How to develop a brand

This is the first of a series of posts I will be making which will walk you through the process of branding. Hopefully this will give you some insight into how to develop a brand for yourself. It is possible to do this process 100% by yourself, though I recommend hiring a graphic designer at some point in the process if you don’t have the design skills yourself.

Before I get into how to develop a brand I want to clarify a few things that I hope will explain why it’s so important to develop a brand. First off I want to answer the question:

What is a brand?

A brand can be a few things but I want to simplify it down to one thing:

The personification of a business or product.

People connect with people. That is a fact, everyone in psychology will tell you this. So why do we create brands then? Why even bother when people connect with people better? Why not just slap your face all over everything and call it good? One thing: Scaleability.

There are 6.97 billion people in the world.

Think about that.



How do you expect to stand out amongst 6.97 billion people? The answer is to create a brand. A brand is far more scaleable than personal identification. It can appeal to a wider audience and it’s easier for our minds to keep track of brands than the mass of individuals that we integrate ourselves amongst every day.

Think about big brands, Google, Facebook, Apple, Nike, Coke, General Electric. A lot of these brands have big people behind them, Phil Knight of Nike, or the late Steve Jobs of Apple, but even though these people are very widely known the brands they created have a much stronger influence than they do. Now try to think of individuals who have this kind of influence. The only ones that come to mind are those that are already associated with a much larger brand.

This is the reason we develop a brand, because it’s far more scalable. There is no way an individual can connect with 6.97 billion people, but there is possibility a brand can.

I feel as if you understand how important a brand can be to your success so I’ll move along.

How to develop a brand

One of the main reasons I decided to start this series was because I was in the process of rebranding a company that I work for, Southpaw Sign & Design. This identity hasn’t been around for a long time and the original identity was developed basically overnight. The business has outgrown the usage of the makeshift identity and was desperately in need of some consistency and vision in it’s branding. There is one thing I want to make perfectly clear before I go any further: rebranding is not something you should do on a whim. There are good reasons to rebrand and there terrible reasons to rebrand. Here are a few of both:


Good reasons:

- Need more consistency in the brand image

- Need to readjust for a more lucrative target demographic

- Name change and/or merger with another company


Terrible reasons:

- The typography is a little bit off.

- The colors aren’t really working.

- You don’t like it. You may be shocked that this is a terrible reason to rebrand but it really is, changing a identity because you just aren’t feeling it anymore will just cause confusion with your current clients or potential clients who were considering your brand when making a purchasing decision. Take a look at how some big names screwed up in this area.

- It’s not very unique. Not all identities have to be super unique, take a look at my book The Recipe for Creating a Great Logo, for more information about this.

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If you rebrand make sure it’s for the right reasons. Don’t let some trigger happy graphic designer convince you that your current logo is trash so you need to shell out the cash for a complete overhaul of your identity. Having a good identity is necessary, having a jaw dropping identity is not.

For Southpaw the identity was borderline awful. The demographic was wrong and there was little consistency with the image. This is not really acceptable when you are trying to sell people on your ability to create great identities for them. So a change was certainly in order.

My next post will be about the brainstorming process involved in creating the new identity for Southpaw.

Brand Identity Round Up #1

For the premiere  of Brand Identity Round Up I’d like to feature this quaint brand identity developed for a small espresso shop, Crespella. This brand identity was developed by Tag Collective. They did a great job of creating visual intrest with a minimal color scheme, the maroon is rich and inviting. The use of retro design aspects to create a texture on the wall is a bold touch. It could have been very overwhelming but the choice of the designer to make it monotone allows your eye to read it as a texture and not individual design elements.

Please share your thoughts on this brand identity. What is one thing you think is really working for Crespella?
Crespella Sign

Instore brand Identity 2

Crespella interior brand identityCrespella Business CardWebsite Brand Identity

Ignoring this one detail could destroy your business.

There are several things that can kill your brand, business, product such as poor inventory control, bad employee management, low profit margins, but none of them will kill your business faster than this one thing. Corporations pour hundreds of thousands into perfecting it while small businesses tend to scratch their heads and wonder why people aren’t buying their products or services.

So what is this elusive key to the puzzle?


Nothing will kill a business faster than a poor identity.

Lets look at a few examples of how this has happened to the “big guys” and how it can happen to you:

Tropicana 2009

Tropicana packaging, Old and New

In 2009 PepsiCo decided to rebrand their product Tropicana. Peter Arnell (CEO of Arnell group, who did the branding) told press they wanted to focus more on the actual product, as opposed to what the product’s origin, so instead of using the straw in the orange they switched to a large glass of orange juice. They kept the orange but made it more subtle by using the bottle cap to represent an orange.

The result? A disaster of epic proportions! Tropicana sales plummeted 20% over the next two months. Loyal customers to Tropicana were outraged that they couldn’t quickly locate their favorite orange juice in the store. The response was so strong that PepsiCo was forced to recall the entire line and switch the packaging back.

What was wrong with the new design? Well, by itself, not really much. It has a good rhythm and gives a sense of classy and modern orange juice (Though the latter isn’t exactly what I want my orange juice to taste like! Minimalist orange juice sounds terrible.). It starts to look a bit generic when on the shelf next to other brands of orange juice.

The big problem arose with the major departure from the old packaging. When you walk down an isle looking for that one brand of whatever product you love how long does it generally take you to find it? I’m guessing about 3-5 seconds. You get used to seeing the packaging and being able to quickly pick it out of the crowd because that is your brand. Now imagine walking down the same aisle and looking for the same brand except now everything about it has changed, the color is slightly different, the typography is drastically changed, and the iconic imagery associated with the brand is gone. How long would it take you to find it?  Probably around 20-30 seconds, you might not even bother to find it because those 20-30 seconds could seem like an eternity and just resort to buying another brand of orange juice.

Are you starting to see how this works? Tropicana has been around for nearly half a century and consumers have grown to know its iconic packaging. The new identity completely ignored this history. They weren’t thinking about the consumer and how the consumer is viewing the product. Rebranding is not a bad idea, but it has to be done very carefully, especially if the brand is well established and it has to be done with the consumer’s decision-making process in mind.

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London 2012

Winter Olympics

A very recent example of how identity can destroy your business is the identity for London’s 2012 Olympic games. The logo was presented to the public in June and within 48 hours the $800,000 logo was hail as a “gigantic waste of money” or “failing to capture the british spirit” and demanding a replacement (ABC News).

This is what chairman Seb Coe says about the logo:

[testimonial name="Seb Cob" company="Chairman"]This is the vision at the very heart of our brand. It will define the venues we build and the Games we hold and act as a reminder of our promise to use the Olympic spirit to inspire everyone and reach out to young people around the world. It is an invitation to take part and be involved. We will host a Games where everyone is invited to join in because they are inspired by the Games to either take part in the many sports, cultural, educational and community events leading up to 2012 or they will be inspired to achieve personal goals. [/testimonial]

Well, alight, Seb… well this poll says that 80% of the people will not be inspired by this identity to join in the Olympics.

Alex Balfour, head of new media for London 2012 spoke against the opposition saying it was the,

[testimonial name="Alex Balfour"]Biggest branding projects this decade. Most of all, this is a brand to live up to which will force us to deliver [the] Games in a way which no other host city has ever done — not a comfortable blazer badge with ‘endearing’ qualities or cute London skylines, but a big statement of intent.[/testimonial]

Now it’s a possibility that this may be true, that eventually everyone will recognize the style into the mainstream but the overwhelming negative response to the identity is undeniable. Maybe the whole concept doesn’t need to be scrapped but something needs to be done to make it more acceptable to the general public. We are talking about the olympics here, not a niche market website to motocross riders or snowboarders. There are ways to creating an identity that introduces a youthfulness and preserves the history and elegance of the olympics. For $800,000 I would hope that the designers could spend a small amount of time brainstorming how to accomplish those two things.

The true test will be the actual event. Time is the ultimate test of an identity. Maybe trends will swing in favor of this zany logo design and it will be everything London is hoping for.

I hope it’s clear now how ignoring your identity can drastically affect every aspect of your business. There aren’t many things more important than creating and preserving a great identity for your business, brand or product. Don’t let the little details of identity slip by you.

What are your experiences with bad brand identity? Join the conversation by dropping a comment, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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