Here at The InStar Group, we’ve spent a lot of time writing articles covering the wider spectrum of the marketing world. Of all the topics, the one piece that we seem to discuss and undertake the most with our clients, is a company’s brand. So, we thought we’d take a step back and cover all of the elements that comprise a company’s brand, also referred to as “Corporate Brand Identity.”
Part 1 – What is a Brand?
A brand, branding, or brand identity can be traced back to the Old Norse word “brandr,” which means “to burn”. While watermarks were used several hundreds of years ago, when thinking of branding in modern contexts, most people think of cattle ranchers who would use a hot iron to make their mark on the cattle they owned to differentiate it from other ranchers. From this action, branding has evolved to be a little more involved and a little less cruel.
Today, when we discuss a company’s brand, there are so many pieces to the pie and you’ll get a different answer from whichever expert you ask. A company like Victoria’s Secret has a “branded” smell every time you walk by their stores, Intel uses an auditory “brand” that chimes when you see their commercials, Coca-Cola has “branded” packaging in their hour-glass shaped bottles and McDonald’s has a “brand” with the way their french fries taste.
For simplicity’s sake, since we at The InStar Group typically work with building brands for start-up businesses, we will narrow it down to the following elements: Brand Name, Brand Tagline and Brand Logo.
A company’s brand name in its simplest form is what is spoken when referenced and what is seen as text. Of course, when discussing a company’s brand, there are so many elements, but we’re going to keep this as high level as possible. The brand name for a new company is likely the most important of the three pieces (name, tagline, logo), at least coming out of the gate as a new company. While we’re not saying a company’s brand name can’t be changed, it can, and it’s been done before, but for a start-up business, choosing the right name at inception is of paramount importance. Taglines and logos change frequently, but unless you get bought out or have a public relations nightmare on your hands, you want to choose a brand name that will last forever.
Brand names can take many forms and come from many different places. Below is a sample of categories as to where some brand names originate:
Founder’s Name – Many companies choose to simply be named after the founder, such as The Walt Disney Company or Johnson & Johnson.
Functional – A functional brand name is one where there is no mystery as to what the company does as it is in the name. Companies like Petsmart or Starbucks Coffee leave little mystery as to their business purpose.
Nonsensical – Some brand names don’t have any grand meaning at all. Perhaps they just sound really good when they roll off the tongue. Kodak was chosen as the brand name by founder George Eastman. There is nobody named “Kodak.” This methodology is very much en vogue with current Internet start-ups. Companies such as Groupon, Tumblr, and Instagram are not real words, but their brands have grown to be recognizable nonetheless.
Foreign – Brand’s such as Samsung and Lufthansa are foreign in origin. As long as the word itself is pronounceable in the market in which you’re operating, it’s okay. In fact, in some cases, choosing a foreign name may have some added brand caché, especially when considering some business categories.
Implicative – These type of brand names want to conjure up an image or thought in your head, as long as you don’t over think it. Brands such as Amazon began selling books and now are the go-to marketplace on the internet. The brand name could have been chosen to involve books in some fashion, but instead, the name “Amazon” is supposed to imply the grandeur of the selection of items as opposed to the South American river.
Acronym – Brand’s like IBM, KFC and UPS may stand for something, but have been shortened for ease of use and for our memory’s sake. Sometimes, a company may want to drop the full brand name to disassociate themselves from the name’s origin. IBM (International Business Machines) is more of a consulting firm now as opposed to a manufacturer of hardware, where KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) seems to want to draw attention away from the fact that their chicken is fried.
There is no right or wrong in any of this. Often times, the right brand name is the one that gets the eyebrows raised in excitement and creates that visceral feeling of it being the best representation.
As an example, we at The InStar Group chose our brand name because it accomplished a host of different meanings. We wanted to use the word “Group” to embody that we are bigger than a singular function. We offer marketing and advertising services, but we also offer retainer based consulting services. Additionally, we chose the word “InStar” because we found multiple meanings in it. Primarily, the word “instar” is a biological term used for describing insects going from one life stage to the next. We liked the idea that for us as a marketing and consulting agency, we help our clients through stages of growth. The other meaning for us in using the word “instar” is that the word “star” can be loosely interpreted that we are the “guiding light” or “northern star” for our clients, directing/navigating them in the right direction for growth and success.
Not every brand name needs to have multiple meanings or any meaning at all. In the end, it should feel right and can stand the test of time.
A tagline, sometimes referred to as a slogan, is a short phrase or statement that is tied to and associated with a company’s brand name and/or one of its products.
The primary purpose of a tagline is to capture the essence of a brand and to add depth to its identity, whether at a corporate or campaign level. There are four primary parts of a tagline, bucketed into two primary categories. In addition to a tagline being associated to a company or product, the nature of the tagline can either be functional or emotional.
Company Associated – Nearly every company in today’s business environment uses a tagline, regardless of what products it might sell under different brand names. For example, General Electric (GE) is a multinational conglomerate with a countless number of products under its umbrella. At a corporate level, its tagline is “Imagination at work,” replacing the long running “We bring good things to life.” This tagline speaks to the brand as a corporation, and can be assumed that the phrase is appropriate for all of its products in any given sector.
Product Associated – For companies who offer a host of products or services, they may very well have taglines associated with brands at the product level, and not at the corporate level. Kix Cereal is owned by General Mills, but as a product, it has its own tagline of “Kid tested. Mother approved” that is not associated with the parent brand.
Functional – Once a product has been directly associated with either a company or product, it can then speak further to the overall brand’s integrity. Within this category, a tagline can be functional or emotional. When we say “functional,” we mean it nearly and literally speaks about the brand’s function. A good example of this is Miller Lite’s old tagline, “Taste great. Less filling.” Pretty functional right there. If you’re looking for a beer that has a really good taste and won’t fill you up, look no further.
Emotional – Last of the four primary pieces that comprise a tagline is the emotional play. If a tagline can speak to the brand’s function, it can also jointly or alternately speak to your emotions, allowing the idea of the brand to germinate and grow within your own consciousness. Nike’s famous tagline, “Just do it” does not really reference any of its products specifically or even tip its hat as to what the company sells. Rather, it makes a broad, generic statement, leaving the tagline’s meaning to your own interpretation. The likely result may be you lacing up your new pair of high tops before hitting the court and energizing yourself by playing Nike’s tagline in your head.
There are no rules when developing a tagline, but ideally, you want to develop a tagline that can work on each plane of the above chart. Some taglines can even blur the lines between company/product and functional/emotional.
Looking at past taglines from Coca-Cola, which are taglines really more for the product, but since the flagship brand is also the same as the company name, the taglines truly speak to both the company association as well as the product association.
Coca-Cola Taglines & Their Chart Score:
Delicious and refreshing (1904) – Speaks to product’s function – 2 A
Coca-Cola goes along (1939) – Speaks to being a “friend” in your life – 1/2 B
Have a Coke and a smile (1979) – The product give you an emotion – 2 A/B
Always Coca-Cola (1993) – The product and brand are “always” the answer – 1/2 A/B
Open Happiness. (2009) – The product lends to an emotion – 2 B
In closing our discussion on taglines, developing your tagline is just as important as what your brand name is and how it all gets wrapped together visually in a logo. Understand that a brand’s identity eventually grows and blossoms over the course of time, and a heavy advertising campaign never hurts to speed up this process. For a start-up business looking to develop a tagline for its initial launch, the leadership team needs to consider how heavy or light the marketing launch will be. The reason we say this is that if you choose a tagline that is emotional as opposed to functional at launch, your target audience will not be familiar with who you are just yet and limiting the tagline’s functionality may also limit the ability for your customer’s to quickly and immediately understand who you are and what you’re about.
Part 4 – Brand Logo
A brand’s name is what the company or product is called. The tagline is a phrase or statement that says a little more about the brand than what the name can. The logo is the visual representation of these two and brings them all together.
There are 3 primary types of logos.
1. Text Only – A logo can be visually represented simply as text. This can be done with a readily identifiable font for branding purposes or even a plain font. The “Coca-Cola” logo with its iconic script font may be the crown jewel in this category. Another example is the logo for “IBM” with its plain font, but is creatively identifiable from the horizontal lines.
2. Text Incorporated into Icon – These logos are characterized by the brand name being embedded into a recognizable icon (graphic symbol).
Two examples of this are:
a. Adidas, with its three stripes. The three stripes are iconic, but without “Adidas”, they’d be a bit lost on the consumer and likely difficult to identify.
b. Volkswagen, where the stacked “VW” are integrated into the seal/emblem, of which would be nothing without the letters.
3. Text with Option for Stand Alone Icon – A logo can and often does incorporate an icon or visual image accompanied by text. In extreme circumstances, this icon can have such strong brand equity that the icon itself can stand alone.
An example of this is Nike. The logo not only incorporates the text of the Nike name, but is accompanied by the recognizable swoosh icon.
Nike will even market the swoosh as a stand-alone image due to its incredibly strong brand equity.
Once the logo has been designed, the final piece is to incorporate the tagline, so a company can have two primary versions, with and without tagline.
There are no rules in designing a logo. Fonts, icon design and color palettes lend to a great deal of creativity. Regardless, a new company developing their brand identity should take into account their brand’s personality and make sure that the logo design is a good fit.
The InStar Group believes that for a new brand starting out, the brand name should be incorporated into the primary logo for branding purposes. Not everybody starts out as strong as a Nike.
By now, if you got to this point, congratulations, not only having read the entire post, but you should also have a good understanding of the core building blocks for building your company’s brand or identity. Of course, having the project in the hands of a good creative team is key in capturing a great name, a tagline that inspires and a logo that visually represents these two. Good luck!