As with many things in life, what people see on the surface is usually just a fraction of what's underneath. This sentiment is true in branding, too; for consumers, it is ultimately your brand's logo and tagline that represents the crux of what they can superficially see.
As an entrepreneur, however, you need to question what is beneath that surface, and identify what your brand truly represents, what its mission is, and what it aims to sell to consumers.
Brands are built on the values that their founders seek to express, and the process of visualising and quantifying this involves what is known as a brand iceberg.
What is a Brand Iceberg?
A brand iceberg is an excellent tool for describing what a brand consists of – the meat and potatoes inside the beautifully wrapped pastry.
The tip of this metaphorical iceberg illustrates perceptible brand elements – those components that consumers interact with directly. They are the first thing potential customers associate with your brand when it first comes to mind.
These elements are vital, as they elicit emotional connotations within consumers; it is for this reason that people often stay loyal to specific brands despite having dozens of options to choose from. After all, a consumer might attempt to compile a list of logical reasons as to why they pick Coca-Cola over Pepsi (or vice versa), but at the end of the day the choice often boils down to a few core emotions that the brand has stirred in them.
On the Surface: What Consumers DO See
As mentioned, what your customers typically see is just a small portion of the overall picture. Fundamentally, what happens below the surface is what gears the elements "above the water".
Consumers directly interact with, and see, your brand's visual identity. This is your logo, typography, colour pallet, imaging style, graphic elements, and any other visuals that have been created to convey your brand's image. Brand identity is tangible and expresses the organisation's fundamental values, goals and mission, all of which are nestled beneath the surface. A common marketing idiom is that if brands are people, then their visual identity is their style, clothes, hairstyle and demeanour.
Colour is a particularly important factor in this, as an appropriate palette can help define the message you are aiming to deliver. For instance, luxury products will usually turn to more refined colours and minimalistic designs. Chanel is an excellent example of this; its core values of affluence and sophistication reflect the mission behind the brand's iconic logo, while its colour pallet is simple, focusing heavily on black and white as a representation of one of its most iconic products, the 'little black dress'.
Perhaps the most crucial element in a brand's visual identity is its logo, though. Although just one element, it is every brand's depictive stamp. A well-designed logo can elevate your brand, and will be present on all point-of-sale materials such as packaging, uniforms and advertisements.
Amongst some of the most iconic logos in the world are Starbuck's famous siren logo, McDonald's golden arches and Apple's bitten apple. Simple and candid, these logos have become so ingrained that consumers will often opt for these brands over their competitors on association of the logo alone. Apple, in particular, has consistently maintained a huge market share over competitors offering similar products for much less based purely on the staggering strength and value of their brand.
Beneath the Surface: What Consumers DON'T See
If logos and colour styles are the entry point into your branding message for your customers, then they only represent a small portion of everything else that goes into building a brand identity. These are the elements that form the body of your brand, and drive everything that consumers see at the point of contact.
Your Core Values
A brand's core values communicate what the organisation behind it believes in; its goals and mission; and what they are doing to bring those goals to life. Core brand values signify how consumers identify with your brand, which is why people will support brands whose values align with their own personal ones.
Core brand values may be beneath the surface, at the very bottom of the iceberg, but they reflect wholly on all the other elements that make a brand what it is. If you can successfully implement your core values into your organisation's culture, operations, and infrastructure, then that is bound to reflect in your brand image.
Your Purpose, Vision, and Mission
Organisations work exceptionally hard to attempt to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Yet, while most companies focus intensely on their mission, vision, and values, many often forget to define their purpose.
A brand's purpose is the reasoning behind why people turn to a certain brand, why employees want to work for the brand and, fundamentally, why it exists in the first place. Context is crucial here; take Tesla, for example. Elon Musk's purpose for creating the automotive giant was to produce environmentally friendly vehicles that offer comfort, immaculate design, and innovative features, all while attempting to eradicate air pollution.
Though your brand's mission and goals can change over time, it's purpose should always remain the same. While you can fulfil a goal, you cannot fulfil your brand's purpose, since this is what guides the organisation onwards and inspires its progress. A brand's purpose is to be forever pursued but never actually reached.
Although different, a company's purpose is closely tied with its mission, and when creating this statement, you should look at your customers and what you strive to offer to them. Your brand's mission is critical within a brand iceberg, as it defines what every person in the organisation is working towards.
Finally, your brand's vision is the outcome it strives for when commiting to its purpose. For example, Amazon's vision is to be "Earth's most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online." Amazon's vision boldly reflects the company's objectives and long-term business targets.
Your Marketing Strategy
An organisation's marketing strategy refers to the four Ps of the marketing mix: the product, price, place, and promotion (the advertising behind the organisation). It ties into the brand iceberg because your company's strategy should feature and implement your brand values, plans and other key elements.
Your Brand Positioning
Brand positioning reflects where you envision the brand in your target consumer's mind; what is it that you want them to think of when encountering your brand?
Effective brand positioning increases your brand's relevancy, as well as its competitive distinctiveness, and is comprised of three core elements:
Relevance: Your brand needs to be appealing to consumers in order to be considered as something worth purchasing.
Difference: To have a competitive advantage over similar products on the market, your brand must stand out. What is it that your brand does differently compared to others in your industry?
Credibility: Your target audience must believe in your product. If you are offering empty promises, then every element behind your branding strategy will be futile.
An excellent example of a well-positioned brand is the personal care products manufacturer, Dove. Its campaigns focus on its target consumer – the average woman – and turns conventional personal care messaging on its head, focusing instead on featuring "real, everyday" women as opposed to professional models in its campaigns. This approach meets each of the three core elements of brand positioning and has created huge success for the company.
Every decision a business takes in its branding strategy will define the emotional and psychological effects that it will have on its consumers. Therefore, it's crucial to look beyond the superficial elements of your brand's logo and tagline, and search "beneath the surface" to define what your brand is really about.
These are the elements that organisations spend so much time defining, understanding, and implementing. Behind every exemplary product and memorable logo, stands an army of elements echoing the brand's voice, purpose, and mission; take the time to carefully construct your own brand iceberg, and ensure that there is considerable substance to the messages you sell.
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