Branding: It’s All About Focus

Over the years, I’ve frequently been asked what the secret formula is for successful branding. What people are really asking me is how to make their brand a global leader, like Coca-Cola.

Well, sorry guys. There’s no magic hidden in the process of building a brand. Successful brand building is all about three simple principles. These form the crucial guidelines that help ensure that you build a successful brand. In today’s article I will clarify these principles for you.

Branding is all about focus. When I say focus, I mean a lot of things. But the most important points are your focus on a specific audience, on a specific value, and on a specific tone of voice.

I know it sounds banal, but defining your unique target group is fundamental. Let me give you a couple of examples.

Which Audience Should You Focus On?

McDonald’s has always been a family restaurant but has never been a burger bar. What’s the difference? None. But the family focus is a positioning strategy that’s reflected in everything the corporation does. McDonald’s knows that by targeting families, it hits one of the most attractive, loyal consumer groups available. It gets into the parents’ wallets via the kids’ minds.

Given the strength of this strategy, it’s no wonder that McDonald’s has become what it is. And, by the way, the audience focus doesn’t mean that McDonald’s misses out on attracting teenagers, tweens, or grown-up singles to its restaurants. Obviously, McDonald’s restaurants are full of such consumer groups. But by attracting a target audience, McDonald’s hasn’t scared other consumer groups away. Just imagine if McDonald’s targeted teenagers. Do you think any families would show up?

A famous vodka brand decided to take targeting to the extreme by focusing on alternative audiences, like the gay community in the U.S. By hitting this community in trendy bars in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, the product became fashionable, and a wider and wider audience was attracted to it. By now, the vodka in question is one of the world’s best-known brands, yet it’s been raised in an alternative-lifestyle background.

What Do You Want Your Brand to Say?

Having considered the importance of your brand’s audience focus, let’s look at its message. What do you want your brand to say? What tracks should it leave in the consumer’s mind after exposure? What are its values? If I were to ask you what impressions spring to mind when I mention the word “Lego,” you’d probably speak of “a creative construction toy” or, simply, “colorful plastic bricks.” If I mention “Rolex,” you’d probably respond with something like “high-quality Swiss watch.” If I say “Mercedes-Benz,” you’d say “a high-quality German car.”

The principle is simple. What would you like consumers to think when they perceive your brand? Don’t be too ambitious. You can’t make the consumer say or think everything you want. For example, you probably didn’t say, “Just imagine,” when I asked you to respond to the concept of Lego, even though that’s the product’s slogan today. Focus on your brand’s values, and communicate these consistently.

Be Consistent

The third important factor in a healthy branding strategy is communications consistency. Being consistent means delivering your brand’s message in a tone of voice that becomes recognizable as the voice of your brand, that communicates the brand’s values to its target audience day after day, year after year, anywhere and everywhere!

A good rule of thumb to consider is this: When you start feeling sick and tired of your brand’s message and voice, its connection with the consumer’s recognition is probably just beginning. Remember, you are exposed to your brand thousands of times more frequently than your customers are. So don’t let your own frequency of exposure affect your communications decisions.

Consistency is applicable in every facet of your brand’s consumer communications strategy. Ensure your brand consistently targets its audience, communicates the same message, personifies and transmits the same values, and appears with the same vocabulary, nomenclature, design elements, and graphics.

Many companies fail on the consistency prerequisite, even the big ones you’d think would know how to handle this fundamental branding challenge. Take Swissair, for example. I bet you know the name, but do you know that Swissair is also known as Crossair, Flightline, Jumbolino, and Swissair Express? Each of these subidentities is accompanied by a version of the Swissair logo, even though they all fly internationally. I’m sure there’s a logical reason behind the airline company’s divergent branding strategy. But I wonder if Swissair’s customers understand it.

What Creates the Brand?

So, why didn’t I define design consistency as a factor in its own right: the graphic design, the logo, the look that surrounds the brand? Because these elements do not create the brand. They support it and can help accelerate recognition, speeding up the branding process.

The “look” is a necessary element in a consistent communications strategy, but it’s just an element. If your brand possesses the most beautiful logo and is associated with a perfect identifying design, yet it has no clear audience focus, no value focus, and no tone-of-voice focus with which to deliver its well-honed message, I doubt you’d ever succeed in building your brand. However, by following the guidelines established by these three principles, you’re likely to score the brand-building goal, even without a fabulous logo.

Strong branding has nothing to do with a beautiful logo. But it has everything to do with your brand’s message.

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