by Lisa Zone

June 15, 2023

I’ve lost count of the number of times a client or prospect has told me they want to undertake a branding project, and I can tell you that no two of them have meant the same thing when they said “branding.” Some wanted a corporate identity refresh (think logo and color palette). Others wanted an updated way to talk about their company in discussions and marketing materials. Still, others wanted a new go-to-market positioning tag. And, on a rare occasion, some actually wanted a soup-to-nuts brand overhaul. And you know what? Even though the descriptions sounded very different, those clients and prospects were all right in referring to their project as “branding.”

The truth is, there are several elements that make up a company’s brand. If your company is considering a branding initiative, and it’s up to you to identify what you really need as part of your brand refresh. (Though certainly sometimes budgets dictate how big of a project you can bite off.)

Here are four foundational elements to consider if you’re contemplating a brand refresh or overhaul, which should all be supported by the requisite accompanying research:

1. COMPANY NAME – Sometimes, a company naming (or renaming) project is in order. Maybe your company has expanded into new markets or geographies and your name is now limiting. Or perhaps your name just doesn’t feel like it “fits” anymore. The first step of any branding discussion should be whether the company name is part of the consideration set. If so, the name should be the first thing you tackle. This process can take several months and involves research, brainstorming, selection, legal vetting and more. And, be prepared to spend money, because with a new logo comes all new marketing materials, company swag and tchotchkes, facility signage, vehicle graphic updates and more.

2. CORPORATE IDENTITY – You may decide that a company name change isn’t required. Your company name may be working just fine, but your identity is stuck in the 80s. This is quite common, as corporate identity elements like logos, fonts and color palettes can feel outdated relatively quickly, comparatively speaking. Think of your own personal style – you probably refresh it fairly regularly to stay current and modern. The same holds true for most corporate identities, even iconic ones. When was the last time you contemplated whether your corporate identity best reflects who your company is today, and, perhaps more importantly, where your company is going? One exercise to help you make this decision is to put your logo on a slide against competitors and peers in your space. This is a very visual way to quickly illustrate whether your brand feels outdated by comparison. You could take it a step further and add not just peers to the consideration set, but also some of the world’s most-admired brands.

3. TAGLINE – OK, so now you’ve contemplated a name change and identity update and decided neither are necessary (or in the budget) at this time. What about a tagline? Taglines can serve to describe who you are or what you do (or, sometimes, both). For new companies or completely overhauled brands, you might consider more of a company descriptor (the “who” approach) to help your customers and other stakeholders connect the new company name to the company’s purpose. Something like, “The Midwest’s largest industrial belt manufacturer” is an example. But, if your brand is fairly well established and you just want to inject some energy or seat a new positioning, you may consider a tagline that is more inspiring or catchy.

4. MESSAGING – So now that you’ve gotten some of the big questions (and answers) out of the way, what about how you talk about yourself? Chances are, your company messaging could probably use a tune-up. This is a good exercise to consider on a regular basis, since there are many factors that impact how you talk about your company. For example, there are several topics that are important today that weren’t even on the radar as recently as five or 10 years ago. Case in point: consider what your company’s messaging is around sustainability or DEI initiatives – or do you even have any? This type of messaging is now critical to many audiences, including potential candidates, customers and suppliers and, if you’re a public company, investors and analysts. If you don’t define your company’s stance on these issues at the corporate level, it is probable that your sales team, recruiters or marketing team are making up their own messaging – which can be a recipe for disaster.

Once you figure out these four foundational brand elements, the next step is bringing your brand to life through all manners of internal and external initiatives. That’s when the real magic happens. But it’s important to get these foundational elements right first, or what you produce could end up feeling disjointed or confusing – which may cause further brand damage in the long term.

Is your company in need of a branding tune-up or overhaul? Drop me a line and let’s talk about what might make sense for you.