September 22, 2022
There’s a lot of confusion about what a brand really is. Is it colors? Is it the fonts? Is it the hats you wear you look when you go live or post a TikTok? Is it a catchphrase or two?
The term “branding” is murky at best — and it’s definitely becoming more of a buzzword than a design or business principle. We’ve all got “a personal brand” now, right?
But that’s not really what we’re talking about when we say “brand” around these parts. At the Design Lab, we want to redefine (or simply provide a more accurate definition of) the word “brand” for you — and us.
Your “brand” is about more than just your witty taglines and use of the color orange. It’s about chemistry.
When you think of your brand, you immediately think of the customer, right? The person who will see your brand and think “That’s what I want.”
Meeting a client’s need is Step 1 in building a business and a brand. But it often leaves out the very important next step: taking actionable steps to consistently enforce the brand.
So many definitions of branding place all the responsibility on the customer — how they perceive or engage with your brand — leaving businesses with no sense of ownership and no actionable way to build their brand from Day 1 to Day 1,000.
We want to ensure you have a roadmap to building (and continuing to build) your brand. That’s why we define a “brand” as a collection of experiences that give you an impression of a company’s values.
Those values determine which products/services the business produces, how they treat their employees, how they treat their customers, and how they present themselves/interact with the world.
So rather than thinking, “What would attract our customers/clients?” it might be time to think about what you want your business to be first. Then, it’s then up to the customer to decide if they want to participate.
With that said, let’s dive into these four experiences and how they make up your brand’s chemistry.
Also known as “brand design.” This is what comes to mind for most people when they think about what a brand is. It’s your font choices, your color palette, logo and iconography, and even the photography you choose to incorporate onto your website or share on Instagram.
This includes your copy, the language you use, and even the audio you choose for your Reels or TikToks. If your brand were a person, this is how they would talk. They might avoid phrases like “girl boss” or use punchy adjectives in place of “awesome” (they might even cuss too).
Your customer service and client experience also play a big role in defining your brand. This includes things like how easily clients can interact with you or how comfortable they feel asking questions. Every touchpoint matters.
This includes the tactics you use to sell to a customer — aka your marketing. In this capitalist-heavy society, customers are smart as hell. They know what an upsell is, they know when they’re being sold to, and they know when you’re making claims you can’t back up. We like to think about the intellectual element of branding as both marketing as a touchpoint and marketing as a reflection of your business values.
High-quality brands are defined by the chemistry of those four experiences together. In other words, are they constantly aligned with one another, or does one piece feel off?
Here’s what brand chemistry looks like in practice (and in poor use).
High-quality brands spark positive emotions every time you experience them. And it’s a consistent experience.
Bombas socks are great at doing this. Their product design is happy and colorful, and their BOGO model is clear and exciting. Their marketing shows off their strengths and doesn’t play into competition or scarcity.
And, when you email them with a problem, their customer service team is funny and kind. They’ll offer you a free replacement if you happen to lose a sock to the mysterious black hole that is the washing machine.
A good brand doesn’t make you walk away feeling slimy. In fact, a positive touchpoint with a brand will usually have you coming back for more, and be happy to do so.
A great example of poor brand chemistry is a recent experience I recently had with a small business. They offered tours around a city I hadn’t been to and their website sounded really friendly. They boasted free and flexible cancellations because of travel restrictions, and they showed off a ton of happy customers in photos and testimonials on their website — plus booking was easy.
But when I had to cancel my trip, I was met with silence and it took me weeks to get the resolution I needed. That’s an interpersonal experience that’s misaligned with the rest of their brand. It turned what could have been a high-quality brand into a low-quality one.
If you want to take it large-scale, Amazon comes to mind for me.
They’ve been running tons of ads since the pandemic that told stories about happy employees, but those ads are intellectually misaligned with what we know about their values. They’re showing us a different type of employee when we know they’re infamous for a 100% annual employee turnover rate. It makes us question their motives and their values.
The good news? It’s not hard to figure out whether or not your brand is high or low quality. It’s about understanding how transparent and consistent you are with your core values. Start by asking yourself these questions:
If you want to learn more about how each piece of the brand puzzle works together to build your overall brand, check out our recent Intersection of Design series! We sat down with experts in each of those fields to get their spicy takes on what branding means to them — and how design impacts their work.
Start here by listening to Nicole’s chat about the intersection of design and copy with Latasha Doyle, owner of Uncanny Content!