Your Brand Should Burn*
Creating a logo is easy. That’s why everyone has one.
But creating a meaningful brand is a different story. That’s why not everyone has one.
Whether you’re approaching a rebrand or starting out from scratch, knowing who you are is one of the most important, and surprisingly often overlooked, steps in the process of building a brand.
Rationalising your existence as a business will mean that all of your actions are consistent and logical and that your output retains integrity as you grow. So take a long hard look in the mirror and tell me who you are, and who you want to be when you grow up.
But seriously, how do we make this meaningful to ourselves and our intended audience, and transition from what we look like, to who we are? We first have to dismantle the surface-level idea of the brand.
To consumers, a brand may very well be a logo. And for good reason. It’s an invaluable part of your identity and is often the leading, recognisable component that seems to embody who you are as a business.
However, a brand is more than a glossy visual identity system. Understanding, activating, and maintaining this is the key to success when building a brand and creating something that is valued in the minds of others.
So, where do you start?
At the very beginning.
What is a brand?
As mentioned, a brand is a whole lot more than just a logo, type, and a differentiating colour palette. I know this may seem clear as day, but you would be surprised by the apparent lack of understanding around this idea. At the time of writing, the Oxford dictionary has its own crisis of confidence identifying the term, with definitions ranging from (but not limited to) a ‘name’, an ‘image’, a ‘product’ and a ‘mark’ you sear onto a cow with hot metal. Lovely.
Now, while I’m not generally into wielding scorching hot irons as a means of creating a memorable brand, something has to be said about the etymology of the word itself. As many ill-fated victims of the white-hot poker will know, the word comes from the Old Norse word ‘brandr’, which means “to burn.” This particularly sinister form of identification is regrettably effective in creating a mark of ownership and has been used since the time of the inventors of the emoji, the ancient Egyptians.
Fast forward a few millennia to a time when ships became useful for more than just imperialism. ‘Shipping’ itself became a good way of getting a Cabernet Sauvignon from the south of France to willing buyers across the globe, and by the 1800s some genius who deserves a raise began ‘branding’ the wooden crates in order to identify one from another.
And there it is, the turning point in history that contextualises this entire article and the reason you should take this shit seriously.
The brand became a marker not just of ownership, but of quality, meaning, and intent. A way of determining one crate’s contents from another without evening looking inside. A way of distilling the invisible until it is seen, experienced or tasted. A mark of the sender to the receiver and, for better or worse, an identifier of the invisible experiences and interactions that make up the relationship between them.
Burned in the mind
The visual dimension of your business’ identity is a product of your brand, rather than the core aspect of it. It’s important, but not everything. How a brand looks should be the natural conclusion to a thought-out strategic dialogue that drills into the core of who you are, who you have been, and whom you want to be. It’s about the everyday experiences big and small, and how your brand conducts itself day today. It’s how you engage with your audience and how you stay front of mind. Is the vision of the future you see being communicated to your audience today? And is it aligned with their wants or needs? If not, why not?
The phrase “burned in my mind’s eye” means something that is unforgettable. Powerful brands are the ones that are memorable, and the ones that continue to act in a way that makes them so. We’ve come a long way from burning logos onto crates, but the idea that we want to convey who we are as a business remains the same. We need to think about what is burned in the mind of our audience, through the experiences, the interactions, the media, and the messages we provide.
Cutting corners in this thought process might allow you to whip up a website on time and give you enough material to cobble together a LinkedIn announcement post, but it won’t cut the mustard long term. What you will have created is an empty shell; the hollow appearance of a brand that will wash into the sea as soon as it begins to interact with your industry. How terrifying.
As an initial exercise that you can run internally, zoom out, and really interrogate your business, right down to its roots. Open up a dialogue with key stakeholders and discuss what your initial aims were, and where you currently stand. Talk about your past, present, and future, and don’t forget to discuss your ‘why’s’: Who were you? Who are you? And who do you want to be? Who has your audience been, who are they, and who do you want to engage? Why are you engaging them? Why do you do what you do?
Listen carefully. During this discussion, make a note of everything that is said, as well as what isn’t said, by those involved. This way, ideas around who you are, and who you are not, will arise naturally. Taking this time to assess why you do what you do is the essence of what a brand really means.
A brand is the fiber of everything you do as a business, not just how it looks. A brand is how you communicate with clients. It’s how you carry yourself in day-to-day operations, whether that’s your latest hire, the way people feel when they visit your workplace or the way you sign off an email. But above all else, it’s how you are remembered in the mind of others.
A cohesive and well-thought-out brand will see a business thrive naturally in all the intended areas because your actions will align with your initial pledge at every step along the way.
So be yourself, be distinct and create a brand that burns.
I will return in ‘Creating A Brand That Burns