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Branding secrets

By Robert Mead-Green.

Global branding expert Landor Associates shares its experiences, insights and insider tips for creating excellent brand strategies, in this exclusive five-step branding masterclass

From Apple to Zippo, branding is key: it defines what you are, the way you work, what your products should be and how you present your public face to the world. In return, creating a brand helps you attract the customers you want to serve, gain their trust and keep them coming back for more. In rare cases, branding can even be rewarded with love, devotion and a quasi-religious zeal. But just like good product design, good branding is about more than surface good looks. It goes right to the heart of everything you do.

Just ask Landor Associates: the creative agency established by branding pioneer Walter Landor in 1941, which now spans the globe with 21 offices located around the world. Landor Associates has been responsible for the creation of some of the world’s most iconic brands: Coca-Cola, Levi’s, Alitalia Airlines, Del Monte, the World Wildlife Fund and many others, and the creative agency continues to work with hundreds of big-name clients including FedEx, Volkswagen, Microsoft and Rolex. Over the next six pages, you’ll gain an exclusive insight into the way that Landor sets about creating iconic brands, whether the audience is local, national or global.

Step one: problem-solving

Peter Knapp, LandorLandor Associates executive creative director Peter Knapp

One of the reasons why many clients choose to come to branding agencies like Landor is to receive expert help with a commercial problem or opportunity. “Rarely do we get someone who says: ‘We’re already very successful, give me more success’ – it has happened once or twice, but this situation tends to be the exception,” begins executive creative director of Landor’s London office, Peter Knapp. “Typically there’s a shift in the marketplace, a shift in the commercial paradigm that they need to respond to, or there are new products or new technologies that they’re adapting, which means the brand is subject to scrutiny, to see whether it’s still in good condition to express that change. That’s what happens normally,” he continues. “People will come with a commercial problem or a commercial opportunity and they need to see whether the brand is fit for purpose.”

To solve the problem, Landor’s creatives first embark on an audit of the company or brand to find out where it’s at in terms of its commercial prospects, its appeal to its audience, and whether there’s a mismatch between what the company or brand thinks it is and what opinion-formers, consumers and other influencers think. For Landor, carrying out a brand audit is fundamental to its whole approach: to get a brand to where you want it to be, you first have to understand where it is, and then create a strategy that helps bridge that gap.

This is exactly what Landor did when it created a new identify for Russian airline S7, as Knapp explains: “You can’t pick a colour, pick a logo, have your fingers crossed and hope that it might work. We did an extensive competitive analysis, we did a lot of customer interviews, and we did a lot of data analysis to see where the business was going and to look at where the society of Russia was changing. What were the new influences for the audience they were trying to attract?”

S7 was trying to attract a young, upwardly mobile audience to its airline. To create the brand, Landor looked at the kinds of things this audience was attracted to: “That meant not by any means looking at other airlines,” says Knapp, “but looking at fashion trends, retail trends, what hotels were doing, the automotive sector – and asking what are the cues here? What are the trends? What are the things that we can learn from in order to deploy a brand that’s going to be attractive to these guys?” In the end, Landor created a bright green livery and branding for S7 Airlines that was a world away from the conservative image used by its rivals.

At Landor, there are four tenets that define its branding and rebranding work: relevance (to audience), differentiation (from competitors), preference (among audience) and loyalty (from customers). They’re also key to any brand’s commercial success.

Step two: defining the brand strategy

Carl Hawksworth, LandorCarl Hawksworth, design director for BP’s 2012 Olympics Campaign

Once you’ve carried out an audit into your client’s brand, the next step is to define what the brand is and what it stands for. Landor combines the data it has gleaned from its audit and field research with a series of client workshops that help both sides identify the brand’s self image and values. Landor asks a series of questions based around visual metaphors – such as: if your brand were a car, what kind of car would it be? – to really get to the essential truth, or truths, about the brand.

These can then be used as a springboard for the creative expression of the brand – the visual, design and voice cues that trigger recognition, preference, loyalty and so on among the target audience. “The whole point of brand strategy is to limit your options and to laser-focus the brand, so that it is really clear about what it stands for; what the intent is,” Knapp says. “A really good brand strategy helps you land on a pinhead creatively. That’s the point of brand strategy. If not, you’re just doing cute design.” In other words: if you find yourself presenting dozens of wildly different options to your client, it means you haven’t got a handle on what the client really wants, and you both have more work to do before you can get on with the fun, creative part.

Step three: creating the brand expressions

Matt Comboy, LandorDesign director Matt Comboy helped British Airways with its Executive Club rebrand

Once you’ve agreed a brand strategy with the client, the next stage is to create its brand expression to tell the story of the brand. As Knapp explains, it’s about a lot more than just creating a cute design: the colours, style, visual language, copywriting – every element – that you use in your clients’ branding has to reflect both the brand truth and the way that you approach the client’s current or prospective audience: you wouldn’t normally use street slang to talk to high class, educated customers, for example, or vice versa.

One of the other, most important, elements to consider is how your choice of colours, language and branding will play out across different cultures or countries around the globe. After all, what might be appropriate in the UK, for example, might not be acceptable elsewhere.

The creative expression of the brand also has to extend across the whole gamut of a user’s senses: from the quality of the materials used by the brand – plastic, leather, wood, steel and so on – to the way staff are expected to treat the brand’s customers. When Landor helped British airline BMI create a brand for its new transatlantic service, this approach even extended to the kind of music that would be played when customers boarded the plane and what kind of food should be served.

In BMI’s case, that meant ‘Young Americans’ by David Bowie – a British man singing about America – with a menu of typically British fare like bacon butties and Marmite. “That’s what we aim for,” says Knapp. “The experiential component of the brand where all your senses are engaged in making sure everything adds up to the right perception. Because if you were onboard and suddenly heard Kraftwerk, for example, you might have a very different impression. If you’d read the in-flight magazine and it came over in a very stuffy, pompous tone, this would be a dislocation of the perception and the experience that you’re trying to create. So engaging as many of the human senses as you can through all of the experiences is what you try to do to make it a truly immersive brand experience.”

Step four: putting the brand into practice

Ben Marshall, LandorCreative director Ben Marshall helped create a distinct identity for Caffrey’s ale

The true test of any brand or rebranding exercise, of course, is how well – or badly – your strategy and its creative expression are handled ‘out there’, where your ideals bump up against reality. The best strategy in the world won’t work if the public face of the company – your clients’ employees – don’t believe in it or fail to implement it properly. “We’re talking truly about branding. It’s all about what the company stands for, how it behaves, how it develop its products and how the service is played through,” explains Knapp.

“You could fly on three different airlines – Lufthansa, British Airways and Virgin – and the experience would be very different on each one because all those staff know what it is to represent those brands, and those brands are all very different. That’s because they have been helped to understand it and feel proud to represent them. If they don’t, then the links in the chain start to fracture. But if you can make it a complete experience, then that really creates a compelling brand proposition.”

Step five: branding is an ongoing process

For many of Landor’s biggest clients, creating or refining a brand isn’t a one-off problem that needs to be solved: it’s part of an ongoing, constantly evolving process. Brands need to continuously attract and remind customers of the products or services they offer, and adapt to market conditions. As Landor believes, branding is also about making changes to existing offers for a client’s customers or creating new incentives to engage them – its work on the British Airways’ Executive Club being a case in point.

“If you don’t keep the relevance,” says Knapp, “the brand starts to get dry and dusty and people overlook it, so the brand needs to be very well managed internally by the client to still make it attractive to the customers. If not, at that point you find you start to lag badly. But a brand should never been seen as finished. It’s always an ongoing project.”

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