Updated: Aug 6
"Having a very clear understanding of what your brand represents is a necessary step in selecting the type of decoration you’ll use to convey your message."
Branding is Language
BY ALEX MORIN
Alex Morin has led companies, grown brands and introduced innovative ways of approaching brand building and marketing in the promotional products industry. He's here to help you improve your messaging.
PART I | THE PRODUCT SOLUTION
If a brand is an intangible concept that helps people identify a company, a product, or an individual, then how is that intangible concept conveyed?
The role of branding is to the brand what language is to humans. It’s partly through branding that the “average Joe” may understand what the brand is all about. But when it comes to us humans, the language that conveys our identities not only comes from our words but also takes the form of actions, clothing, and communication through various mediums. Thus, I’m making the case that language isn’t always verbal (as in body language or emotional language).
Branding is a language unto itself, composed of many nuances that are all a representation of expression.
In this article, I’ll explore the nuances of branding so that we may gain a better understanding of the tools at our disposal, when it comes to conveying the identity of our brands.
WHERE DO YOU GET DIRECTION?
An organization is often challenged with representing many voices, with many perspectives on what are important messages. Always consider your brand's values, mission and vision statement when making your promotion decisions. It's a great compass for pointing you in the right direction.
“What do you want to say?”
is a question that I often ask my writing students. In order to communicate effectively, you have to know what you want to say. The same is true for brands.
In order to communicate your brand’s identity or message, one has to be crystal clear on what the brand represents. And only then, can you determine what needs to be conveyed; in other words, what you want to say. Let’s begin with an example:
If you know that your brand speaks to positivity and the celebration of self, would it be appropriate to advertise your brand with macabre imagery and negative self-talk?
I don’t think so either.
Thus, the first branding nuance to examine is the degree to which the language of branding must fit with the spirit of the brand. In promotional advertising, expert distributors and suppliers create and market a variety of product solutions that are able to represent the spirit of a brand.
THE SPIRIT OF YOUR BRAND
Understanding your brand's core values and messaging tone offers guidance for developing branded merchandise and apparel that compliments your brand's archetype or spirit. Are you happy and whimsical? Bright colours, fun patterns. Are you serious and steadfast? Darker tones, typically in solid colours.
Product solutions often include apparel or hard goods (hard goods being pretty much anything you can put a logo on that isn’t apparel). In the above example, you wouldn’t select a straitjacket as the representation of your positive brand, would you? But you might consider a tie-dyed T-shirt as a colourful and expressive representation of your brand. Now you may begin to appreciate that the product solution you choose is the physical embodiment of your brand; therefore, it’s a pretty big deal to get it right.
Expert distributors spend countless hours learning about the latest promotional solutions so that they may complement the efforts of their customers in representing a brand with the utmost integrity. They consider all kinds of information, ranging from what’s trending, to what stands out, to what’s clever, to what’s worked in the past.
They evaluate form and function, always with an eye to maximizing the return on their customer’s investment. Following the example above of a brand that embodies positivity, why not pair your promotional apparel needs with the brand message of a company like Tentree, who have planted over 73 million trees around the world as part of their commitment to the environment? Think of it as riding shotgun.
When you match your branding to the ideals of a similarly minded company, your brand becomes part of the journey. Without uttering a word, the language of branding is speaking loudly through your choice of promotional apparel.
THE VALUE OF CO-BRANDING
When you select a product solution from a recognized brand you co-op your values and messaging with theirs. For example, a brand that values fitness would be drawn to add their logo to apparel recognized for superior athletic performance. Similarly, an organization on an eco-mission might look to invest their marketing spend in products provided by a brand also engaged in actions of environmental sustainability. Cobranding creates opportunity for you to share their brand story and equity as part of your own.
Let’s stick with apparel for a moment. Interestingly, the quality of the apparel one selects to represent a brand speaks volumes about that brand.
For example, luxury car manufacturers are fiercely protective of their brands and spend a great deal of resources speaking to the quality and craftsmanship inherent in their vehicles. If they were to sponsor a marathon, for instance, and were responsible for providing T-shirts to every participant in the marathon, do you think they’d want to associate their brand identity with a throw-away quality T-shirt? I think not. This is why a top-notch distributor might suggest the Strato Tech Tee by Vuori. It may be considerably more expensive than a bargain basement T-shirt, but so is a Ferrari to a Prius. Moreover, the Strato Tech Tee incorporates a degree of technology into their T-shirts by including moisture wicking technology into the fabric.
Are you now seeing how even the technology incorporated into a garment can support the brand identity of a corporation seeking to use promotional apparel as a means of conveying the essence of their brand?
Great! Let’s now turn our attention to decoration.
PART II | THE DECORATING SOLUTION
The MSG October 2 sale is from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., but I don’t know what time I should get there. I live in Manhattan so it’s a 15-minute walk for me; I already know to expect long lines so I’m going to pack stuff to keep me occupied.
The above quote is from Reddit and pertains to a question posed by a Harry Styles fan, seeking to understand wait times in order to purchase the famous singer’s merchandise.
Oftentimes, the decoration on a garment is so unbelievably important to a superfan,
that they’ll pay nearly any price and accept any quality of merchandise in exchange for the opportunity to support a brand. In fact, you might say that a superfan speaks the language of the brand and is a brand ambassador.
FOSTERING A BRAND TRIBE
North American motorsport may be the best illustration of how the bond between brand and athlete can influence an audience. Merchandising of motorsport teams often involves bold and showy interpretations of brand images to resemble the paint schemes on the vehicles. Fans of motorsport adopt this garish apparel to change their appearance to better match the vehicles of the team they support, in the way a hockey fan would wear a jersey.
If you’re an IndyCar superfan, you’ll do the same thing at an Indy event. If you’re a die-hard Ironman participant, you’ll do likewise. In cases like these, it’s all about the decoration and the logo. After all, a superfan wouldn’t line up for hours to buy the same T-shirt without the brand logo, would they?
This is why promotional apparel companies have invested heavily in new and innovative decorating techniques. Showcasing your brand’s logo through decoration is an absolute
art unto itself. Is your brand flashy, like the Lego brand, or should it be represented in a subtly elegant way, like how a mutual fund company might want to represent itself?
Again, “What do you want to say?” is a question you’ll have to ask yourself as you explore the myriad of decorating options that best suit your brand.
EXAMPLES OF BRAND UNDERSTANDING
Suppliers of great promotional products and apparel often have collections of past storyboards for inspiration, or will offer to create one unique to your brand. This example from Fersten Worldwide can be found in their website showcase and illustrates a fun decoration concept incorporating classic brand images in a mix of multimedia decoration techniques.
Yet another way to think about decoration is to divide the concept of decoration into loud decoration versus quiet decoration. When it comes to loud decoration, a sense of self-identity and belonging factor heavily into which form of loud decoration you’re most likely to gravitate towards. Think of the iconic nature of Louis Vuitton’s eminently recognizable step-and-repeat patternthat adorns their purses and bags.
The psychology behind selecting a Louis Vuitton bag as your bag of choice may relate to the type of persona you’re attempting to portray while the utter simplicity of Chanel’s
No. 5 perfume provides a striking example of quiet decoration that appeals to a different persona. Oh, and size actually does matter!
How much space do you want your logo to occupy on your promotional product? Because what you decide is going to speak volumes about the message you’re sharing with the world. Electing to decorate the entire front of a T-shirt with a Burger King logo might not compel recipients of your giveaway to wear and champion your brand (well, for most people).
But taking the entire front of a T-shirt to use a clever quote like, “Save the planet. It’s where I keep all my stuff!” might just speak to someone’s sense of humour and appeal to a large swath of the population that shares the same values. And where you place your decoration is also incredibly important.
If you’re selling T-shirts at Disneyland, placing the logo on the back of your T-shirt is a pretty good strategy, given all the time you’ll be spending in line-ups, where people will be staring at the back of your T-shirt for hours.
These days, you can decorate promotional products and garments with laser engravings, patches, embroidery, silk screening, debossing, foil stamping, and the list goes on.
Having a very clear understanding of what your brand represents is a necessary step in selecting the type of decoration you’ll use to convey your message.
A vegan snack food company may not want to use a leather patch to display its logo, whereas the use of vegetable-based inks might be a wonderful solution with which to logo a hoodie. As you can see, it’s vitally important that the messaging be consistent not only with the product that’s being selected, but with the decorative approach being used as well. And with so many decorating options available these days, it’s simply a matter of consulting with a professional distributor, who will guide you and your brand in the right direction.
Branding is indeed a language. When we zoom out and understand that a brand isn’t merely represented by a logo, then we begin to understand that the language of branding is communicated through product choice, functionality, intent, artwork, decoration, and so many other nuances.
Gaining this understanding is similar to acquiring a whole new vocabulary that allows us to create with more freedom and imagination, thus opening the door to the fabulous expression of the essence of your brand.
Now, go and have some fun with your new language!
- as featured in marketingedge magazine April 2022 - click to open e-magazine