Sowing the seeds of brand

Simon Ellis | April 11, 2019

Time to read: 5 mins

If you’ve ever had the misfortune to be stuck in conversation with me, you’ll have noticed two things: I talk too much; and I use a lot of analogies and metaphors. I’m like a spider, drawing connections in this great big analogous web. Damn. See what I mean?

A few years ago I realised I talk in analogies quite a lot, particularly when I’m talking to my clients about the challenges they’re facing. I don’t do it on purpose per se, but I guess it’s a way of visualising an issue (and potentially the way to resolve it) in multiple minds at the same time – it gets us all on the same page more quickly. If I was to say: “Their business processes used to be like a teenager’s bedroom floor. We just needed to pick out the bits worth saving and get them washed and ironed…” you would hopefully have a pretty strong impression of what the problem was, and what needed to be done. Hopefully not the smell though.

I also use analogy to describe the nature of brand and its relationship to the rest of a business and its people, and I thought you might find some of these useful. So, today I wanted to plant the analogous seed of brand, brand development and brand image…

The seed is planted

At the moment we get serious about starting a business – that’s when our brand is created. That’s because we already have a set of expectations about the way we’re going to do business, based on our own aspirations and values. We just haven’t shared it with anyone – the only person the brand means anything to is ourselves.

It’s like we’ve planted a seed, but don’t yet know what it’ll grow into. In this analogy, the plant pot is your brand image, including logo, colours and so on – it’s the wrapper around your brand. It’s quite common that the brand image at this stage is pretty rudimentary – we don’t know how big the plant will grow or what it will produce when it matures, so as the business owner it’s not easy to know what the brand image needs to communicate.

By the way, the soil is your brand’s culture, surrounding and nurturing the roots. The balance of the soil at this stage isn’t too important – we’re just looking for that initial stable growth.

The seedling emerges

As we start to work with our first customers, we might see the first signs of growth, even if that’s growth in terms of confidence and stability rather than turnover and profit. We’ve got some tentative roots and we’re starting to see some shape and form for what the brand might become.

The pot (ie. the brand image), won’t necessarily need changing, and the soil of culture still has plenty of nutrients to give.

Pot bound

As the business becomes more surefooted it develops stronger roots. Roots that are now absorbing all that the soil has to give, and stuffed in a pot that no longer reflects the stature of the business.

This is one of the key stages when new clients get in touch with us. They might say: “We’re wondering if we need to rebrand.” Well, if you’ve asked the question you already know the answer; those closest to the brand are inherently sensitive to how well it is reflected by the branding, whether they are consciously aware of that or not. They may misinterpret what they’re sensing: “Our web site needs updating…” for example. The web site might well need redoing, but only after the branding is brought back up to speed with where the company has got to. Otherwise it’ll be like adding a bit of plant food – a short term boost but ultimately changing nothing.

In this case, the brand needs ‘repotting’ – it needs more soil and more space to push out more roots – and it needs a new, or at least evolved, brand image that reflects the business more effectively.

Rebranding is typically a wonderfully revealing journey of rediscovery. When we deliver rebranding projects, the first and most rewarding effect we see is in the body language of our clients’ staff. They literally sit more upright, they have a reignited energy for their company and more clarity about what they represent as ambassadors for their brand.

Blooming marvellous

When a business comes into full bloom the brand is revealed in all its glory. Now we can see its true colours. At this point the brand is fully enriched with good soil and supported by appropriate branding. Maintaining this health is dependent on having the right nutrients in the soil, and this is where assembling and developing the right team is critical.

The story doesn’t end there though. All this can happen in the first five years or so of a brand’s life. But as we see with very large and well established brands, they still go through cycles of ‘repotting’, pruning and cultivation.

Frost and drought

When a cold snap recession or financial crisis hits, the brand will inevitably be damaged. At times like these the consistent nature of the brand image is of crucial importance because it provides a vestige of what the brand was, and what it could be again. If the brand dies, the pot isn’t going to bring it back to life, but it can help contain the remaining nutrients of culture from which to battle back to full strength once more.

In this analogy, water is cashflow or ‘work’. Your culture converts cashflow into a vibrant brand. A brand cannot survive on a good culture alone of course, because the realities of business always apply. A dry soil cannot release its nutrients.

Pollination

This is a late addition to my little analogy, mainly because I wanted to get bees in here somewhere, but it’s already my favourite part (because it’s got bees in it).

The grains of pollen your brand creates are ideas. Our networks are like pollinators, bringing one part of an idea together with another to spawn something new and exciting.

Honey

The seed, so full of potential. The flower, so beautiful and fragrant, attracting customers and connections. What’s the honey?

Well, that’s the good stuff. That’s the sense of fulfilment. That’s the purpose realised. It’s your ‘why’.

The honey is the human difference our brand makes in the world. It is legacy. And. It. Tastes. Sweeeet.

 

I hope you found that useful! Please share if you think it’s worthy, and do send me your feedback.

All the best

Si Ellis

 

PS:

If we and the rest of the back-boned animals were to disappear overnight, the rest of the world would get on pretty well. But if the invertebrates were to disappear, the world’s ecosystems would collapse.

Sir David Attenborough

In our past we’ve worked closely with Buglife – a remarkable organisation working hard to protect the habits and lives of invertebrates of all sizes and shapes. They are wonderful creatures and although without a spine of their own, together they make up the backbone of our whole ecosystem. Please consider donating to support their work here.