Branding fundamentals: understanding the broad strokes [Book Review]
As a former brand manager and current branding consultant in the nonprofit sector, I know brand is a word that comes with baggage. If your organization chooses to focus on branding and do it well through all internal and external channels, it can be costly. But a strong brand, supported with tools and staff who believe in it, becomes a powerful asset to support revenue generation and awareness of your cause on a long-term basis. Trying to get a grasp on this massive topic can be daunting, but if you have about an hour, there is a nice little solution to this issue.
I was introduced to a small volume called Brand Atlas: Branding Intelligence Made Visible a couple of years ago by a mentor, and it’s become my go-to resource especially when I’m working on brand education within nonprofits. The authors, Alina Wheeler and Joel Katz, put their expertise in branding and information design to work, providing clear, insightful encapsulations of key brand concepts on every spread with the explanation on the left and the visualization of the that idea on the right. Their goal with this book is to “distill a vast amount of brand thinking, and provide just enough content to scan and spark meaningful conversations”. Wheeler is also the author of the comprehensive and eminently useful brand manual, Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team, now in its 4th edition.
Brand Atlas is organized in four sections:
- Dynamics, encompassing the environment into which brands insert themselves
- Intelligence, a really useful high level explanation of brand basics
- Drive, a section on how to manage the branding process
- Details, providing a bit more meat on the bones of how to do branding
The Dynamics section touches on big themes such as the emergence of social media, the shifting conversation about brand from the organization to the customer, globalization, the need for transparency and how ever-changing technology is affecting brands.
Intelligence covers more practical areas, including the essence of what brand means encapsulated in four basic questions:
- Who are you?
- Who needs to know?
- Why should they care?
- How will they find out?
The authors deal with the importance, breadth and depth of brand, discussing vision, positioning and brand touchpoints. They deftly illustrate that beneath an engaging logo there is an entire supporting structure.
The Drive section is particularly helpful with the top-level information on how to organize a branding process within your organization. Certainly, in a nonprofit setting, the tendency may be to skip some of the steps suggested and go straight to logo creation, but a brand will hold its own so much better with a basis in research and strategy.
Organizational culture and recruiting of employees as brand champions are other vital areas of branding. Volunteers, donors and other stakeholders in the nonprofit sector are vital relationships that require stewarding. According to Wheeler and Katz, organizations “that take the time to ensure all employees understand what the brand stands for are more likely to collaborate to ensure that the promise to the [stakeholder] is delivered”.
A great spread in this section addresses the flight or fight syndrome within organizations going through a branding process. It’s a defining moment when the resolve and committment to see a process through may begin to flag. Yet those who push through these challenges to completion will strengthen the brand and organization. The Drive section conveys that branding is a living process within an organization, and that brand is central to an organization’s success.
Finally, the Details section departs from the previous format and gives the reader a list of important questions to ask when framing the process for an organization, and the top-level tasks to manage a branding process.
A good place to start
By combining visual references and commentary, the authors enable the reader to absorb some of the big concepts in marketing and brand much more readily. The illustrations are bright and colourful, and make liberal use of visual metaphor with minimal copy. In addition, quotes are included from real life brand managers, senior executives and key writers in the brand universe.
If you come at this book thinking you’ll be a brand expert at the end of it, you’ll be disappointed because it’s a broad strokes effort. But if you are looking to increase your understanding of the scope of what brand means, and enable yourself to start asking the right questions around brand in a short amount of time, Brand Atlas is just right.