A few years ago, a South Carolina attorney voluntarily rescinded his membership in a trial lawyers’ association because the state had recently established rules prohibiting attorneys from using or promoting nicknames. The attorney claimed he had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars building the brand identity associated with his chosen nickname. This was obviously hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted because the attorney’s nickname is one that many people have never heard of, and most who have heard of the attorney himself associate him with a tagline used when he appeared in a reality show on television. The moral of this story? Building a recognizable brand identity involves much more than a financial investment.
A company’s brand identity design is more than just a logo, catchy tagline, or a toe-tapping jingle with lyrics most people can easily memorize. Unfortunately, most companies have not been able to attain the mythic status of possessing a globally recognized brand.
Brand Identity – Successful Examples
The golden arches, no matter where you are in the world, instantly bring to mind McDonald’s for practically everyone from 8 to 80. The trademarked Nike “swoosh” is known in areas where the average household income is less than the cost of pair of Air Jordans. Baby boomers can likely name the car manufacturers associated with the jingles asking if you have driven one lately (Ford), informing you that they build excitement (Pontiac), making sure you know theirs are like a rock (Chevrolet trucks), or joyfully telling you what a feeling one is to drive (Toyota). And, of course, everyone knows that you can “have it your way” at Burger King, you won’t need to ask “where’s the beef?” at Wendy’s, and – back to the golden arches again – you are going to be “lovin’ it” at McDonald’s.
In the world of home improvement and heavy equipment, most people know that “nothing runs like a” John Deere tractor or lawn mower, and “it’s hard to stop a” Trane HVAC system. The heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar has become so successful with their brand identity that the number one search result on Google for the word “cat” brings up, not links for furry domesticated felines as you might expect, but the website for large muddy-yellow earth movers.
Brand Identities Examples – The Confusing Branding
In the age of the internet, many companies are attempting to represent themselves as simply as possible – most often with an icon or small image that can find its way to your computer’s desktop or taskbar. While they are recognizable for what they are, the lines can be a bit blurred when it comes to determining who they represent.
The blue lower-case “e” that used to indicate Internet Explorer now refers to Microsoft Edge. Internet Explorer’s symbol has a crooked golden halo while Edge’s symbol has a nick in the left side of the “e,” but they are close enough to each other visually to create confusion.
Another example is the icon for Google Chrome. While it does stand out on its own merit – a multicolored circle with a blue dot in the center – the color scheme, in the minds of most computer-savvy people, belongs to and is associated with Microsoft. The Microsoft Windows logo is, naturally, a window with the same four primary colors (red, blue, yellow, and green) contained in the Google Chrome logo. The Microsoft app store’s logo is the same window on the side of a white shopping bag. The images themselves may not create confusion but the duplicated color scheme does. It raises the question of whether or not Google owns Microsoft, or vice versa.
Some automobile manufacturers have symbols for their vehicles that can be confusing, as well. Does that encircled “H” represent Honda or Hyundai? Is the metallic pilot’s wing symbol for Chrysler or Bentley? Is it Porsche or Lamborghini that has the rearing stallion on their chevron? How many times have you noticed a nice-looking car and wondered whether it was a Lexus, Tesla, Mazda, Buick, or Ford? Unlike decades ago when a car’s make and model could be determined with little more than a glance, there are very few vehicle makes today that have visually distinct elements. The front grill on a Jeep SUV, BMW, or Dodge truck, the shape of a Volkswagen Beetle’s body, or the muscular throw-back look of the new Dodge Challenger set these cars apart from others by letting consumers know what they are just by looking at them. It should be essential for the logo or symbol to be noticeably different from all other competitors, or companies could end up losing potential buyers simply because everyone else’s products too closely resemble their own.
The King of Brand Identity
Budweiser did not become the “king of beers” by sinking money into one-trick pony advertising campaigns. They, like many other nationally and globally known companies, have invested untold amounts of time, effort, and money into finding out what resonates with and appeals to their target audience – and delivering it via widespread marketing strategies. Their clever commercials featuring a cabal of Clydesdales doing “human” things appeal to the “human” in many potential consumers.
For the rough and tumble cowboys, rednecks, and football lovers, the horses played football on a grassy plain against a western backdrop while two manly men observed (with one remarking that “they usually go for two”). In another ad, appealing to all those with a quirky sense of humor, the majestic horses became judges, coaches, and teammates to a cute little donkey whose lifelong dream was to be a Budweiser Clydesdale. In a 2002 Super Bowl commercial that aired only once and can pull tears from all but the hardest of hearts, an eight-horse team is hitched to a wagon on a snow-covered farm and starts a journey with lightly somber music as the soundtrack. They wend their way through small town and big city backdrops to reach an overlook with a view of the New York City skyline, where the horses lower their heads and bow in unison toward the empty space where the World Trade Center used to be.
That is how you build a strong brand identity. While there might be a lot of people who either do not drink or don’t drink Budweiser, they still easily recognize the brand when they see explicit or implicit allusions to it.
The Foundation of Building a Successful Brand Identity Design
From several of the examples included here, you can figure out a few of the strategies that help companies develop a brand identity that becomes popular, widespread, and clearly recognizable. Visual recognition is often the most powerful aspect of a successful brand, and your goal should be to develop a simple visual element that immediately brings your company’s name to mind. We all know that an apple with a bite out of it represents Apple Computers, but what’s the deal with the chubby mermaid wearing a crown? Starbucks may have wanted to tip their hat to their Pacific Northwest origins (and still – how does a mermaid do that?), but their logo is confusing to everyone who is not a coffee aficionado.
A successful brand identity starts long before you develop your logo and start splashing it on every piece of tangible and virtual real estate you can get your hands on. Before you create a logo, tagline, jingle, or anything else associated with your company or brand, you need to decide what you want your brand to be associated with. What does it mean? How do you want people to feel? What message are you trying to convey? Visual brand identities don’t just tell people what brand or company they represent – they also evoke positive (or negative) associations that can have a major impact on the success or failure of those identities. While Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon aren’t brands themselves, they will continue to bear the burden of negative association for the companies they represent for quite some time.
Building your brand identity should start with the basics and stay there. Focus on simple, suggestive, and distinctive elements about your company or what you offer to consumers and flesh out those elements to establish a brand that can be quickly and easily associated with your company. When you start with a solid foundation, the building blocks you add to it will only enhance and strengthen the power and potential of your brand identity.