How to Think Like a Branding Expert in 3 Simple Steps: Part 2

March 23, 2016 Jeff Immer

branding language

I don’t know if most brands have souls, but thanks to last week’s soul-searching exercises, yours does. Now that we know what our brand is all about, it’s time to figure out how to let the rest of the world know.

We need our own proprietary look, our own unique way of speaking to our audience, a crystal clear way to communicate our point of view. We need our own language.

Our secret sauce—the Mental Mentor™

Now that we know who we are brand-wise, it’s time to define who we want to be. This is where my studio’s patented (not really) marketing and branding strategy of the Mental Mentor comes in.

What’s a Mental Mentor?

Well, one—it’s a phrase with a nice ring to it that sounds super legit when you say it in front of clients and two—your Mental Mentor is a company outside of your industry that communicates its existence in a way you aspire to and can emulate.

In short, good artists borrow and great artists steal, and your brand is going to be a great artist—at least for the sake of this exercise.

So, take a moment and ask yourself to name a company whose presence and attitude you aspire to. Is it Nike’s “Just Do It” outlook on life, or is it Apple’s elegant way that they “Think Different”?

It’s important that the company you name doesn’t do what you do. If you manufacture the comfiest toilet seat in the world, don’t make your Mental Mentor the other toilet seat guy—reach outside your industry for inspiration here.

Why do this? The answer is simple: if you reach for the stars and fail, at least you’ll land on the moon. Or, in other words, it’s important that you ‘fake it till you make it.’

Having a Mental Mentor will help to guide your company’s messaging and attitude and ultimately steer the company towards success in a larger sense as well. We were working with a client that wanted their company’s tagline to be “Ethically sourced apparel and accessories that do good in your community.”

“Why not just ‘Good Clothes?’ It’s catchy, simple and sums up your differentiator perfectly—it could be your ‘Just Do It!’” I argued.

“We’re a small company just starting out; we need to tell people the whole story in our tagline. You can afford to be vague when you’re big. We’re not Nike.”

“And neither was Nike until they decided to be.”

And that’s the whole point of the Mental Mentor marketing and branding strategy. Right now, you’re deciding to be confident—to be too big for your britches, to be special.

Your Mental Mentor has already got it right—follow in their footsteps, and you won't be far behind. Don’t use their images and words—use yours!—but do use their confidence and their vibe to steer you where you want to go.

The Logo

Here it is everyone; that thing that instantly comes to mind when you think, “I need a brand”—a logo. A logo is like the amuse bouche at a fancy restaurant: it’s one perfect bite that tells you a mini-story about the chef’s point of view and what you can expect from the upcoming meal.

And much like an amuse bouche, it’s going to turn out a lot better if you hire someone with experience to make yours. What I’m trying to say is: hire a damn designer.

However, whether you take that advice or not, there are general, smart guidelines to follow as you explore possible logos and make that final decision.

Live in your competitor's world, but be the outlier

We need to have our own unique look, but we also need to communicate to our potential audience that we do or make that thing they’re looking to get done or made. What I’m trying to say is, if you make computer software don’t create a logo that looks like a thai restaurant.

Learn the visual language of your industry and consciously position your logo as the shining star in that larger constellation; surrender to a few tropes, buck a few others.

Be the slightly louder or quieter or more elegant or more expressive version of the other guys. Be different, be unique, but communicate the values of your industry by staying in your industry’s visual language.

Think simple, or not

Simple, iconic designs tend to stick in our brains—think of the Nike swoosh or the Apple… apple. Simple is memorable and unfussy.

Plus, there is a bonus advantage: if you think your logo will need to occasionally live on small screens like on an iPhone, you’re going to want a logo that’s simple enough to not turn to mush when reduced to 100 pixels or less in width.

Now, having said that, there are genius brands that use complexity to their advantage. But even then, we’re seeing a big trend in creating ‘responsive’ logos that reduce in complexity as needed.

Most importantly: tell your story

I have bad news for you—there are no real laws in the world of branding in 2016.

The blogosphere is flooded with worthless clickbait like “10 things your logo must absolutely NOT do” written by writers with zero branding experience and an insatiable thirst for clicks.

There’s only one thing your logo must absolutely not do and that’s tell someone else’s story and not your own.

Is your brand ornate, flowery, baroque? Then screw keeping it simple—make a crazy, overly complex logo. It worked for Unilever. USA Today rebranded as a blue dot, not exactly what we think of as a newspaper logo, but it works for them.Unilever

Anything can work as long as it’s telling your story. The chances for success increase when a logo looks professional, smart and is designed to be flexible across mediums, but there are plenty of successful companies with logos that break all the rules. Focus less on arbitrary rules and more on making it feel like you.

Copywriting and Copywronging

Words!

Man, do CEOs like words. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been asked to design a “simple brochure” for a company who then emails over their eleven-page opus.

Copywriting is the art of taking big ideas, ideas you think need 2,000 words to convey, and turning them into bite-sized, emotion-packed language.

Where a CEO might write, “We’re an American multinational financial services corporation headquartered in Manhattan's Three World Financial Center in New York City, United States. Founded in 1850, we’re one of the 30 components of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. We’re best known for its credit card, charge card, and traveler's cheque businesses.”

A copywriter writes, “Don’t leave home without it. American Express.”

One of these has the power to move people, and it’s not the fact-laden spiel from the CEO. Business owners often think that answering *every* question is the answer, but when the audience has no questions about the brand, they have no curiosity to stick around and absorb more.

Tease, titillate, excite! Woah, that sounds dirty, but you get it.

Not every business needs a proper tagline, but every business should be able to sum up their brand in one sentence that emotionally grabs their audience.

My company, BIKLOPS, uses “Make it Rad.” It sums up our outlook on our work rather succinctly and, because it doesn’t mention branding or design, we are simply the studio that makes it rad.

This year, we’ve moved into designing environmental experiences and physical spaces, so it’s nice that our tagline has kept us open to saying yes to anything that needs rad-making.

Step outside yourself for a moment and scribble down some possible taglines for your brand. Here are some pointers—some “copy writes” if you will—to get you started.

Appeal to the heart

Don’t tell me what your company does—tell me why I care. “You’re in good hands” is a great tagline for Allstate because insurance should make you feel safe. 7-Up’s “The Uncola” tagline works in two ways—it appeals to people who don’t like cola while also positioning 7-Up as an unusual or rebellious brand.

“What's your story? What gets you emotional when you think about what you do? Whatever it is, that's your positioning. Your logo and tagline should communicate precisely that feeling.” --Jordan Fliegel, CoachUp

So, think about what your company makes or does and then ask yourself why? That will lead you to why someone would choose you.

Our exercise from part one should help with tone here—was your brand a middle-aged masculine voice or a twenty-something feminine voice? Now think about your Mental Mentor—are they brash and confident or understated and brainy? Hopefully, you have a few ideas scribbled down now.

Clarify

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”—Shakespeare

Just as we did with our logo, we need to make our tagline razor-sharp. Think of the shortest, quickest way to say what you’re trying to say.

For example, let’s pretend we’re opening a pizza joint, and so far we’ve come up with “Affordable Pizza for the Common Man” as a tagline. That’s nice, but here are some sharpened alternates:

  • The People’s Pizza
  • Pizza for the People
  • The People’s Republic of Pizza

See how we managed to not only shorten the tagline but also intensify the language? They roll off the tongue and seem packed with attitude. That’s a spicy meatball!

Get Help

Writing is an art just like design is an art. If you feel like you need help, you do.

Hire a copywriter to formulate ideas and steer you towards something great. There’s a lot more writing to come—you have a website, print materials and more to create—and starting a relationship with a copywriter now will pay dividends later.

If nobody hates it, no one will love it

If you ever feel some discomfort thinking, “But will I alienate someone by having a unique point of view?” I can assure you the answer is yes.

And thank god—someone who will never truly love your brand will go elsewhere, and you’ll just be stuck with real, honest brand advocates who will use you and your services or buy your products again and again and tell their friends. Poor you.  

Carry On

With a logo and the simplest bit of brand language, we have the template for our communications.

If your logo is colorful and expressive, use that as the jumping-off point for future print materials and social media images. Was your tagline funny? Full of attitude? Then make sure to never be dour or write in a passive or boring way.

Take these first elements of your brand as the guide for all of your future brand expressions.

Speaking of, next week we’ll talk about getting our baby out into the world—how brand thinking can positively impact your website, advertising and even larger business decisions.

This blog post is brought to you by Jeff Immer, Co-Principal of BIKLOPS, a branding agency with offices in Portland, Oregon and Kansas City, Missouri.

About the Author

Jeff Immer

BIKLOPS IS A CREATIVE AGENCY. We create fearless branding, websites, and advertising.

Follow on Twitter More Content by Jeff Immer
Previous Article
 How to Think Like a Branding Expert in 3 Simple Steps: Part 3
How to Think Like a Branding Expert in 3 Simple Steps: Part 3

Perfect your website and get your name out there with some cheap and easy marketing. This post will teach y...

Next Article
How to Think Like a Branding Expert in 3 Simple Steps: Part 1
How to Think Like a Branding Expert in 3 Simple Steps: Part 1

If you are intimidated or overwhelmed by branding challenges, then this is the post that will teach you to ...