The 4 branding elements that make up a great brand. This episode explains how to improve your brand by unifying your 4 main brand elements or layers to build a unified brand and avoid a brand identity crisis.
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Do you find it difficult to create an impact with your brand? Is your brand and confused and losing out inferior competition. Then your brand might be suffering from identity crisis.
Most people think that brands are what you can see. So, and logo some colors, some fonts, maybe a wider identity system, but in fact, brands are much more about what you can’t see than what you can see. And it should be that the things that you can’t see influence a visual identity more than the other way around.
Now, brands are built in the mind of the audience through a combination of touch points and interactions with your brand, that build up a sort of folder in your audience’s mind that attaches meaning to it. And illicits some sort of feeling or gut reaction to that brand.
Now at elements, we categorize brands as having four main layers that bring together all those disparate elements. And it’s those four layers they’re responsible for building and your brand developing, meaning connecting with your audience.
A brand is built up of a lots of elements and the elements brand management. We categorize these elements as living in four layers that are the complete ecosystem of your brand. So from the internal, the right way to the external, these four layers, hold all those brand elements. And they should be unified from the internal, right the way through to the external.
And it’s about categorizing these and building this unification between these layers that helps to rid your brand of any identity crisis that you might be facing.
So what are these four layers? We start off internally. So these layers kind of radiate outwards. So I have internal to external.
So internally start with the core and the core is kind of your center of meaning for your brand. It’s the emotional part of your brand. It is the, the weight behind everything you do. And we call this the Heart layer. So we think of it like an emotional center of meaning. So what you have there is your brand purpose. You have your brand attributes, your mission, your vision, your values, your brand archetypes. This is, this is the layer that holds those.
The next layer, working outwards is your strategy layer. And this is kind of what we call the brain of the brand. This is the strategic part of the brand. Now Brand strategy as a side note includes all of these layers and everything you do as a brand, but this layer itself is more about housing, some of the elements of the strategy. So your brand positioning your brand DNA. Your brand strategy, your content marketing strategy, marketing strategy, potential business models, product development plans, stuff like that, all sits in the strategy layer.
Next up we have the identity layer, which is kind of the face of your brand. So this is your logo, your color palette, font, packaging, signage, clothing, interiors, brochures, anything that’s got a visual element to it and kind of the face of your brand fits into this layer. So photography chosen graphics, icons, videos to a point, although they come into the next layer as well, but there’s a crossover between some of these three different layers, but primarily this is the visual part of your brand.
So the identity or the face next up, we have the voice of your brand or personality, we call the personality layer. So this is tone of voice. It’s podcasts, social media, the actual content you put out the way you write, the way you speak, if you’ve got a speaking side to your brand, the way you present yourself through video.
So the actual visual part, the video is in the identity layer, but the personality side of it is in this layer. And this is the final one from the external part. So right from the core all the way through this is the final of the four layers of your brand. So, if you think about it, the reason we call them like the heart brain, your identity, or the face, and the personality is cause it’s similar to how we operate as individuals.
And if you would just to think now about your oldest friend, the first thing that might happen is that you see their face in your mind. Now that face is like a representation of that identity layer. So the visual part of a brand. But that face is only a marker and a shortcut to all the times, those memories you had.
So the time that you did X or the time that you spent the weekend doing this with that friend, and that then is eliciting those emotions or connecting with the core, the heart of the brand. So these layers work in a similar way to how our, our mind works with regards to say, friends or memories about certain things.
And the idea is to build up a brand that is unified through these four layers. That feels real, that feels complete, and it feels like something that is you’re interacting with something that is genuine as opposed to just one layer that you’re dealing with. You’re dealing with a whole depth of something that feels genuine and real.
So what is an identity crisis? If you think about the four layers we just talked about. They want to be complete unified throughout your brand. Now an identity crisis happens when one of these layers or multiple are out of sync with the others. So for example, if you think about someone that’s good at sport at their core or heart layer, so their center of meaning, they believe that sport has the ability to transform the world.
So the transformational effect of sport has the ability to change the world. Now in their brain or the logic layer, the kind of the strategy is to get inside the world of sport by being a sports personality, building their way up to reach that platform, to help spread that word or that transformational effect of sport.
And the way they do this is they choose the fact that they are, they’re not great at sprinting and they’re not good at long distance. There’s somewhere in the middle. So they pick 800 meters. As being that unique position, they can hold in that in their market. And that’s their differentiator. They are an 800 meter runner.
Now the visual identity side of things is they dress athletic. They look smart, they are trim the athletic they’re fit, and this is the way they get across the idea of sports. And their affinity to it on the personality side of things and the voice they are empowered. They’re motivated, they’re determined and they believe in spreading the word of sports.
So they will talk about sport and health whenever they can. [00:08:00] All of these layers, the four layers make sense from the core to the personality, right the way through, if you interact with this person, You know, they are dedicated to sport. You can see it, you can feel it and you can hear it when they talk about it.
And everything they do is geared towards that initial purpose of spreading the transformational effect of sport. Now, if one of these layers was out, so if the visual identity was, they always dressed in a full suit. This might be considered a little bit off with the flow of what they’re doing, or if they decided to modify their strategy to do something slightly different.
So rather than the 800 meters that they differentiate and positioned themselves, as they decide to do [00:09:00] golf instead suddenly decides to golf this change. Might work if the other layers shift with it. But if they don’t and it’s one area that’s changed, you get an identity crisis, and this is the same for brands.
And then difference between interacting with a brand that is completely unified all the way through like the individual who is pushing the transformational effect of sport. Is you feel authenticity? You feel this person knows what they’re doing, they know where they’re going. So that helps with understanding what messages are going to put out and understands with the campaigns they’re going to put out.
It helps with what they’re trying to say, that they know all this . Brands that have identity crisis don’t understand that. They don’t know what to say. They don’t know who they’re talking to. They’re not entirely sure the position they hold in the market [00:10:00] and they have internal problems. So. The internal team finds it difficult to understand why they going to work every day. What are they working towards? Where’s the company headed, but also you find brands and with an identity crisis, you have things like endless meetings.
So you sit right there table and you have these people going through different ideas and there is no cohesion. It’s just throwing stuff out. And the reason being is because they have no idea what they stand for and they have no idea about the structure of the brand or what is right, and what isn’t right.
And if you have no gauge on what is right and what isn’t right for your brand, there’s a lot of things that you can pick from a lot of tactics you can choose and you end up doing things like just pulling in the latest trend or read an article on Facebook ads. And just doing the first type that you set your eyes on because you have no way to understand whether or not it’s right for your brand.
So how does this happen in a brand? How does an identity crisis happen? A lot of the time it’s when you’ve had changes in upper management or you’ve had a new CMO come in or a creative director come in, that wants to. Stamp their Mark on a brand straight away and the quickest thing and the easiest thing to do if you’re in a marketing environment is to rebrand or to change the look of something.
The problem with doing that straight off the bat is you’re changing one layer. And a lot of times the work isn’t put in, in to adjust the other layers. So you change one layer, you put a new coat of paint on it, but you don’t change the other layers. So you have an identity crisis. Another way this happens is when you have a founder who has the vision and the [00:12:00] idea for the brand in their mind, and as they scale, they don’t articulate that in any way so the employees never fully understand what the brand’s all about. And as they add new product lines and they add new stuff, it gets more and more confused, more and more cluttered. And that original vision, the founder, had dissipates, and disappears throughout the organization. And sometimes even the founder will forget they’ll lose what that brand is all about and what it stood for in the first place and why they, why they started the company.
And this can be a real problem for businesses and brands as they grow.
Another thing that you might see is. Businesses and brands bring in founders back because of this problem. So like in the case with Steve jobs and Howard Schultz, now, these people might not have been brought back [00:13:00] because of this issue or at least directly because of this issue. But these people were brought back to steady a ship. And the reason things there was a sea change after these people are brought back is because they were the holders and the keepers of what that brand stood for. And the idea behind it. And once they came back in the decisions that were being made we’re right back on track.
So what can you do to maintain these four crucial layers to your brand? Firstly, do a brand audit or get a brand audit so you can either do this in house or you can get an agency, do it like Elements and audit your brand. So, what you want to do is you want to look at those four layers and you want to look at them first through the lens of just the layers.
So, forget the individual elements. Look at the layers as a whole and see if they match up. So this should be unified. If you remember the sports person analogy, they should be unified all the way through. You’ll quickly see where this starts to fall out a place. If they’re not unified. The next thing you want to do is once you’ve looked at the overarching layers, you want to dive into each section and you want to look at the elements in those sections and see if there is discrepancies between them.
So you might find that your in your identity layer, for instance, if you look at your previous five, six marketing campaigns or bits of marketing collateral across. Either social media channels, website, brochures, whatever channels that you use, do they look like they’ve come from the same company do they makes sense?
Do they key in with your core layer? So what you stand for, is it in line with the strategy? So these things that you’ve done from a marketing perspective, if you look at the strategy, they actually make any sense. Have you done them because of that strategy? Are they going to progress your, your mission or are they just there because you saw somebody else do them to have a real good look at these layers and you want to take an objective view of this.
So it can be difficult some times to sort of step outside, especially when you’re working internally on something, but you want to be able to step back out of this. And if you’re in a position of being a founder and owner or a CEO and somebody else internally is going to do this for you, you need to give them the space to be able to be completely brutally honest, because what you don’t want is them just saying what they think you want to hear.
So they need to be brutally honest with this. You also want to look at your positioning. You wanna look at your strategy [00:16:00] and then you wanna look at your competitors. So you’re direct and your indirect competitors, and you wanna look at their strategy and you want to look at them through the lens of the four layers as well.
And you want to see what they are doing and how they are, or if they are effectively unifying their brand. This is a really good way to have a look at your competitors through an objective lens. But also it gives you opportunities of differentiation, because if you look at the individual layers, say the visual, the voice, you might see that in your space, there are three brands like yours, direct competitors, and all of them have a very similar voice and they all have very similar color palettes.
Well, depending on your strategy and your core, If it lines up, if it makes sense, there is a chance to differentiate with some things here, but only if it makes sense. So step one, get an audit or do an audit internallly.
Reevaluate your brand platform. And if necessary rebrand some cases, you’ll do your audit and you’ll realize that actually you’re so far away from your brand platform in terms of where you’ve come to on the visual side of things and your brands personality, that the only way to bring it back is going to either be to rebrand the front end or to reconfigure. So redo your brand platform and your strategy on the backend. And this can also sometimes be something that happens with the time and markets and trends and things that are changing around you that you don’t have control about.
And, this can be a situation where you want to then reevaluate the core and the strategy. And then that might have a knock on effect to the identity and the personality. But if you can help it, you want to try and keep those similar or connected to what you have before. But in some cases you will need to reevaluate that brand platform and look at a rebrand.
And the rebrand might take a form of a complete rebrand, right the way through the layers, it might take the form of adjusting the identity to kind of take it back to its roots. Like what Reebok have recently done. So they’ve gone back to a previous logo or they moved away for a bit and they’ve kind of gone back now because it just makes more sense for the brand.
And people will look at it and think they’ve done hardly anything. Whoever has done that has been paid X amount and had just taken the logo back for something different. But it takes a lot to admit when something’s going wrong. It takes a lot to go back to something. And actually that Mark they’ve created now that harks on the heritage and looks pretty much the same as the old Reebok Logo and is going to do them so much more going forward because they have a whole history with that Mark that is connected. And the new one that they created recently before that took it away, took it away from what rebook was all about. And they kind of lost themselves for a bit.
So this, this brings them back to that. So reevaluate your brand platform. And if necessary, look at doing a rebrand.
Check your brand strategy. So if the core layer is what you stand for, why you exist, what you hope to achieve, how you plan on achieving it, the values and guiding principles that you are going to abide by whilst trying to achieve that goal.
And the identity and the personality layers are about the embodiment of your brand, both visually. And when connecting with it like a character and the strategy layer is all about how you differentiate yourselves. What’s your competitive event? How are you going to compete? Where are you going to compete?
How are you going to promote yourself? Why are you going to promote yourself? And. The strategy behind why you do what you do. Now this layer itself is very crucial in the unified brand. And a lot of the times, if this is out, it can dramatically skew the rest of the layers. And you’ll see things like that with really, extreme, C changes in marketing campaigns, or someone’s gone and looked at a competitor and brought in an idea or a strategy that they’re using, just because their competitors using it, or they’ve seen a big brands do something and they want to pull it in without asking the question first is this right? Is this going to affect my brand or not? And they’ve just pulled it in. And sometimes it can really [00:21:00] skew all the work that has been put in before.
Another thing you see sometimes in this layer is really strange product extensions. So brands will either buy in products or they will. Extend their own product line with some rather strange additions in order to capitalize on what they think is the equity in the brand name but what they don’t seem to realize is the brand name is tied to something and the strategy layer defines what it’s tied to.
So what position it holds, how people kind of latch on to that idea where you’re competing. All of that has implications. If you start extending or adding product lines, new brands into your portfolio, that don’t make any sense with the existing brands that you have.
Lastly, but by no means, least manage your brand consistent so once [00:22:00] you put the work in to unify all these layers, the last thing you want to do is let it slip a couple of months down the line.
So you want to formalize this brand through brand guidelines. You want to have an onboarding process when new employees come in so they can understand what the brand stands for and you want to do something by repetition every couple of months, you want to have something where you come together and you check that the mission and the vision and the values are still on track and it all makes sense.
You want to build an internal culture around the core layer of your brand. So this helps to build this brand through everything that’s done in that, in that brand, from operations to sales, to marketing, everyone understands what they’re trying to achieve, and that culture will resonate outwards like a ripple effect.
You’ve put you drop a stone in the water and the ripples go out. It’s that kind of idea. Building [00:23:00] a solid core and a solid brand culture internally can really help you to address a lot of these issues and build that unified brand.
So to sum up, if you want to strengthen your brand, create an impact with it, stand out from inferior competition and build a brand that is unified, you want to align these four layers throughout your brand.
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And it helps to identify this in a bit more detail and give you some tips on how to rid yourself of an identity crisis. We just put together a weekly brand tip video series, which is designed and to help you to unlock your brand’s potential. And stand out from the competition. And if you’re interested, if you just go to elements, brand management or one word dot code at UK forward slash weekly hyphen brand hyphen tips, sign up and you’ll be delivered a three to five minute video a week straight to your inbox.
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Have a great week catch up scene. Keeping those brands unified.