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Why brand identity is a promise you need to keep every day

7 Mins

Creative director John Hegarty, whose name appears above the door of global advertising behemoth Bartle, Bogle and Hegarty, made his advertising agency famous in the 1980s with brand identity work created for one of its clients, Levi jeans.

Those with long enough memories and now-faraway birth dates will remember a young man entering a crowded launderette, taking off his 501s and placing them in a tumble dryer wearing only his boxer shorts. Much to the delight of everyone else in the launderette and the TV watching population, the advertisement not only shifted denim by the lorryload, it reinvented Levis and made advertising history.

Yet, amongst the aficionados of the advertising world, it was a slogan for Levis penned by Hegarty that made waves. A simple poster showing a herd of white sheep facing one direction and a black sheep facing the other bore the line: “When the World Zigs, Zag.”

If you visit BBH’s website you’ll see the ad on its home page, so proud is it of work done 30 years ago. Simply and beautifully it encapsulates what is at the heart of branding, advertising and all marketing – differentiation – and through differentiation, innovation. A pair of jeans is a pair of jeans. Until it becomes a brand of jeans. Anyone with a slightly shorter memory may remember Apple’s iconic advertising Think Different, with a picture of Albert Einstein. Smart people think differently, they innovate.

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The BHH Levi’s campaign has stood the test of time

While I was MD at Dyson, we specialised in making products that zagged. We also created a brand identity that stood out head and shoulders from its competitors and became synonymous with innovation. Today, as CEO of TaxCalc, I see many players in the tax and accounting software business, companies fighting to compete for voice, market share and customer loyalty. I know that we aren’t the biggest (yet), and we’re certainly not the smallest, but our ace card comes in our singleminded commitment to being a company and a brand that stands for something different: – innovation.

Readers of my column will know that our brand mantra at TaxCalc is Innovation In Practice. Innovation to us is not only about creating products that do a better job, it’s about continually seeking to improve in everything we do. Yes I bang on about it at every given opportunity because although I believe it’s an ethos ingrained into our corporate DNA, it still needs reiterating time and time again to embed into the hearts, minds and behaviours, particularly as we are a growing company continually taking on new staff.

Having a successful brand culture (I don’t know if I’m coining the phrase or not) means encouraging our people to become consciously competent in their thinking and attitudes. By this I mean that we all understand our philosophy and ambitions and bring that understanding into our everyday working practices. Over time I’d love for us all to become unconsciously competent, so that “innovation” is second nature in our thinking and actions. Guardian columnist Victoria Neumark was quoted as saying: “A really good brand takes the risk out of buying.” This level of trust can only be achieved by having a brand that works on every level.

A memorable brand should be a reflection of everything it stands for: great products, service and people. A memorable brand is one of the most powerful assets a company can have. Think Audi, Waitrose, British Airways. Think Lidl, Hyundai, Easy Jet. You always know what you’re going to get when you see these brands.

These days, with Brexit, General Elections, and tensions on global politics, currency and trade, having a strong brand is more important than ever. It reassures our customers and tells them that they are safe in our hands. It also sends a message to our competitors that we’re ready to take them on.

So, while I believe a successful brand should be much more than a pretty logo and a nice website or packaging, the way a brand looks is still hugely important. That’s why big brands like Nike, Coca Cola, Apple, GEC, IBM and many more besides spend millions each year on preserving and developing their brand identity to remain relevant and reassuring to their stakeholders.

For the past three months the creative team and I have been working on developing our visual identity to reflect who we are, what we offer and the niche we occupy in our marketplace. Ours was a brand refresh – we didn’t need to start from scratch but built instead on the foundations of the fantastic reputation we already have. We will be unveiling the new brand at Accountex, the go-to exhibition for our industry in May. We’re very proud of it, so please do look out for it.

“A brand represents a promise we need to keep every day.” If there’s one thought I can leave you with, it would be this. Long may we work hard to live up to that promise.

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