Sometimes when I mention branding, a client will say, “Oh, I don’t have a brand. We’re not selling that kind of thing.”
This stance mystifies me, and I’m always left trying to explain that, actually, branding is inevitable. If a brand is not defined and built on conscious choices, it will be cobbled together in an arbitrary fashion.
The problem here is most people think of brands as huge conglomerates that operate on a national or international scale. But really, this is far from the case. The origins of branding could not be more humble. Originally, a brand was simple a way to say, “This is mine.” Cattle are one of the few things that are still branded in the traditional sense. A proprietary mark is affixed to a cow in a permanent way, and this establishes ownership.
That’s not so different from what we do now. And like the rancher who doesn’t bother to brand his herd, your hard work can end up wandering into someone else’s pasture if you don’t take take some steps to own what is yours.
Say you are a small business. You sell cookies. You think you don’t have a logo, because someone just typed your business name up in Word and made it into a sign. But you’re wrong. That typeface is now your logotype, and people associate it with you. If you use a different typeface somewhere else, in a newspaper ad, say, or on your website, people are highly unlikely to connect the you that is your store to the you that exists online.
Take Jane, for instance. Jane is your ideal customer, and she is looking to hire someone to deliver handmade cookies to the baby shower she is throwing for her best friend. You happen to make exactly the kind of high-end, delicious cookies she is looking for. You also have an ad in a magazine Jane picks up when she’s getting her hair done one day. She notices your ad, is interested, and when she gets home she thinks, “Now what was the name of that cookie store?”
She can’t remember, so she does a Google search. She finds your website, but she doesn’t know it’s yours. Why doesn’t she know? There is no continuity between the website and the ad she saw. The typeface used in the ad is different from what’s on the website. There is no slogan to connect the two. There is no verbiage that assures her she has found the right place, no color scheme she recognizes. In short, there is nothing that makes her say, “Ah, yes. This is it.”
What does Jane do? She goes back to Google, still hunting for that ad she saw. She can’t find it. She ends up buying cookies from your competitor.
This is why brands have guidelines. Like color, typography is powerful. So is word choice. So is imagery. To have any kind of business you have to use words, typefaces, and colors, so you might as well pick a few and use them consistently. Otherwise you’re just shooting in the dark.