At the Core: Improving Your Branding

Learn how to improve your branding by bringing out your core strengths. 

At the core of every person and organization are the traits that make them unique– the strengths, passions, talents, skills, or something special and unique like a product, a service, intellectual property, use of technology, or perhaps an idea ready to become realized. The core is where your gifts are stored waiting to be given to the world.

Your core attributes are what make you unique, and they help you become what you want to be and what you want to do. Within your core is your purpose.

It is said that many things can catch your eye, but only a few can catch your heart. In other words, know your core and don’t get sidetracked from it. An apple is an apple down to the core.

When people and organizations try to be something they’re not, they are not living out who or what they are at the core. It’s easy to get away from our core and try to be something we’re not. It happens with brands all the time for a variety of reasons. That’s why in branding, there’s what we branders call The Rule of 7, where at least every seven years a brand should be evaluated to determine if it is still relevant, resonating with customers, or becoming stale, declining or needs a change. If something needs to change, branding plays a big part in carrying out those changes, but the changes should still involve and reflect the core elements of the brand.

For instance, the shoe brand KEDS was founded in 1916 when Charles Goodyear began providing the rubber soles for women’s shoes. KEDS grew to be a great brand until failing to keep up with fashion and buying trends. So, a few years ago they got Taylor Swift to become their spokesperson for a new campaign called Ladies First Since 1916. They got back to their core roots to serve and honor women, and that brought the brand back.

Another example is the Hudson’s Bay Company. In order for the Canadian company to better compete better with Walmart they rebranded, but they were still the same company at the core.

A core attribute could be connected to a significant piece of history or location. I live on an island on the east coast. On my island, there’s a restaurant that took a beating from Hurricane Florence. As they rebuilt themselves, they also wanted to rebrand. One of the more famous attractions of the island is a historic swing bridge. It was recently taken away and replaced by a modern high-rise bridge over the intercoastal waterway. But the old swing bridge is the one with all the character. If you ask anyone living here, or anyone who’s ever visited, they would tell you that this old bridge was one of the core attributes of the island. While rebranding, we made a replica of the old bridge inside the restaurant in order to connect patrons with a piece of important history that also provides a unique experience inside the restaurant today. It builds a unique impression.

Legends of Notre Dame is a restaurant and sports pub on the prominent campus at the University of Notre Dame. The original building was just a boring plain-looking old brick building that looked more like a post office than an establishment. It did not reflect the standards of Notre Dame at all.

Notre Dame has high expectations for its brand. People talk about the Notre Dame experience when they go there. The Notre Dame experience is one of the core values of the university and they go out of their way to provide that experience everywhere.

But here was this restaurant right next to one of the more prominent football stadium venues in the country that was the complete opposite.

We had just pitched the university architects and leaders about working with us to build their impressions, and shortly after they called us in to help build an impression with this building.

The rebrand included a new logo, new signs, lights, awnings, facades, ornamental fabrication, custom crown molding, arches as gateways to the outdoor seating areas, and printed graphics to portray the rich history of Notre Dame. Now people talk about Legends as part of their Notre Dame experience.

How do you determine your core traits? If you can’t think of any at the moment, one way to start is by writing down what others say about you or your company. How do they describe you? What others say is a good indication of who you are … both good and bad. One of my past employees was able and willing to do just about anything. So, we branded him as Superman. It was a positive fun way to brand him in order to bring out his positive traits.

Once you know your core traits, consider how they can be used to build your brand and to build your impressions in your branded environments. Use the same process with your clients. Show them how to build their impressions by highlighting their unique strengths through visual expressions that bring those core attributes to life. This process quite often leads to some great branding projects involving signs and graphics.

When I work with my clients, I try to ask the right questions to learn their core attributes, then go to work on branding solutions to build a brand that builds an impression-right down to the core.

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Mike Clark

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