Demystifying the brand wheel

30 Nov

The foundation of the creative work I’ve been involved with always focusses on clients’ customers first; considering what they view to be important and how they are likely to engage with that brand.  This is a constant, regardless of whether the creative is targeting B2B or B2C audiences.

brand wheel brand onion

Secondly, it’s important to consider the nature of clients’ brands – the essence (what makes it tick).  This is usually done either by working with existing research or, in many cases, a combination of new and existing research – drilled down into an understandable melting pot.  How?  Simple.  Talk to a load of costumers and ask a load of the people working within the brand (from board level to reception) about their honest views and experience of the organisation.  This work is key, as it sets us on a process to define a number of things needed in all future brand communications work for the brand in question.  E.g. positioning, tone of voice, the way the brand communicates etc.  This is done by creating a ‘brand wheel’.  Now none of this is particularly revolutionary, as people in our industry have been using ‘brand onions’ for years.  Personally I’ve always felt the soubriquet ‘onion’ to be a bit pretentious, so I guess that’s why I prefer a wheel (it is round, after all).

Marketers can very quickly get carried away with brand wheels/onions!  I’ve often shared a cartoon by a rather witty ‘marketoonist’ called Tom Fishburne.  He creates cartoons designed for business and marketing.  Tom semi-mocks the notion of organisations worshipping their onions – something that never ceases to make me smirk, because it’s genuinely true that these things can be completely over-developed.

As worthy for consideration as Tom’s cartoon is, brand owners and marketers alike do obviously need at least some guidance; an onion, a blueprint, a DNA, a wheel – whatever.  Just something that keeps us all on the path when it comes to consistently communicating brand personas and messages.  So, for the time being (I’m currently working on an entirely new and unique one), here’s the wheel I favour – first & foremost for its simplicity:

Preferred brand wheel

Brand Wheel Martin O'Toole

Brand Personality (‘Walking & Talking’)

How the brand looks, behaves and talks.  An outline of how the brand acts; how it engages with others; the tone of voice it uses in its communications to customers (and prospective customers).

Brand Internal Drivers (‘Heads & Hearts’)

The vision, values and belief of the brand.  Whilst the vision and belief are usually single-minded statements, the values will always be an array of (usually no more than five) adjectives, detailing the features/benefits of the brand.  Doubtless there will be a distinct difference between service and product brand values.

Brand External Drivers (‘Proof & Pudding’)

I suppose this would be the bit where the ‘brand magic’ comes in.  The bit that requires more thought than a simple customer feedback summary.  Here we have to position the brand; back that positioning up, and summarise it with a strapline (external proposition).

So there’s the brand wheel…  Potentially as daunting as ever, even after this guide.  With that in mind, a good start for anyone interested in putting this into practice is to do a brand wheel on yourself – or on a friend or colleague – or in a group.  Happy peeling…

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