Brand leadership is about a business’s passion. There is an intangible quality shared by true brand leaders in fields as varied as manufacturing, finance, food and drink, or fashion – that quality is confidence. It’s often manifested in appearing not to have to try too hard. You can be certain that those brands do try extremely hard – that’s how they came to be brand leaders – but they convey a laid-back sense of presence.
Confidence is a dimension of brand leadership
This confidence is a feature of their brand communication. It can take many forms, but one expression that can be observed is often, logo size is in inverse proportion to confidence.
Consider some leading brands, though proud of their corporate identity, their logos and corporate signatures are often extremely restrained in size and application.
This is very evident in the automotive industry. Consider the simplicity of the Mercedes logo – a clean three-pointed star in a circle. It oozes confidence.
Skoda exemplifies an evolution in confidence. The post-war Czech manufactured cars had a very poor reputation for build and reliability. By the 1970 – 1980s they were the butt of many unkind jokes. Yet at the same time they sported large, uncompromising badges. In 2000, Skoda was acquired by Volkswagen. Quality improved significantly, followed by sales and then by brand confidence.
In 2011, the logo was redesigned, simplified, and a smaller, more discrete badge applied. Skoda had the confidence to play with the big boys again.
Some of you may be old enough to remember the classic Wrangler TV ads, with the unfortunate employee, Rickenbacker. While he was putting up signs with the brand logo, the voice of ‘Mr Wrangler’, off screen, was shouting, ‘Bigger, Rickenbacker’.
This was entertaining and an ironic tongue-in-cheek reference to the brand’s already significant positioning. It was also perhaps an in-joke by the creatives who produced the ad. Designers and art directors working on leading brands often have to battle with the insecurity of clients who still feel the need to make the logos shout when the brands should be expressing confidence.
Confident enough to lose the name?
Across market sectors brands express their self-confidence with simple, often very small brand signatures. As success grows, so confidence grows and logos and signatures become increasingly simplified and minimised.
Track back across some recent manifestations of identities such as Microsoft, McDonalds, Tesco, Adidas, Google and more. Self-confidence leads to unadorned brand identities and more considered and self-effacing application.
Self confidence is often expressed by what you don’t say, and perhaps the pinnacle of this state is when overtly using the brand name in the signature becomes redundant. Apple took that decision long ago – you don’t see the name in their stores, simply the monochrome symbol. Nike, McDonalds, Shell, Starbucks and others have dialled back use of their brand name in favour of bare logos. Mastercard was one of the most recent to drop the text from their simple two coloured discs.
Brand confidence and how to express it.
If you own or are responsible for a growing brand what can you learn from brand-confident leaders? Can taking a confident stance in your communications help build your own stature, externally and internally?
First and biggest rule – you must be authentic and relevant. No amount of clever communications can work magic on a poor product or service. The opposite is true. Customers and users are quick to spot fakes and react aggressively to being misled. Confidence is a property of a brand that deserves it. It’s not a starting point, but a consequence.
The issue is whether the brand owners or managers have the necessary level of confidence. If you have the confidence to be a brand leader (even in a narrow niche) – express it, and b like a brand leader.
Most startups and small businesses over-work their brand identity to begin with. However, having outgrown the infant brand image, it’s almost never a good idea to completely change an identity without a very sound reason. Even if it’s only been in existence a short while, it has recognition value and currency. Take your lead from some of the brand-leaders we have already discussed. It’s about evolution, not revolution. Look at how the Apple logo evolved from an apple silhouette with garish multicolor bands, to the same shape, but in cool, confident monochrome.
Look at your direct competitors for brand leadership in your sector. Take into account relevancy and distinctiveness of the offer. Compare their communications materials at key customer touch points. Who emotionally conveys confident ownership of the brand leadership position in the target consumers’ mind and how?
If you are confident you can occupy that position, start building the right attitudes internally and in your communications. Create a brand strategy with confidence at its core.