For every great brand there are dozens who fail to live up to their promise. Think of all the money, late nights, and career anguish that go into activities that do little more than add to a sea of sameness. An extraordinary brand has to be different as well as relevant.
But a brand doesn’t exist until it’s experienced. It’s not that the ambitions were too small, or that the guidance lacked conviction. More often than not, brands fail to connect meaningfully because they are unable to transform the beliefs they want people to have about their brand, into a tangible, solid experience.
If you’re lucky, the creative instincts of your teams will get you there. Product development will be aligned. Communications will be on point. Service design will focus. And culture will amplify.
But the sheer volume of complex and interrelated decisions means intuition can be a risky strength to rely on, particularly as people in your team move on, and the brand discovers it needs to adapt to society’s changing expectations.
Every great brand has a brand signature. By brand signature, we mean the distinctive style and melody that your business uses to engage people. This tonality applies across all the physical, human and digital elements of the brand, stimulating recognition and motivating people to feel good and want to come back for more.
For example, Lynk & Co’s brand signature aligns highly diverse touchpoints, from the vehicle dashboard, to global launch events, to the components packaging for mechanics.
The Lynk & Co brand signature brings two elements together – what the company wants people to believe, and how it wants them to feel. While many young urbanites are choosing not to own (or even learn to drive) a car, Lynk & Co wants them to share its belief that this is a unique moment in history when they can reset the city. And so, it wraps its new business model around emerging technologies, social communities, and brings it together in a car for people who don’t want a car.
Lynk & Co encourages its customers to believe that city life can be better, and to feel special and smart for having understood this before anyone else. This combination of believing ‘reset the city’ and feeling ‘special and smart’ guides everything the company does. As a result, Lynk & Co customers see things, hear things, read things, and do things in a distinctive way that makes them feel just how Lynk & Co want them to feel.
And in doing so, it became the fastest-selling car in the world.
In a similar way, KitKat uses a brand signature to bring to life the brand positioning in slightly different ways to match each country’s unique culture.
KitKat wants people to believe that the way to stay smiling is to take a break. And while you’re having your break, or thinking back on it, KitKat wants you to feel refreshed and ready for what’s next.
This alignment between the brand’s belief system and the emotional response it wants to invoke creates a set of sensory guides to ensure everything from the products to the store experience are all working hard to reinforce the brand idea.
When we design a brand signature, our starting point is a unique and compelling brand idea. It is the encapsulation of what the brand believes is important – and wants its customers to believe is important too. For LEGO, it is the way that play improves learning. For adidas, it is the power of sport to change lives.
Our simple psychological framework brings together the intentions of the business with the expectations of the customer. This ‘cognitive behavioral’ approach aligns what people believe with how we want them to feel and what we want them to do. It gives authenticity to the brand experience and a deeply meaningful way of bringing customers closer.
So what is the right emotional response?
The short answer is: don’t settle too quickly. It’s too easy to say you want a customer to feel “confident” or “relieved” or “excited”. But what kind of ‘excited’? Excited like a roller-coaster ride? Excited like a first kiss? Excited like moving into a new home?
It is worth putting the effort into defining a strong emotional narrative for your customers. Consider the innocent naughtiness that customers feel with Virgin. Or the deep sense of calm reassurance they get from handing a package over to Fedex. These brands didn’t stumble over those emotional territories by accident.
And if you want to go deeper still, you can explore the emotions of other languages that don’t easily translate. Like the ‘mudita’ of Gautama Buddha that describes the joy of witnessing other people’s joy. Or the Hindi ‘manorath’, which describes an anticipation and longing that is like the hunger of knowing exactly what you want to eat.
These are emotions that all of us recognise. And if you devise an emotional response that vibrates between what your brand wants the world to be like, and what your customers want from you, you can create something really compelling and distinctive.
So spend some time getting the emotional response exactly right. It’s the fundamental for designing a brand experience that is truly yours.
And then you start to fill in the sensory gaps. If you want someone to feel reassured, you’ll show them something familiar. If you want them to feel provoked, you’ll present them with the unexpected. And what do you want them to hear? To read? To do?
Below is a quick starter framework you can use to explore your brand signature.
- What do you want people to believe about their world?
- If that belief was 100% proven true, how would it feel for them?
- What kinds of things are they seeing at that time?
- What are they hearing? Reading?
- What do they want to be invited to do?
And if you’d like some help going deeper, we’d love to talk.