I have a real problem with branding. We recently spent a not inconsiderable sum promoting Heavenly in the Financial Times. The ad said “branding deserves a better name”. We felt that far too many people thought that a brand was just another word for a logo and that this misconception was giving our profession, if that’s not too grand, a bad name. 


The problem is that branding is not an exact science and, at the best of times it’s very schizophrenic. For some people, branding is about what you say you stand for. For others, it’s about what you do to prove it. For an agency like ours, which encourages our clients to be single-minded and focused in their proposition, this is more than a little frustrating because both are right.


A few years ago, we were asked to rebrand Ecourier.co.uk, a London-based courier company. Founded by some very entrepreneurially-minded individuals, they had ambitions to shake up the category and provide better value to business customers. I’m a big fan of the idea that great brands all begin with an act of rebellion, a real dissatisfaction with the status quo and a burning desire to change it. Think Apple, Virgin, Nike. Ecourier.co.uk was no different; they used brilliant technology to optimise the delivery of parcels around London and ensure that their customers had a more efficient and reliable service.


But they also had an image problem. Before we met them for the first time, we’d never heard of them. Yet, as a business based in London ourselves, we should have been using them for our own courier requirements. Having met them and learnt about their business, we realised that their brand (the way they talked about themselves, presented their brand visually and took their brand to market) was very much skewed towards functional benefits and not emotional ones. The brand was very techy and their grey and white vans drove around almost anonymously.


Our challenge was how to inject some “magic” to sit alongside the “logic” of their brand, to help them start to deliver the impact they so passionately wanted. Firstly we needed to position their brand, or define what they wanted to represent as a business in the mind of their customers. We based this on the benefit of what they did – “making their customers happy” - rather than how they did it. Because their service was so fantastic and their technology so cutting-edge, their customers were happier because they could rely on them more.


So, then we had the makings of a happy brand. We worked with Ecourier.co.uk to bring happiness to life in everything from the way their vans looked to how their drivers behaved, their sales and marketing strategy for acquiring new customers and their retention strategy for keeping the customers they already had. Prospective employees even had to take a “happy test” before joining the company to see if they had the right attitude to suit the company culture. It is clear that, when really embraced, the branding element can really contribute to the commercial and cultural proposition of a business, as well as making a brand stand out by the way it looks creatively.


Branding can play a large part in an organisation’s success because, when done well, it focuses your proposition into a simple thought that has the potential to capture your customers’ imaginations, differentiate you from your competitors and provide you with the inspiration to grow.


Branding is about ideas, and in particular, the art of owning an idea in a consumer’s mind so that they associate your business with that thought. Famous examples include brands like Heineken (“refreshing”), Volvo (“safety”) and Nike (“winning”). On a slightly smaller scale, consider Prêt-a-Manger (“passionate about food”), Streetcar (“cars without the hassle”) and JustGiving.com (“generosity made simple”). These brands have grown rapidly by being able to communicate simply and effectively what they are and what they stand for to their consumers. These brands are powered by ambitious entrepreneurs who have enough belief in their products and services to want to change their categories and the ways consumers behave.


When we’re faced with a branding challenge, we consider it from three different angles: what’s the market need; what’s the product benefit; what’s the consumer insight. The answer is typically inspired by one of these areas. If you think about your business in terms of what it offers that the market currently doesn’t, that’s the market need; if you think about what’s unique about your product or how you do things differently from your competitors, that’s the product benefit; and if you can identify what makes your target audience consumer tick, that’s consumer insight.


We meet a lot of SMEs who recognise the need for branding but find it difficult to reconcile spending hard-earned or hard-raised cash on an intangible asset. The ROI of money spent on branding is typically harder to quantify than, for example, spending money on a sales drive. The latter can provide a business with a short-term benefit in terms of sales uplift whereas the former is unlikely to have any discernable impact on the financial performance of a business overnight. For this reason, many companies will default to a mentality of saying “we just need a logo” and leave it at that.


They are missing the point. To understand why, consider this quote from Winston Churchill: “I’m writing you a long letter because I don’t have time to write you a short one”. It is always challenging to articulate ideas concisely and it is especially critical in the business environment. If you can express your business’ proposition succinctly, in a way that quickly captures the imagination of your audience (whether customer, employee, investor or journalist), you have a competitive advantage. You will also save yourself a huge amount of time.


If branding does deserves a better name, then perhaps it needs to be more closely associated with saving time, which for most SMEs is often scarcer than cash.


Richard Sunderland is Founder & CEO of branding agency, Heavenly