Secrets of a successful brand

19 Dec 2013

Author: Bronwyn Adcock

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For a business or organisation, their brand can be their most important yet most intangible asset. It’s a promise to the consumer, and goes way beyond just a logo. Brand creation experts say the rise of social media is radically changing the scene, and all brands need to adapt, or risk failure.
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Whether it’s the start of a new journey, or the beginning of a painful separation, international airports are always places of heightened emotion.

For some Australians, just the sight of the famous red kangaroo emblem of Qantas, the national airline carrier, is enough to stir the feelings.

“The Qantas logo can elicit pride, excitement, security and nostalgia, simultaneously, whether you’re seeing it offshore or back on home turf,” says Hans Hulsbosch, the executive creative director of Hulsbosch Communication by Design.

If you’ve ever responded this way to the Qantas logo then Hulsbosch would consider his job well done – this iconic image is his design, as is the Qantas tag line, ‘Spirit of Australia’. 

“It is this sort of consumer response that is the mark of a truly effective brand identity,” he says. “If we understand successful brands to be those that resonate with us emotionally, then say no more.

“A brand is a promise. Think of some top brands and you immediately know what they promise. The creation of a brand and creating a visual entity and a value system around it provides a reservoir of meaning for consumers to tap into,” says Hulsbosch, who is one of Australia’s leading experts in the field of brand creation and responsible for many well-known brands, including Woolworths, Foxtel, and The Australian Ballet.

In an increasingly competitive market place experts say it is crucial for products, services and organisations – indeed anything that has a public presence – to have a strong brand.

According to the Creative Director of Interbrand Australia – a global brand consultancy with 40 offices around the world – a brand can be the most influential force driving consumer decisions.

“It depends on the industry … it’s more important for luxury goods,” says Mike Rigby. “For example with selling perfume, Interbrand studies show the brand itself can be responsible for up to 90 per cent of the purchase decision.”

Brand creation is a complex business that goes beyond just creating a logo. While the logo may be the most obvious representation of a brand, it is usually just the tip of the iceberg.

When a brand is created everything from advertising, to internal communications, uniforms, online presence, even the way staff answer the phone can be affected.

Partner and Global Strategic Director at Cato Brand Partners, Peter Wilson, says: “We approach it across a range of different touch points. So every point in which a target audience or a stakeholder of that brand – which could be an internal audience, in other words staff – engages is emotionally appealing. It means that those touch points are quite varied.”

Wilson says he usually approaches the process of brand creation in three stages: understanding the perceptions of the target audience, understanding what the competition is, and finally understanding what the emotional rewards of the product are. “That leads to a definition of what are the values are that represent that brand,” he says.

It’s a complex process designed to look simple. “If it looks too hard, or it seems too hard, it is not working. The less people would overtly see what has gone into it, the more we would judge it a success,” says Wilson.

According to Rigby, a good brand should become an integral part of the business.

“A brand is almost a living business asset, it is something that can be added to and grown over time,” he says. “Traditionally it sat in the marketing department … but now brand sits right at the heart of the business, and it drives everything you do, every decision you make, every person you hire. A brand is everything a business does.”

In 2011 Rigby was given the challenge of creating a branding strategy for Alzheimer’s Australia, the peak body that provides programs for, and advocates on behalf of, people living with dementia.

He says meetings with the organisation soon revealed the scale of his job.

“As soon as they started to tell us that this is a silent epidemic that will kill more Australians than any other disease, we started to realise that what was needed here was not just a lick of paint, or a new logo, but what we were talking about was a significant social change,” says Rigby.

“We needed to change the minds and perception of the whole of Australia, who just think it is a disease that affects old people and is about memory loss, when it can affect people as young as 30 and is a profoundly damaging disease.”

Key to Rigby’s approach was differentiating Alzheimer’s Australia from other groups in the already crowded charity sector. He decided to create a brand with a “fighting spirit”.

“We actually put a fighting spirit at the heart of the brand. Most charity brands make people feel guilty, but this one has a real positive energy to it,” he says.

Internal workshops and training helped staff to adapt to this new brand and new attitude.

“We always say we actually build brands from the inside out, so we always start with the organisation itself,” says Rigby. “We managed to change the organisation from one that was quite passive and disjointed into one that was fully united behind this new cause.”

In keeping with the “fighting spirit”, the new brand identity was launched at a protest rally attended by more than 500 people outside Parliament House in Canberra.

“Internally we managed to unite the culture to give them a new sense of purpose and transform the organisation into one ready to take the fight to the government,” says Rigby. “And the power of the brand externally was to change the Government’s mind and to create a social movement that started to generate momentum in fighting for funding and finding a cure for this disease.”

Social media 

While brand strategy has been a well-established practice for several decades, experts agree that the rise of social media has created a new dynamic that is changing brand creation in fundamental ways.

“We live in a completely transparent world, and I think social media has changed the game completely,” says Rigby. “Brands need to be the brand on the inside they are on the outside … there is no hiding place anymore.”

“It is less about telling people what you want them to believe. It is now much easier for people to research and understand whether they believe those perceptions are real or not,” says Wilson.

“For example very large companies might try and represent themselves in a certain way, but people are now researching and finding that the factories in which those workers happen to be in, in third world countries, don’t match what the company says about themselves,” he says

There is now a conversation happening in both directions, with consumers wanting to engage via social media platforms.

“It used to be a notion of recognise me, but now it is a notion of recognise me and engage with me,” says Wilson. “It means that the way in which we might define what a brand represents needs to accommodate those two-way conversations. It needs to enable conversations to be had that you can’t control, because those conversations will happen anyway.”

Hulsbosch sees this as a positive development, and urges brands to embrace it.

“Social media has provided a never-before-experienced brand transparency that is of benefit to both brands and consumers. This two-way street supports the consumer-brand relationship like no other,” he says. “The need for a dialogue between brands and consumers is a reality on social media and those brands that ignore this online relationship do so at their own peril.”

Measuring the success of a brand strategy can be difficult. After all, as Hulsbosch says, the greatest measure of success is if a brand resonates emotionally, a difficult concept to quantify.

Consumer research attempts to gauge these 'intangible assets'.

“Interestingly the intangible power of a brand is one criterion that is used by Brand Finance to rank the world’s most valuable brands,” says Hulsbosch.

Rigby believes he’s seen a tangible result come from the brand strategy employed for Alzheimer’s Australia.

12 months after the brand was launched, the Australian Government made Alzheimer’s and Dementia a national health priority. More recently the Government announced over $20 million in funding for dementia research – these moves Rigby attributes partly to the power of the new brand.

“It can become an unstoppable wave if you get it right,” he says.