Is a brand more than a logo? According to people selling social media management it is – it’s how your customers think of you, and they can address that through online customer relations. However, if you ask the graphic designer, he’ll let you know just how important the logo, the color scheme, and the design is to branding your company. Of course the copywriter knows that it’s the brand’s story that people are attracted to, and without a deeper motivation than selling computers Apple would have failed in the 80s.
I’ve listened to a lot of speeches , read a lot of articles and researched piles of data myself related to the success stories associated with those companies that came to be household names largely due to their branding. I always had a healthy dose of skepticism when it comes to a success recipe, so it didn’t surprise me to learn that in most cases brands like Harley Davidson, Nike, Apple, and pretty much every other iconic brand didn’t believe in them either. Most of these businesses started out for the same reason; to make money, and the industry was something that the people involved were familiar with.
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple because they were computer guys. They had some success selling illegal telephone blue boxes and circuit boards, so they wound up in the computer business. To underscore the association, when Jobs left Apple in 1985 he almost immediately started NeXT, another personal computer manufacturer. It was the business he knew, so it shouldn’t surprise you that he didn’t start making animated movies.
The NeXT machines were eerily similar to later iMacs in the fact that they had ultra-modern sleek designs that were aesthetically appealing. If personal computing technology wasn’t as cost prohibitive in the late 80s, I believe you’d be reading this article on a NeXTpad instead of an iPad. Aesthetics were key to Apple’s success after Jobs returned. I remember the first time I saw an iPod touch a friend asked me “Isn’t this the nicest piece of electronics you’ve ever seen?” It was, and who knew they looked even cooler in white?
Nike, another iconic brand traces its roots back to Bill Bowerman. He must have been a social media guy, right? Well actually, Bill was a track and field coach from Oregon. He was known for coaching dozens of national champions and future Olympians. When I was a kid, I always looked forward to my birthday. Since it was only two weeks before school started, my Mom would take me to buy a new pair of tennis shoes. There were few things I could buy as a 9 year old that were as sleek as a pair of Nikes. They were basically the 9 year old equivalent of a sports car, and we all know the lure of a Mustang or Camaro. Nike had something else working for them; they did indeed have a story. The track athletes that Bill Bowerman previously coached would be sporting Nike track shoes soon, and before long Michael Jordan would too.
After thinking about it for a while I realized: I learned everything I needed to know about branding when I was a kid. The same reason I wore Nike branded sneakers instead of Reebok, and the same reason that you bought an iPod touch before you had any use for it whatsoever. It’s because branding does go deeper than a logo. It is more than aesthetics, a story, or a motto. Branding is a psychological advantage that appeals to consumers when they know little about which product is of a higher quality or a better value. No matter what anyone says, you can’t craft an image or a logo that develops something as primal as effective branding. Effective branding is a sum of its parts. It is completely dependent on your senses, and you know from experience that perception is largely dependent on environment.
A brand doesn’t become iconic until consumers can relate on a deeper level. When I was a kid buying Nikes wasn’t just a purchasing decision, it was me giving Nike permission to define a small part of me. After Apple started making devices that were sleeker and sexier than anything else on the market, it became something for technophiles to identify with. You know a brand is iconic when consumers actually purchase branded apparel and wear it around as a form of free advertising. It took a lot of R & D to figure out that consumers want to identify with the products they use. To understand why people customize their cars, buy nickel plated pistols or bedazzle their cell phone. Couldn’t you have described that need to them in 3rd grade?
So is branding more than a logo? Yes, most definitely, but if your strategy is heavily dependent on your branding you need to pay attention to every detail that can be associated with your company. That includes your logo, color scheme, back story, mission statement, the people involved, the product, advertisements, and public relations. With that in mind, don’t count on creating an icon. There is a lot of luck involved in branding. Just as Steve Jobs’ NeXT, with its magnesium casing and high fidelity (for the time. Think 1991 Alienware) graphics, it just wasn’t a feasible business proposition for branding to make much of a difference.
You don’t really need to sell t-shirts with your logo on them for branding to make a difference though. Making an emotional connection with consumers is what digital marketing has largely become; if consumers have the smallest psychological attachment to your brand, you have a advantage over 90 percent of your competition. Very few businesses have employees who go the extra mile. It isn’t often that the person who makes final decisions on branding take a step back and ask themselves “Would I wear this on a t-shirt?… if I was 9 years old?”. When you lay out your brand equation, does it add up to cool? Don’t buy in to some magic branding pipe dream, it takes a lot of little wins coming in just the right order, at just the right time to cultivate an effective brand image. No one said you had to master branding to win in business either. After all, Facebook has attracted customers just fine, but brand association isn’t very popular, and I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a Facebook t-shirt.