Corporate branding: what is it, why's it valuable and how to do it right in just 4 easy steps.
Last updated: Mar 5, 20188 Comments
Are your ears burning?
Because anyone who’s looked at your website has already formed an opinion about your business.
You might be causing a stir…
… or a riot.
It's surprising. And a bit weird.
That you’ve already got a brand, whether you like it or not.
Whether you’ve thought about it or not.
So... the real question is, have you considered how your business website looks and feels to your market?
Because if you're going to have an image anyway, why not work out how to build a brand that's powerful and memorable?
Huge, successful businesses have dedicated teams that work on their corporate branding for this very reason. Maybe we can all learn some lessons from some of the big companies out there?
What is corporate branding?
Branding can sometimes come across as something of a fluffy subject. I'm sure that tangible results are important to you, so let's be specific and helpful here.
Let's start with a definition of corporate branding.
It simply refers to when a corporate company works on promoting their brand image rather than any products or services that they might sell.
Not rocket science, right?
But it's still hugely important.
What does your brand image say about you, your business and what you’re selling?
You see, you can have the best product, a top-tier service and the most amazing marketing strategy in the world, but if your branding is awful, nothing's going to work.
I’m going to help you create an amazing brand, right here… today.
I've analysed several corporate branding examples and strategies to create a guide that can take your business website to the next level and unlock your true potential.
Because, by focusing on telling your story rather than being pushy and salesy, companies can live for tomorrow and not just today.
I’ve separated this article out into different sections. In case you don’t have time to read the whole piece right now, feel free to dive into the section that interests you the most.
If you’ve seen the award-winning sitcom Seinfeld, you’ll know that before each episode, Jerry Seinfeld delivers a 30-second standup comedy routine on a topic related to that show’s storyline.
There’s one routine in particular, where he talks about medication.
Referring specifically to over-the-counter medication that you can buy at chemists, Jerry makes the observation that different remedies offer different solutions.
You see, some are fast-acting, while others are long-lasting.
Which, as Seinfeld observes, prompts the amusing question: when do you want to feel better, now or later?
It’s funny, but it demonstrates how brands choose to position themselves [and their products] differently.
He also describes the gormless, mouth-open pose of the stereotypical human shadow commonly drawn on medicinal packaging to show whereabouts on the body the medicine will help.
Jerry ponders whether this is how pharmaceutical companies view their customers – are we simple, stupid and desperate for any help we can get?
Ignoring the humour for a moment, this shows that even in a serious industry, branding is vital.
To put it bluntly, your brand image and your chosen USP will drives sales.
Let’s look at painkillers, for instance.
Those with a scientific background [or a very honest local chemist] will know that there’s no difference between the active ingredient in a Nurofen tablet and that in an unbranded tablet that you can buy at any supermarket.
The only difference between them is the price.
A product like Nurofen can cost almost 10 times as much as its plainer counterpart, but that doesn’t put the majority of people off.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
People often pay more for brands they trust [regardless of whether that trust is misplaced].
With painkillers, extensive research studies have shown that people actually report less pain with the branded medicine because of the placebo effect.
[The placebo effect is where someone can experience a measurable improvement in their health that can’t be attributed to a drug substance].
That’s pretty incredible, isn’t it?
Not only will the right brand image and style dictate profits; it can even have a physical effect on customers!
That’s real power.
It feels unimaginable, right?
So, how do brands like Nurofen achieve all this?
Well, along with the science of actually making the tablets, pharmaceutical companies consider and address plenty of other details too, such as:
- The colour and shape of the tablets
- The words on the packaging
- The demographic the medicine is aimed at
- Which marketing tactics to employ
Basically, they cover a multitude of different factors; factors that help to strengthen brand identity.
Let’s pause for a moment and reflect on what we need to finesse.
While you’ll feel compelled to charge forward it’s often a gentle step back that will reveal to you where you are and what you truly seek.
Element #1: Brand positioning
Your brand positioning is one of the most important aspects of your business that you’ll ever decide, since it will underpin everything you do.
Who is your target audience?
What is your brand story?
What is your brand promise?
Don’t be afraid of being different.
As humans, we have a natural tendency to play it safe.
But every business needs individuality.
As Joe Lazauskas puts nicely here, if you don’t have an opinion, you won’t have an audience.
But the brand positioning of the headphones is interesting
While the rest of world is busy trying to create tech solutions that are getting smaller and subtler, Dre actually goes the opposite way.
The fundamental branding itself isn’t very sophisticated either; with big, bold colours and a fairly plain logo.
Is any of this a problem?
It doesn't seem to be: Apple bought the company for $3billion in 2013.
These headphones are extremely popular, and that popularity was almost solely due to the successful way in which the headphones were marketed.
With Beats by Dre, consumers are consistently told that by spending the best part of $200, they’ll “hear what the artists hear”.
Consumers still get this brand message, or variations of it, in different forms.
They’ll consume different content that confirms how slick the device is and how pure the technology is.
Do these headphones recreate the energy and excitement of a recording studio?
I’ve never used them, so that’s not really for me to say…
… but it’s also not really the point.
This is a brand that has become really powerful, but arguably had no real right to.
Like Apple and the iPhone, Beats by Dre do a great job of making you really want what they’re selling. That’s why you often see celebrities buying into the concept, strutting down the red carpet listening to their favourite sounds.
The headphones have become a status symbol and have made quite the impression on our culture, just like the BMX bike of the 80s and the Nike Air Max trainers of the 90s.
Branding teams at companies like BeatsByDre [and, coincidentally, Apple] have enjoyed huge success because they understood that people buy stuff because they’re driven by a desire.
And that desire is based on a shared belief with the business in question.
As Simon Sinek says:
People don’t buy the what; they buy the why.
If ever you feel unsure of the effectiveness of corporate branding, watch more Sinek in this video here:
… find your USPs.
Develop your positioning.
And make sure you keep things simple.
If you can’t explain something simply enough, you don’t understand it well enough.
Create your taglines.
And the overriding lesson to learn?
As Steve Jobs said:
Being different is better than being better.
Element #2: Tone of voice and house style.
The way a company talks is as important as the way it looks.
Developing a tone of voice will enhance the personality of your business and show current and potential customers what you stand for.
In a logo-saturated world where image is everything, smart brands define themselves through language.
And a tone of voice guide will help you (and your employees if you have them) communicate more consistently.
Next question: what should your tone of voice guide look like?
Well, much of this will be down to a mixture of personal preference and what’s likely to work best in your particular market.
However, in most of the corporate environments I’ve worked in, I’ve noticed a few tone of voice traits that are always in demand.
In the absence of other information, I’d recommend a warm, but not overly pally tone. It’s important to be friendly, yet remain professional.
Try to be lively, energetic and confident, because you want to inspire your audience.
Be authentic and honest too, since you need to establish trust.
And finally, use simple, clean and unfussy language.
As Winston Churchill said:
A vocabulary of truth and simplicity will be of service to you throughout your life.
Ultimately, too many people hide behind a shiny, impersonal brand.
Instead, work on a tone of voice that will help you build relationships.
So, what about a house style?
Well, if a tone of voice document is more of a philosophical blueprint for your business, then a house style is a formal guideline for how to communicate.
Do you use capital letters in headings?
How do you feel about exclamation marks?
Do you write numbers in full, or show them as digits?
What about bullet points?
And your font size and logo - are there any rules for these?
It may seem like trivial stuff, but every business needs to communicate with customers and leads. And it needs to look polished, professional and consistent.
A house style is a list of the nuts and bolts; your exact requirements for how to communicate.
In the successful organisation, no detail is too small to escape close attention.
Element #3: Fonts.
The art of typography is often under-appreciated.
How legible is the text on your website?
Have you put any thought into your font sizes, line lengths, line spacing, letter spacing and kerning?
What about the fonts themselves?
I hardly ever see a branding discussion that features fonts, yet fonts are essentially clothes for your words and they need to be chosen wisely.
Now, it’s true that you won’t notice some fonts.
That’s no bad thing. It’s good to be different conceptually, but that doesn’t extend to fonts.
There’s a reason why everyone’s heard of Times New Roman or Helevetica – they look smart.
Likewise, there’s a reason no one’s heard of MisterEarl BT. It’s horrendous and not particularly easy to read.
Element #4: Logos, images and colours.
We live in a very visual world these days.
Graphics have never been so important. Do have a logo that fits with your [new] brand image?
It might be time to revisit that tired stock picture or that overly-complex design:
And what about your colour scheme?
Because colours will have more of an effect on your bottom line than you could possibly imagine.
Think back to when you decided on the colours for your logo, your website design and all your marketing collateral.
How did you choose the colours?
Did you choose your favourite colours?
Did you pick based on gut instinct?
Or... did you research into which attributes people subconsciously attach to different colours?
According to Kissmetrics, 85% of shoppers place colour as a primary reason for why they buy a particular product.
Here’s a simplistic breakdown of the psychological properties of different, common colours:
- Red: excitement, aggression, defiance, power
- Blue: intelligence, trust, serenity, calmness
- Yellow: optimism, confidence, friendliness, creativity
- Green: balance, harmony, vision, authenticity, truth
- Orange: warmth, security, abundance, fun
- Black: sophistication, efficiency, style, glamour
- White: clarity, simplicity, sophistication, efficiency
- Brown: reliability, warmth, support, security
Which colours work best alongside your brand positioning?
Which ones would appeal to your target market the most?
Whichever colour scheme you opt for, have a strategy for it.
The logic is simple:
People buy based on emotion.
They’re excited, frustrated, happy… whichever.
Colours influence emotion.
Combine the two and you’re onto a winner.
Worried about getting it wrong? Don't.
It’s tough to suddenly undertake the mammoth task of branding your business in a certain way, especially if you don’t come from a marketing background.
There’s a lot at stake and you don’t want to get it wrong; I get that.
But even the huge brands get it wrong sometimes.
At this point, there's only going to be one thing better than seeing some corporate branding examples...
... and that's seeing some hilariously bad corporate branding examples.
Some of the biggest businesses around had awful websites in the 90s and have changed their branding quite radically.
So let’s take a look at a few home pages…
Apple in the 90s:
Asda in the 90s:
BBC in the 90s:
BP in the 90s:
Coca-Cola in the 90s:
Gap in the 90s:
IBM in the 90s:
McDonald's in the 90s:
Microsoft in the 90s:
Sainsbury's in the 90s:
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I found these examples. But there is a serious point here. There is no perfect style to embrace.
Just because big businesses have corporate branding teams, it doesn't mean that they get everything right.
Your exact brand image will need to cater for your particular niche. And even if you know your target audience inside out, branding takes work.
Luckily, you're not starting from scratch; we know much more about digital branding now.
We know more about what works; about what customers want and expect.
Therefore, in a funny way, you’re better off than some massive companies were 20 years ago.
For 2 years, I was the sole copywriter working on Sky Q.
As well as writing the copy for the project, I also played a huge role in the branding of the new box.
Amongst other things, I was asked to create the brand guidelines for the system, which was an incredibly prestigious position.
From designers to developers, I was able to work with an incredibly talented team and become a part of TV history. But... what did I learn about corporate branding?
There were 3 key lessons.
Lesson 1: Corporate branding is about finding a sweet spot.
On the one hand, a business needs to lead its customers.
You can't cater for your audience 100%. As Henry Ford said:
If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
However, you can't ignore the consumer.
When setting the Sky Q brand guidelines, we had to pay careful attention to what Sky was getting right with their Sky+ box.
This project was about developing an amazing new TV product that was innovative, but still kept the current features and values that customers love.
Corporate branding requires finding that sweet spot between creativity and cold, hard facts.
Lesson 2: An image isn't set in stone.
Once you've decided on your brand positioning, that's not the end of the story.
Branding should always be in flux, moving and grooving with market demand and gut instinct. Whenever I create a style guide or offer branding advice, I always suggest that it's a work in progress.
The Sky Q guidelines were set at the beginning of the project, as you'd expect. However, they were frequently tweaked.
Corporate branding is a collaborate, ever-changing and dynamic thing. Your branding work should be the same.
Lesson 3: Perfectionists are great at branding.
When it comes to branding, consistency is key.
Copy, logos, fonts, colours, house style... it all needs to be the same. All day, every day.
If it isn't, then the whole thing breaks down. Regardless of how good your branding is in principle, the delivery will be butchered and you'll come across as sloppy.
With Sky Q, obviously the look and feel of the box was consistent.
But there were millions of other areas to address.
The main website.
Coming up with a killer brand identity is one thing; executing it effectively is another.
It’s time: embrace corporate branding and be the best you can be.
To brand your business well, you’ll need to be a meticulous planner who will pay attention to every detail.
Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.
You can have the best product or service in the world and not make a penny, meanwhile your competitors rake in the big bucks with an inferior offering.
Put simply, branding matters.
The bottom line is this: perception is reality. So whatever people think about your business… well, that’s pretty much what your business is.
They’re going to have an opinion regardless, so you might as well do your best to influence this.
Take time to think about how you can create a long-lasting, memorable brand for your business website.
After all, good businesses make money...
... but good brands make more money.