By Dr Grace Kite

5 things this data person learned about branding by doing it for real

1. Branding is an iceberg, you communicate the tip

The evidence shows that most normal people don’t really care about branding. That our eyes pass over it and our brains don’t settle on it. That it’s only when very creative people associate it with a feeling and businesses pay a lot of money to have it repeated, that it makes much of a difference.

So, I went into re-branding my company with the idea that I was tidying up. Putting the house in order, making sure that when we do repeat a name or a ‘why buy us’ message we are being consistent. No-one was going to pay much attention but the repetition might build up.

It was the hardest tidying I’ve ever done. Turns out, it’s tough to settle on one small ‘why buy us’ message that you’re happy to repeat over and over again. Or one set of colours, one font, one logo.

It’s because, sitting underneath that positioning and that look and feel, is a much bigger thing. What your customers need, what your competitors aren’t doing, and the truth about where your offer is better.

We got to “Data people with the people skills to get shit done” and an approachable, jaunty logo. But to get there we climbed a mountain of understanding about how businesses digest marketing research and what our clients appreciate about working with us.

2. Brands are actionable behind the scenes

It’s different when you are spending your own money. As the owner of a small-ish business, the opportunity cost of the re-brand was a flash holiday for me and the family. Or a beautiful piece of art on my living room wall. Maybe two.

And I feared at the beginning that I’d end up with something that would, like the art, just sit on the wall and be looked at. I’d show it to my employees, but they’d only shrug. We’d repeat it to customers but they wouldn’t care. It would look pretty, but not change anything.

But it turns out that the bulk of the iceberg, the bit that sits underneath what we will communicate to customers, is a very important set of things to know. Even if the public re-brand is still too new to have made a huge difference to sales, the business knows the iceberg and has changed because of it.

It’s informed who to hire, where to innovate, which projects to pitch for, and even which ones not to pitch for. And it’s taken some of the guesswork out of business decisions. We know which way to go now, and we know why.

3. Noodling is important after all

Analysts and researchers have the luxury of mainly having to communicate to people who are already interested. Afterall, that CMO paid us to do the research. They’ll appreciate it if we explain the same point in 3 ways, use analogies, persist until they get it. There’s no need to land on one version with precisely the right words.

I realise now that this is why I’ve always felt impatient with planners and their noodling. Their rewriting of the same sentence over again with only very slight differences between each version. It’s always felt so inefficient to me. It takes so much time, and then ends up on something so simple, obvious.

But I found myself doing it with new brand’s values. Now knowing that my customers might only read them once, and would skim them. What exactly was it I wanted to say? I had to write them, then sleep on it, then come back and fiddle. The final set is version 27b.

And I did the same with the design work too. My first reaction was never the right reaction. I had to think it through, talk to people, play with things. Get it wrong, screw it up, start again.

I kicked the tyres so many times, went round the roundabout, and then ended up back where Nina and Asa, the super talented designers from &Agency, had pointed me in the first place. They had, of course, already done the noodling.

4. Work with great people and then take their advice.

This one seems obvious, but we tried to do it on a shoestring the first time round. Got a mate to design a logo, got an illustrator off Fiver, found a WordPress theme to customise.

Some of that work was helpful in pointing the way, but the results were either not good enough or not complete enough.

The real progress only came from working with people who knew what they were doing, and then taking their advice.

The interviews that Brian Jacobs did with CMOs and marketing directors revealed so much. The thinking and analysis that Tom Roach did built the secure footing our brand now rests on. And then Nina and Asa at &Agency were the ones that made it all real.

5. And finally, I learned the value of branding all over again

Before this I knew intellectually that branding was important. That it’s very often an investment into growth that absolutely pays back.

Now I know it in a different, more visceral way. I know it in a way that isn’t a trip to Disneyland, or a set of code that would speed up the work my team does.

I’ve talked a lot about the risk marketers take when they set off on brand building, and how hard it is to sign off budgets. How there are other things with a more certain and faster return. How research projects must be structured for outputs that can convince the CFO.

This time, for the first time, I was client side. I was the CMO, and as a founder that’s also an economist, I was the CFO too. And from that vantage point it is a leap. It’s something you have to have faith in. Something that’s hard to keep funding.

But the early indications it’ll pay back in spades are good. When I showed it off on twitter, quite a number of people’s eyes did seem to be able to settle on it. A few people did take notice. Even better, new business enquiries are up. And the pitch success rate with the new deck is 100% – 2 out of 2, but still.

 

Photo credit: Alex Micu

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