The changing face of branding - What is branding?

Written by Julian Sykes

Things change. Seasons come and go and years pass by. With this people and companies also change. They alter depending on the sign of the times and the cultural arena they may find themselves in. As we (Hoffi) approach our tenth year, I felt it would be good to look into branding and what we do as a company for other companies.

When we started we were happy to get any work whether it be to design a leaflet through to a website or even a brand. Back then when we said brand we really meant we would design you a logo and it’s accompanying suite of outputs. This is of course is what most people think branding is and you can see from the first meeting that most customers feel the same. They come to us to get a new logo because they feel their current one just isn’t doing it for them.

But can a logo on it’s own really be the change for the company? Well in our experience there are two answers. The first, which is very rare, is that they have got a brand that really doesn’t represent them and through a series of workshops and design stages we realise that they need a new logo to represent what they now do represent. But what is far more common but much harder to work on with the customer is that brands come to us and they know that something is not quite right. They can’t put their finger on it but something just doesn’t fit any more. In effect something has changed. They often then jump on the logo as to what is wrong and they have to get it redesigned to represent a new way forward for the company. Now there is nothing wrong with this in principle, but there are other underlying issues around this scenario. Firstly, for small companies they may now have totally different offers to when they first started. Equally a larger company may be moving into new areas and so the brand has to represent these new avenues without closing the door to the original areas of business.

So this is where design thinking comes in and the development of a company's capacity and actual personality as opposed to those projected therefore is their logo the best/only way we can actually articulate their brand? And the answer to this is generally there are other things that need to be looked at to develop the company to reflect the brand before a new logo is created.

An example of this is ‘innovation’. We get a lot of companies who say they are innovative when we first meet them. Our next question is what R&D have they taken on in the last year or so for themselves? Generally the answer is very little or when we dig deeper their R&D is embedded within projects, yet there is very little articulation of this within the company so it is ring fenced within one department. So when talking more widely as a brand how can the whole company be aware of this and therefore project this to the outside world? Or indeed if there is a desire to be innovative how can the company introduce R&D practices to then reflect the brand they aspire to be?

When we begin to think about branding in this way. It transforms it from something purely visual to a strategic tool used for change within companies to help them develop into the businesses and brands they want to be. The brand is the product of this work and through the journey of developing into this brand comes their authentic story.