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posted on May 27, 2011 in Branding,Design

In an earlier blog, we looked at the concept of corporate identity. Let’s now see how you would go about forming it (if you’re setting up a new company) or changing it (if you don’t much like your existing one).

In either case, the best way to start is with a brief. This could be for you, your fellow directors, and ultimately for your design agency. (We can recommend a really good one, if you’re struggling.)

Keep the brief simple; go for the big picture rather than the detail, which can be fleshed out later. Some people like to use a big sheet of paper to jot down words, phrases and thoughts and link them up to each other.

The first stage is all about your company’s personality. What should it be? What do you want to evoke in the minds of the public when they think of your business?

Obviously, if you have an existing identity, ask yourself at this stage how people perceive it – and why it might not be the right perception. We’ve worked with a number of companies which are dynamic, creative, problem-solving, friendly and go-ahead…but whose websites and other aspects of their identity are staid, pedestrian and dull. Improving their corporate identity has often transformed their profitability as customers and prospects come to realise what they’re really like to work with.

Stage two is the really fun part: brainstorming. Get together with a few colleagues and come up with some ideas that can reflect the personality of the company. The identity should be distinctive (and preferably unique), easy to reproduce across formats and sizes, flexible and appropriate.

One law firm we worked with insisted on using the same design on the cover of their corporate brochure as on their business cards. It worked on the cards but looked frankly out of place on the brochure.

The logo is an important part of the identity, of course. Probably you won’t want something like the London Olympics one – and definitely won’t want to pay the £400,000 its development allegedly cost.

What your logo should do is reflect your company’s personality, evoke positive and warm feelings, inspire, attract and set you apart from your rivals.

The name of a company is also vital. The best ones are short and memorable (so “Thereallynotbadatallcompany” is probably best left on the shelf), easy to pronounce, and ideally positive in tone. Avoid overused terms like “solutions” in your company name. Also make sure that it works across different languages; even if you’re not an international player now, you might be one day.

This reminds us of the story of when Coca-Cola first began selling its famous drink in China. The name Coca-Cola rendered phonetically in Mandarin Chinese sounds like “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax”, neither of which quite conveys the thirst-quenching and refreshing qualities the corporation wanted. It’s probably an urban myth that they ever marketed it as such. One true blunder, though, happened to KFC: trying to translate their “finger lickin’ good” slogan into Chinese, the phrase they ended up with actually read “eat your fingers off”. Ouch!

Stage three is to compile a checklist of all the items the new identity will be used on, from business cards and compliment slips to websites and van liveries.

Having produced all this, pass it over and talk it through with your friendly neighbourhood design agency, light the touch paper, stand well back – and wait for your stunning new corporate identity to be revealed to the world.

If it’s a good identity, the benefits will become increasingly apparent over time. These will include differentiating your company, making your message consistent, boosting your professionalism and raising your standards.

Not bad for something that started on a single sheet of paper.