Brand models

Over the years I have seen many versions of verbal and visual documents designed to capture the idea of a brand, either in its creation, or for its on-going maintenance

Brand models

At the core of any brand book is a brand diagram which takes many forms, from Unilever’s key shape to columns and even layered onions. Their purpose is to create a distilled expression of the brand that can be referenced and maintained and, in some cases revered like a holy scripture. Surrounding this will be further explanation found as rules, descriptions and, sometimes, imagery. 

Focusing on the model itself, I have seen many that are suppository for carefully negotiated and crafted words that capture the context and meaning of the brand. They have separate buckets for words relating to the personality, essence, values and usually refer to the product and who they target. 

The brand model is often treated as precious artifact – looked after with great care but seldom used, and woe betide anyone criticising it or wanting to make any changes to it.  However, the brand model is a tool and should be used regularly and kept razor sharp. This is especially true when brands are competing in such a complex and everchanging world. They need to be joined-up in every channel they appear and remain strongly relevant in an ever-evolving marketplace. 

The criticism I have of many brand models is that each little box of words sits in isolation. The reader must work hard to make sense of the whole and so will find it difficult to use the model in any practical way. The values, for example, should strongly relate and connect to the product, the consumer insight, and so on. As designers, we are looking for guidance at every aspect and level to create a product or communication that sits core to the values, is targeted at the consumer and has the right look and feel to fit the personality. Too often the words are clever in their summation but rarely inspiring. However, if the model reads like a story where each part connects to the next it builds a strong image in the mind and so helps the user of the model act in a proactive, confident and targeted way. 

I will use our Echo model definitions to go into this in a bit more detail, but in principle it has the same constituents as everyone else’s.  Our model, which we call a ‘molecule’ has three main parts at the core which are all connected (hence the name): the user reward, brand values and product attributes. These are in-turn connected to the personality, human truth and purpose, but more of them in a later article.  

We nearly always start with the product attributes because if you don’t have a product, you don’t have a business and certainly don’t have a brand. It therefore grounds us. As mentioned before products change as the world moves on so we focus on defining the type of product not the thing itself. For example, if Kodak had referred to their product as images rather than rolls of film they might still be in business. Defining brand values can be tricky so to help we fit them into a sentence that starts with: “We stand for…..” If it makes sense when you say it- it’s a value. You often see a box described as “consumer insight” which is ok, but we think it’s more useful for communications, so we prefer ‘user reward’.  ‘User’ because the consumer is not always the whole picture, e.g. mum buys her teenage son’s deodorant, and ‘reward’ as it help us to think how we want our recipient to feel or behave having received our product i.e. what they get out of it.

Finally, we give ourselves the discipline of only having three words or short phrases in each of the parts and each one of these three must connect to their corresponding word or phase in the other parts. This way the molecule connects up, makes sense and is useful. 

Nick Dormon
Nick Dormon

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