Wally Olins: The Brand Handbook

Thames & Hudson

A brand is simply an organisation, or a product, or a service with a personality. So why all the fuss?

Despite the ubiquity of brands and branding, and despite all the talk, surprisingly few people seem to understand what they are actually about. The subject is confused and confusing. This is partly because branding can encapsulate both big and important and apparently superficial and trivial issues simultaneously.

A big idea
On the other hand, there is a further aspect of brands and branding that is implicitly recognised but rarely explicitly referred to which is that brands can represent huge and complex ideas.

Style and substance
What it boils down to is that, in branding, style is frequently confused with substance. In a way this is not so surprising, because it is the outward and visible signs the brand that are the symbols of differentiation.

Branding within the charity sector provides a great opportunity to show the benefits of brand and branding touchpoints. If used appropriately and with care, the entire ‘story’ can help people understand, and more importantly, engage.

Advertising and product brands
For about a hundred years – till the down of the technology age – the world of communications was dominated by advertising and advertising agencies. The reason why advertising was so important was because until recently corporations believed that they only had one important audience to address – the final consumer, the person who bought their products.

Complex media
Those days seem laughably simple. It just isn’t like that anymore. The proliferation of the media – the digital world, information technology, the web, blogs, the development of a complex, sophisticated, multi facet audience with individual quirks and behaviour patterns, the tremendous increase in purchasing power in the west and increasingly in Asia, the increasing homogeneity of competitive products and services, the increasing activity of competition in every field, the emergence of a caring society, but above all the requirement nowadays for corporations to come out of the shadows and communicate with all their audiences –  have altered the balance of power and made the corporate brand central in the 21st century.

Need to explain this in a diagram. The importance of getting it right, showing some good, bad and ugly examples. Particularly with the charity sector.

Today the corporation has become the brand – for all its audiences. So whether it owns multiple promoted quite separately from its corporate brand or whether it only has a corporate brand, the corporation has to promote itself – to all its audiences.

Charities are in the position. Competition within the sector is stronger than it was before, and with the ‘big’ players now using sophisticated and intelligent methods (similar to corporations) targeting audiences effectively is essential for survival.

The emergence of the corporate brand
It is becoming increasingly evident that the nature of the competition is changing. It was once possible to choose between competing products and services based on price, quality or service – rational or quasi-rational factors.

Being good as the best of the competition is now sufficient only to enable an organisation to stay in the race. In such situations, emotional factors – being liked, admired or respected more than the competition – help the organisation win.

But there is no doubt that the ‘corporate brand’ – that is, the organisation using its corporate name to project the whole – is becoming increasingly important.

The external/internal audience
The corporate reputation is recognised as a very valuable resource, which has to be managed from the centre in a coherent, sophisticated and log-term fashion.

The very fact that brands are everywhere, telling stories, convincing us of the credentials, integrity is essential in the charity sector. After all, the end user, the benefactors literally depend on it.

In a world, which is increasingly transparent and open, it is no longer possible for the corporation to hide from anyone (even the least publicly accountable group of organisations that make up the private equity business have found that out).

The capability to encompass both internal and external worlds can be a source of strength, because it brings cohesion, coherence and clarity.

Brand vale
The intangible value of brands is often greater than the corporation’s tangible assets. Look at McDonald’s, Diageo, Nestle or Danone. But it’s still very difficult for some people, including many of those who purport to look after them, to know what a brand actually is, let alone how to value it.

However, because brands are now understood to be assets valuable to any organisation, it is clearly mandatory to husband them with extreme care – even though the truth is that very people now how.

Branding beyond commerce
Branding has of course moved beyond the commercial area.

In addition, in an increasingly globalising and in some ways also fragmented era, cities, regions and nations are developing full-scale branding programmes, partly to encourage self-confidence and self-esteem and their own sense of place, and partly to attract inward investment and tourism.

Brands and branding are a vast, growing, confused and confusing area.

Identity in the twenty-first century
If identity is the idea that marks the twenty-first century, then branding operates at the point of delivery.

Definitions in branding
Like almost everything we do with the world of branding, the terminology is in a state of flux. Until the 1980s or so a ‘brand’ was a fast-moving consumer product on a supermarket shelf. It essentially appealed to only one audience of the organisation, the customer.

Many years ago in The Corporate Personality (Design Council, 1978) I (Wally) wrote that ‘corporate personality’ is the soul, persona, the sprit of the organisation manifested in some comprehensible way. I then wrote: “The tangible manifestation of a corporate personality is its corporate identity”. This latter, then, was the corporate personality under cultivation.

The ‘corporate image’ is what all the audiences of the corporation perceive of the identity that has been created and projected.

Guidelines for branding
Branding activity I generally associated with a few general rules. These are that branding

  • Is a design, marketing, communication and human resource tool
  • Should influence every part of the organisation and every audience of the organisational the time
  • Is a coordinating resource because it makes the corporations activities coherent
  • Above all makes the strategy of the organisation visible and palpable for all audiences to see.

The BrandSimple analogy of: A brand strategy must be aligned to a business strategy


Part one: What branding is about

Section 1 – Brand visibility
Looked at from the outside, brand seems to consist of a few elements – some colours, some typefaces, a strapline or slogan, all topped off with a logo or symbol. Sometimes, a brand also embraces a sound or music, and even smells. All of these ingredients seem to be mixed up and then plastered apparently more or less at random over everything that the organisation owns or influences.

In all its transactions, the organisation will in some way be presenting itself – or part of itself – to some or all the groups of people with whom it has relationships. If it is to be successful in holding all these disparate groups together, it has to be consistent and clear in what it says and does in all these relationships. In other words, if it is to be seen as an entity, it must behave as an entity, and the corporate brand it projects all of its audiences must be consistent.

The core idea
The take away:

  • Does your organisation have a clear core idea?
  • Can you explain what your company does from its competitors in a couple sentences?
  • Do most of your colleagues in the company share similar feelings about what the organisations is, what it does and how it does it?
  • Does the outside world understand what your company stands for, and how it differs from its competitors

These need to be reconstructed to work within the charity sector

  • Does your organisation have an effective set of elements?
  • Do the visual elements work according to a well-understood and coherent system?
  • Do they present an immediate memorable and unique encapsulation of the brand idea?
  • If your organisation is large, does each company, each division and each brand understand the workings of the organisation’s visual elements as a whole?

Again, these need to be reconstructed to work within the charity sector. It might be worth showing some examples to prove the point.

The four vectors of brand tangibility
– what the organisations makes or sells

Environment – the physical environment of the brand, how it lays out it stall

Communication – how it tells people, every audience, about itself and what it is doing

Behaviour – how its people behave to each other and the world outside

Communication – how it tells people, every audience, about itself and what it is doing
Corporate and brand communications have to be more sophisticated, more focussed and more varied, and maybe a bit less crass than before. Also, and this is becoming increasingly important, companies have to listen, as their customers become increasingly talkative, articulate and critical. What this boils down to is that communication has become more complex manifestation of the brand than ever before, and it has to be handled with considerable subtlety.

Charities are very much aligned and for the most part contained within the ‘emotional’ category.

Section 2 – Brand Architecture
Every organisation needs to create a framework into which its brands fall. This is called ‘brand architecture’. The architecture should be clear, easy to comprehend and consistent. The brand architecture of most organisations that have given consideration to the matter falls broadly into one of the three categories.

Corporate, or Monolithic – The single business identity
The organisation uses one name and one visual system throughout (e.g. Yamha, Virgin, HSBC, Easy)

Endorsed – The multiple business identity
The organisation owns a variety of brands, each of which is endorsed by a group name or visual style (e.g. Nestle, United Technologies, Banco Santander)

Branded – The brand based identity
The organisation owns a number of brands or companies which are apparently unrelated, both to each other and to the corporation (Diageo, Proctoer & Gamble, RBS, General Motors).

Corporate or monolithic
The take away:

  • The fundamental strength of the corporate or monolithic brand is that because each product an service launched by the organisation has the same name, style and character as all the others, everything within the organisation by the way of promotion or product supports everything else. Because every audience sees the whole entity, relations with staff, suppliers and the outside world are clear, consistent, relatively easy to control and usually economical to manage.
  • Companies with corporate brands tend as a consequence to have a high visibility and a clear positioning, which can be a great advantage in the marketplace.
  • The disadvantage of course, is that if one bit of the business gets into trouble, it can effect everything else.
Worth doing a brief case study of how each of the charities fall within this model, and if any, the charities that fall outside of it.
Which is the better branding policy? Although you can argue it in every different direction, it isn’t an exam, there is not right answer. To make a decision, look at the marketplace, potential gaps in the market, assess in detail the brand portfolio, the company ambition, the core idea and weigh up the pros and cons of each possibility. Then make the choice.
The take away:
  • Does your organisation have a clear architecture?
  • If so, what is it?
  • If it doesn’t, is there a good reason for the present state of affairs?
  • What can you do about it?
A detailed breakdown of each charity may help provide a clearer picture of the current models being applied. From what I have seen thus far, most of the charities prefer the monolithic approach. A clear, single identity, with a simple and easily recognisable mark.
Section 3 – Why and when to introduce branding
Some brands are created from scratch. There was nothing there before – like Orange the mobile phone business, or Vueling the Spanish low-cost airline, or First Direct the internet bank, perhaps the most famous example, Lexus the luxury car brand. More often, though, brands are reinvented. If it’s there already, if it exists, if it has recognition and for one reason or another it has to be changed, then it’s a reinvented brand. Or sometimes it just needs refreshing. There is, of course, a vast difference between invented and reinvented brands.
Reinvented brands
Much more frequently existing brands are reinvented or refreshed, because the world in which they operate has changed or is changing. With an existing brand that needs reinventing, a culture already exists, together with a tradition, an attitude and a reputation, often a long-standing one. There are employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers. And there’s also a name. So why tinker with what you have already?
The spirit of the times changes. Technologies change, fashions change; takeovers, mergers, globalisation, all these affect business – and therefore businesses and their brand have to change too, sometimes just in order to occupy the same space in the minds of customers, the market and the world. Just standing still while the world changes around you is not an option. You end up an anachronism, like the Boy Scout Movement did. And that’s why organisations reinvent themselves. It’s why they rebrand, both themselves as corporations and as the brands they own.

  • How many charities have done this?
  • When?
  • Why?
  • Has it worked?
The take away:
  • Does your corporate name provide a satisfactory umbrella under which all your activities can operate?
  • Is there any confusion between the names of your corporation and one or more of its brands?
Section 4 – The brand as a corporate resource
If it is effectively introduced and sustained, the brand is a major corporate resource – sometimes the organisation’s most significant financial asset. Like finance, investment, personnel, research and development, marketing, information technology and other corporate resources, the brand needs an appropriate power base, disciplines, adequate funding, commitment and management. If the brand resource receives this backing, it will operate just as effectively as any other corporate resource; if it doesn’t, it will wither on the vine.
The take away:
  • How seriously does your organisation take brand management?
  • Is every part of the business aligned to treat all of the organisations and people it deals with in a consistent way?
  • Are there any parts of the business that resist the overall brand management value or visual system, because they claim to be different? If they are, are there claims valid?
Are these questions relevant when the organisations consist of no more than a few people.


Part two: Making brands work

Section 5 – Developing the branding programme
Oxfam didn’t suddenly change from a second-hand clothes store to an international NGO overnight. Nor did the WWF become a major force all by itself, (David Attenborough) and the like were crucial in assisting and complementing their values and beliefs.
The objective of a brand book is to create an inspiring, imaginative, yet clear and practical way of telling a brand story.
The theme of the Impetus Trust book needs some thought around its tone of voice. Too formal and it may just alienate or turn off the audience/reader, on the other hand, too informal and the audience/reader may think that I’m patronising/mocking them.
An effective branding programme is the corporate strategy made simple. This doen’t means that you cannot be inflexible. A good deal of critisim has been levelled at branding programmes for introducing a bland homogeneity across everything they touch. There is also a compelling case for variety within consitency. Some organisations are beginning to recognise that diversity of offerings within a coherent framework makes an attractive commercial offer. The core idea may vary between one nationale culture and another. Local interpretation is vital. A Chekov play performed in English is not, and should not be, a literal translation of the Russian, but should interpret its spirit. The same applies for branding. It is the spirt that has to be interpreted.
A good of example of this within the charity sector is the work produced on behalf of Greenpeace. Is there anyone else?