“Branding is about finding your differences and accentuating the positive”7 min read

Carlene Jackson, CEO at Cloud9 Insight, spent much of 2020 speaking to brand and marketing experts for the Marketing Decanted for SMEs podcast. One of her guests was BILL WALLSGROVE, a consultant with over 30 years experience. Bill was Creative Director at Coley Porter Bell and Futurebrand before starting digital marketing businesses including Big Idea Brand Marketing and BrandVoice. He is now the Brand Director for Neujuce in Brighton.



Carlene Jackson: How should companies think about brand?


Bill Wallsgrove: I don’t see branding as being part of marketing; it comes before. I help businesses name themselves, create their identity and brand. They can’t really go to market until they’ve actually defined what their brand is. More and more businesses are having to think about all the digital touch points to engage with their audiences. If they don’t think about the content they’ve got to create and don’t understand where the audience they’re trying to reach are gathering, they won’t have the right material to engage with those audiences. Brand is not just a logo, of course, it’s an identity, a visual language, a tone of voice – and it’s how organisations talk about their product or service to their consumers.



CJ: How common is it for SMEs to have a good grasp of what brand is and the importance of it for their business?


BW: Every business should be a brand. If the company is not a brand, it cannot market itself because the brand is step one. Some organisations don’t understand this. For example, I was working with a charity in the health sector. I spoke to the Board – all doctors, surgeons and physicians – and gave them the ‘Jack & Jill’ version of what branding is. The chairman said: “We’re not a brand at all; we’re a charity”. I worked with them for six months, redesigning their website and creating a much more powerful brand identity. We then started getting a lot more investment and donations coming into the charity. As I was leaving, six months later, the chairman said “Bill, you’re leaving – what are we going to do with our brand?”. The man who previously didn’t know he had a brand was suddenly scared he was losing the person who’d been managing it.



CJ: After you have finished helping a business with their brand, what does the journey then look like for them as a business?


BW: You’ve got to create a set of guidelines. The businesses that don’t seem to grasp what branding is, tend to think of it as a logo, a name or a colour. Actually, a brand is a promise that has to be delivered in every aspect of what you do. The guidelines explain to both the internal audience and external users of the brand the tone of voice and the elements they must stick to. The very best brands in the world are heavily policed, like Apple, which is very purist about how it considers its branding, whether it be the packaging or the shop and online experience.


Check out Episode 2 of our Marketing Decanted for SMEs podcast with Bill Wallsgrove.



CJ: What format would you recommend when running a brand workshop?


BW: The first part of any brand workshop is usually an audit of how that organisation and competitors are communicating across all media. This points out where a brand is succeeding, failing and where a brand needs to consider certain new activities. The audit also helps point out the attributes, values and benefits of using of your brand, which in turn helps work out the personality, tone of voice and style that you want to communicate about your brand. Once those four axes are right, we can begin to understand what the brand promises are. Once you’ve decided the promise, you then work out how it’s positioned versus your competitors. So, a workshop is really like putting a mirror up to a company and identifying how it’s looking and speaking.



CJ: When and how does marketing come into place after branding?


‘Brand’ is an old Norse word meaning ‘to burn a mark into cattle’. And branding in that sense has been around for at least 5,000 years, certainly dating back to the Indus Valley Civilisation. It’s all about ownership and claiming property and being proud of the quality of that product. Taking your cattle to market is the next step after branding – and the analogy works in 21st century commerce. If you’ve done your branding right, you have claimed the ownership and the promise of your product or service and you’re creating the right language, the right tone of voice, and the right visual equities. Next, you have to ask yourself “who are the people I need to speak to and where are they likely to be gathering?”. Marketing is about taking that brand, with all of its elements, into the different areas such as advertising, social media and so on. A good set of brand guidelines will support marketing experts to be more effective at their job.



CJ: What’s your advice to help organisations come up with the right purpose for their business?


BW: All brands should have a promise. Some brands have a purpose but some brands try and put a purpose on top of a brand which is unnecessary. For instance, I’m working with one company that’s doing real innovation with environmental packaging. They’ve got a real purpose, for society and for the environment. I’m also working for an engineering company that was debating their purpose and I said to them I think your promise is to do wonderful engineering, I don’t call that a purpose. I distill purpose into what you are putting into society or the environment or into the wider business for good.



CJ: So if you’re struggling with a purpose, then maybe focus first on the promise?


BW: Yes, focus on the promise. You have to have a guarantee for what you’re doing. The quality of your product or service has to contain a promise about what you’re creating, why you’re creating it, why you want to deliver it in the best way you can and why you want people to enjoy the experience. People are now so brand and marketing savvy, they can easily uncover things – so if you say you’re doing things that you’re not, you’ll be found out. Purpose is much more about what you are doing for good, and how you are making people trust and believe in what you’re doing. Once companies start to think what’s their trust and purpose, it makes them rethink the way in which they operate.



CJ: If you could suggest one platform for communicating your brand, what would you suggest?


BW: You have got it completely wrong if you’re only using one platform. The way that Google works is it likes to see activity across a number of fronts. If you want to have either improved organic search or improved earned media, the hub of that is your own website, with satellites on other people’s platforms. For example, you should have an Instagram page if you’re in fashion, or a LinkedIn page if you’re B2B and so on. You should also make sure you’re re-posting and engaging with the content so that Google sees you holding conversations in different places.



CJ: What have you learned about branding from working in the music industry?


BW: Lady Gaga is the exemplar of doing brand brilliantly. She’s taught us to do things with a passion and make sure the things you love come to the fore. You don’t try and do things that you think you have to do because they’re the norm. Points of valid difference are things that you should celebrate. Branding is about finding your differences and accentuating the positive.



CJ: Finally, what would be your top tips for considering an appropriate name for their business?


The problem with naming is it’s a very cluttered world now, as the dot com arena is getting full. So, you have to be more imaginative, and think about filling any market gaps. Any name should reflect something about the organisation and its character. The story behind the name tells you a lot about their brand philosophy. For instance, when Innocent launched as a brand, it was brilliant in the way it talked about its product and brand in a way that nobody else did. It was fun, approachable and conversational. Innocent started the whole movement of starting to speak without using “techno-babble”, just being honest and being just frank about what they did and why they did it – honesty about the ingredients, the process, the benefits. “Innocent” described that promise perfectly.


You can find Bill here on LinkedIn.



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