To keep moving in the right direction, a brand needs to be bigger than one person. This means you, CEOs.
A visionary leader sounds like something to envy. Something that would be an asset to any company. And it’s easy to look at Tesla or Amazon and think they’re so successful because they had Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos and their competitors didn’t. As a story all about people, not economics and strategy, it makes a kind of instinctive sense.
But a company’s vision shouldn’t live in one person. As part of the company brand, the vision belongs to everyone.
The power of brand to engage and empower employees is too often overlooked. But the brand tells everyone what they’re here for and where they’re going. And when everyone knows that, everyone can help things keep moving in the right direction.
Of course there are some upsides to having a charismatic figurehead attached to your company. They can put a human face on a corporation, making it easier for press and the public to engage. And as long as their star keeps rising, they’ll pull the company skyward in their wake.
But when the founder or CEO becomes synonymous with the company, when the person becomes the brand, they also become a single point of failure.
Elon Musk was the one who was going to make all our pulp sci-fi dreams come true, from travelling in tubes to colonising Mars. But what’s your impression of the man today? Isn’t he the one that gurned his way through a joint on that podcast? Didn’t Azealia Banks get trapped in his house somehow? And he sells flamethrowers now? Is he a science hero or a supervillain?
Musk is the most recognisable element of the Tesla, SpaceX and Boring Company brands, so his erratic behaviour reflects on them all. And how must it feel for the staff? When the company’s reason for being is to execute one man’s vision, what does it mean for the company when that man’s focus starts to drift?
That’s why brand can’t be dictated purely from the top. All areas of the company need to be involved in creating, maintaining and growing the brand. When everyone understands where the company is going, a detour by a single individual can’t derail the whole journey.
A company, and its brand, is bigger than one person. The brand describes the company – and the company is all its people.
We want to help define your brand in a way the whole company can get behind. With Blueleaf and the Payment Systems Regulator, we engaged the whole company to create brands that reflect and reinforce shared values and ambitions.
Your brand: it’s more than what you look like. It’s what you do. That’s why brand needs a seat in the C-suite.
Case in point: this week The John Lewis Partnership launched a new visual identity with a powerful message – then immediately undermined that message with its actions.
The company is owned by its employees, and that’s the point of difference that comes across loud and proud in its new logos, packaging, livery and TV ads. John Lewis and Waitrose have both added “& Partners” to their names and logomarks, and the new TV ad ends with the line, “If you’re part of it, you put your heart into it”.
But 270 of those partners won’t be part of it for much longer. Back office staff in 50 shops recently found out they’re losing their jobs. The company’s actions don’t match its message.
The message – the logomark, the feelgood ad – has been crafted with careful attention to brand. It doesn’t look like hiring/firing decisions are getting the same attention.
The result: the value the company can get out of its new brand just dropped.
Your brand is much more than a set of rules about colours, type and taglines. It’s everything that makes your organisation distinct. That makes it a powerful tool you can use to make meaningful connections and improvements for your business.
As with many powerful tools, you’ll get the best results when your brand is wielded by an expert. But in our experience, companies don’t always make the most of their in-house brand experts, who work as design police most of the time and only get to flex their muscles when it’s time for a rebrand. Brand people are worth so much more: companies who base their behaviour on their brand, not just their look, grow twice as fast as others.
We can only speculate about The John Lewis Partnership’s organisational structure, of course. But if there’d been a brand person in the room when the company decided to fire 270 partners, we imagine they’d at least have questioned the timing.
And if that person had director-level power, maybe they could have challenged the decision itself – in the same way brand managers challenge stretched logos or incorrect typefaces. “This goes against our brand. We’re a partnership – that’s how our customers know we’re John Lewis and not some other retailer. Are we sure this is the right decision for us?” There will always be times when the bottom line has the final say – but brand should always factor into the decision.
We want to help you make sure your messages and actions are aligned under a coherent brand. We’ve assessed and aligned mismatches between identity and behaviour for clients like the PSR, and the Government Office for Science.
It’s a great time to be a challenger brand.
First identified as a phenomenon by agency Eat Big Fish in the late 90s, challenger brands have since fallen a bit out of fashion. The headline-grabbing thing to be right now, supposedly, is a disruptor (more on them later).
But headlines don’t always mean business success. And while disruptors are getting all the attention, conditions are right for challenger brands to thrive.
So how can you tell if this means you?
You’re a major player in your sector – but you’re not the market leader.
You can’t be a challenger if there’s nothing bigger than you to challenge, after all. (Though market-leading brands can still be run with a challenger attitude, by leaning into the next two points.)
You know your strengths and play to them – even if that means not pleasing everyone.
Getting the right people to love you might make others hate you. Challenger brands embrace that specialism – and that recognition. Better to be hated by some than ignored by all.
You succeed by outsmarting the competition – not by outspending them.
You’re not big enough to throw your weight around, so instead you win by spotting the opportunities others miss. Better strategies for existing platforms. New ways to engage existing audience groups. Unoccupied space in the competitor landscape.
Here’s where challenger brands differ from disruptors. Challenger brands learn the rules of their game inside out to find surprising new ways to get ahead. Disruptors aims to change the rules, or even change the game completely.
That’s one reason it’s better to be a challenger brand than a disruptor right now. The potential rewards make disruption a tempting bandwagon, but a sector can only take so many disruptors trying to change the rules. Attempts at disruption either succeed, or leave the disruptor without a working business model.
But a sector can see multiple challengers appear and still stay stable. The market leader might not be happy about all that competition, but the market can usually accommodate the new players.
Finally, let’s face it: the economy isn’t at its best right now. And while that’s not great news overall, it does give the advantage to brands who are used to spending smart, rather than spending big. If you’re a challenger brand, you’re already used to doing more with less.
If you’re a challenger brand – or you aspire to a challenger mindset – we want to help you make the most of this moment in time. We’ve done it for NEST, a challenger in the pensions sector, and the PSR, a rare industry regulator that’s also a challenger brand.
Resilience to tinkering is an underappreciated quality in a logo.
In the process of making a point about sustainability, designer Sylvain Boyer proved the resilience of several well known consumer brand logos. Boyer selectively whited out sections of the McDonald’s, Starbucks and Coca-Cola logos, among others, to create versions that use up as much as 38% less ink when printed on packaging.
What struck us about the project – besides the implications for the environment and the companies’ printing costs – was how little the redesign seems to affect these logos. In some, the change is only noticeable with the original logo alongside.
In context, out in the world, supported by the other elements of the brand – staff uniforms, packaging design, environment branding – we can imagine the change being imperceptible. A logo that can weather the loss of 38% of its bulk without losing any of what makes it recognisable? That’s the kind of resilience we aspire to.
In fact, there’s a clear parallel between Boyer’s project and the growing trend of brands stripping back their logo mark to its simplest form. You only have to look at the evolution of some of the world’s most beloved brands over the past ten years to see what we mean.
BMW, Instagram and Samsung (to name but a few) have all gradually been removing any and all fuss, excess colour and superfluous elements to make sure their their logos get across what makes them truly special, in a way that’s fit for today’s time-poor, digitally savvy, information overloaded consumer.
The logo is often the most heavily policed element of the brand, with pages of guidelines dedicated to examples of acceptable and unacceptable use. When the logo isn’t the be all and end all of your brand, it can survive much more tinkering and experimentation. And as long as it’s done with a precise understanding of what makes the brand recognisable, experimentation and creativity can only make the brand stronger.