Brand is a bit of a nebulous word to many. For some it means the logo, for others it is the core creative that is rolled out over the business cards, letterheads and the website. Some think of brand as the strapline and others think of it as the entire company, a product or a service. Others see branding as the character of the organisation.

In reality, while all these things play their part in the building of a brand, my understanding of brand is that it is none of those things. So what, then, is it?

I define brand as “a person’s gut feeling about your organisation, service or product”.

In other words, brands are defined by your customers, your potential clientele and those who have heard about you, your organisation and your services or products.

If that’s new to you, let’s think about that for a minute. We are all emotional, intuitive beings and we rely on our gut feelings to make an infinite number of choices every day including where we shop and what products/services we access. It’s weird to think that our guts rule our lives!

So if brands are defined by others, what part can you play? Your role (and that of your creative and marketing teams) to influence what people feel about what you have to offer.

The biggest influencer in creating a sustaining a brand is by establishing an unbreakable trust with your customers. And you do that by meeting and then beating their expectations again and again. When you begin to do that, you have the foundations of what Neumeier terms a ‘Charismatic Brand’ – a product, service or organisation about which people feel there is no substitute.

You only have to ask most people what their default search engine is and they’ll say ‘Google’. Ask them what mobile music device they use and the majority will say ‘iPod’ or ‘iPhone’. Enquire as to what social networks they use and ‘Facebook’ and ‘Twitter’ are likely to be high on the list. Ask them to name a cancer charity and ‘Cancer Research’ will probably be the top answer. Those are all examples of charismatic brands.

At the end of the day, there is one very simple factor that will determine whether your organisation, service or product is established as a leading brand in your marketplace: communication. The more you communicate, the more people will hear about you and what you do. It’s down to you to influence their gut reactions to your organisation and whether they’ll buy into what you have to offer.

The more I work with companies and charities on their branding projects, the more I am convinced that five core elements play a part in the effective and efficient communication stream. I’ve termed them “The 5 C’s” and these are the fundamentals upon which I base my approach to every brand project I undertake. Over the next five weeks I’ll be looking at each of these core elements in more detail but here they are in brief:

Coherency – Does your communciation stream (expressed through verbal, print, web and digital media) have a connection across all channels? Does it make sense overall? Is it understandable?
Consistency – Is your communication stream consistent over an extended period of time? Are you delivering the same message (albeit in differing forms and with different emphases) time and time again?
Creativity – Creativity is what gives brands traction in the marketplace. Does your company or organisation have great creative design, helping it stand out and be noticed? What does your logo, marketing material or website make people feel about what you do and what you have to offer?
Collaboration – In this tough economic climate, it’s very tempting to cut costs (and corners) and try to do everything yourself. This is not necessarily the wisest thing to do. You do what you do best. Why not bring others in to help you focus and strengthen your brand. Work with experts in their field – marketing consultants, web developers/designers, graphic designers / brand experts, social marketers etc. Remember, deep insights come from deep experience.
Cohesiveness – is your communication stream well integrated? Is there something that unifies it all – a common creative theme that makes each element feel part of one whole family? Is there a united message?

Over the next five weeks I’ll be taking a much closer look at each of these elements and analysing good (and maybe some not-so-good) examples out there. I hope you’re up for the journey.

Until next week… have a good one.