Which Comes First? The Company or the Brand?

becoming the real deal part 2

Part 2- Stepping Up

Does a brand make a company valuable? Or does a valuable company make a brand? If you take a look at Forbes List of the Most Valuable Brands, it is obvious that 100% of these entities have made a major investment in design. Each entity is a carefully coiffed company–with a look designed to turn heads and to create an experience.

“Of course,” you may say. “They are large enough to have the money to invest in their branding in a major way.”

But how did they get the money to invest in the company in a major way? Did design increase trust to impact their bottom line? Or was the company trustworthy from the start? It is certainly a chicken and egg question. But whether design is causation or simple correlation, I challenge anyone to make it to the top of such a list without it. If Coca-Cola needs design to get to the top, then it would be quite presumptuous to push the design budget to the back burner for any size company.

One thing is certainly true: a company’s design reflects its management and vice versa. Herein lies the trouble. It is common for startups to begin business by investing in everything but design and branding. This leaves a fabulous product without representation. Those who pull back little realize the peril of poor design. A business that is sending the wrong message–or worse yet, no message at all–is no business at all.

Why do entrepreneurs withhold the branding budget? Many misconceptions exist:

My company does not need design–we are too small. This belief is common among entrepreneurs. Planning your identity and business design is like laying the philosophical cornerstone of your business. It is like breathing life into a body, and giving it a soul. Before putting pencil to paper and beginning any design, an experienced graphic designer will ask many questions. They will want to know what you want to do, who you want to do it for, and why you need to do it. Clear answers to these questions are the bedrock of your marketing plan. Serious marketing research backs any good design. It only looks simple. Without clearly identifying these answers, you have no base from which to launch your efforts, and no hoop to confirm success.  No business is ever too small to invest in this kind of thinking.

Professional design is too costly. What if you have a fabulous product, but your design says ho-hum? Think how costly such misrepresentation could be! Count up the sales lost to miscommunication and misunderstanding! Next, think of how costly it will be to print several campaigns only to find out they connect with no one. It would be easier to roll down your window on the way home from work, and just throw your money out. Doing so would save you a lot of time too. There is nothing more costly than poor design–or no design at all.

Design will make me look bigger than I am. To clearly identify your market and speak to that market is to increase your chance of success. Too many sales can be a problem, yes, but one ripe with choices. You can always say no to a sale. You can raise your prices. Who would not like to work less and make more? You could also ramp up your game. George Lois once created a campaign for Tommy Hilfiger, early in his career. It is hard to believe he was once unknown. One week after launching the ads, Tommy was on the Johnny Carson show. His competitors asked, “Who does he think he is?”  Tommy did not yet know the answer. But he stepped up to meet his destiny:

“. . . it also drove me into such embarrassment.  I rolled up my sleeves and worked harder than I ever thought I’d work.  I knew there would be only one way to prove the naysayers wrong, and that would be to come out with amazing clothes, so I literally rolled up my sleeves and worked like an animal making sure that every button, every zipper, every button hole, every color, every fit, every fabric was to perfection.  George turbo-charged my success, and then it just took off.

Did the branding make the man? Or did the man make the brand? Perhaps we will never know. But one thing I do know. The branding and the commitment to that branding brought out the best in Tommy. It challenged him to become all he could be.

Good design is a result of good thinking. It is always an investment–in your company and in yourself. I will continue to make the bold claim that design will supply a good ROI. “Of course,” you may say again. “You have a vested interest to say so. You are in design.”

My answer? Invest, test, and prove the return! Will the real Brand please step up to the plate? Step up to the work of creating a product that will knock the ball out of the park, and then create a brand that will reflect all your company is, and all that you are–one that tells the real story of all your product can do.

See the results for yourself.

Have you ever conferred upon your business the mission and vision it deserves? A business without a brand is like a body without a soul. Are your graphics simply a placeholder until you find more money or a better opportunity? You may never have that opportunity. Even a ship captain invests in a bottle of fine champagne to christen his vessel with a name before its maiden voyage. Your business is also a vessel, carrying its identity and its messages to a specific destination. What message is your business carrying? Is it intuitive where you are going?

 Say what is real. Yes, it is scary to launch and scary to commit to the journey. It does not mean you will never miss the mark.

 It means you have the audacity to become The Real Deal.


Why do we at etc!graphics inc, a graphic design company, care about your business strategies?  Because no matter how beautiful we make your visuals, your graphics will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your target, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection you will create with your visual graphics. We want to help you become the best you can be. Join us all this month as we share ways to help your small business sustain and grow in a crowded marketplace. Etc!Graphics is devoted to helping you, the small business owner, think like a marketer.