Whether we’re designing or implementing a full rebrand, it’s often assumed that the only advantage of design in business is aesthetic. The truth is that there is a significant ROI opportunity for branding. The value of a brand can fluctuate depending on the market’s perception of the business, but designers know how to make that perception more favourable.
One of the key purposes of design is to increase the value of a brand. The general reaction to a familiar brand or visually impressive design will always be more positive than something bland or unrecognisable, i.e. they are more willing to spend money or make contact. But how can design and perception affect the value of your brand? It helps to split some of the key factors up in order to analyse them individually.
Knowledge and association
A recognisable brand has more value than an unfamiliar one. Customer perception is, essentially, what brand value is largely about. If the market recognises your brand and views it in a positive light, then your brand is a valuable one.
The ultimate goal for any brand is for it to have functional and emotional associations. Functional association means that the brand is so strongly associated with its market, that it becomes synonymous. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “Pass the Sellotape” or “I’ve got to Hoover the floor” before. That’s a level of functional association that all brands should aspire to. Meanwhile, emotional associations are all about how clients feel when they interact with your brand. If that feeling is strong enough, your brand becomes connected to that feeling (whether good or bad). For instance, Nike’s Just Do It strapline associates the brand with fitness and high-intensity training.
To study the value of your brand’s association level, you will need to talk to stakeholders, including the senior levels, within your company, as well as both current and prospective clients. I asked one of our brilliant designers, Ollie, how this is done.
“We interview all the key shareholders (not just the top brass) within the business to see what values they feel are reflected by the company. However, they are usually too close to their brand, so have a slightly distorted view. They tend to offer the answers they want to be true. By questioning clients as well, you can get more suitable information that helps answer how the brand is perceived externally. If there are common themes in the answers, it’s clear that there is a general perception of your company, and that means the brand has value.”
Part of the Dusted design process involves questioning key stakeholders, clients, and prospective clients to establish how recognisable a brand is and which of its characteristics are most appreciated. We then use this information to enhance the prominence of the most favourable and recognisable elements of the brand to increase awareness and develop the brand’s value.
The factor that differentiates your brand is what creates loyalty from your clients: it’s what contrasts your brand against your competitors and emphasises the unique aspects that make you the superior choice. But there are many ways to differentiate your brand and they all have different impacts on brand value.
One way to stand out from your competition is to offer the best deals through cost leadership. This differentiates your brand from the others by being the most affordable, appealing to those on a budget. Just because you are lowering the cost of your service, it doesn’t mean that you are lowering the value of your brand. However, if your brand strategy isn’t in sync with your differentiation strategy, that could hurt your brand value. For instance, imagine if Whole Foods tried to undercut ASDA in prices? It wouldn’t be in line with their brand messaging, and could ultimately devalue the brand. When Crazy Egg decided they were going to be the most affordable website analytics service around, they did it within the guidelines of their brand strategy. Their service prides itself on being user-friendly and hassle-free, with the low price being merely a part of that strategy, not its defining factor.
How a company differentiates their brand depends entirely on their strategy. Are you looking to be seen as ethical? Your differentiation could be environmental or philanthropic. Perhaps you want to focus on your country of origin and use existing cultural perceptions to your advantage (Swiss precision, Italian style, etc.)? One particularly effective (but difficult) way to differentiate a brand is to take ownership of an idea, even one you didn’t come up with. The idea of excitement is ‘owned’ by Red Bull, while Dove has taken ownership of ‘real beauty’. It’s not easy, but there is a great deal of value to be gained by being synonymous with an idea.
By finding a way to stand out in your market, you increase your relevance because the brand displays a clear ability to identify and provide a specific benefit that aligns with the values of the company. A brand with more relevance is a brand with greater value.
Personality and engagement
Being visible and different is one way to draw attention to yourself, but what will your audience see when they look at your brand? A large part of your brand’s identity is defined by its character – the personality portrayed and how you engage with your audience. I spoke to Ollie again, who told me that a brand’s personality and engagement are major factors in how its audience perceives them.
“A brand’s tone-of-voice can really help add a personal element to their identity and increase engagement with an audience,” Ollie told me. By establishing a tone, a brand essentially implies their personality. When it comes to B2C consumers, this is done by generating personas of your target market (not as easy as it sounds) and establishing a voice that speaks to those personas. B2B brands, however, require a slightly different approach. It wasn’t long ago that a brand persona wasn’t considered necessary with B2B companies, but in recent years it’s become essential. Businesses are concerned with the vitality and longevity of the brands behind the products and services they buy. They expect a true customer relationship where they are considered a partner rather than a client. This means engaging with your clients regularly to build trust and confidence in your brand. As Ollie put it, “It’s important to engage with customers because this will build a relationship with them and they will begin to trust – and become invested in – your brand.”
When it comes to developing value in a brand, the company image isn’t the only factor to consider. Brand value is about how the company thinks, how it reacts to situations, and how well it communicates a message and identity. If your business’s current brand isn’t achieving its objective or doesn’t have an identity that is in sync with the company ethos, then it might be time to consider a rebrand or brand refresh. A business with an identity that doesn’t represent its values has little equity.