Brand is seen as simple to grasp, but how complicated is it to truly understand? Simply put, brand is ‘a product manufactured by a particular company under a particular name’. To go a little deeper, brand is an ‘intangible marketing or business concept that helps people identify a company, product or individual’. But, if your brand was a person, would you have a drink with them?
Why did I want to write this blog?
A few months ago, a good friend of We Are Ghost had an idea to promote ‘leaders in their field’. Called Leaders Live, Andrew wanted to talk to talented and experienced people, highlighting how they think. Since Ghost had designed Andrew’s brand and built his website, we also helped build this new adventure for PDX Consulting on his website.
I was asked if I would like to take part in one of the Leaders Live breakfast shows. Keen to share some of my knowledge that I use everyday for Ghost’s clients, I decided to speak on the subject of ‘Brand’. A vast subject, that I needed to somehow condense it into a 30-minute chat with Andrew. I needed a way to speak about ‘brand’ for an audience that might not have thought about it in a visually expressive way. Who, though, experts in their field, might need to see brand in a different way than the excepted norms? I needed to speak in context too, so that Andrew’s audience understood shorthand for what we might speak about. I needed a subject that is all about a brand character, so I went with James Bond.
True to the brand.
Behind every brand there needs to be a truth. Something that was there from inception and something that is in some way emotive. Most organisations or individuals know their brand in terms of ‘what they do’ and even ‘how they do it’, but the ‘why they do it’ can get a little fuzzy, especially over time. They might find their brand character is lost while simply trying to make the company exist.
The James Bond character was first written in 1952 and is heavily based on Ian Fleming’s own life and career in the British secret service during World War 2. In essence the character today is a man out of time. An historical figure that doesn’t fit in with today’s culture and belief systems. As a result, the character of the James Bond brand has had to adapt and change to stay relevant to its audience.
The James Bond in the books was a hard man tarnished by war time experiences and embroiled into the dark and murky world of the Cold War with the Soviet bloc. He was dispassionate with his feelings and treated people as means to an end. Dead or alive, it really didn’t matter just so long as he defended Queen and country.
Socially he smoked and drank heavily, gambled, and slept with any beautiful woman that passed his fancy. For many males of this period James Bond was the ultimate expression of how a man should act and even today, seen through historical eyes, this is a very appealing character. But Bond needs to exist in the modern world, he must be able to evolve and appeal to the next generation of Bond fans.
The trick is to keep your true brand character, yet still be relevant or appealing.
Brand character’s ‘What How Why’
In my research I rediscovered (again) the now famous video of Simon Sinek’s TED talk from 2009, where he talks about ‘How great leaders inspire action’. It’s very interesting and I urge anyone who’s has not seen it to take a look.
Simon uses the ‘What How Why’ way of looking at brand and how to express that brand and show its character. Basically, how to have your business or organisation learn how to pitch yourself to the world. By being emotive, then informative and finally technical. Meaning, why you do it, how you are good at doing it and what you actually do. A simple but very effective way of seeing how brand can (an always does) have a character you might want a drink with?
Future proof brands
With the James Bond brand this development is obvious to most. Even if you have never seen a Bond film, which is unlikely, you will know the brand. You might know about him wearing a tuxedo or the gadgets or the phrase ‘The names Bond… James Bond’. You might have heard about M or Q or Miss Moneypenny, or even about his preferred drink, a vodka martini shaken and not stirred.
(Incidentally, never ask for this drink in a trendy cocktail bar today! The bar tender will literally roll their eyes and tell you that the shaking it ruins the taste of both elements. I speak from experience and if nothing else, it really proves palates do change.)
All these elements are assets to the Bond character, but they are only the expression of the brand and not the essence of who Bond is and what he stands for today. Bond has had to adapt to change with the culture and attitudes of its audience. This is something that some of Ghost’s clients have had to think about – how do you change something without changing it?
When a business or individual start-up their venture, they will have a clear idea of their objects or vision. This is the thing that pushes them to be better, the fuel that keeps them going and the belief that they can change the world. But over time situations change, more people join and the motivation they once felt changes too. But as the team comes and goes, they find the explanation of the brand tends to be less focussed and ultimately, they become a little lost. They may have just forgotten their ‘Why’ or the audience has change and their old ‘Why’ may no longer makes sense.
But, no matter how muddled things might be, there is always a truth behind any business, and it is nearly always a marketable message that will resonate with the previous, current, and future audiences, and your own team too. The trick is to find that truth and learn how to express it.
How We Are Ghost find the truth
At Ghost we have taken all our accumulative knowledge and finely tuned the way we explore our clients brand character. And the best way to start this process is to start a conversation.
We start with our ‘First Contact’ meetings. They’re very casual and help us understand where you are today and what issues you may have. They tend to be on a surface level pretty much the same for each client, but the more you peel away the layers of information the more you discover truths about them and their brand character. Never judge a book by its cover, perhaps.
We then discuss internally our new findings, do some clever desk research, and then hold our ‘Question Session’. They can be a little intense, but they end with some enlightening information. Clients get to rediscover how their business works, or should work, while we ultimately learn how that business, or individual, needs to be visually expressed. We also pick up on key words used by our clients to express their messaging and tone of voice.
The ultimate goal is to give our client the tools to express how great they are at what they do and reconnect to a language that’s focussed and marketable in their sector. Meaning they stay relevant and true to their audience and themselves. Often, this is change through evolution rather than revolution, and means they don’t need to start again; they just need to be aware of the world around them and be ready to adapt.
Bond will always adapt to its audience, but it’s still James Bond no matter what he, or she, looks like.
What about start-ups?
Unlike the Bond brand character, who has been around for over 50 years, starting something new is well defined with the ‘What’ and hopefully the ‘How’, but it’s the ‘Why’ that can be difficult to quantify.
By using the same method highlighted above, we are extremely adept at learning about their business or idea enough to find ways of how to express its truth.
Often, start-up businesses are the most exciting to work with because their infectious drive becomes our drive too. We really do care about our clients success, and love helping them to develop into what they desire to be. In every case though, our process has discovered a marketable brand that helps them succeed in their world.
I’ve now had my Leaders Live and I really enjoyed the conversation with Andrew. And I hope this topic has given his viewers and our readers more information on brand character and how it needs to adapt with to its audience.
I ended Leaders Live with a few points to think about before talking to a design or brand agency. These points don’t need to have answers, they just need to be in the mind, in readiness for a collaborative experience. Obviously, we would love to talk to you about your brand and it would be amazing to learn your story, but here’s a few points to think about first.
001 Do you need to do this?
002 How are your strengths unique?
003 What do you want to achieve?
004 Who are you going to talk to?
005 What does success look like?
006 How deep are you willing to go?
007 Why now?
Hope to speak to you when you’re ready.
And we’d love to have a drink sometime with you and your brand.