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What it takes to build a powerful brand

Building a brand isn’t just about creating a great logo, slogan or an ad campaign. Here’s what SMBs can learn from some of the best in the business – Woolworths, Virgin Australia and Apple..

A brand is the product of the hundreds of millions of experiences a company creates with people (its employees, suppliers and consumers) and the emotional feelings these groups develop as a result of those experiences.

A brand is the combination of all the things that people associate with your business from reputation, to customer service, to your price and yes, your logo. So how do you create a successful brand that consumers desire?

The key is to create a brand that connects with consumers. The most powerful brands in the world are the ones that you can identify instantly whether that is by the colour of a can (Coca-Cola), or three notes of music (Intel), and know instantly what it stands for.

To create a powerful brand you must start at the beginning. When a client comes to us for help, the first thing we do is look at their existing brand and strategy and ask ourselves: How passionate is their marketing? Does their brand really connect with their customers? Do their customers come back for more? Do these customers tell your client they love their products or services? Are the customers members of their exclusive club?

It is only when you can answer these questions, that you can capture the essence of what their products or services, however varied these may be, are all about. And with the right people in place you can be very successful at communicating the company’s value and beliefs with a simple name and single image, or logo, which uniquely identifies their brand.

Companies like Apple and Nike are so successful at doing this they have even dropped their taglines, they just don’t matter anymore, as the world over everyone understands the brand just by looking at their logo. Indeed, you only need to see the famous Nike swoosh on a T-shirt and it immediately identifies how fashionably health conscious and sporty the wearer is.

And then there’s the association with a Nike item. We know how fantastic their products must be because tennis players like Roger Federer or Serena Williams or major soccer stars wear them.

In this day and age, and with the speed of new technology we are constantly bombarded with company names and visual images. It is only through good design that really connects with people, that your product will register in their conscious.

It was this thinking that led Woolworths to redesign its brand identity in 2007.

The supermarket chain felt its existing identity no longer fit the vision for the company. Woolworths wanted an identity that was indicative of a new direction: to make grocery shopping a pleasurable, easy experience in a contemporary environment that is offering more fresh food and variety.

Hulsbosch’s role was to work with Woolworths supermarkets to articulate this vision. Not just through a catchy redesign of their existing logo or a different typeface, but to develop a brand strategy that was indicative of Woolworths’ values and beliefs.

It had to be an identity for the entire business that could be implemented on signage, packaging, T-shirts, posters, private label products, websites, advertising campaigns and everything else a customer comes in contact with.

Hulsbosch worked closely with Woolworths CEO, the director of supermarkets, and the marketing director and talked at length about the brand, what it stood for, what the business wanted to achieve and by talking about Woolworths’ customers and the shopping experience.

One of the key insights behind the Woolworths redesign came from a comment made by the director of supermarkets during the rebranding process, when he said: “I am responsible for a team of over 100,000 people. We call ourselves ‘the fresh food people’. I want my people to look at this icon and smile. I want them to look at it with pride. I want them to look at it and be happy… and I want the icon to be instantly recognisable after just one year”.

A lot of insights were put into the mix to create the Woolworths brand that you know today. Significantly the brand’s power has increased. The Woolworths brand was recently valued at over $7.5 billion by Brand Finance, making it Australia’s most valuable brand by a healthy margin.

Tim Heberden, the managing director of Brand Finance, said: “The brand valuation process takes account of financial performance and brand strength. Visual identity is one of the brand attributes that is key – and is an area where Woolworths performed strongly.”

Last month Woolworths was also ranked the most valuable retail brand in the Asia Pacific region with an estimated worth of US $4.2 billion, according to an Interbrand study. It is a testament to the power of branding.

One of Australia’s newest brands, Virgin Australia, is also riding the waves of success after overhauling and relaunching its brand. When John Borghetti was appointed CEO of the Virgin Blue Group in 2010, he quickly kicked off a major rebrand of the airline group.

Virgin wanted to rebrand and reposition the airline as a contemporary business and leisure carrier and Hulsbosch was appointed as the brand’s creative director responsible for designing and overseeing the implementation of the total rebrand.

There was an opportunity to create a new brand by consolidating the airline’s disparate brands, Virgin Blue, V Australia, Polynesian Blue and Pacific Blue, into one unified brand – which we named Virgin Australia. By combining the international and domestic operations under a single moniker, Virgin Australia could speak with a single voice using a consistent brand language.

We started with the identity, linking it to the global airline brands Virgin Atlantic and Virgin America, by creating a smarter, cleaner, more contemporary look. By definition, Virgin stands for pure and white, so we used this as the basis of our redesign. We added the Virgin red, plus silver to signify quality and purple to give the brand a more contemporary look.

But our involvement goes much deeper than this. We really stood back and looked at the overall experience of the brand, right down to the look and feel of the fabric on the seats to the colour and intensity of the cabin lighting, which is not something you really notice until it disturbs you.

We designed the interiors of the aircraft, developing a simple design solution that can evolve over time without great cost. We collaborated with food experts on the taste of the brand, expressed in the new menus. And we worked with leading architect Tim Greer on the new Virgin Lounges, which are sophisticated, relaxing spaces featuring video art and contemporary furniture. We’ve even worked on sound, from how the crew make their announcements in the lounge and on-board, to the choice of the music during boarding and take off.

The total look and feel is currently being applied to all passenger touch points, from the online check-in to the airport signage, kiosks, marketing collateral and uniforms. With Virgin we’ve worked to make sure that every single touchpoint a consumer has with Virgin Australia is consistent with the brand.

Clearly this was a major investment by Virgin Australia, but it appears it is paying off. In February, Virgin Australia announced a 118 percent jump in half-year net profit to $51.8 million, with Virgin increasing revenue by 18 percent to an interim record of $2 billion.

No article on the power of branding would be complete without a look at the world’s most valuable brand: Apple. A company, which is all about design and all about the brand. Apple’s sleek design, user experience and innovative products have made it a ‘must-have’ brand. There are now more Apple iPhones sold around the world every day than there are children born!

We live in an image-conscious age where the way something looks and the image we associate with it can mean the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful product. Consumers love the products because when they buy an Apple product they are buying into the brand, the design and the idea of becoming part of the Apple club.

Apple is helping a lot of businesses to see the power good design and consistent branding can bring to a company. And the key to Apple’s success? Brilliant design and excellent branding.

My top tips for creating successful brands

–       Simplicity – A simple and straightforward brand message makes it easier for consumers to understand it and connect with it.

–       Consistency – Ensure the branding is consistent across every consumer touchpoint.

–       Deliver on the brand promise – You can create the best brand in the world but if it doesn’t deliver on its promise then the entire brand is undermined in consumers’ minds.

So, ask yourself, just how powerful is your brand?

What do you think?

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Hans Hulsbosch

Hans Hulsbosch

Hans Hulsbosch is executive creative director at Hulsbosch, communication by design.

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