Quick branding? Yes. Shoddy branding? No.

Sunderland and England striker Jermain Defoe attracted a good deal of mockery, earlier this year,  with his online ad, via job site SecsintheCity, for a personal assistant. If you somehow missed this, the spec was extensive – starting at obvious things like pet care, running errands, onto managing household staff and organising family schedules, but rapidly escalating into the realms of fantasy. For £50,000 a year, the player also expects all his public appearances arranged, iPhone apps developed and, specifically, “the global development of the Jermaine Defoe brand”.

Whilst the jokes write themselves (”today’s schedule: 0800 – brand workshop with ad agency; 1000 – tweak code for new app; 1045 – feed Tiddles his elevensey-wevenseys…”) there’s a serious point here. The value in a well-developed global football brand, just like the value in your own corporate brand, is potentially immense. Yet the process of correctly crafting and communicating strong brand values frequently isn’t understood and in some circles it’s assumed anyone who can switch on a Mac can do it.

Fact is, there’s no such thing as a free lunch and equally no such thing as a dirt cheap, strong, motivating, profitable brand strategy. But we can see why people would like this.

Ambitious leaders like yourself may have frustrating memories of large, ponderously slow, “branding agencies” taking anything up to a year to digest the facts about their business, and make pronouncement.

Certainly I’ve watched, thankfully third-hand, one or two real horror stories unfold over the years – such as the massively expensive brand design company that went round the houses for over six months, yet failed to do the most basic diligence on their eventual recommendation and landed the client in court over IP.

I’ve talked about treating branding lightly, or treating it like the Moon Landings, inevitably at a cost to your business. Do those really have to be the choices? We’d say no. At Caffeine, we successfully engaged with Kier Group last year to help resolve some fundamental brand and messaging challenges. This is a multi-organisation, multi-stakeholder company with a great deal to say and, so, a lot of potential to confuse or cause indifference in the process.

One of our key brand workshop tips was applied, which is: fix what’s broken. In this case, the physical branding was distinctive and established, so we parked that and focused on other questions of presentation. This resulted in a satisfactory conclusion to the client in less than three months from start to finish, even though we had to work with stakeholders across the UK.

By contrast, my work in other areas has encountered several brand agencies who despite being told “it’s not about the logo” start with redesigning the client logo…

So my top three branding tips for success are:

  1. Aim the visual appeal and messaging straight at the end customer, by understanding their needs and attitudes and where your offer will shine. 
  2. The fact that Jermain wants a world brand doesn’t imply the world wants him to have one. So whatever your agency is suggesting, always make your first question ‘why will this get attention and why should they care?’
  3. Keep things simple.  Your junior managers/engineers/senior shop assistants etc. should be able to remember and recite your brand promise, brand values or whichever attributes form part of your chosen structure.  Most brands can manage to stand for one, maybe two things in customers’ minds. It’s permissible to aim for three perhaps and give them a little choice.  If you have 50+ carefully chosen words on your ‘brand wheel’, (as I saw at a major UK car brand in 2000) the end effect is confusion for everyone apart from your brand team.  And they aren’t buying your products.


(c) Photograph: Tom Jenkins/Guardian

Danny Herbert
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