Brand: watch your assets! Is less more?
As a brand professional, I’m regularly advising people to create and manage recognisable assets, visual or verbal.
These assets or ‘brand codes’ are elements that are used to identify a brand and distinguish it from its competitors.
Codes can be visual, verbal, or audio and are essential for building brand recognition, salience1 and growth.
Think logos, colour palettes, typography, imagery, slogans, and audio codes, such as ‘jingles’.
Often referred to as mnemonic devices — these brand assets are a powerful tool for promoting immediate recognition of your brand communications — and create a consistent and cohesive brand identity across touchpoints, be it your environments, packaging or advertising.
Give me an example?
Okay, anyone will agree that Coca-Cola brand’s red and white, distinctive scripted logo, and bottle contour, are instantly recognised and activated heavily across all communications. This has helped Coca-Cola become one of the most valuable brands in the world.
Or think how Tesco streamlined and simplified its brand codes by focusing on the brand’s colours, tagline and wordmark. Well, ‘every little helps’, you might say. It helped Tesco become one of the largest retailers in Europe.
And yes, McDonald’s. The brand has a set of iconic visual codes such as the ‘golden arches’ and colour palette. A brand instantly recognised worldwide. Equally, verbal codes, “I’m Lovin’ It”, and its accompanying musical notation — love it or not — is surely one the most successful in advertising.
So, what’s that mean to me?
Okay, so these heavily-advertised superbrands may seem a stretch away from your business, but it’s helpful to note and learn from their practices, as you endeavour to do more, with less.
Consider this. At their scale, surely the temptation to create more assets or devices around particular offers or sub brands must grow? Yet, they carefully manage the brand and resist that temptation, focusing on clarity of message and repetition.
Okay, so I need to create brand ‘codes’ or recognisable assets?
Yes, used effectively, brand codes help create an emotional connection with the consumer, making the brand more memorable and top of mind. They also help to build trust and credibility, which are vital for building long-term relationships with customers. Bear in mind also that many of the people seeing your message are not in the market to buy right now, but that's okay, you are building recognition amongst the many who are not ready to buy, so that you are front of mind when their decision time comes.
‘From a branding perspective, a cohesive look and feel across the portfolio is paramount to protect the equity of the master brand in the long term. Visually cohesive products are matched back to their portfolio more accurately, and faster by consumers. They also demonstrate significantly higher brand recall.’
Ella Ward, Senior Marketing Scientist at Ehrenberg-Bass Institute
Can we have too much of a good thing?
Indications are that proliferation of brand codes can actually have a negative impact on a brand’s growth prospects. According to research (Professor Byron Sharp), multiple pieces of differing creative will actually work against your brand. Actually undermining the ability to encode these critical memory structures in people’s minds. So more focus + more clarity + more differentiation = better results.
So: More focus + more clarity + more differentiation = better results.
And a side benefit? Ease of management. Yes, it requires discipline and care to use less — but less to manage has got to be a good thing, right?
Here it is, in a phrase: Think harder, create less, execute more.
In a demanding and fragmented communication environment, [i.e. everywhere these days] it’s critical to streamline and simplify your brand codes and activate them heavily on communications, whether visual, verbal, or audio. This ensures that even a fleeting glance at a bus shelter poster, a company Linkedin post, or hearing a jingle, effectively brands the product [and brings it back to your mind].
This is why recent years have seen many leading brands simplify and clarify their portfolio of brands, and their visual assets.
David Aaker, Professor Emeritus as Haas Business School, writes, ‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. It’s essential for a brand to have a small set of core elements that can be easily recognised and remembered. The more complicated the brand, the less likely it is to be remembered, and the less effective it will be in building relationships with customers.’
Consistency, repetition and simplicity — with creativity
Brand codes need to be used consistently if you want to keep them to embed them in people’s memory. The challenge is to develop fewer and more distinctive (and effective) brand assets.
Mark Ritson puts it that you must:
- Establish your brand codes
- Apply them mercilessly and repeatedly
- 'Play' with your codes — only when they are well established.
So, it’s no coincidence that recent brand refreshes for BA, Virgin Atlantic, Spotify, and Deliveroo (amongst many others) have simplified and removed variations to focus on key distinctive assets.
The opportunity: to create a simple, flexible design system, a verbal identity, and maybe even audio, that bridges channels and categories — to deliver a greater return on all of your communications and media efforts.
Bored? Suck it up.
A note on consistency: If you, your social, or marketing, team are ‘bored’ with these assets, maybe learn live with it. The elements you have ‘tired of’ may only just be percolating into your audience’s consciousness (or unconscious, more likely).
That should not mean that things are dull. Not remotely. You need to be creative.
Personally, I like to think of the many great symphonies, written with endless variations, on a few beautiful notes.
Your brand assets are essential for building brand recognition, salience1, and growth. But brands should focus on a limited number of highly distinctive and effective brand codes, to create a more effective, flexible design system that bridges channels and categories and gives you a greater return on your communications and media.
That’s all for now from me, good luck with your process and remember you don’t have to do it alone... let me know if I can help.
1Salience: How readily your brand comes to mind — its recognition, recall and consideration in the minds of your audience.