In this episode, Daniel Parscale brings in the creative big guns to discuss brands. Is a brand just a logo? What do you do to build, foster and promote a brand? What happens if you need to re-brand? Jess Lund and Ali House come to the rescue in this fascinating discussion on brands.
Read the transcript:
Today on Reach we’re going to be talking about branding. My guests are Jess and Ali, and between the two of them, they have more than 13 years of experience. Together, we’ve worked on branding, creative design, and all kinds of marketing.
Hi. My name is Jess Lund. And I am a design manager. My spirit animal is the koala.
Hi. My name is Ali House. I’m a graphic designer. And my spirit animal is the moose.
OK. So thank you, Jess and Ali, for joining me today. How are you doing?
Doing great, thank you!
Cool, thank you. So we’ve got an expansive conversation to be had today about branding, brands, all that kind of stuff. And I started where I imagine both of you did, too, and everyone else on the planet. And I Googled it, and I came up with the definition that Google supplies for branding, which starts off with, “a type of product manufactured by a particular company under a particularly name.” And then it goes on to talk about branded livestock and images and things like that.
So is that where we want to start with this conversation? Is that what a brand is? Is it just a logo? Or what is it? What’s your working definition here?
I’ll step in. To me, I think that’s the general definition. I think when you think in terms of a brand, people tend to go to the mark because that’s one of the most recognizable things. But in terms of the bigger picture of a brand, brand is really, to me, an essence or a persona that a business portrays.
And that goes to the way the in-store atmosphere is. That goes to the way the employees interact with their customers. It comes down, to me, to a feeling or an attitude. It’s like the bigger picture. It’s the soul of that mark, to me.
I totally agree. It’s interesting. I don’t remember ever taking a brand course in college. And so I feel like most of what I’ve learned has been in the industry. We definitely talked about logo marks and the good, the bad, how to go about them, and how to sell them.
But brand– I mean, that’s a whole ‘nother topic. It’s pretty complicated because there are so many layers to it, so many nuances. And when you look online, there’s not a single definition. In fact, you’ll see several different ways of defining a mission statement versus a brand promise.
So in my experience in working with Ali on some branding projects for some of our clients, we had to really define exactly what that meant for us. And you can break it out in, like I said, a variety of ways. But at its core, you can think about what the brand idea is, which is, what is the product? What are you selling the audience? How is it unique from your competition?
There is the mission statement, which you can think of as how you want your audience to perceive your brand and what you do, what you want to embody– what values and attitudes, like Ali said, you want to embody. And then there is the vision. Where do you want to take this brand?
So you can’t think of brand as just here and now and a pretty logo. You have to think about it as this wider experience that happens throughout time. Brands evolve. But I don’t know that people really think about that.
That sounds like a really metaphysical kind of answer, which I love. And it’s interesting because I think that the first thing that comes to mind whenever I think about a brand of any particular company is going to be that visual component. And it sounds like what you both agree on is that while that’s a factor of the brand, it’s more of like a symbol of what the actual brand is. And it’s maybe something bigger than any sum of the part. It’s kind of like an avatar of whatever those things you’re trying to represent are, right?
Yeah. And it’s interesting you bring up that point because if you think about some of the larger successful brands, one in particular being Nike, that’s one–
I’ve heard of them.
That’s good because they’re pretty big.
I mean, people look at that mark. And there is a lot of conversation that happens around that mark. And people say, like, oh, it’s one of the most recognizable marks. And the question is, is it the mark that made Nike so big, or is it everything else behind that mark?
And I think in terms of brand, the mark is just a supporting feature of everything behind that. I mean, your mark could be a circle– literally, a circle. But if you can have all these other things that go behind it with experience and tone of voice– those types of things that people can resonate with– that mark will just elevate everything else behind that brand. And it’s a way for people to attach themselves.
Well, so what can you tell me about the things that you would– Jess, you already touched on this a little bit about what kinds of questions you would ask in order to come up with the brand concept. But what are some of the potential answers there? Like, if I was being asked by you, my creative team, to help me come up with my brand, like, what are some of the things that I should be thinking about in order to really figure out what my brand is before we even get to the part about the logo or how we’re going to represent that visually?
When we start looking at a brand, there are a few approaches that we like to take in exploring what the brand is currently and where the brand wants to be. So some helpful tools are thinking, again, what is your unique positioning within your market? It’s pretty natural for people to want to state what they do in pretty general terms. But there needs to be some real deep investigation into exploration into how your product, your attitude is really different and why your audience should care– how they’re going to connect with that.
So that can be tangible or intangible, too. You used the word attitude. And I think that’s interesting.
Yeah. So that could be your product. But we like to start with, what are some adjectives that describe your brand? Are you caring? Are you sassy? What are you bringing to your persona?
And then how do you speak to what you do? How do you bring that persona to life? And then what’s the walk? How do you back that up with what you do?
Authenticity is incredibly important in brands nowadays, especially because information is at your fingertips. You can find out if your local gas station oil supplier is ruining the world or if the company you love to get coffee from is not paying their taxes like they should at a click of a button. And people don’t like that. Brands create this connection with people and, I would argue, when they’re at their best, communities. And so that authenticity is incredibly important.
So when you’re looking at these things, it’s really helpful to see what’s going on in the marketplace, what your competition is doing, but also what’s going on outside of your market. What are some brands that really resonate with what you’re doing? And it might not be a similar product, but it might be that they have a tone of voice that really resonates with where you want to go. And so looking at what they’re doing right and maybe what you might be able to do better is a great way to start that conversation.
Since you brought up oil companies right there, that reminds me of a brand that happens to be an oil company, and they failed at exactly what you just talked about. I think it was probably 2009 or something like that when a certain petroleum company rebranded with a– it looked like a flower. You all know which one I am talking about.
And it was obviously an effort to try and green-wash themselves, even though they’re an oil company. And to my mind and my understanding, that kind of backlashed against them. People saw that the headlines were not going to be just washed over by this brand redesign. And because there was that disconnect between what they were and their mark in this case, it didn’t work.
Obviously, they’re still around. But I mean, there was a lot of backlash. And we’re talking about it now, what, five or some odd years after the case.
Right. And that’s why it’s so important to look at if you are doing a refresh, it’s something that can’t just be a logo refresh. It has to be if you’re trying to change perceptions, if you’re trying to improve your credibility, that has to be inside out. So that has to be within the core of your organization and everyone that represents that and what they provide onward out to receive the appropriate perceptions that you’re going for.
I think you see that fail quite a bit. We were talking about Gap earlier. And that was a nice example of trying to create a more contemporary brand that wasn’t an inside-out approach.
Maybe we should, for the listeners who might not know what we’re talking about, that we’re talking about their logo redesign. And it went from the one that everybody still knows today– the blue box with– what is it?– just a white serif font.
The serif, yeah
And then it turned into this ugly postmodern ’90s monster– I don’t even know– like this sans-serif font floating in front of its past ideation. Like, I think that lasted five or six days before they pulled it at a huge loss. I’m getting the chills just thinking that logo.
Yeah. Speaking to that particular example, it’s really tricky when it comes to evolving your brand because as Jess spoke, there’s this emotional tie to it. And so for a brand to just overnight, all of a sudden– at least to the general public, overnight, just change its mark, for some people, that’s really scary because it’s like–
Where are they going now?
Right. Exactly. And growing up, I’m sure all of us in this room have our parents or even ourselves have brands that we’re totally attached to, whether it’s through their product or service offerings or just the way they communicate to us. And to all of a sudden see your brand that you’ve been going to for decades, let’s say, to just all of a sudden change their, I guess, aesthetic or their appearance, it’s a shock. And so you have to be careful when it comes to making these evolutions. You really want to do it over small, incremental pieces.
Like Google does with their logo. Like, one pixel a year or something.
I would say that even if you were going to refresh your brand, you’ve got to have in mind, like, the trajectory of how you might change that further down the line, right? So what’s an example of a– we talked about some bad examples. What’s a good example of a brand that has refreshed themselves? And let’s not just talk about the mark here, although I think that’s an important part. But, like, are there any brands that you guys are fans of that have completely changed their user experience and maybe come back from the dead a little bit?
Ooh, come back from the dead– ooh.
And I wouldn’t say necessary this brand came back from the dead. But I would like to think, in terms of a popular major brand, I would say UPS is pretty successful in terms of how they’ve evolved their brand over time. From the mark standpoint, it hasn’t really changed much. The most recognizable mark of that company is their shield. And over time, that shield has just very subtly changed.
But in terms of, I guess, that industry, the– I don’t know what you call that– the delivery industry? I don’t know.
OK. Let’s go with that. Mail services– I mean, with the introduction of the internet and some of those things that definitely upped the game in terms of how you deliver packages and what you can offer, I feel like they’ve done a really good job of being this company that, yes, we can deliver your packages on time. But they’ve started to include logistics and other things that businesses need to be this more well-rounded, I guess, business.
But they’ve stayed true to what their value proposition is, which to me is getting your products to you on time and making sure they arrive in the way that they’re suppose to.
That makes sense. And I’m trying to think in my head, firstly about the logo that they’ve used. And I can’t remember what it used to look like, which I think is actually probably good because we know it’s been updated, and it still looks current. But it’s been continuous in history in some way.
And then like you said, too, like, you’re also keeping consistent their mission, which seems to be to not only provide delivery services but also to deliver peripherals to that that make the experience of having that something delivered to your house better, right?
When you’re talking about rebranding and looking at brands historically, you can always go back to the successes are where they started with a clear defined mission of what they were doing– what they stood for, what their values were– because you always go back to that. When you distill it down, you should be able to use that as a jumping-off point. Throughout time, as you do different marketing campaigns, as you do mark refreshes, you should always be able to go back to that core essence, that soul of your organization.
To piggyback on that, I think somewhere I’ve heard before people say, in one sentence, can you define your brand? And that’s, to Jess’s point, that core statement. That’s the one thing that you should weigh, essentially, all your decisions against for the evolution of that brand.
And when I think, like, for an example, of, like, core mission statements or core statements, I should say, I think about Airbnb is one good example that I can’t think of. And their core statement, in essence, is– and I don’t want this to get confused– but it’s, to be anywhere. And basically what they’re saying is that we’re offering you these really cool places to be in, these really, like, unique places at an affordable price and allow you to be in those places anywhere you want.
We think in terms of hotels and what those things can offer. And you want to go get a hotel room. But it’s so expensive. Or it’s a place that you don’t feel like you can fit in. Well, Airbnb is here to allow you to fit into those places.
That’s a good one. I was thinking how warm that slogan makes me feel right there, right?
So it’s clever, so it’s kind of fun. It definitely makes sense about their global empire or ambitions in that way. I mean, what else does it do that is successful? And actually, another point I want to point into this is it kind of works like a mark or a logo in that way, too, because it’s like, I can totally see that written out anywhere and be like, [SNAPS FINGERS] boom, that’s an Airbnb kind of like concept.
You want it to be direct. You want it to be easily digestible and memorable.
Yeah. And in that core statement, too, that’s the thing that you basically give to all the people involved in that brand or that business. And it allows them to get in that mindset. When we speak to attitudes about brand, that core statement really sets the tone.
So if you’re Nike and your core statement is to be an athlete, and however that is, if that means with an asterisk to be human, then that allows the people who are going to be working on that brand or even be associated with that brand to really dive into what that means and produce products across the board or marketing across the board that will always be consistent.
Once you’ve figured out your brand, what are you doing with it? I’ve talked a lot about branding advertising, for instance. And there’s other applications, too, like, I mean so many things come to my mind. But let’s just talk through applications of brand once it’s established. What do you do with it?
Your brand can be represented in very physical ways. Your user is going to experience your product and your services in a variety of ways. So it’s really important that your branding is consistent from the time that they step into your store front to when they visit your website to how your employees provide customer service. Everything needs to mirror the mission and the values and the attitude that your brand represents. If you have any disconnect, that’s a point for your consumer to start questioning things.
So, like, the experience that the customer actually has. And that’s what they’re seeing visually, as well as, like, their interactions with the representatives and stuff like that.
Yeah, down to the furniture you have, the signage, the smile on the employee’s face.
Right. The classic one.
So there has to be that continuity in order for your audience to build that confidence and connection with your brand. There are different stages of the consumer cycle. And it usually starts with research. And so from research to advocacy, you need to have consistency for them to be totally bought in. And even at that advocacy stage when they tell their friend, this is awesome, that person needs to see the exact same thing in order for it to not break down.
Same thing in, like, the advertisements that they’re going to be placing or their present set events, which we’ve talked about a little bit, or any of these other things, too. When you’re talking about the consistency, you mean not just the visual but, like, the– again, that overall culture needs to– if they belong there for their brand, they’ve got to be there. And they need to look the part that shows that they belong there.
They need to look it. They need to read it. They need to feel it– smell it.
I mean, Jess brings up a really good point. I think that’s the hardest thing for the small businesses to deal with is that investment into consistency. I mean, yes, you have your investments into these touch points and these physical touch points. But it takes a lot of time and energy to get to that consistency level.
If you’re Small Business A, and you’re thinking, well, gosh, Starbucks is– God, they’re just so great; they do all this stuff. Well, that stuff didn’t happen overnight. Yes, they had some resources to put into that. But it took a lot of time and a lot of thinking and a lot of just emotional and personal investment into really, in a sense, grinding out, like, what that line is– that consistency line is– and then applying it, and applying it, and applying it and not waving from it.
So when a situation arises and somebody says, oh, that’s not your brand. You don’t do that. Somebody goes, well, this is the line that we drew. This is in line with our brand, and we’re going to stick to that.
I think that’s the hardest part for anybody in terms of a brand is that you’re just so tempted to change things and to be as fresh as you can possibly be. But the most reassuring thing for the consumer is that you’re going to be this consistent voice throughout time.
Beautiful. Well put. OK, well, I think we’re about ready to start wrapping this up. So I am going to put the screws on you guys here. And I’m going to ask you for your top three takeaways, the way we like to round out the show. So how would you sum up what we should be remembering from this conversation today on brands?
Brands are not logos.
They are experience and emotion.
Yeah, I would say brand is certainly– for me, it’s an attitude, and it’s a way of being. I mean, I go back to my class years, and my professor was saying, think of a brand as a person, and what do you want that person to be? How do you want them to act? And where do you see them going in the world?
Another point I think I would want to emphasize is when sitting down and really focusing in on your vision of your brand, allowing yourself– well, allowing your brand to evolve, so setting up rules that don’t trap you but allow you to evolve with time and how your product might be evolving or even your audience.
Your brand, your business, your propositions are going to change over time. But you need to have that one true core element that remains the same throughout all of that so that you can weigh all those decisions against what that core statement is so that you know you’re making the right decision and you’re not just flying off the handle, so to speak.
Jess and Ali, thank you so much for the discussion today on brands!