“A brand identity is more than just a logo, business card or website,” says Generation T lister Ruth Chao when we meet at her stylish studio in Wong Chuk Hang. “It’s the image of your brand that exists in people’s minds.”
And she would know. As the co-founder and creative director of Indicube, Chao worked with over 100 clients across ten countries and 12 industries. In the process, Hong Kong-born Chao has picked up ten international design awards to date, including the coveted Red Dot—making her one of the youngest creative directors in the world to pick up the prestigious design prize.
At the end of 2017, Indicube—which Chao formed with fellow Gen.T lister Antonia Li just three years prior—was acquired by PBB Creative. The multinational agency made Chao partner, and she continues to be based in Hong Kong as a creative director for the group.
With work for brands such as Estée Lauder, Henderson Land and Mr Porter behind her, as well as a soon-to-be-unveiled project for recently opened art space H Queens, Chao is perfectly placed to offer tips every entrepreneur needs to know to build a strong, memorable brand.
1. Know yourself
"In today’s world with endless choices for consumers, it is all the more important to understand the brand purpose and value that you are bringing to your customers. What makes you unique? What is your competitive landscape? What is your brand experience? What is your brand personality? In my branding sessions with clients, I’ve found that it always helps when clients describe their brand as if it were a person. Your answers to these core questions will in turn guide your global brand communication."
2. Be bold yet safe
"To create truly unique brands, we need to abandon the comforts of habit and do something different. That being said, creativity should be free and wild, but only within the parameters of your brand. This is the job for your design professionals—to think outside the box but within a bigger box outline. To achieve this, you have to be very good at MAYA, which is a term for the “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable” solution. Every brand design should be a haute couture piece, tailored for a vision, made to achieve a dream."
3. Don’t be everything to everyone
"The art of branding is knowing when to say no. Conventional wisdom holds that market share drives profitability, and marketeers are in turn asked to attract better numbers. Though that may be true in certain commodity industries such as chemicals or steel, where market share and profitability are linked, in other industries better conversion simply means attracting more of your type of consumer. Don’t waste time shooting in the dark. Take the time to know who your consumers are, and aim carefully."
4. Align your village
"As [business theorist] Peter Drucker said, ‘A successful company is not the one with the most brains, but the most brains acting in concert.’ Brands don’t develop in isolation; they are the result of interactions between many people over time. Once the vision is defined, everyone in your company should be telling the same brand story: executives making key decisions, the marketing team defining promotional strategies, the shop staff serving customers. Align your village to build a successful brand.
It’s not easy to achieve—and the larger the company the harder it is—but a brand image only exists if you keep repeating it. It must be reinforced in order to be remembered."
5. Build brand experiences
"Christopher Graves [of advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather] theorised that in today’s changing world, the traditional “four Ps” of marketing (product, place, price and promotion) have evolved into the “four Es” (experience, everyplace, exchange and evangelism).
You now need to craft a mission—and, subsequently, brand experiences—so genuine and inspiring that consumers who have engaged with you will share their enthusiasm with others. This all starts with brand design."
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