplaces. The Clan Brand is the most powerful brand because its identity is shared with its customers. The brand identity has also been built together with its customers. Want to become a powerful clan brand? Collaborate with your customers to build your brand identity. It’s easier than you think.

It’s important. Designing one’s brand identity is up there together with financial operations, employee turnover, trademarks, customer retention, and global expansion into emerging markets.

A solid brand identity will communicate the organization’s position clearly to its target customers. A weak brand identity will result, at the very least, in poor communication. Worst case scenarios include customer dissatisfaction, fall in patronage, and even the permanent closure of the organization. Sounds serious, perhaps over-dramatized even? The best way to put this into perspective is to examine the world one minute at a time.

In 60 seconds:

168 million emails sent
695,000 Facebook status updates
70 new domains registered
700,000 searches on Google
98,000 tweets
170,000 Skype calls connected
13,000 iPhone apps downloaded
600 New videos on YouTube uploaded

There is a staggering amount of information that great writing and copywriting create and share every minute. Most of this information is generated by users — customers who purchase products and services, utilize them, and share their experiences with other consumers across the globe. Most of this information can be traced back to a brand. be it an automobile, software, airline, money, gadget, destination, movie, policy, country, or celebrity. Look at any topic under discussion and a brand name is close at hand. Singapore is a brand, the same way that Apple, Facebook, Twitter, and Ewan McGregor are brands. Consumers are talking about brands. If a product is great, the brand usually does well. If the service is poor, the brand usually suffers.

The quality of products and services are often slow to react to consumer feedback. Several annoyed customers returning faulty phones to a manufacturer will not see an immediate change in the product’s quality. Consumers realize all too well that goods and services require time, in usually significant amounts, to change. This realization affords goods and services some insulation from the merciless onslaught of consumer criticism. Brands are a different story. A faulty product requiring fixing is allowed some time.

The brand, however, comes under immediate fire. Given the unnerving speed at which information travels, such fire can spread rapidly enough to permanently burn the brand before the manufacturer even has time to send an email to quality control. Brands can burn fast and when they do the inferno usually takes down the entire brand identity superstructure. If it’s a weak superstructure, the destruction can be even faster.

Why then do brands have such a volatile composition? Because brands are created in the minds of customers. Products are made in factories. Services are created in training rooms. Brands, however, are not the product of boardroom meetings or client-agency projects. Brands are what people think about when they experience a product or service. These thoughts and associations include any number of attributes — fun, credible, easy to use, flimsy, yucky, plain and mesmerizing to name but a few. When a significant number of people (enough to be called a crowd or tribe) share similar associations a brand is created. Basically a brand is owned by customers simply because they create it. What’s more, no client nor brand agency, or anybody for that matter, has any control of what people think.

So what good is a brand agency then? An experienced brand agency not only realizes the truth of brand creation, but embraces the opportunity such truth brings. Consumers call the shots when it comes to branding. Consumer minds are brand factories with total restrictions on access. Consumers are also human beings with reactions, emotions, and a sense for experiences. Great brand agencies know they cannot control what a consumer thinks but can influence how these thoughts are born through simple brandidentity strategy and brand identity design.

So how does brand identity strategy work? Fancy term — brandidentity strategy. The meaning is simpler. A brand identity is made up of elements, basic building blocks that go into creating the brand’s superstructure. These elements include color, typeface, shape, form, size, function, language, material, and people. Some elements are more important than others. All elements must work in harmony. Brand identity strategy is the process of determining which elements will work best in combination with each other to truly communicate the promise, features, benefits, and values of the product or service to consumers. Brand identity design begins with identification of elements and assigning them communicative importance. This process follows the same rules, whether it is brand identity design for Singapore, Spain, Mauritius or the Cook Islands.

And what about brand identity design? Brand identity design is arranging the elements across media to communicate the brand’s message. This can be in the form of a logo on a letterhead, a symbol in an airport, an avatar on a web site, tagline on a billboard, or a unique product shape. Whatever the case, a brand identity designer is responsible for taking the relevant elements of brand identity and arranging them in a way that communicates meaning to consumers. This meaning must be as close as possible to the valuesof what the organization stands for. For example, if a software corporation values innovation, the brand identity designer must communicate innovation across the brand’s identity elements. Innovation must be deduced from the logo, tag line, colors, typeface, shape, and customer communication.

What control does a brand identity designer have over the people aspect? A brand identity designer is a graphic designer with a few differences. A graphic designer deals with visual communication. It is a graphic designer’s responsibility to create visuals that communicate meaning. Such meaning must be interpreted in the same way that the graphic designer intends, by the maximum number of people that experience the visual. Brand identity designers are graphic designers. In addition, brand identity designers are also brand trainers. The job scope includes everything that a graphic designer does, with the extra responsibility of training a brand’s most precious asset — its people.

The people comprising an organization are the organization’s biggest brand element. This is the case in any society and every culture, from the boardrooms in Hong Kong and Singapore, to the aboriginal tribes in Central Australia, to the past civilizations of Rome, Egypt, and Greece where branding first took root. An employee can communicate in much greater depth about the organization’s brand, and with much more credibility than the largest sign on the side of the tallest building. Employees need to believe in the brand’s values they are representing. Mis-alignment of personal and organizational brand values remains the single largest factor for employees to stay or leave. So many organizations spend an incredible amount of resources on establishing perfect brand elements, without looking at the most important element of all, its people. In fact, the people element in brand identity design has more power than every other brand element put together. It is a brand identity designer’s job to ensure that every aspect of the brand identity design process is created and established to perfection. And this includes people.

More than training is educating employees on why an organization has adopted the values it seeks to convey via its brand. Employees who understand this reasoning have a much stronger desire, and motivation to operate within the organization. Brand identity design’s biggest challenge, when it comes to the people element, is to educate and include employees on the brand identity design process. The target is to create a culture in which an employee grows with the brand, and wants to see the brand grow. Brand identity design that creates great people alongside great color, shape, form, logo, web design, function, typefaces, and material is brand identity design that is truly working.

Great brand identity design is the cumulative result of great graphic design, great web design, and great people coming together to believe in what the brand stands for. The elements that go into brand-building are important. The best brand identities are a solid combination of relevant elements with people always in the centre of the brand identity design matrix.