The cost of an identity crisis

What is the most valuable asset to your business? Is it your employees? Is it your product? Is it your building? Your location?

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Too much negativity to start a column? Sorry about that. The most powerful and valuable asset to any business is …

…. its brand.

So what is a brand? Most often, people look at a brand as one thing:  the logo. Most often, when clients approach me about designing their logo they just say “give me a logo that works like the Nike logo … or the McDonald’s logo … or the Coca-Cola logo. Give me a logo that provides my business with instant notoriety; something that will sell my product, market my company and cure cancer — all before breakfast.”

The problem to that line of thinking is that a logo is just a picture. There is no single image, that when introduced, will be instantly effective in communicating every product, service or message a business wishes to introduce to the public. Many people see the Nike, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola logos and are instantly reminded of their products, services and messages and, to put it bluntly, they see the logo as the vessel of the message and not the product of a consistent marketing and branding effort.

Truth is the Nike swoosh was nothing more than just an image when the first shoe introduced to the public back in 1971 (ironically it was just a design element on a shoe — the original company – Blue Ribbon Sports – it wasn’t until 1978 that the company changed its name to Nike). It took 7 years of branding and marketing efforts to tie the swoosh with the name Nike ( So even one of the most recognizable logos in the entire world took seven years to reach a point of prominence where it Nike was recognized by a mass audience.

There is more to a brand than just a logo. A brand is the product you sell and the quality of its performance; it is the service provided by the people who sell to or service the customers; it is the innovation and intellectual property that spurs the ideas the company introduces; and it’s the philosophy and approach to business. In time, a logo — like Nike, McDonalds and Coca-Cola — can come to embody all these elements, but it is not an overnight solution. A solid brand identity is the result of a quality product consistently reinforced by a thoughtful message, quality product and marketing effort over a an extended period.

Let’s briefly look at how to build a brand, and let’s start with the obvious…


In my time, I have seen some beautifully created logos; true works of art. Elegant, eye-catching and creative. And I’ve seen the businesses with these logos fail quickly. I’ve also seen the most hideous, drunk-sketch-on-a-greasy-napkin logo become an iconic symbol of a successful company (Two Men and a Truck). A successful, effective logo is timeless meaning that it does not changed year-to-year, but rather is consistently reinforced and pushed into the public arena.

Every time a company introduces a new logo, it effectively destroys or at the very least, degrades any headway the previous logo had on the public consciousness. I’ve seen too many companies believe that simply changing their logo will boost their fortunes, and I’ve seen too many ad agencies advocate a logo change for no other reason than they don’t like the design.  If  a business does decide to change its logo it needs to be part of a bigger strategy; one that designed to reintroduce the new look and reinforce the existing messaging so that the new look becomes intertwined with the existing marketing message.

I could spend time going into great detail on what makes for effective logo creation, but this article is about branding so to keep us on topic, so instead I’ll refer to my personal blog entry about logo creation. It is decidedly written to help graphic designers develop effective and versatile logos, but still provides valuable ideas and information any business owner evaluate his existing logo design or the ideas provided by the designer or agency.  You can read it by clicking here.


One of the biggest mistakes businesses make — particularly small businesses — is that they do not promote themselves in a consistent manner. Any marketing message, and advertising product (brochures, business cards, print ads, television, web sites, blogs, flyers, posters, packaging, etc…) must follow a consistent design standard.  Too often, people get caught up in looking at a brochure as being a standalone project than their business card or their print ad; each one with a different set of criteria and as a result the visual representation or messaging across an entire campaign differs from one project to another. This diminishes your brand effectiveness.

It’s important that design and messaging standards are established at the corporate level and enforce the consistent application of those guidelines to every product, every employee, every storefront and every product.  A few of these include:

  • Colors – Pick specific Pantone colors or set specific color builds (your agency or printer can help with this).
  • Logo size and application – Dictate the where, the size and how and your logo to be used in all applications (ask your agency or graphic designer to develop a written set of logo standards).
  • Tagline – Pick a specific tagline and stick to it, do not change across multiple projects.
  • Fonts – Choose specific fonts to be used in all your marketing, advertising and packaging — I recommend having a single Serif and Sans Serif font choice and the option for a Script font; once set, do not deviate.
  • Images – Identify and select what time of images can and cannot be used in your marketing. If you have an artistic, hand-drawn style, do not mix in photography; if you cater to high-end clients, use quality photography, not clip-art.

Ideally, a consistent brand results in the continual reinforcement of your identity across your entire product line and marketing efforts, with each project providing support and feeding identical messaging to every other subsequent process. This is how to build brand awareness and consistently reinforce your product or service.


Maintaining a consistent message is very important to building a strong brand. The easiest application of this concept is through a tagline (a short, 3-7 word phrase which sums up your service, the founding ideals of the company, or the benefit to the customer.

A recent discussion on the Marketing Design Group on LinkedIn asked for contributions as to the most overused and cliché ideas. It’s a pretty entertaining list to be sure and a good litmus test to ensure that your company isn’t recycling an overused concept employed by other businesses — or worse, your competition. Read it here (Note: You may have to create/log-in to LinkedIn to view the discussion).

It is important that a company distances itself from its competition through a unique and relevant marketing proposition. If the message is similar to that of another business, or if a company changes its message project by project, the end result is that mixed or conflicting messages exist in the public arena. That company can no longer be identified by a unified idea or thought, but will more likely be seen as a business with no sense of self-identity – and it’s hard to trust a company who is unsure of who it is, or what value it brings to the table.


Have you ever considered that your employees are probably one of the biggest contributors to your brand’s value, or the biggest contributor to your brand’s decline? It’s absolutely true.

Your employees are often the front line defense in protecting your brand (and a big element to brand value is your reputation). If your employees are involved and take a personal investment in providing the highest-level of service and exemplify the ideals of your company, your brand and reputation is strengthened; if they provide inferior service or reflect upon your company in a negative light, your brand is diminished.

Your employees get more face time with customers than does ownership. It’s critically important that their approach to your business and delivering your message is consistently reinforced.


The one thing that will always follow a company is the value of its brand. It’s the most important asset a company has and contributes more over a length of time than any other factor.

Employees may leave and can always be replaced. A building doesn’t speak to the value of a company and a location can always change.  Computers and furniture can be easily replaced when damaged or broken.

Damage to a brand can take years to recover from, or may prove to be a fatal blow to a company’s success. Your brand is the heart of your company and is a vital living, breathing component which feeds all future success. Take care of it. Develop it. Nurture it and take whatever steps are necessary to protect it.

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