Building a Brand – how your public image adds value to your company
Since it was established in 1970, the BCFA has observed the impact of various brand tactics on members’ value; both that which is perceived by customers and stakeholders, and financially. In a series of five articles, the BCFA will explore various elements of branding and the effect of each on company value. The first will examine ‘Brand Personality’.
The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘Brand’ as “a particular identity or image regarded as an asset” and a brand’s personality; the characteristics and qualities which distinguish it from others, is arguably its greatest asset. Every other element in the branding arsenal hinges on this and the individual components which make up a brand’s DNA cannot be developed unless it is defined.
But what are the secrets behind a winning brand personality? How is it identified, developed and enforced? Is it something which can be created or, like each of our own identities, are aspects of it out of our control?
Brand building is, for most of us, a constant concern, especially in the social-media-driven and consistently connected 21st century, and we are all working to create and project a certain image; whether on behalf of our company, our clients, or that 21st century phenomenon – brand ‘I’.
Over the past 45 years we have had the opportunity to work with top brands, from multi-nationals to successful start-ups, and have observed what we feel is the molecular make-up of a strong brand personality. Here, with the help of our members, we take a look at these elements, reflecting on how, although some are very much of our time, others are ‘timeless’, and asking how, and if, a winning brand personality can be created.
The importance of identity
Defining its identity is the most important thing a brand will do. Without outlining its values, beliefs and the key words which encapsulate it, it is impossible for a company to even contemplate exterior trappings such as websites and logos. Just like when we are asked to describe ourselves however, or are shocked to hear a recording of our own voice, sometimes our own identity is most difficult to recognise.
What has become clear, is that however a brand’s personality and values are identified, it is crucial that these are honest and consistent. No matter what time or place, these are the building blocks for branding success.
There are some characteristics which are particularly important in the hospitality interiors arena, and Design and Innovation are two. Katerina McMahon at Morgan lists Design as central to its identity; “At Morgan we strive for design excellence ... offering design integrity, experience and original product collections.”
Georgina Spencer, marketing manager for Roca Group (UK) lists Innovation as key to the company’s identity: “It is one of the core values that defines the Roca brand. It is important that our customers know to come to Roca first when sourcing products and offering them something unique helps keep us front of mind.”
Other values have grown in importance in recent years, illustrating how societal and cultural changes can affect the characteristics customers prize most. A growing awareness of, and interest in, climate change since the 1980s means sustainability is becoming central to an increasing number of companies’ identities.
Georgina Spencer says that the growing awareness of green issues led to this becoming part of its identity: “Our brand values were defined by focusing the needs of our customers and what is important to them when choosing bathroom solutions.” One of which, was sustainability.
Heritage is another value which has become increasingly important in not only the hospitality interiors industry, but across all sectors. Provenance has become progressively prized as a general distrust of brands, big business and politics has grown, and companies are now working hard to show they can be trusted. It is interesting to note that the values of some of the world’s top global names including Google and Honda, feature the word 'trust'.
Heritage is one characteristic which works to reassure customers, suggesting a mutually beneficial relationship rather than selfish short term gain. Chris Ward, marketing director at Hypnos, which makes luxury beds and mattresses for homes and hotels around the world, believes the company’s history is crucial to its persona: “Hypnos has over 100 years’ experience in crafting bespoke, made-to-measure mattresses and beds … This rich heritage is a defining factor in shaping our personality.”
Chris Ward cites the facts the business holds a Royal Warrant as crucial to this, explaining it “acts as a mark of excellence and has become an integral part of our branding”.
A kindred spirit: identifying the right target market
Once a brand’s identity has been established it can then work to identify its customer base. What has become clear however is that the most successful brands attract not just one type of customer. Although a brand’s values stay the same, the type of person drawn to these can vary, and brands must use this to their advantage to thrive. It was utilising this approach which led Hypnos to enter the hospitality market.
As Chris Ward says: “When looking for new target areas we stick to the core values of the business and ask questions such as: is there a related strategic fit?; is the market attractive with strong growth potential? … This has enabled us to easily penetrate international hospitality and retail markets.”
Brands must also move with the times and changing needs of their customers. Although its core values must stay constant, companies must adapt to be guaranteed a lengthy life span. Chris Ward comments: “although Hypnos’ values are the basis of the foundation of our business, as a brand that embraces the needs of contemporary living it’s important that we use these as building blocks for the changing needs of our customers.”
Katerina McMahon provides a practical example of this: “We are able to combine both traditional and CNC techniques to embrace old and new.”
The words a brand uses to define its personality do not need to be solely descriptive and can be aspirational, focusing on the emotional response it wishes to illicit. Anna Smarzak, sales support manager at Forbes Group, lists ‘tailoring’ as key to the company’s identity, referring to its bespoke designs and its service which provides “whatever suits the customer best”.
Apple is one brand which reaches customers in this way; each product embodies an aspirational lifestyle yet is designed to meet the real needs of its users.
Although many believe the criteria which defines a brand must be truly unique, we have not found this to be necessarily true. Even if brand values are identical on paper, each company’s heart and soul will be different and therefore, like each individual, unique. As Katerina McMahon says: “As with any human being, personality has many facets. It is the sum of the parts that make up a unique whole and this is true also of a brand.” A brand’s ‘soul’ will always shine through and although this is perhaps beyond design, if honest, it will endure.
A consistent persona breeds credibility; grows value
Once identified, a brand’s personality must remain constant. Faltering on adhering to values equates to breaking the customers’ trust which is difficult, if not impossible, to forgive. It is also important for a brand’s personality to be conveyed consistently across all channels. This will build brand recognition and a company’s personality, as well as grow trust.
Hypnos ensures it enforces its personality across multiple ‘physical’ brand elements, with Chris Ward commenting: “We have created a brand that aligns on many levels, through all sides of the Hypnos business. Complete brand communication alignment across the company is key and helps to enforce the core beliefs of the brand.”
Katerina McMahon too points out that this consistency inspires confidence. “At Morgan we work hard to ensure a consistent quality presence across all platforms, maintaining a reliable brand, which our customers value and trust.”
The benefits and impact of a consistent and credible personality can be measured in brand value, both that which is perceived by customers and stakeholders and financially. The benefits may evidence themselves in a number of ways, including through awards, on the balance sheet and by entering new markets.
Chris Ward says; “We have been able to enter a number of emerging and established international markets and we were also crowned Bed Manufacturer of the Year by the National Bed Federation. These achievements are unquestionably linked to the way Hypnos presents itself and lives and breathes its values and beliefs.”
Georgina Spencer credits its strong identity with Roca’s extensions into new markets. “Having such a strong brand identity contributes significantly to our esteemed position as a world leader in the bathroom sector. As a manufacturer that has been established for almost 100 years and that is present in countries throughout the world, it is extremely important that our core values are upheld in whichever market we are trading in.”
The value a strong personality adds to a company can be seen on the balance sheet, but perhaps the most important is the connection the customer feels with the company and the enduring loyalty this secures.