A couple of years ago I found myself in a discussion with two young men from Nigeria. One had just made a Facebook post about how amazed he was that a company had chosen to go with laid-back/casual team photos in the stead of corporate team photos. He didn’t post the link to the website, but he admonished all business owners to be sure to use “corporate” photos on their websites.

A lover of all things branding, I was curious to see the website that he so harshly critiqued. With a bit of patience and sleuthing (YUP! You know that word if you read Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys hahaha) on my part, I found the website in question.

A group of young people had formed a company to help students in Nigeria and other parts of Africa get into foreign universities. They were interested in providing school leavers with help during registration, and with help in finding living accommodations. These people were young, vibrant, energetic and “so not corporate” and they were looking to target a similar market. Their pictures said just that.

My conclusion?

I absolutely disagreed with the critique. The website in question was representative of the essence of what these young people were seeking to accomplish. Whether subconsciously or not, these young people had rested the company on a GREAT BRANDING pillar: authenticity.

 

Authenticity

 
It is undebatable: A GREAT brand must tell a GREAT story. Authenticity is concerned with HOW the GREAT story is told. Authenticity speaks to what is true; it speaks to what is and is one of the branding pillars that one should never ignore. In telling your GREAT story, stay true to who you are.

Many companies have changed unique points of their brand and many people have hidden unique personality points because they were concerned about telling the story the way they thought people wanted to hear it as opposed to just telling a GREAT story in a fashion true to who they were, or what their company was about. When this compromise is made, another important pillar is also compromised: Consistency.

Your level of authenticity will determine your level of consistency. It is more likely for a business to remain consistent with something if it is truly who they are. When authenticity is not present, we find that people and companies are acting and we find that we are being fed fairytales instead of biographies and memoirs.
 

Consistency

 
When I first heard Jennifer Hudson’s “Spotlight” I knew without looking at the credits that it was written and produced by Ne-yo. When I heard Paula Deanda’s “Walk Away”, without glancing at the credits, I knew for a fact that it was written by Ne-Yo. It fits a particular form. It has a particular beat. It has a particular rhythm, a particular meter and a particular lyricism that is distinctly Ne-yo.

When I see cinematography from the African Continent I can distinctly pick out the work of Shirley Frimpong-Manso.

There is something about the work of your favorite author that makes you read one of his/her novels and causes you to say, “This is different from what I’m used to from him/her”. There is a reason why if you have an interest in art, and you’ve seen several paintings from different artists, that you can tell a Rembrandt from a Picasso.

There is an intangible element that causes you to know the moment your husband or your wife walks into the room. Yes. His cologne or her perfume. But there is something deeper. The answer is consistency.

Consistency stands right next to the pillar of authenticity. It is a pillar ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY to upholding the house called GREAT branding. Consistency speaks to uniformity and cohesiveness and more often than not, consistency is responsible for identification; that thing that causes us to be able to point out ONE brand amongst tens and even hundreds of brands.

We’ve been taught that unique points are cause for identification but consistency is really the cause.

It is your husband’s consistent use of his uniquely scented cologne that makes it possible for you to identify him by his cologne every time he walks into a room. What if he changed his cologne everyday for 365 days? Would you still be able to identify him by the unique scent of his cologne?

No. You probably wouldn’t. Because there is no consistency.

It is your wife’s consistent use of a particular brand of lotion that makes it possible for you to identify her every time she walks into a room. What if she changed her lotion everyday for 365 days? Would you still be able to identify her by the unique scent of her lotion?

Probably not. Because there is no consistency.

Why is it that if you wish to disguise your presence on the phone to a doting niece or nephew you change the way you use your voice? You may change it from gruff to squeaky or from squeaky to gruff. Whatever the reason for the metamorphosis, it boils down to your need to eliminate the element of consistency.

In the world of branding, Consistency is responsible for color schemes and themes. Consistency is responsible for the unchanging use of a company’s tone when communicating with its audience. Consistency is responsible for anything that causes you to say, “That’s Wakonté!” or “That’s Nike!”
 

Time

 

“It is easily overlooked that what is now called vintage was once brand new”-Tony Visconti

As a branding consultant dealing largely with small enterprise, medium enterprise, start ups, up and coming authors, up and coming music artistes and most recently up and coming athletes, the above stated quote is one of the most profound quotes that I’ve come across in my branding days. You’ll see why. Take a peek at this scenario:

“I’d love my brand to be as big as Apple. Is that possible?”

“Absolutely!”

“So do you think we can make it happen in 2 months?”

I can’t tell you the number of people who I’ve met whose desires to become as big as Apple or Nike, rush the branding process. But great branding is not to be rushed. Do not see time as the enemy. Instead, see time as a helper.

Am I saying that a great brand cannot be built in 2 weeks

I’m saying exactly that.

A great brand undoubtedly rests on the pillar of time. A brand is something associated with a person, company or event’s life span. Apple has a great brand but is it’s brand story complete? No. Nike has a great brand but is it’s brand story complete? No.

Apple, Nike, and Sony all used time to their advantage when they were building their brands. Time was important to the introduction of new products and time was important to the growth of these companies’ product catalogs. In the same way, time will allow you to observe market trends,and time will allow you to strategize.

Also, remember that branding is storytelling. A great story has a beginning, it has an end, it has conflict, it has a particular setting, it has themes, it has protagonists and antagonists, it follows a sequence and developments are beautifully timed.

Let your brand be a beautiful story. Do not force it. Do not rush it. Vintage was always BRAND new.
 

Strategy

 
If there is no strategy, it’s NOT branding. Section done.

Although I sincerely believe that the sentence above is sufficient for this section, I’ll share a bit more.

Remember, branding is about directing a story. Strategy is the pillar which provides direction for that story.

Are we turning left at the first turn or the second turn? Are we going to the park today, or tomorrow? Will participating in this event contribute negatively or positively to the brand? Is our target market here or there? What does this target market need? Strategy is all about providing direction.

To understand it better, imagine a car with a driver and imagine a car without a driver. Both of these cars are set to arrive at a particular destination 200 miles from their start point. For as long as the path is straight, the car with no driver continues to make headway. However, at about 110 miles in, a sharp bend appears. The car with no driver continues in the same trajectory that it started off at and lands straight over a cliff. The car with a driver- through some clever braking – maneuvered the dangerous bend and made it to it’s final destination.

So the moral of the story?

Strategy provides direction. It equips your brand to deal with market conditions, and abrupt changes and it is key to building a sustainable brand.
 
Branding is a matter that isn’t always cut and dry but consider these 4 pillars – build on them – and you would be well on your way to building a solid brand.