Northern Munkee is back. What’s he doing now, you might ask? Why, it’s another guest post around his area of obsession and expertise – brand identity for food startups.
Are you in the business of food? Thinking of making the leap? You won’t want to miss this…
NM: As consumers we have a love affair with brands, whether we like to admit it or not.
From the shampoo we use to the electricity provider we choose, our decisions are influenced by brands and their identity. Therefore it is vital that a startisan business develops a robust and three-dimensional brand identity.
During my time as a Retail Food Buyer I spent a lot of time getting to understand what makes food companies of all sizes tick. I used to get a real buzz from learning about startup food companies and what led them to my door. I was always fascinated to discover where the inspiration came from, understand their challenges and witness the drive of an enthusiastic, sprouting food business.
However, determination, hard work and enthusiasm can only take a business so far. I found that most startisan food businesses fell down, or at least stumbled, because they had a fragile brand identity and strategy.
In my opinion brand identity is the most fundamental part of new business development and it should be the foundations which every business decision is based on, it should be the compass that steers the ship throughout the lifecycle of the business.
If I think about new brands that have really succeeded in breaking into the mainstream retail environment in the last five years, brands like Vita Coco, Propercorn and Fuel, they all have one thing in common: a very distinctive, defined and demonstrative brand identity. Based on the evidence I would go as far as saying that strong branding could carry a weak product but a great product cannot carry a weak brand.
My previous guest blog for Tasting Britain discussed what brand identity actually is and how a well-constructed strategy can positively impact a business. This blog will scratch beneath the surface of a brand identity and consider how a startisan business can start to develop its identity with a simple process and reflective questions.
What is Brand Identity made from?
It’s worth taking a moment to consider what makes up Brand Identity and for me it can be broken into a set of three introspective questions:
- WHY does my business exist?
- WHAT are my business values?
- WHERE will my vision take me?
Let me assure you that this isn’t an exercise in navel gazing but a business’ brand identity should be its raison d’etre and its compass guiding every single business decision. It should be a living thing and not something static that was printed off to be pinned to a cork board in week 1 and forgotten about in week 51.
Brand identity is the very core of a business and therefore it should begin with one big question: WHY does my business exist? On the surface this is should be a very straightforward question to answer but it’s surprising how many businesses, big businesses, don’t know how to answer this or at least lost sight of the answer to this question.
A business’ brand identity should also form the moral foundations and demonstrate a startisan’s belief system by asking and answering: WHAT are my business values? Answering this question will form the basis of a business’ culture and not only will it help business owners to assess what is important to them but also show customers what sort of a business it is.
Finally, brand identity is the driving force behind a business and the map that leads the way meaning that it should answer the question: WHERE will my vision take me? Whether you believe in writing business plans or not there’s little point setting off on a business adventure if you’re not sure where you’re heading.
The rest of this post will develop these questions further using examples to illustrate my points from global brand leaders.
WHY does my business exist: the Starbucks way…
To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.
This is the most important stage of the process. It may sound really obvious but, as I’ve written about in another series of blogs, I have experienced a large number of startisan businesses who can’t succinctly portray what makes them different; and this is because they haven’t understood their why.
Simon Sinek, in his book Start with Why, discusses how various highly successful businesses demonstrate a really strong sense of purpose to drive their business through change and growth for example the smooth transition from computers to phones, tablets and watches for Apple.
It is fundamental that a new business has a firm grasp of why they exist; and it isn’t enough to be in the game simply to make money – for a commercial entity, that’s a given! Understanding your why drives everything in the business from objectives and target customers to strategies and even the culture you wish to create.
One great example of a really clear and divisive why is Starbucks’ (above). Let’s boil the business down to its simplest form: it’s a coffee shop, albeit a very successful coffee shop. However, Starbucks presents a fantastic example of how you can charge £3-£4 for an item that costs less than 40p. You don’t have to look far to see how they’ve done that – it’s their mission statement and their why.
This drives the Starbucks experience behind the brand where you receive your coffee by name or when you download your free mobile application. Starbucks isn’t in the game to make high margins on coffee, it’s in the game to inspire and nurture the human spirit.
So the first question to ask yourself is: why does my business exist?
WHAT are my business values: Mont Blanc’s Living Values…
- Excellence: We Want The Best
- Integrity: We Trade Responsibly
- Customer Focus: We Offer Excellent Service
- Passion: We Are Passionate About What We Do
- Entrepreneurship: We Love Challenge
The concept of values, principles and culture is a very broad subject which I don’t intend to tackle in this post but I do want to comment on how a business’ values contribute to its brand identity. Business values are affirmations of the way you want your business and employees to act and how you want to be perceived by your peers, customers and industry.
Having worked across and with a number of blue-chip FMCG businesses I’m very aware that values can be dusty set of mantras that are engrained onto a board room wall and aren’t bred through a business. It’s also quite apparent that a number of large companies ‘borrow’ values from each other (compare P&G and Kellogg’s values)! However, if the values are linked to your why and really believed then they can form the corner stone of your branding.
Take Mont Blanc’s Living Values (above) as a fine example of a set of business values being echoed through products and brand identity. Mont Blanc is synonymous with quality, exclusivity and luxury and this can be attributed to its Living Values that drive behaviours in and around the business.
So, once you know why your business exists then ask: what are my business values?
WHERE will my vision take me: Unilever Vision
Unilever is a unique company, with a proud history and a bright future. We have ambitious plans for sustainable growth and an intense sense of social purpose.
Finally a business’ brand identity should communicate its vision however, don’t confuse this with a business’ why. Vision is about the long-term direction that you want to take your business in and should be strongly linked to why you started in business but it is not the same thing.
This is the element of brand identity that guides the business through the various twists and turns that any industry throws up. Consider Unilever’s vision (above) as a strong example of what a good vision looks like. This short corporate couplet will drive a multitude of the decisions made and filter throughout the organisation and business strategy.
So to add the polish to your brand identity you need to be clear on where you want to be and ensure that everything about your brand’s identity shouts about it. Ask yourself: where will my vision take me?
Once you’ve answered these three questions of your business you should have a clear brand identity complete with its own personality, purpose and power. In my experience if you look after this side of the business above all else then you will be successful and the profit will come.
I appreciate that this can be a bit out of a startisan’s comfort zone but there’s plenty of great advice out there, such as Tessa Stuart’s Flying Off the Shelves.
Just before I close my laptop, I’ll offer up some quick branding do’s and don’ts again:
- be structured; you need to start at the beginning with this, a lot of people start with the conclusion and work backwards which can really damage a brand identity.
- build your network; a network of entrepreneurs at different stages of business is a great sounding board for your branding ideas and conundrums.
- regularly market scan; I wouldn’t advise copying another brand but I would suggest you regularly look at brands that you want to emulate and admire to understand how they achieve a desired identity.
- jump into a business plan; some people are obsessed by writing business plans. When you’re first starting out in business the planning element is important but the plan itself can be restrictive – let your vision steer you.
- let your identity slip; to be worthwhile you need to find a way to keep the brand identity alive and relevant.
- be afraid to be different; it’s a tough market out there whatever you’re doing so make sure you stand out!