BrandSimple by Allen P. Adamsom

For a brand to be successful it must differentiate itself from the competition in the minds of consumers and this difference must be relevant. Most, however, whatever it is that makes it different and relevant must be simple to understand – to both the people inside the organisation and the people outside. The most powerful brands in the world, whether they are big brands or small, are based on clear, gut simple ideas. Although this has always given the extraordinary proliferation of products and service worldwide. Getting to simple, and executing your simple idea is what this book is about.

For the record, a brand is what your product or service stands for in people’s mind; it might be an image or, perhaps, a feeling. Branding is a process of executing and managing the things that make people feel the way they do about your brand.

People use brands as shortcuts to make purchase decisions. A shortcut, by definition, is simple. Understanding what a brand stands for should be simple. You dont walk into a supermarket and look for a carbonated, caramel-coloured beverage. You look for a familiar red and white Coca-Cola can or bottle.

When your brand is based on a simple, clearly defined idea aligned with a clearly defined business strategy it makes it easier for your brand organisation to effectively signal to consumers what makes it different and why this difference is worth caring about. Simple brand ideas result in powerful and memorable branding that people immediately connect with.

It has been proven time after time that the strongest brands are built on simple, compelling ideas that grab people by signalling that something is different from what they’ve heard or seen before and is relevant to their needs.

I’ve found that in this business  – in any business – it’s as important to know what you shouldn’t do as it is to know what you should do. Learning from your mistakes in the brand business is a great teaching tool.

If you want to win, you must know what you’re selling, find a way to prove that what you’re selling is different, and distill this difference into a focussed and compelling idea that can drive and unite everything associated with your brand.

Just because the market has been saturated with brands and hard to navigate, the subject of brands and branding doesn’t have to be. In fact, it should be just the opposite.

Part 1: What the best brands know

1. Start with the basics

What’s a brand?
It’s a promise that links a product or a service to the consumer. Whether words, or images, or emotions, or any combination of the three, brands are mental associations that get stirred up when you think about or hear about a particular car or camera, watch, pair of jeans, bank, beverage, TV network, organisation, celebrity, or even a country.

To make a brand worth ‘saving as’, you’ve got to come up with a different meaning for your brand relative to other brands in your category. This difference in meaning has to be simple to understand. It can’t be a complicated concept in any way. The idea on which you establish your brands meaning in people’s minds has got to be unique and simple to grasp.

You must identify something to convey about the brand that is authentically different. This doesn’t mean a different feature or benefit (features and benefits become obsolete far too quickly), but how your promise to the consumer is completely different from what other brands promise. The best brands are set apart from other brands on the same playing field by both communicating and delivering on this different promise.

A good brand can get across to consumers how it’s different and why it’s better. A good brand idea does both.

Every good brand manager knows you have to establish and signal a simple, differentiated meaning to consumers and ensure that it’s something people will care about.

The best brands: Different in a way people care about
Look at any of the best brands in the marketplace, old or new, and you can immediately tell what makes them different from the others in the category. It’s also clear what makes this difference relevant to consumers. There is no long-term value in a brand if it’s not something people will use or find important to their lives. Difference for the sake of being different won’t get you anywhere but in a financial bind.

Research isn’t a panacea. Use it wisely and follow your intuition.

Relevance is relative
Make sure you’ve established a brand difference that people will find relevant. But, although it’s critical to establish a point of brand difference, the degree of relevance is relative.

It’s essential to make sure you dont dilute your brand’s authority with your primary audience. You also have to consider what financial resources will be required to expand. Sometimes it’s better to be a niche brand and command a hefty margins from an elite group of buyers than to be everything to everybody and put yourself in a commodity position fighting a price war for profit. A lot of brands have failed to thrive as large brands because they have moved too quickly from niche-brand strategy to big-brand strategy. Make sure you keep an eye on why people were attracted to you in the first place. Then make sure the other consumers you’re going after will find you attractive for the same reason without turning off your loyalists.

A quick overview: How brands are built
In terms of building a brand, this is backward. To achieve success in brand building, the first thing you need to do is establish a differentiated meaning for your brand. Identify something unique on which to build a brand idea. Then determine whether this difference whether this difference will actually matter to anyone. Is it relevant, and to whom? Is there a large enough audience who will care? Only after you’ve established a different and relevant meaning for your brand should you begin to think about generating awareness. You cannot think about creating awareness  – thats branding – until you have your brand idea. Consumers need a way to make distinction between one brand and another. This distinction is how they form preferences and make choices. You must establish your brand’s difference and make sure it’s relevant before you do anything else.

Some indicators, or brand pillars, of this are as follows:

  • Differentiation  – what makes your brand unique
  • Relevance – how appropriate this difference is to the audience you want to reach
  • Esteem – how well regarded your brand is in the marketplace
  • Knowledge – how well consumers know and understand your brand
Brands should get built one pillar at a time, with differentiation being the first and most crucial step. The relationship between differentiation and relevance is an indication of a brand’s strength.
When a brand has a higher degree of relevance than differentiation, the brand has become a commodity  – it’s uniqueness has faded and price becomes the dominate reason to buy. (Tesco for example)
Esteem and knowledge, the other two pillars, make up a brand’s stature. A brand with a higher level of esteem than level of knowledge is a brand that enjoys a good reputation, although people may know a lot about it. Too much knowledge and not enough esteem, on the other hand, can be a dangerous thing.
Andy Grove of Intel once said, “In the world of business, only the paranoid survive”. The same is true in the world of brands.
Capture the essence of the brand idea
The strongest brands are successful not merely because they’ve established a differentiated meaning for their brands and ensured that it’s relevant. It’s because they’ve reduced this meaningful difference to a simple, clear and cohesive thought – an idea people can get in a split second they’ll give you these days to explain your brand claim.
Phineas T. Barnum of circus fame once told a businessperson trying to sell him on something to see if he could write it on the back of a business card  – that’s the same thing.
Making your brand’s differentiated meaning simple to understand is critical to communicating your brand idea, both inside your organisation and out. If the people responsible for delivering on the brand promise dont understand what the brand stands for, there’s no way your audience will understand it.
Delivering the brand idea
In order for a brand to succeed, you must align your business strategy with your brand idea. Then develop a strategy to convey and deliver the brand idea – brand strategy. I cant emphasise this enough. The business strategy is what it is you do to make money – the product you sell or the service you provide. Your brand can only be as good as your business strategy enables it to be. The fact that you’ve established a meaningful difference idea for your brand is irrelevant if you cant fulfil the promise behind the brand idea. You must be able to deliver what your brand idea says you are going to deliver. At the end of the day a brand can only be as good as the experience of the brand.
Before you establish a simple and differentiated brand idea, before you develop a strategy to convey this brand idea, make sure you have what it takes to bring the idea to life.
What’s branding
Branding is how you go about establishing your brand’s differentiated meaning in people’s minds. A brand strategy is the plan you develop to convey your brand idea. Branding is all about signals – the signals people use to determine what you stand for as a brand. Signals create associations. A great brand is the result of great branding. The simpler and more focused your brand idea, the more brilliant the branding will be, and the more powerful the associations.
A brand is the idea. Branding is the transmission of the idea.
Brandig signals: Everything you think they are and more
Branding signals are external and obvious things like the logos and names, colours, signage, typefaces, images and promotions, package designs, and distribution channels. They are also things of a more experiential nature.
Think about the four-tone audio audio sound to signal Intel inside. The Nike swoosh, the Coca-Cola contour bottle and red disc icon.
Just as you shouldn’t confuse the words ‘brand’ and ‘branding’, you should’t confuse the words ‘advertising’ and ‘branding’. Advertising is just one of the many branding signals a brand can use to get an idea across.
The two or three branding signals that have the greatest influence on what a consumer associates with a brand signal are called power signals. Power signals are the branding signals that have the power to generate a disproportionate impact on the brand. While it’s a sort of made up name, it’s been imbued with all the right associations.
At the end of the day, a brand idea has to be simple and sharply focussed for the people who will be creating and transmitting the branding signal – your employees. If this doesn’t happen, you’ve got more than a transmission problem.
The job of branding signals belong to everyone
Just as you need to be sure the consumers you want to reach can connect with your brand idea, it’s equally important to make sure your brand idea can be easily understood by the people inside your organisation.
What a good branding signal communicates
A good branding signal communicates something that seems almost intuitively right for the brand. It’s almost as if you couldn’t imagine the brand without it. A good branding signal communicates some proprietary – something that could only be associated with or owned by your brand. A good branding communicates that the consumer won’t be fooled and should trust what the brand is promising to deliver.
Identifying something that establishes that your product or service is different and relevant and makes it simple to understand, and you’ve got a brand idea. Think about the best way to express this idea and you’ve got a brand strategy. Create good signals, and you’ve got branding. Align it all with your business strategy  and deliver on it, and you’ve got yourself a winner.
Safe ideas are boring, most likely undifferentiated, and definitely not worth saving as.
2. A short history on the world of brand – really short!
A simple idea turned sour
Look for a category that is all about facts and figures and functionality, and see if you can go in with an emotional brand idea. Emotion almost always wins over function, even in the most commonly used or ubiquitous products.
Simple trumps everything
The point is that simple does trump everything. If your brand idea is simple and focussed, you can execute it more easily, with greater clarity and creativity – and in a consistent manner – at all the points that a consumer comes in contact with the brand. Your branding signals will express exactly what you’d like to get across. The essence of a great brand is sacrifice. What’s the one thing you can say, the single, simple message you can send about your brand you know people will care about? Is it dry nappies? soft skin? a car that keeps the family safe? Sacrifice everything and tell this simple story.
3. What’s changed since 1970 and what it means to brands.
The number one objective of those responsible for brands is to get people to stop and recognise – in an instant – that they’re privy to something they’ve seen before and that it meets a justifiable and relevant need.
While life has gotten faster, while attention spans have shrunk to accomadate more information coming in at a faster rate, today’s strongest brands know that the rules of success are still the same. There is no mystery and there should be no complexity.
Part 2: How the best brands succeed
Before you you can start any brand or branding project, you’ve got to ask yourself three basic questions:
  1. What’s your brand strategy?
  2. What does your brand stand for in the mids of your customers (or perspective customers)?
  3. Can you align your business strategy with what you’d like your brand to stand for? In other words, can you deliver on the promise or brand idea?
The larger the company, the greater the importance there is to get a clear, simple brand idea. You see this in industry, in universities, and in non-profit organisations. People need to see what it is about that makes you better and different and it’s extremely important to make it simple.
4. Step one: Establish your brand idea