The words "the brand gap" on a white background
The Brand Gap
Marty Neumeier

My favourite kind of business book. Packed with real, hard-won knowledge and devoid of the usual business book guff to pad it out. If you want to know what "brand" really is, I'm not sure there's a better place to start.

A brand is not a logo. A brand is not what you say it is. Brand is gut feeling. Brand is the gut feeling of other people.

If multiple guts feel the same thing about a business or a product, then that is the brand.

The feelings that emerge in people's guts are built on trust:

"The degree of trust I feel towards the product, rather then an assessment of its features and benefits, will determine whether I'll buy this product or that product." (Page 8)

A brand gap is the distance between a company's strategy and creativity. A brand with strength in one but not the other can produce a loud signal, but be completely nonsensical.

The alternative to this kind of mish-mash is a charismatic brand. A charismatic brand is one that people believe there is simply no substitute for. (There is little substitute for Nike, Apple, Rolex, Mont Blanc, Harley Davidson, Coke, or McDonalds.)

Neumeier outlines five disciplines of brand:

  1. Differentiation
  2. Collaboration
  3. Innovation
  4. Validation
  5. Cultivation

1. Differentiate

To differentiate, first answer three questions:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Why does it matter?

Companies that have good answers to these questions are charismatic. Companies that don't, are wide of the mark. Differentiation is very little to do with features or benefits, but everything to do with a sense of belonging.

'The danger is rarely too much focus, but too little. An unfocused brand is one that's so broad that it doesn't stand for anything. A focused brand, by contrast, knows exactly what it is, why it's different, and why people want it.' (Page 44)

It feels uncomfortable, but it's better to be #1 in a small category than it is to be # in a big one. In the same way, a higher price gives you a lower risk of commoditisation.

Don't be tempted to extend your lines unless it also reinforces the brand you are trying to build.

2. Collaborate

Brands don't get built in isolation. Building a brand is a network activity.

'Branding requires not only the work of executives and marketing people who manage the brand, but an ever-changing roster of strategy consultants, design firms, advertising agencies, research companies, PR firms, industrial designers, environmental designers, and so on. It also requires the valuable contributions of employees, suppliers, distributors, partners, stockholders, and customers-an entire branding community. It takes a village to build a brand.' (Page 51)

Neumeier says there are three models to making this happen:

  1. One stop shop: a company engages with a large agency that does everything under one roof. It's efficient and convenient, but you don't get the best people for every skillset, and you give up a lot of "brand stewardship".
  2. Brand agency: a company engages with a smaller agency that subcontracts multiple other niche agencies or freelancers. These are then likely to be much higher quality.
  3. Integrated marketing team: a company engages directly with multiple niche agencies or freelancers. Easier to unify the message, gain brand knowledge, and maintain stewardship. But it needs a strong internal team to manage it all.

3. Innovate

You cannot be a leader by following. Creativity, then, is a necessary sort of magic, but it makes the more logical business types afraid. Something creative is often something the untested, it's the unknown.

'Our cultural distrust in creativity goes back to the Enlightenment, when we discovered the awesome power of rational thinking. The movement became so successful that rational thinking became the only thinking-at least the only thinking you could trust. Yet in spite of our continuing reverence for rationality, we don't really do many things by logic.' (Page 73)

When it comes to innovation, look for the "MAYA" option: the Most Advanced Yet Acceptable option. Something that is truly "innovative" will be scary to most, and that's fine. Just keep pushing the boundary out again and again by finding the MAYA option.

Names are incredibly important. Good names are easy to pronounce, spell, remember, and are suggestive of something.

Names with high imagery tend to be more successful, and tend towards being Anglo Saxon in origin. Names with low imagery tend to be less successful, tend to be greek or latin in origin. Example: "Apple" versus "Accenture".

7 criteria for a good name:

  1. Is it distinctive? Does it stand out from a crowd, and a crowd of the same category? Does it hold its own among ordinary speech?
  2. Is it brief? Is it short, so that it can easily be remembered? Long names get shorted by others, often to abbreviations.
  3. Is it appropriate? Does it fit well with the business or the product? If it's bland and generic it could be used anywhere else.
  4. Is it easy to spell and pronounce? This is straightforward: if you can't spell it you can't search it or remember it as easily.
  5. Is it likeable? Names that feel and sound good are at an advantage.
  6. Is it extendable? Can it be played with, in different creative modes? Can it be interpreted in distinctive and interesting ways?
  7. Is it protectable? If it can be trademarked, that's a good thing. Better yet if we can also buy it as a .com URL.

4. Validate

There is an "old model" to communication:

  • Sender
  • Message
  • Receiver

Here is the new model:

  • Sender
  • Message
  • Receiver
  • Feedback (& iterate)

It's this feedback that we need to make better choices about the messages we send and how we send them. But we don't want too much, otherwise we risk paralysis by analysis. (Focus groups are meant to focus the research, not be the research.)

Having a rough answer to the right question is more valuable than a detailed answer to the wrong question. Here are some possible tests:

Swap test: swap a part of your icon—your name or a visual element—with a competitor. If it looks better, or just as good, you have room for improvement. If it's worse, you're good.

Hand test: cover the icon in some marketing material or an advert and see if you can tell who made it. Can't? It's not strong enough.

Concept test: first, get the right idea (correct neighbourhood). Then get that idea right (correct address). To start, ask 10 members of the real audience a handful of questions like this:

  • "Which of these promises is most valuable to you?
  • Which company would you expect to make a promise like this?
  • If company X made this promise, would that make sense?
  • What other type of promise would you expect from company X?" (Page 119)

Then, with the right idea roughed out, you can hone in with more accuracy—but only if you really want to. You could do this with a larger quantitative study.

Field test: got a prototype you can put out into the world? Then do so, and put it through its paces as realistically as possible. Is it meant to be bought in a shop? Test it in a real shop. Is it meant to be sold in packaging? Test it in packaging against other packaged goods.

Neumeier outlines five key elements of brand expression that are worth testing for:

  • Distinctiveness: does it stand out?
  • Relevance: is it appropriate for the brand and pass the hand test?
  • Memorability: can people remember it well and, if so, what is it that's so memorable?
  • Extendability: does it have legs across many media?
  • Depth: does it hit on many levels?

5. Cultivate

Brands are alive, and they change over time. They need to be human to some extent, otherwise they are too controlled and stiff. So don't try and get them to act. Get them to behave.

But be consistent in that behaviour, and make sure it matches the image of the brand overall.

Long term protection of the brand requires long term education of the brand and its values throughout a company. Once established, it needs work to keep it going.

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