In our last post, we discussed what to keep in mind when considering a brand overhaul. In this post, we’ll highlight six companies that are rocking their brands.
Who knew shopping at a national discount chain could make a person feel hip and cool? Since its official founding in 1962, Target has been building on this message. And yes, the iconic bullseye has been around just as long, which is great for building brand recognition (and made even cuter by the addition of Target’s official brand ambassador in 1999, the dog lovingly named Bullseye).
What’s interesting is hearing the reasoning behind this powerful visual. Target’s corporate site includes a quote from the team that created the logo, “As a marksman’s goal is to hit the center bulls-eye, the new store would do much the same in terms of retail goods, services, commitment to the community, price, value and overall experience.”
Takeaway for small businesses: When developing your brand—from the messages to the visuals—make sure you can articulate your reasons for your decisions. Don’t do something just because it looks cool or it’s different. Everything you do—from the names you choose for products and services, to the color palette you select for your website, to the way you talk to fans on social media—needs to reflect your brand’s values. Make sure you know what those are before you do anything else.
Amazon is a great case study because it effectively dismantles the notion that a brand is simply a logo. While you probably can picture the Amazon logo in your mind’s eye, it’s not as iconic as the Target bullseye. And that’s perfectly OK because your logo alone is not your brand. But that is not to say that Amazon’s logo isn’t stellar. With a smile on every box and the smile marks pointing from A to Z (as in they sell everything under the sun from A to Z), it was very well executed.
Up until 1997 when Amazon unveiled the Kindle, it didn’t even sell its own proprietary products. Think about that: you have a company that’s not focused on its “look” or even its own products. What the heck is Amazon’s brand, anyway?
In our earlier post, we discussed three core elements that make up your brand: the story, the look and feel, and the customer’s perception. All of these elements work together in creating your brand. Sure, the management team can define what your brand “promise” is, but unless you actually deliver on that promise with a story and an experience that customers can appreciate and talk about, your promise won’t amount to much.
Amazon’s story is that it’s a one-stop marketplace for almost anything you could want to buy. It’s look and feel is all about creating an easy, intuitive user experience, one that’s safe and fulfilling. As for customer perception? That’s something that’s evolved over the years, as customers have interacted and used the site. Amazon has listened to its customers—what they want in terms of products, shipping, checkout—and it’s kept evolving itself to match its customers’ needs. And guess what? It works. Amazon consistently rates high for customer trust and recommendation.
Bob Hoffman, better known as the “Ad Contrarian,” makes an insightful note in his article “How Did Amazon Became a Great Brand?” Hoffman says, “My view has always been that a strong brand is usually a by-product. It comes from doing a lot of things right — like making good products, innovating, treating customers respectfully, and doing effective advertising. ”
Takeaway for small businesses: Think of your brand as a living thing. It’s not static. It needs to evolve alongside your business. Listen closely to customer feedback, especially among your core customer base. Are you hearing similar themes, positive or negative? Sometimes your customers are the ones to point out the most positive aspects of your business, ones you may have overlooked or taken for granted.
Recently named the most valuable brand on earth, Apple is known for its products’ elegance, simplicity, speed, and power. Everything it does—from the commercials it creates to the conferences where it unveils new products—reflects these core concepts.
Takeaway for small businesses: Consistency is key when building a strong brand. Make sure your brand—the message, the look and feel, and the customer perceptions—are consistent across all channels (website, social media, print, and so forth).
Nike is an example of a brand with a legendary visual (the swoosh) and message “Just do it.” Both have remained relevant (and instantly recognizable) for decades. But does that mean the brand shouldn’t evolve at some point? Of course not, and Nike management knows this.
In a revealing article in Ad Week, the company’s VP of digital sport, Stefan Olander, talks about how the company is no longer simply a products company, but rather a products and services company, thanks to apps and social media that allow for two-way conversations with customers. How has this shift affected the brand? Olander says, “The change, though, is that people now demand us not to say ‘Just do it,’ they say ‘Help me just do it.’ ‘Enable me to just do it.’ And the role of the brand changes from one of inspiration to one of inspiration and enablement.”
Takeaway for small businesses: Your brand will need to change with the times. For example, thirty years ago, you didn’t have constant and instant access to customer feedback. Now you do, thanks to the digital age in which we live. How does your brand respond? Changes can be more subtle, of course. A new industry regulation, for example, might affect the way you do business with customers, and this will likely affect your story—your narrative—which is part of your brand. Again, the key is to be open to changes and to allow your brand to evolve.
5. The Home Depot
Quick, what comes to mind when you think of The Home Depot? We’re guessing the bright orange of the logo and scenes from the commercials where you see helpful Home Depot associates in their famous orange aprons helping regular folks like you and me with every sort of home improvement project imaginable. Its tagline “You can do it. We can help.” reinforces this concept. And the orange bursts of color evoke feelings of energy, warmth, enthusiasm and are used to draw attention to the brand.
Home Depot does a great job with the story—and making sure that story resonates with Mr. and Mrs. Smith. It also has great visuals that work hand-in-hand with the story (the helpful associates in their orange aprons). Home Depot is smart to focus on its narrative since our homes—where we raise our families and have our happiest moments—are so important to each and every one of us. Home Depot, of course, wants you to think of them first for all the physical products you need for your project…but it also wants you to feel good and happy about going there. Creating this “human” aspect is an essential part of its brand. And it works (last year, Home Depot graced the 50 Most Valuable Retail Brands List).
Takeaway for small businesses: Don’t skimp on your story. Living in an era when we’re bombarded with constant media “spin,” it’s always refreshing when companies turn to straightforward, “real” stories about who they are, what they do, and how they can help you.
6. U.S. Postal Service
This might seem like an unusual choice in our selection of organizations and companies rocking their brands, but hear us out. Just as Nike has responded to the 24/7 digital world in which we live, so, too, has the U.S. Postal Service. With people sending more texts and emails rather than old-fashioned snail mail, revenue has dropped. As the AP reported in May, “… the Postal Service continues to lose money at a rapid pace due to a decline in mail volume and a congressional requirement that it make advance payments to cover expected health care costs for future retirees – something no other federal agency does.”
USPS is an example of a brand that has constantly re-invented itself in the last 20+ years in order to meet customers’ changing needs and to deal with changes in the world (e.g. emails/texts). At the same time, it must balance everything the brand is known for—trust, dependency—and continue to deliver on those brand promises. It does this by focusing on the customer first. In its “Vision 2013” campaign, a plan that was published in 2008 and outlined how it would evolve in the next five years, it says, “Our vision rests on three major strategies: 1) Focus on what matters most to customers. 2) Leverage our strengths to create customer value and profits to invest in continued improvement. 3) Embrace change in the way we respond to emerging customer needs and a rapidly evolving business environment.”
This strategy has most definitely worked. Its website notes many current awards in excellence: “The Postal Service has been named the Most Trusted Government Agency for six years and the sixth Most Trusted Business in the nation by the Ponemon Institute.”
Takeaway for small businesses: Yes, your business and your brand need to evolve with the times, but that doesn’t mean you should lose sight of important brand values and all the things your business does well. Any adjustments or changes you make to your brand identity should always complement and boost up the positives.
What companies do you think rock their brands…and what can we learn from them? Share your thoughts in the comments.