Brand Development vs Branding

A good-looking brand is more than just another pretty face
By Jim Hughes, Founder, The Brand Establishment

Many of us received our brand training through a practice of visual identity. In other words, we created ad campaigns and other tactical applications to provide brand distinction. Yet, I know everyone reading this has heard numerous times and from multiple sources that a brand is not a logo or a tagline or a color palette. And still, not everyone realizes the difference between branding and brand development – or, visual identity vs. strategic identity. Brand development is the discovery of a brand’s unique (strategic) distinction and branding is the tactical (visual) application of that distinction.

Let’s explain:

The Ritz-Carlton Hotels have a fine visual identity in the lion and the crown logo, gold stripes in the upholstery, cobalt blue goblets and “always magnificent” architecture. But Its strategic identity is in service: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” And every Ritz-Carlton employee is thoroughly trained and rewarded to “be” the Ritz-Carlton brand of employee.

Southwest Airlines has terrific periwinkle blue, red and orange airplanes, cool uniforms and funny ads, but, again, their strategic identity is friendly, hip and cordial service. Again, every employee is trained to be the Southwest Airlines brand. (Southwest spends 50% of its marketing budget annually on strategic/internal brand adoption).

But service is not the only attribute of great brands.

John Deere has a distinctive green “Leaping Deer” logo but the strategic message the Deere people want the market to hear is: Nothing runs like a Deere. Dependability is Deere’s strategic identity.

Way too often, we see brand distinction portrayed by graphic distinction. You can go to many agency websites and find a case study that explains how the client needed to differentiate themselves from their competition and so the shop redesigned the client’s logo and carried the new “Look and Feel” through to the Web site and other applications – all visual identity, no strategic identity. Now, that is not to say that the graphics may communicate a distinctive quality about the brand – the Tiffany Robin’s Egg Blue box for example.

Homebuilders are notorious “visual identity but no strategic identity” felons. Very often, they will build multiple developments, each with a unique and pleasing visual identity but forget to leverage the value of the bigger brand – the builder itself. One that has done a good job is Del Webb. Most of the developments that this national, active adult community builder produces have a unique development name like Solara. However, each name will be accompanied with “By Del Webb.” Others will be named Del Webb’s Sun City. You see Del Webb has spent many years growing the value of its name through a strategic identity of “Lifestyle Providers” and the wonderful “Legendary Lifestyles” outdoor campaign. So no matter where the community is located or the project’s name, if it is associated with the name Del Webb, the prospective homebuyer understands that the brands value (a lifestyle like no other) is included – always.

It’s not just us ad and design folks who can make this mistake. According to Scott Davis and Michael Dunn, in their book: Building the brand driven business, “Many executives treat the word brand as an alien concept, primarily because they confuse it with advertising or logo.”

So how do we accomplish both visual and strategic brand identity?

The Brand Establishment agencies all employ a brand discovery process, called “Turning the Telescope,” it provides the perfect insight into a company’s strategic distinction. When we facilitate a discovery session, we recruit the CEO, VP marketing, marketing managers, sales and operations. We spend hours in a process of distilling information. From simple facts to absolute unique selling points and we build in a delivery mechanism by empowerment and incentives to assure that the USP’s are deliverable. The outcome is a new strategic brand identity - a crystal clear and memorable brand positioning and "on message" internal and external brand communications. Why involve the CEO? Because brand development is not a marketing initiative, it is a corporate initiative. And, with the CEO playing the role of brand ambassador, it is a lot easier to move all employees from hearing the brand to believing the brand to becoming the brand. Now we know who the company really is or is capable of being and what it does differently. The task of developing the visual identity is now made much easier.

The strategic identity is the voice of the brand and the visual identity is the face of the brand. And, that makes the brand a lot more than just another pretty face.



The difference between branding and brand development.


Does your current brand strategy accurately reflect the true uniqueness of your brand? One easy way to tell.