Building a Strong Brand: The ID Branding Framework

I'd like to share this excellent article by Dennis Hahn published in AllAboutBranding.com. In it, he shares his vision on the concept of Branding as well as four principles which constitute The ID Branding Framework. A thorough glossary with useful terms and interesting figures depicting the elements of the framework, make this a must-read article for all you branding lovers out there.

Enjoy!

 

"BUIDLING A STRONG BRAND: THE ID BRANDING FRAMEWORK"

By: Dennis Hahn

Today it's commonly accepted that strong brands accelerate business performance, with the power to lift companies, their products and services from obscurity or commodity status to positions of preeminence in their marketplaces. We define "brand" as the recognition and personal connection that forms in the hearts and minds of your customers and other key audiences through their accumulated experience with your brand, at every point of contact. Ideally the brand that emerges is a positive one, leading to trust, loyalty and advocacy for your offerings, increasing shareholder value and establishing long-term advantage in the marketplace.

More than just defining the nature and effect of brands, however, it's important to define the disciplines and elements needed to build and manage them effectively.

Our conviction is that branding, at its best, is more than a marketing responsibility - it is an integrating business practice. We believe branding should span your organization, weaving across and through personal interactions, corporate culture, communications, products and services. It should both reflect and inform your business decisions, and it should guide all of your customer contact points. Your brand should be championed by top management and embodied from the inside out by all of your employees, product offerings and communications - at all times. Branding should never be treated as a project that has a beginning or an end.

Because branding must span broadly to be most integrated and effective, branding programs can be difficult to plan, develop and manage. In response to this problem, ID Branding has developed the ID Branding Framework, a model that provides a holistic view of the various facets of branding. This framework identifies and relates key branding disciplines, points of understanding, activities, and tangible expressions of the brand. It is designed to support the definition, creation and management of broadly integrated branding programs.

The ID Branding Framework is built around four core disciplines, each of which plays a vital role in branding: brand strategy, brand identity, brand management and brand experience.

When building a new brand, these four disciplines can be viewed from left to right as sequential phases of development. When working with existing brands, however, each of the disciplines operates concurrently - they are interdependent and work together over time.


Figure 1. Four core branding disciplines form the backbone of the ID Branding Framework.


Figure 2. The ID Branding Framework relates a variety of elements to the four core branding disciplines.

As shown in Figure 2, each of the core disciplines has several related elements. These elements may represent points of understanding, activities, building blocks or types of communications.

The Value of the Framework
ID Branding chose to define branding with a framework model because it best serves the following objectives:

  • Establishing a holistic, yet scalable approach for building company and product brands
  • Providing a foundational set of concepts and terminology for branding activities
  • Encompassing long-term brand management in addition to specific development projects
  • Enabling effective branding work to start at any point in the life cycle of a brand

 

The framework is different than a methodology or process because it doesn't require that all branding activities begin with development of a new brand strategy and/or identity system.

What the framework demands is a clear understanding and validation of the current brand strategy, identity, planning and delivery. It can reveal "holes" or "soft spots," and it helps identify the need, if any, for specific work to bring branding elements into alignment. It helps integrate new branded work, be it an advertising campaign or signage for a lobby, with what already exists, thus avoiding the all-too-common creation of a story, look or feel that's out of step with other branding efforts.

Most importantly, the ID Branding Framework addresses branding as a business practice over the long term, and throughout an organization, providing a comprehensive foundation for building and managing a strong brand over time.

A General-Purpose Model
The ID Branding Framework is designed to support a number of different brand-building situations:

  • Creation of new corporate and/or product brands
  • Development of well-integrated branded communications
  • Ongoing promotion and management of existing brands
  • Clarification and/or revitalization of an existing brand
  • Consolidation and alignment of multiple brands
  • Internal brand promotion and adoption
  • Extension of an existing brand

 

In each case, the framework provides a visually mapped checklist rather than explicit processes, so it can serve a variety of needs, supporting both the development and long-term management of brands.

Core Branding Disciplines
The following sections explore the ID Branding Framework and its branding disciplines in more depth. The glossary at the end of this whitepaper provides definitions of each of the framework elements.

Brand Strategy
The ID Branding Framework begins with the Brand Strategy discipline. Its purpose is two-fold: to understand key aspects of a company's business, its marketplace, its customers and other key audiences, and then to use these insights to define an appropriate brand strategy.

The brand strategy is critical because it sets the foundation for all other branding activities it establishes a focused understanding and direction that's agreed upon at the highest levels of the organization, before creative development work begins. It helps pre-empt the "brand chaos" that arises naturally from conflicting goals and personal beliefs, and it provides vital input to align creative and management processes.

Based on a thorough discovery of the company, its offerings, audiences and competitive marketplace, the strategy defines the overall brand architecture (defining the relationships of corporate, product, partner and ingredient brands), a differentiated position in the marketplace, a hierarchy of messages crafted to resonate with customers, a distinctive brand promise and a projection of the customer's ideal overall brand experience.

In addition to more focused documents, often all of the discovery and strategy elements will be consolidated in a document called the Brand Platform.

Brand Identity
Informed and directed by the Brand Strategy elements, the Brand Identity discipline provides the highly distinctive outward expressions of the company's values, personality and promise its identity system consisting of elements such as the name and logo that are used repeatedly to provide instant recognition in a crowded marketplace. Beyond name and logo, the Brand Identity expresses the organization's purpose and personality through a well-defined color palette, a characteristic design system and additional verbal branding such as a tagline and category-defining phrases for products and services.

In addition to the corporate identity, identity systems may also be developed for specific sub-organizations, products, services and programs. These systems may be designed to work closely within the corporate identity or stand on their own, depending on the architecture defined in the brand strategy. All of these identity elements, along with assets such as reusable graphics and photography, even audio signatures, are then available for repeated application to give the brand its consistency, distinctiveness and recognizability.

Brand Management
With the identity system in place, it's easy to assume that the stage is set for application of its elements to the full spectrum of branded communications and interactions building the customer's brand experience. But the inclusion of the Brand Management discipline at this point in the framework is critical for the three key functions it provides:

  • Planning coordinated launch and delivery of brand messages, both internally and externally, integrating with business and marketing plans to optimize impact and cost-effectiveness-planning not just individual projects, but optimizing the overall priority, mix and rollout of projects to best connect with the customer
  • Actively cultivating brand understanding, adoption and ability among employees and others who will be creating the customer's brand experience - providing them with brand training, assets and tools so they can consistently deliver "on-brand" communications, personal interactions and products
  • Setting up a system and tools for monitoring and assessing the brand's health, so that resulting insights can be used not only to maintain brand alignment, but also to evolve the brand strategy, identity, experience and management over time - allowing brand managers to move beyond mere consistency and build a brand that can adapt and flourish in the marketplace

 

These functions make brand management an essential discipline, both for rolling out new brands and for managing existing brands to best effect. It is the guiding hand that promotes the brand, protects its integrity and moves it forward.

Brand Experience
A customer's experience with a brand is typically the happenstance result of poorly coordinated communications and company contacts. The goal of the Brand Experience discipline, however, is to enable companies to design a range of experiences that customers and other audiences will find meaningful, memorable, and associate explicitly with your brand. Doing this is the surest path to building brand trust, loyalty and advocacy.

The Brand Experience discipline includes, but is not limited to traditional market communications. It extends well beyond them to include personal interactions, events, environments even the appearance, function and reliability of products and services and any other opportunities for you and your audiences to come into contact.

In addition to building the full array of experiences, the term "Brand Experience" is aspirational: it speaks to the goal of making every point of contact with the customer and other audiences as remarkable, engaging and compelling as possible and of clearly tying these positive experiences to your brand.

Summary
Designed to help build and strengthen the brand connection between organizations and their customers, the ID Branding Framework serves a number of needs. It brings together what are often disparate business and marketing efforts and applies specific branding disciplines to them. It defines the critical facets of branding, relates key disciplines and elements to each other, and provides a common terminology and approach. And, because the framework is scalable, it facilitates coordinated, big-picture thinking whether the task at hand is as small as creating a promotional leaflet or as large as branding an entire organization and its products. Ultimately, the framework serves over time to build a brand's strength, and with it an organization's success.

 

Glossary: Elements in the ID Branding Framework

Brand Strategy Elements
Company. Captures the company's business history and situation, long-term vision, nearer-term mission, cultural values and business goals, and its intrinsic personality.

Customers (and other audiences). Establishes an understanding of customer groups and other key audiences, such as investors, employees, trade press and sales-channel employees. In addition to demographics, which help you learn who your audiences are and how and where they can be reached, psychographics provide an understanding of their needs, desires, goals, beliefs, habits and culture.

Market. Defines the marketplace in which the company and/or its offerings will compete; can include market trends and dynamics, traditional and non-traditional competitors.

Offerings and Architecture. Describes the products and/or services the company offers to its customers, and the architecture-existing or planned of its brand relationships between company, product families, products, partners, ingredient brands and so on.

Category and Position. Identifies the industry, category and segments in which you compete, your competitive differentiation, and your positioning within that competitive arena expressed as a position concept the single differentiating idea that you intend to own in the minds of your customers.

Messaging. Typically comprises a hierarchy of messaging components, anchored by your position concept at its top, extending downward through the brand promise, basic description, key messages and support points. There can also be versions of the messaging "tuned" to the interests of specific audiences.

Promise and Experience. The brand promise states what the company/products provide and the benefits that customers can expect to enjoy from them. The ideal brand experience paints a picture of the takeaway impressions you want to create with every customer interaction.

Brand Identity Elements
Personality. Expressive characteristics that help breathe life into a brand and give it a distinct presence-behaviorally, graphically and verbally. In addition to specific attribute descriptions, some methods for characterizing personality as a package include brand persona (describing the brand in terms of a person who serves a specific role to others), brand archetype (a classic personality type rooted in psychology and mythology), and brand personage (typically a well-known individual who serves as a real-world model for the personality and behavior of the company or product).

Name. The name of an organization and/or product offering. Depending on the brand strategy and architecture, different types of names could be appropriate: descriptive (of functions or places), eponymous (named for some person), suggestive (recognizable and relevant), arbitrary (a known word taken out of its normal context) or fanciful (unique fabrications).

Logo. A company's or product's logo can be thought of as its "flag": distinctive, memorable, and signaling value and allegiance in the brand it represents. Types of logos include logo marks (graphic symbols), logotypes (symbol and name combined in a specific arrangement) and word marks (consisting primarily of type, focused on typographic style and emphasizing the name rather than graphic symbolism).

Tagline. The tagline, often referred to as a "slogan," is a short verbal phrase that can serve a number of purposes: it can provide descriptive information to define the company's business or the product's function; it can define the kinds of customers the company or product serves, or the benefit it provides; it can inject "attitude" to express a distinctive personality and approach to the world. The tagline typically has a predefined spatial relationship to the logo.

Design System. The organized system that creates your recognizable and repeatable "visual identity"-includes a distinctive color palette, typography (choices of typefaces and how they are applied), secondary graphics (these are characteristic graphic objects that pull together layouts, and also specific styles of illustrations and/or photos), and structural grids, which determine the distinctive arrangement of elements in different design applications.

Assets. Assets are the collected set of key identity elements, typically in the form of ready-to-use electronic design files. They include logos, type fonts, color palette, and libraries of distinctive graphic images such as photos, product images and illustrations.

Brand Management Elements
Planning. Planning focuses time and resources into specific decisions and priorities for reaching audiences-identifying the opportunities, budget and time for the best-possible delivery of your messages. Planning ideally builds from the organization's overall business and marketing plans, then breaks out to specific program-, product- and project-level plans, both for launches and ongoing activities. Plans can also address the processes and means for building and managing the brand within the organization.

Training and Adoption. For branding to achieve maximum effect, the organization's leaders, employees and partners must all understand and deliver the brand-and better yet, become engaged and live it as part of the corporate culture. Internal brand launches, employee brand training programs and engagement exercises, promotional items (such as branded gifts, clothing and screen savers), and attention to brand alignment during hiring and reviews can make a tremendous difference. They enhance a brand's clarity and authenticity, and they help keep the business focused in serving its customers.

Tools. A number of tools can be developed and applied to support the discipline of brand management. These can include brand training modules, a range of guidelines for brand, style, examples of internal and external communications, and templates to "jump-start" projects with appropriate design and assets already in place. All of these tools and more can be delivered within an online brand management portal, making them instantly and widely available, even in remote geographies, and easy to update with new and revised content.

Monitoring and Assessment. A key aspect of brand management is paying attention to the faithfulness of branding efforts, and also working to understand whether the efforts are resonating with audiences. Both sides of this equation should be monitored and assessed on a regular, ongoing basis to understand what's working, and what's not. Activities can include reviews of materials in development, brand audits and customer research.

Evolution. While one goal of branding is cohesiveness, it's also critical that branding evolve, both to reflect changing business priorities and to strengthen your connection with your customers. With learning gained through personal interactions and monitoring and assessment activities comes the insight to evolve branding efforts, and the brand itself. This may include adjusting, replacing, or adding to any of the elements described in the framework to optimize branding impact and cost-effectiveness.

Brand Experience Elements
Products and Services. The design and function of your product and service offerings are crucial elements of the brand experience you create: they represent the embodiment of your brand. To contribute to the strength of your brand, they should faithfully incorporate your company's values and identity attributes, and above all deliver on your brand promise.

Personal Interactions. As with products and services, interactions with people representing your organization stand out vividly in the minds of your customers, employees and other audiences. These interactions range from how you answer your phone, to the behavior of your sales and support staff, to discussions with your executives in meetings and public forums. It's critical to attend to these interactions and optimize them to reflect your brand values, deliver your messages and, ultimately, to help customers form trusted relationships and affinity with your organization.

Environments. Anything that provides surroundings for your audiences can be considered an environment; these include physical spaces such as retail and office environments, vehicles on the street, and event venues and activities. Virtual environments can be delivered through electronic media, including websites, CD-ROMs and even the multi-sensory impressions that can be created in radio, film, video and television. In each case, if the environment is aligned with your brand messages and is clearly identified with you, it can help create a compelling and memorable brand experience.

Print Materials. Print materials, business papers, collateral, corporate literature, annual reports and sales kits are arguably the most traditional means for creating brand experiences. They are often expected, and just as often ignored among the flood of communications demanding the customer's attention. But if their messages, look and feel connected with the needs and desires of the customer, and if they represent your brand clearly, they can be some of the most effective and long-lasting means of brand-building available.

PR and Events. Public relations efforts that result in attention for your brand and offerings in media coverage, public events and business forums provide the opportunity for your brand to be extolled by others, rather than requiring you to do all the promotional "lifting" yourself. Just as important, PR and events can create shared brand experiences they have the potential to build a community and following for your brand, helping it take on a life and momentum of its own.

Advertising. Advertising, whether in print, mail, on the air or online, is perhaps the best-known vehicle for creating brand awareness quickly. With its broad reach and boiled down brand images, messages and personality, it can rapidly build recognition for your organization and offerings. To avoid skewing or fragmenting your brand image, however, advertising must be handled carefully, with faithful incorporation of your brand identity system, personality and messages.

Contributor: Dennis Hahn

Dennis Hahn is executive vice president of Portland, Ore.-based ID Branding, a full-service branding agency, specializing in creating integrated, strategy driven branding programs for regional and national clients, including Kodak, Microsoft, H.B. Fuller, SAIF and TriMet.

*Note: Complete article and information on the author taken from AllAboutBranding.com

 

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