What makes a brand?

We’re a branding agency, but we can’t create the brand

Have you ever heard of Arborea? Do you know what they do? Are they on your brand radar?

Me neither, until recently.

But I do know it’s now a brand that I will always hold in high esteem and have great loyalty to (if the opportunity arises). And that is down to one small action.

Branding v the brand

Branding is a large part of our agency work, so we are experienced in this aspect of marketing. We create standout logos and elements, using design techniques that create a unique and relevant identity. We design assets that reflect and embody everything the client wants their business to stand for. We define the appropriate tone of voice, to ensure every communication is consistent. In short, our clients get everything they need to take their product to market and attract their target audience. 

But we don’t create the brand – and nor does any other branding agency. We create the branding, it’s the business that creates the brand.

And that’s why Arborea came onto my radar.

Bringing the brand to life

On a recent cycling holiday in Sardinia I was 20 miles into the day’s route, had climbed about 1,000 feet since breakfast and was on a long, steep and seemingly endless incline. The combination of 32°C, relentless sun, aching legs and the fact I had literally run out of gears left me no option but to get off and push. The road ahead stretched out and it was a case of just getting to the top, so on I struggled, head down, counting each step in an attempt to motivate my legs.

A van overtook us slowly and then pulled in ahead. I was prepared for being reprimanded on account of some cycling misdemeanour and so braced myself.  The driver got out, came round to the back of the van, gave me an unexpected broad grin and then opened the back door from which he proffered the coldest, most welcome bottle of water I have ever seen. He checked whether we wanted a second bottle, said some words which I interpreted as congratulatory and then drove off with a cheery wave. My parting words to him were “ti amo” – and in that moment, I truly did.

I don’t know whether his action was driven by the Arborea brand values, or whether it was out of the kindness of his heart. But that gesture cemented the brand in my mind as something really positive.

We create branding, you create the brand

That interaction was a clear demonstration of the difference between branding and the brand. Branding is the appearance, created by the logo, font, colours, imagery, copy style and so on. But the brand is the way the business walks, talks and interacts. It’s worth noting that I have no idea what brand the bottle of water was.

A branding agency will have created the Arborea logo and produced a brand manual which defined its mission, purpose, brand essence, character, voice and tone. Everything that Arborea needs, in order to be consistent in the way it looks, will have been included.

But the only way to bring the brand to life is through actions. What Arborea’s employees say and do will have far more longevity than the look and feel.

My point? That we create (excellent) branding, but only the brand owners can create the brand. So next time I am asked if we can create a brand, I will share the story of the Arborea man before I say “yes, but only part of it”.

The road to brand loyalty