How Well Does Your Brand Hold Up?

Seven Simple Questions
by Chris Dietrich

Looking objectively at your company's brand can be eye-opening – and sometimes painful. What you may see as an established trustworthy image, may appear stodgy and out of touch to your target market. Conversely, your smart, hip image may not work as well as you move into bigger markets. So how do you find out if your brand is still relevant in today's market?

Well, there's an adage that says if you ask 10 (read: 100) strangers on the street, then you'll get a pretty good idea of where you stand. You could hire a specialist to do this work for you, or you could use the questions below to create your own mini focus group.

Present these questions (possibly tailored to your own market) to a dozen or more customers, potential customers, and other specialists in your field for the most relevant answers. When you're done, look at the answers honestly and try not to dismiss any comments – positive or negative. Criticisms like "I don't like that color" or "I would have used a different typeface" may be at the core of the problem but expressed in a way that is not initially constructive. In the end, you cannot please everyone all the time, but you can establish a consistent reaction in the public where it's needed most.

The Questions

Take a really good example of the brand – a business card for example. In an environment that allows for focus and minimal distraction, ask your viewers to answer the following seven questions. You can either ask them the questions, writing the answers down as you go, or provide the questionnaire to complete at their leisure. Anonymous surveys usually provide the most objective answers as your physical presence (or relationship to the respondent) may affect their answers.

1. Do you understand the name?
Can you pronounce it correctly? Is it easy to remember and spell?

2. Does the name fit?
When you read it, can you determine the meaning it is trying to convey? Does it make you think, or is it plainly clear what this company is about? If not initially apparent, does the name evoke feelings that support the company's image?

3. Do you like the name?
Is the name attractive to you? Does it send a positive message in its market? Is there anything about it that bugs you?

4. Is the overall design attractive to you?
Are the symbol, mark, and/or typography pleasing to you? Is there anything about the design that bothers you?

5. Is the design effective?
Is the design, symbol, and/or typography consistent with the name? Is it consistent with what the company does? Does the design enhance or detract from the name?

6. Does it give you a clue?
Does the logo or tagline provide any additional information that gives more insight into what the company has to offer or where their specialties might lie?

7. Would you consider using this company?
Would this company's brand impression encourage you to consider them as a supplier or partner, or does it leave you feeling unsure?

BONUS Question for the Brand Owner:
Is the brand consistent wherever it appears?
Are there other brand elements elsewhere that look different? Are there elements available to the public (or inside the company) that don't match – possibly older versions, earlier names, or different designs that have simply "stuck around"?


Depending on who you ask, you may receive very different answers. A stranger on the street, a potential customer, an existing customer, or even a family member – they all have different perspectives and levels of understanding about your business and market. If your mini focus group answered any of the above with responses that don't fit with your company's goals, then your brand may need some work.

Ah, my logo is fine. Fair enough. But if you're trying to reach the greatest number of qualified customers, then starting at the very center of your company's visual core is a great way to get your brand on a course for consistent success. Think of the best companies out there today – maybe even your biggest competitor. Successful companies consistently express themselves from this center outward in everything they do. You could continue "doing business as...", or you could change your name, update your brand, or simply bring all its disparate parts together to convey a centered and focused brand. The change will provide a fresh impression with your audience, extend the hard-earned trust with your current customers, and radiate the right image you want to project in everything you do. It's never too late.

Chris Dietrich is Owner and Art Director of Watertable, a branding agency dedicated to creating and strengthening corporate, non-profit, and private brands. Watertable serves small- to medium-sized organizations – particularly at their inception and reconception stages. Chris has been influential in hundreds of identities found globally and locally while working at brand agencies in Amsterdam, New York, and now Philadelphia.

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