The branding of a company is the first thing that a client or customer will come across when seeking services. It may be in an advert, it may be on a letter or a website, it might be on a shopping bag or even on the side of a pencil.
Yet, a company’s identity isn't just that little marque on the top of a letterhead or a sign above the front door... If used correctly, it is a lot more powerful than that. It can sum up the ethos of an entire organisation.
In short, the brand should encompass and deliver a company’s message.
“A company’s identity is who and what they are,” says Ian McGregor of Vested Interest Design. “If one of your core values is quality then the identity should reflect that and any communication undertaken should also reflect that. If you compromise on quality at any time then you damage the equity of your brand. The way that a company communicates is designed to build equity and value for the brand as well as prompting recognition and recall.”
A successful logo for a brand will become entwined with that company, and become intrinsically linked with the company. Scottish Television has recently undergone a rebranding, of sorts, which Sean Duffy, commercial director of SMG, claims is not a rebrand but “a launch of a completely separate business, a separately branded, separately structured business.”
Elmwood designed the new moniker for the company, opting to use a blue ‘S’ as its symbol. The whole new concept which will be slowly introduced, as Elmwood’s Nick Ramshaw explains: “In the case of STV, you will see in a few weeks that the brand identity will be altered slightly with the website URL STV.tv replacing STV within the logo. This has been delayed to enable the new brand to become established in the viewer’s minds. The website is a huge part of the STV offer going forward, so including the URL will help drive traffic towards the new website. New programming will also do this and help achieve the brand’s vision of being Scotland’s essential source of information and entertainment.”
But why are highly successful companies with a longstanding history of using famous branding changing their images?
Alison Brown, business manager at Loop Design, who recently participated in the rebrand of the famous Cathouse nightclub in Glasgow, feels that now, in particular, there is an importance being placed on corporate identity. “Our clients face stiff competition for the attention of their customers and they are all looking for that special something which elevates them above their competitors and that something can be their brand identity,” she says.
However, Bernie Shaw-Binns, design director of Navyblue Design Group, says that he feels there is no real consistency as to how companies are valuing their corporate identity: “I am continually impressed with the type of organisations, small or large, that have recognised the importance of being clearly and consistently positioned in the marketplace.
He continues: “On the other hand, I despair at how other organisations seem oblivious to the value and role of their corporate identity and branding in supporting their corporate objectives and engaging with their different audiences. Equally, we are concerned when organisations put too much emphasis on corporate identity or branding in isolation as a way of solving fundamental business problems.”
Craig McKinlay of Breeze Creative agrees that, for better or worse, increasing value is now being placed on corporate identity by businesses. “But only if that identity represents a whole ethos and proposition to the target market that then, in turn, delivers value to shareholders,” he says. “Generally companies do recognise the value of the brand, but there will always be cynics. Fundamentally, though, a brand is a means by which one recognises an offering and can confidently be assured of receiving consistent delivery from that brand - it is not rocket science to realise the value of clear and consistent branding which operates in all dimensions of a business.”
Susan Lachlan a director at Weber Shandwick Design feels that the identity of a company should not be underestimated. “The identity isn't just that little marque on the top of your letterhead or the sign above your front door, it should sum up the ethos of the entire organization,” she says. “It's just as important that everyone within the organisation buys into that ethos and reflects it in everything they do - after all, they are all ambassadors of the brand.”
McKinlay continues: “Given that a corporate identity should be developed that has relevance and meaning within its marketplace, it is natural that all company communications thereafter reflect that very same image created by the corporate identity and that everything interconnects - from the image on a brochure, to the image on an exhibition poster, to the voice on the end of the telephone - it is all part of that one corporate ID.”
Ramshaw is less than convinced of this. “Unfortunately very few people still really, really understand how brands work,” he says. “Building brands is harder than ever and everyone wants a successful one, but many haven’t got either the long term vision or the day-to-day skills to make sure this happens.”
David McGilvray of Tictoc Design says that companies have become much more aware of the importance of their own branding in the past few years: “Tictoc has been going for seven years, in that time companies have become more aware of their corporate image.
The British public has a greater awareness of design than they did ten years ago (we are perhaps the Ikea generation), we also have many more SME companies who all want to look larger and more professional than their competitors.”
Roger Barnes creative director of RDBW Integrated Marketing agrees that companies are now beginning to realise the importance of ensuring that the design of their branding is correct. “There is no point in dressing up a pig to look like a princess - no disrespect to the pig - as the consumer will see through it and turn their backs,” he says.
Matt Buchanan, design director at Teviot, feels that in order for a brand to be truly successful people must make a personal connection with it. “For people to own your brand, to wear it, to stick it on their Macs, they need to connect with it and know exactly what it’s saying,” he says. “People are proud to be associated with a brand because they believe what it says. A clear, simple message has to be consistently communicated for a brand to have impact. Too many brands have contradictory messages which confuse the consumer and dilute the overall message. There should always be a singular brand message highlighted throughout a company's communications - from their annual report to website and advertising.”
In recent times, a number of brands (such as the high profile VisitScotland, and soon STV) have introduced drivers to other areas of communication, most notably websites, within their branding in order to utilise further methods of endorsing and promoting their work.
Justin Penman of Hookson believes that this is the way forward for many companies to fully promote their message on an internationally accessibly – and free – platform. “Gone are the days of having a website purely for the sake of it,” he says. “The internet is now commercially viable and allows many brands to speak directly with customers. Regardless of the communication vehicle, the key issue, I believe, is one of consistency and will it deliver what is needed?”
Bernie Shaw-Binns of Navy Blue agrees that companies have realised the potential of directing potential customers to seek more information online. “Companies are looking to maximise a greater return on their communications investment,” he says. “As part of an integrated communications approach digital communications are playing an increasingly important role. It allows organisations to bring their brand to life, extend their brand presence and reach multiple audiences through interactive touch points. It is not just another tool onto which the corporate identity can be applied.”
Buchannan feels that this is a logical step to take in order to continue to sell a message. “Communicating your brand on many levels also makes good sense in that most people won't buy a £500k house by viewing a website alone,” he says. “A development brochure, advertising, customer service etc will all go to helping a brand deliver.”
In contrast, McGilvray believes that this will not be a long lasting method of promotion. “This is not a growing trend, but a fad. It will die away with all the other dot-com leftovers,” he says.
Scotland’s cities such as Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and now Stirling have also followed the rebranding trend with high profile campaigns in order to attract visitors and change their images to show a fresh approach and an evolving lifestyle.
The establishment of such city brands have come under fire from critics who believe this to be a crude and unnecessary PR gimmick. Ultimately some succeed while others fail, however, time is the real tester in such high profile branding exercises.
Clive Smith director of Rhino Creative feels that all branding will be subject to some form of criticism one way or another. “It's impossible not to have an immediate gut reaction and response to a brand, especially if an established and familiar brand changes,” he says. “But a new brand needs time so this response can mellow and become more objective as the brand is rolled out.”
Shona MacIver of Loco Foco believes that having the right branding can change people’s perception of a company. “Like most brand designers I just hate that sort of man in the street 'do ya like it?' question because the answer is usually 'no',” she says. “A brand is more than just a logo: it is everything a company or organisation stands for. A brand looks good or, more accurately, looks 'right' if you trust the people behind it and this takes time.”
Lachlan agrees. “Often criticism is given without context,” she says. “I think it is important for those making comment to fully understand the landscape in which the identity was developed before they offer an opinion. I do believe it is important to give a new brand time to establish, these things are so subjective that it's impossible to judge the success (or otherwise) of an identity unless you have something to measure it against, and you can't do that overnight.”
McGilvray feels that all new brands need time to grow before a conclusion as to their success can be drawn. “I hated the BP identity when it was launched. It's now one of my favourites. All identities should be given time, maybe at least a year, before an opinion can be voiced - unless there is a basic flaw with the core concept of implementation.”
McKinlay agrees. “Brands will always be judged on personal likes and dislikes - on a whole complex series of levels,” he says. “When a company redefines its branding, it will always come up against criticism, particularly when the 'public' has an interest."
Buchannan is also in agreement. “We all naturally make snap judgments on new branding,” he says. “Time doesn't always help a bad brand establish itself. The recent 'Abbey' brand identity, which appeared to get worse with time, was ditched before further damage could be done. The ultimate goal is for a brand to communicate and deliver results over a period of time. But, essentially, creative branding can help a good brand become a great brand.”
Barnes believes that the success of a rebrand is in the impact that it makes in the long run. “The marketing resource will always win out in terms of being effective,” he says. “If the spend creates a high profile it will be seen as 'hitting the mark' far quicker than a longer term approach which will generally not have the same impact.”
“Design is a wonderful thing, but it is obviously very subjective,” says Ramshaw. “We certainly don’t complain when people love our work. However, many comments are given without understanding the bigger picture and usually before the brand has been given time to work. Many more fail, in our experience, because of poor marketing and a lack of investment, than from poor design. The best measures are things like the DBA Effectiveness awards which reward success by results, not just aesthetics.”
As companies strive to develop and reinvent themselves, it’s a difficult time to fully gauge the mood of a consumer society. Some of these changes are proving to be a success for companies; and the others remain hopeful that altering their corporate direction may see their fortunes differ.