Guide to great branding

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When the phone rings at Oxygen HQ, one of the most common enquiries we get is this:

“We need a logo.”

The same question comes from individuals starting their own business as well as larger businesses that feel something is wrong with the direction they’re heading in. The problem with both is they do not appreciate what a logo represents – and the bigger picture around it.

“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

Jeff Bezos, Founder of

Your brand and brand alignment

It’s almost impossible for us to create a logo and walk away. What happened to the thought around the company name? The colours? The strapline? The tone of voice? The images and videos, the content in social media, the reviews and testimonials, the good will of customers, and the people in the business? In other words, what happened to the bigger picture!

We call it brand alignment, and that’s what this guide is all about. Aligning all the elements of your branding so that you have a better chance of achieving your goals. (Really – don’t pick up the phone and ask us for a logo…)

So, what is a brand?

In truth there’s no real answer to this question. On paper it’s a meld of features that typically comprise of a name, strapline, logotype or icon, designs, voice, and more. For this article we’re mainly referring to the brand of the business entity, but of course it could equally apply to branding a product or service (which may even be the business).

David Ogilvy once defined a brand as “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes”, which gets us a bit closer to a definition of branding if we apply it to a business too.

Crucially businesses tend to look at what the brand means to them, when really we must look at what it means to their stakeholders – the most important being the customer. Then the brand broadens out to encompass the customer’s experience of the business – what they see, feel, read and hear about you.

This is what we think of as brand alignment. It’s about making those customers share a similar positive experience, so that they remember you, buy from you, and recommend you to others. This then opens your brand up to ‘word of mouth’ marketing – the most powerful marketing there is. The buzz about you that keeps people coming back.

Branding and the coffee test

Branding a business is about looking at it holistically, defining and lining up the values of the brand, and applying them to EVERYTHING. Yes, literally everything, because every touchpoint with a customer or prospective customer is exposure to your brand.

We get annoyed when we visit a manufacturing business and are handed a cup of instant coffee in a recruitment agency’s branded mug. At that point we know we have a job on our hands.

Handing a mug of cheap instant coffee to someone speaks volumes. If you’re prepared to hand it to me as a supplier, then what are your customers seeing on a daily basis about other areas of your business?

What does that say about quality? We can extend this to how people answer the phone, the clothes they wear, the cleanliness of their vehicles, the kerb appeal of the office… It’s then one step forward to the more typically branded exposure you have (which is normally called ‘corporate identity’), such as the footer on your emails, the letterhead and business cards, the flyers and brochures, and your website. Oh, and your coffee mugs.

coffee test for branding
Ground yourself with the coffee test – and filter good from bad!

The values of friendship

Suzanne Degges-White wrote a lovely article on the traits of friendship in Psychology Today. If we look at the first four of her essential friendship traits, you can see how closely they relate to a business being a brand role-model to their customers.

  1. I am trustworthy.
  2. I am honest with others.
  3. I am generally very dependable.
  4. I am loyal to the people I care about.

In a nutshell, a brand needs to behave like a good friend to its customers and build up that holy grail: brand loyalty. Investopedia says: “To marketing professionals, getting and maintaining brand loyalty for an established product are the ultimate achievements.” That means implementing brand alignment across your marketing portfolio – which is essentially what we help you do here at Oxygen. Let’s talk about that some more.

Your brand identity

The brand identity – sometimes called the corporate identity if we’re referring to the enterprise – is ultimately the look and feel surrounding you. It’s all the tangible things we’ve already discussed, and how the visual identity is applied to them in a way that reflects the values of your business or product(s). A brand that’s serious about this will have brand guidelines that go into great detail about the use of the logo and the other brand assets, including tone of voice.

We like to create mini-guidelines for our clients too, and make them available on their websites. This gives other companies and publications a chance to share information about the brand without making glaring mistakes – which, again, is all about ‘brand alignment’..

Creating it is the first step, and maintaining your brand is the long game. But both stages are vital.

Creating your brand

Getting a brand right can be a monumental but enjoyable task. But we try and make it a doddle.  It depends on your outlook and attitude.

Your brand audit

Understanding your target audience is your first priority. While the audience inevitably changes over time, at that point you need to know what they want and what to give them. If your product has no unique selling points, then your brand must.

This can be about research – reaching out to potential customers and getting an insight into them and what they want from you. Or it can be about your knowledge and understanding of them, which can come from previous business relationships. In reality it will likely be a bit of both.

Secondly you should conduct competitor analysis so that you can see exactly what you’re up against. As before, this will probably be a blend of research and knowledge.

Your value proposition

Once you’ve done your research you need to create (or ratify if you’re already trading) your value proposition. We could write an essay on this in itself, but the key things to think about are:

  • Brand values: knowing what you stand for, what makes you, you.
  • Mission: defining what do you actually want to achieve.

Once you have these you can build a unique value proposition. This is essentially what will make customers come to you; a combination of the factors that make people buy from you and not from someone else. It’s a combination of the most important things, such as:

  • reliability
  • price
  • service
  • people
  • location
  • availability
  • delivery.

You need to agree what your customer needs and cares about, what you can offer them, and where you can do this over and above your competitors.

unique value proposition graphic
Your UVP is powered by your customers

Your creative and visual branding

With a clear understanding of what you’re all about, we can start to think about how your branding looks. This will inevitably involve that look we referred to at the start, but you’ll see by now there’s much more to it.

We’d look at colour, fonts, style, and voice. The outcome will be a brand identity that reflects your UVP and that your customers can relate to and engage with.

At this stage it’s helpful to create some personas for your customers, so you can visually see what they look like and want. Then we create something called a boiler plate, which is the sentence or two that sums you up in a nutshell. It’s a bit like your elevator pitch – but is the foundation for all your messaging.

Communicating your brand

Now you have your visual identity, it’s time to get it out there. Most often we’ll develop a marketing strategy that is designed to deliver leads, that your sales people can convert or enables direct sales.

The portfolio of tools at hand can be vast, so refining this strategy and test marketing will be important. But, from the outset, there are some core elements of branding you’ll be thinking about:

  • Website
  • Social channels
  • Signage
  • Stationery.

Anything else will most likely to be tactical, and therefore part of a marketing campaign. You can read more about that here.

  • Sales literature
  • Advertising
  • Social posts
  • Public relations
  • Direct marketing.

Maintaining your brand

Now that your brand is out there, you’ll be seeing what has worked and what hasn’t; taking a litmus to what the world thinks about you.

A good brand will work hard to maintain its brand values. They’re crucial to growth and success, and can be adapted as outside or internal influences impact on what you’re doing.

This is where good brand alignment comes in. If your brand is failing in an area, then you need to review why and respond. For example:

  • you may run a chain of stores and are losing customers. This could be because your staff have had poor training and are not representing you properly. With better training in your brand values they can work more effectively.
  • your sales team is making its own PowerPoint presentations which use clipart and distort your logo. It makes you look unprofessional, and so you need to standardise the presentations and implement new guidelines for staff.
  • you are using a new printer and the colour on brochures and leaflets does not match, but is easy to sort out if you implement better quality control.
  • your website looks great on a desktop, but doesn’t work on a smartphone and more than 50% of visitors are coming from mobile. Get the site fixed!

Of course, loss of margin or turnover can be down to something else and you may need to go back and have a brand audit. This will help identify where you need to be reactive and adjust your brand in some way – from its look and feel to the way it’s communicated.

What to do if you have questions about branding

Branding and brand alignment involves the whole team at Oxygen, not just our amazing designers. Come and speak to us about where we can help.

Visit our contact page

Thanks for reading.