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Hello, Brands ... You Are Not Defined by Your Logo

Think about the brands you associate with and which get you. They somehow make you feel something


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Think back to your last incredible meal: Do you recall the savory combination of flavors, washed down with a cocktail, surrounded by great company and an ambiance that made you feel at home? Or do you remember the logo on the menu or the sign on the door? This may seem strange coming from a brand designer, but you don’t want your customers to focus on the logo when it’s the experience that matters.

Every business – even those known for their products – are actually selling an experience. Think about the brands you associate with and which get you. They somehow make you feel something: Smarter, faster, stronger. They are humbling or energizing, inspiring or engaging.

That secret sauce is the DNA of a winning brand.

Last year, more than 117,000 new businesses started in Colorado, according to the Secretary of State’s office. These thousands of retail, hospitality, technology and manufacturing companies (among others) all hung out their shingles in the hopes of attracting and retaining customers. Most of them likely created a logo, designed a website and maybe even signed a lease on a brick-and-mortar space. Although Colorado has been the birthplace of dozens of highly successful national companies from Chipotle to Topo Designs, don’t think for a minute that riding on the coattails of the successful brands will guarantee success. Does the light-speed pace of Colorado’s economy mean every business will skyrocket? Not by a long shot. While there are several reasons a business might not survive, one key contributor is the lack of character.

Developing a new brand takes guts and gusto, but most importantly it takes passion.

Let’s break it down.

Businesses that get bogged down by needing a website and logo are putting the cart before the horse. First, they need a strategy and an understanding of their uniqueness from a consumer’s point of view.

A brand is more than a catchy tagline or a recognized swoosh. It’s what those symbols and sayings represent about your business, from customer interactions to product satisfaction. The brand is the expression of the company’s core values and what makes it tick. While a company’s personality should come through in social media, packaging, messaging and graphics, those items themselves aren’t the brand. Instead, the brand is what the business wants it customers to know about it, and how the company makes itself known to the world.

Indeed, a brand is critical to defining and delivering the core differentiators of a business, and bringing value to customers. Without it, it’s pretty tough to stand out among the thousands of others.

So, how do you know who you are as a business?

It starts not with a slick advertisement or the CEO’s vision, but with good old-fashioned research and data. This process is critical and can often require a bit of soul searching. You might think you’re unique and your product is the best, but honestly evaluate:

Who are you?

Why are you in business?

How do you actually measure up to the competition, and what are you really good at?

This introspective process needs to be coupled with understanding your customers and target audience. Put yourself in their shoes and think about what you would want if you were them. Finally, conduct empirical research on targeted customers, demographics, psychographics and economic forces. Only once this process is is established, written, and finalized do companies have the core of their brand. Only then can they begin the execution part: Creating advertising, marketing collateral, websites and logos which all harken back to the main brand.

Finally, business owners need to gather the necessary support internally to execute their brand. The top brass needs to talk about it in their all-hands meetings, the front-line sales and service employees need to understand it so they can deliver the experience to customers, and every function in the company needs to rely on it as the guiding force for their work.

Memorable, successful brands make their customers curious. For instance, people get excited for the next iPhone not because the technology is vastly different, but because they wonder what they are missing out on. Apple’s brand is successful because it’s not a computer or phone, it’s about a lifestyle that inspires.

A common mistake in branding is when companies create what they think is a brand, but which misses the mark completely. For example, many business owners think that individual pieces make up their entire brand, such as assuming their website is their brand or their logo is their brand. However, that’s like assuming your coat is you. It’s just a layer – a small exterior signal – and it’s not the true core of you are.

It’s the sum of the parts and the collective force behind the brand that truly makes a company great.

In our work, branding everything from restaurants and hotels to condos and master planned sites, we find that a strong brand experience is more important than ever in today’s highly competitive, fast-paced business economy. There is simply too much noise facing today’s buyers for them to distinguish between different companies and make meaningful choices about where to spend their money.

Too many interesting, deserving businesses have been drowned out by the competition because they neglected to create a meaningful brand. Don’t make the same mistake with yours.


Abbey Plonkey has more than 10 years of experience in interior design, graphic design, and brand development, she has made a career of thinking out loud. Acting as an in-house agency, she and her team create captivating brand experiences that include concept and vision, interior design, brand ideation, menu, uniform, tableware, and even music selection; ultimately telling the unique story of each restaurant. When she’s not connecting the dots between big ideas, such as Thrice pop-ups, she’s thumbing through her calendar to plan her next big trip. Relentlessly curious, she is energized by new places, cultures, food, and design, she applies her inspiration into her work. She’s a foodie, storyteller, designer and strategist, and she’s on the hunt for her next adventure. Plonkey can be reached at aplonkey@ozarch.com.

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