Infographic showing all the constituent parts of brand foundation

Brand foundations

Friday 30 April 2021

How they can benefit any business – regardless of what it sells, or how big it is. An interview with brand and marketing specialist Cara Bendon.

When we talk about branding it’s easy to develop tunnel vision, focusing on how our brand looks (visual identity) or what it sounds like (verbal identity). So in the third and final part of my series on business branding, I’m looking at how what your business does – and how it does it – is absolutely central in defining your overall branding.

In recent years there has been a boom in businesses that respond to a specific ethical issue, such as removing plastic packaging. This has given rise to a myriad of businesses selling innovative new products and placing their ethics up front and centre in their marketing. Yet concepts like brand positioning, customer experience, and company ethos are still seen as the exclusive domain of big business.

But all these things – and more – are an important part of branding. So earlier this month I chatted to brand and marketing specialist Cara Bendon, to find out more about brand foundations and how they can benefit any business – regardless of what it sells, or how big it is.

What lessons can small businesses/new brands learn from household names about brand foundations?

‘Brand foundations’ may sound intimidating, but these are often just business considerations: Who do you want to sell to? Do you want to be luxury or accessible? How do you want people to feel about buying from you? What do you want your business to be known for?

There are overlaps between brand foundations and business planning in general, for example, pricing may be dictated by materials and manufacturing, determining that a product needs to be positioned as luxury; however there are many areas of brand foundation, such as customer experience and ethics that are key considerations as they impact how the consumer will view their brand.

I would recommend that all brands – no matter how small – define their values and vision they have for their business and consider how they can build a brand that anticipates their audience’s needs.

Are there any shining examples of businesses that are really successful at using customer experience to promote their brand?

Absolutely. John Lewis’s Never Knowingly Undersold campaign comes to mind immediately – they created a competitor price match policy and then made this their tagline as a statement of their commitment to customer experience; and then they centred an entire marketing campaign around it.

In banking, First Direct was the original disruptor to this sector offering 24-hour customer service – unheard of for a bank! – and made their name as ‘a different kind of bank’ through a series of quirky adverts. They also won praise from customers and when they were voted best bank for service, they broadcast this; the underlying message being ‘don’t let us tell you how great we are, our customers will’. Digital banks Monzo and Starling have followed suit too with their own innovations in this space.

There are lots of brands doing great things in their customer experience, and one notable example would have to be Nudie jeans who offer lifetime free repairs to customers. These brands know that creating an excellent customer experience is their USP over competitor brands and they draw attention to it both to generate uptake of this offer and for the benefit of their brand image.

Demand and availability seem quite far removed from branding. How are they related?

Demand and availability aren’t just logistics issues, they can impact the brand’s association greatly. Let’s take Pret-A-Manger as an example, a core part of their brand appeal is their wide availability – they are not rare, you wouldn’t travel specifically to go to one, but when you see one on a high street or at an airport you know you are getting your usual sandwich – it’s reliable quality and ubiquitous. On the other hand, brands like Supreme create desirability for their products by releasing a limited number of items in each launch, creating huge anticipation and hype that have made them a cult brand – Supreme fans will queue overnight to get their hands on a product from the brand, and this has elevated their brand from a skate apparel store to one that is worn by rappers and where pieces sell for ten times their original value. In fact, they proved their popularity was their brand and not their clothing designs when they created a brick with their logo on which sold out in minutes.

Do new businesses need to pin down their brand foundation from the outset? Or are these things that you ‘grow into’?

I use the word ‘foundation’ because I feel these things should be the base blocks of your brand, however it does depend on the business. If your business was founded with a clear vision for creating change, or because of a passion for a specific cause, then your values and vision are going to be central to everything you do. If you inherit a business or you are a freelancer and your business is utilising a skill you’ve always had, it can be harder to think of yourself within this ‘brand foundation’ framework, but my advice would be to consider:

  • What do I really care about? I have some tips on this here.
  • What am I committed to providing in this business?
  • How can I make my customer’s life easier/better?
  • How can I delight and retain customers? Just two examples here and here.

Brands need to evolve and grow, and you don’t have to have all of this figured out before you get your branding created or start selling, but it will give your brand a lot of depth and make decision making and marketing much easier.

Cara is a consultant and speaker with over 12 years’ experience of helping brands of all size forge an effective presence.

Before running her own business, she worked in advertising – including one of the UK’s top 10 agencies. During this time, she saw that the same techniques and tricks were employed by all successful brands to market themselves. With this in mind, she turned her skills to help entrepreneurs create long lasting brands.

In 2013 she founded her branding agency, in which she works with brands ranging from luxury fashion brands to charities, and plenty between. She is passionate about helping small businesses and individuals on their business journeys.

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Hello! I’m Sarah, an independent typographic designer, helping businesses to communicate their unique selling points through printed marketing and communications.

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