Creating a Sustainable Brand Identity

Thu, Mar 15, 2012

6. Misc.

Take a moment to reflect on some of the enduring and iconic brands that have lasted for decades. Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Nike, MGM, and Ford are just a few that come to mind. When you think of each one you no doubt flash on a series of images and sounds. The golden arches, the swoosh, the roaring lion; all are symbols of a recognizable brand. But what makes these brands stronger than their competitors? How do they not only stay alive, but thrive in an ever changing marketplace? Is it that they provide superior products, that they manage their finances more proficiently, or that their marketing campaigns and public relations endear them to the consumer public? In truth, it’s probably a combination of all of these factors (amongst others). But if you neglect to consider the sustainability of your brand image, it really doesn’t matter how great your company is – nobody will know.

So what goes into creating a brand identity in the first place, much less one that is sustainable? While most businesses start simply enough with an idea, a product, or a service, your brand isn’t really born until you find ways to represent yourself publicly. This includes your name, your logo, and even the colors particular to your signage. It can include slogans, jingles, and even people; just look at the Virgin brand, which is inextricably identified with eclectic founder Richard Branson, or Apple, the mention of which is practically interchangeable with the name Steve Jobs. Unfortunately, brands must outlast the people that made them (or so you hope), which means that a sustainable brand needs to be linked to more than a prominent personality.

The difficulty in pinpointing the core of sustainable branding is that it is partially based on the whim of the public. To some extent you can shift the public mood through perception, targeted marketing efforts, and simple redundancy (likability starts with familiarity). But if you don’t want familiarity to breed contempt you need to focus on sustainable branding before you ever create your logo or light up your name on a storefront.

Let’s get down to brass tacks: is there a formula for the type of successful, long-term branding we’re discussing here? Sort of. There are definitely steps you can take to create the outcome you want. For example, you can create a series of logos, slogans, and other symbolic representations of your company and then test them with focus groups to find out which is best liked and why consumers find it attractive. Going straight to the source can really help you to pinpoint problems and find practical solutions. But there’s a lot more to your brand identity than creating a recognizable symbol.

Your brand identity is also related to the products and services you offer, the way you operate in the business world, how you treat your customers, the steps you take on behalf of your community, the environment, and charitable causes, and your goals as a corporate entity. These elements shape not only the course of your business, but also its public perception. You don’t need a master in strategic management to know that using child labor, performing fraudulent financial practices, or allowing faulty products to ship (with a “reasonable margin for loss”) is going to turn consumers against you. So when you’re working to create a sustainable brand identity you need to consider every facet of your business presence in the world, from iconography to advertising to internal operations. Each plays a role in the future success and sustainability of your brand.

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