All points of branding must be consistent and authentic to convey the true picture of your brand.

Remember the activity books you had as a kid, the ones your mother would give you to keep you amused on a rainy day? You know, they had those connect-the-dot pages and the pages with animal stickers and fill-in-the-letter word games. They also had pages titled “What’s wrong with this picture?” where you were challenged to find things that didn’t make visual sense, like the frog with bunny ears or the house with upside-down doors.

I thought of this last activity the other day when a colleague shared the picture in this article with me. Take a look, and see it with your marketer’s eye. See something funny? How about the HSBC bank that looks like anything but a bank and the CVS pharmacy that looks like anything but a pharmacy? It’s visually peculiar, but more than peculiar from a branding point of view. It just doesn’t jibe with one of the most important rules of smart brand building: Make sure your branding says what you want it to say about what your brand stands for. A brand is as a brand does.

ALL IN THE ‘ING’

There’s a big difference between brand and branding and, yes, it’s all in the “ing.” A brand exists in your mind. It’s a collection of associations or feelings about a particular product, service, or organization. Branding is the tangible process of creating the signals that generate these associations. Great branding signals communicate immediately what your brand stands for, and how what you do, sell, or provide is different in a way that people care about.

When we think of Apple, all sorts of hot and cool feelings and images come to mind. The reason they do is that everything Apple does to bring its brand to life—its branding— is hot and cool: the way its products look and feel and function, the way its products are packaged in those clean and elegant boxes, the design of its retail establishments, and even the geniuses who work there. Sure, the company could have saved a ton of money by using blister packs to hold its iPods. And, sure, the company could have saved another ton of money if its retail outlets looked more like other electronics stores rather than contemporary museums. But Apple made its branding decisions specifically to evoke the experience of the Apple brand. Inside and out, everything Apple does says, “Apple.” The branding experiences are consistent, and from one point of customer touch to the next, there are no missed cues.

And therein is the “What’s wrong with this picture” of the HSBC bank and the CVS pharmacy. There’s a disconnect, literal and otherwise, between the façades of these two branded buildings and what the companies stand for in our minds. The HSBC bank building looks like a pop-up shop, a temporary place of transaction. The CVS store looks stodgy and formal and nothing like a modern, neighborhood pharmacy. If I were in charge of a financial brand (especially now), I’d certainly want to make sure that my bank branches appeared rock solid and substantial. And if I were in charge of a healthcare-related brand, I’d be sure my branding signals communicated that my services were clean, efficient, and leading-edge. Losing sight of the simple rule that branding has to align with the intended message…well, it’s simply not a good thing.

BRINGING IT TOGETHER

So, how does one ensure that all the bits and pieces of branding come together to communicate appropriately and consistently on-brand? Building a strong brand starts with a laser-sharp, easy-to-understand idea, an idea that’s clear-cut and “sticky.” Ensure that consumers get and remember what your brand represents. Equally important, ensure that the people who create the branding signals understand what their brand means and their role in bringing it to life. It’s also essential that this idea be something that is different, and different in a way people care about. Look at the oral care category: It’s crowded, to say the least, and consumers walking down the aisles of their modern, neighborhood pharmacy can be overwhelmed by the kaleidoscope of colors, claims, and benefits of the hundreds of oral care products, from the toothpaste and floss, to the whiteners and gum treatments. When Crest decided to enter the market with its Vivid White and Vivid White Nights toothpastes, it knew that standing out from the crowd would be tough. It had to start with an idea that was both simple to grasp and relevantly different from what was already on the shelves. The P&G folks had developed a product that could genuinely whiten teeth more effectively and safely than the competition. While this met a functional consumer need, they felt that a better branding foundation would tap into an emotional need: People feel more confident when they know they look their best, and a cleaner, whiter smile is part of this. Instead of making toothwhitening part of the daily dental hygiene routine, make it part of the consumer’s beauty routine.

BEAUTY DNA

The P&G team knew that to make this idea credible, the Crest Vivid White branding signals had to enunciate that the brand was unlike any other toothpaste and, in fact, was not a dental product but a beauty product. They worked with us to identify the name and packaging that would best express this message and send the right associations. The name “Vivid White” is both functionally descriptive and aspirational. The packaging owes more to cosmetics packaging than to toothpaste. The subsequent advertising and marketing initiatives were designed to look elegant and sophisticated…again, like beauty product promotion. Everything having to do with the Crest Vivid White brand comes from the same DNA, so to speak. No matter where or how or when consumers come into contact with the brand, the idea behind the brand is reinforced through its branding signals.

All marketers know that the best branding happens inside out—pharmaceutical brand, retail brand, financial brand, or anything else. Smart marketers know that because consumers today can see all and share all, it’s essential to be extra vigilant to guarantee that all branding signals—architectural, advertising, product design, or packaging—communicate exactly what you want people to think about your brand. If they’re not authentic, if they’re not in sync with your brand’s DNA, something will be very wrong with your brand’s picture, and it won’t be funny.

  • Allen Adamson

    Allen Adamson is managing director of the New York office of Landor Associates, a brand consulting and design firm. He is also the author of BrandSimple and BrandDigital.

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