Posted in: Opinion

Defining with distinction: unlocking the power of brand codes

Assets like a logo, colour palette, typeface and tone of voice can still lead the way in securing attention and retention despite the white noise and daily distractions.

29th November 2023

James Bolton

James Bolton

James Bolton

Written by James Bolton,
Brand Strategist & Creative Copywriter

In a world where notifications ping in our pockets and attention spans dwindle to a 5-second video, brands are finding it increasingly difficult to grab attention. Add in fierce competition and an endless stream of channels, no wonder it's a battle that many marketers are losing. And that cost is measured in awareness, relevance and profit.

So, how does a brand stand out? Or at least give itself the best chance? One of the answers lies in brand codes. These assets are the engine of distinctiveness for any well-built brand. The unique parts that power the look and feel of an organisation. The things that audiences instantly recognise.

Understanding codes and their role

At their core, codes are the collective elements that visually and verbally define a brand; the assets most commonly associated with a brand experience. This includes the logo, colour palette, typography, strapline, tone of voice, imagery, and messaging. Some categories also include packaging and point of sale, even characters manifested through founders or mascots. Consider the Coca-Cola red, the Nike Swoosh, and Mickey Mouse’s ears. Think of them as the parts of a brand’s DNA designed to act as mnemonics – shorthand for the things that immediately express a business’ unique identity across the marketplace or sector. They can even be legally protected through trademarking, which protects brands in a way that product differentiation can’t.

But why are these elements so crucial? Because in the eyes of consumers scanning supermarket shelves and buzzing digital landscapes, distinctiveness is vital. These codes make a brand recognisable and memorable – often in an instant.

They’re landmarks in a client or consumer’s mental map, guiding them to a brand amidst a crowd of competitors and constraints.

For audiences, brand codes are more than just visual cues; they’re a language that communicates the brand’s values, personality, and promise. It builds a relationship, evokes emotions, and ultimately influences decision-making. When consumers see a familiar logo or hear a tagline, it’s not just recognition; it’s an emotional response, a connection.

Building memory structures

Here’s the golden rule: brand codes must be used consistently and frequently because they are learned over time. It’s about building and refreshing memory structures in the audience’s mind. The more consistently a brand uses its codes, the more associations are established. It’s like a favourite song – the more you hear it, the more familiar and loved it becomes.

Recognition and distinction is another major ingredient. Brand codes should be both high on fame and high on uniqueness. This means that while a logo or a colour scheme should be instantly recognisable and intrinsically linked, it should also be distinct enough not to be confused with anyone else in the industry. This uniqueness sets a brand apart, giving it a unique voice amongst the chorus of competition.

Codes in action

Our recent work with bold CPG challengers and brave place brands has seen us create and develop distinctive brand assets. With consistent and frequent executions, these should become established brand codes in their respective sectors.

HIPPEAS index image.

Maximise Snackisfaction – HIPPEAS

In the case of HIPPEAS, a full brand code audit served as the strategic springboard for portfolio extension and campaign work. We started by assessing existing assets before leveraging those with iconicity and distinction. This led to the yellow colour block and smiley face being brought front and centre, alongside a refined verbal identity including branded language.

It was a similar story for Freddie’s Flowers. Codifying their identity prepared the brand for new territories and innovations. It also served as an opportunity to set them apart in a category that had grown somewhat predictable and disposable. A complete brand code audit allowed us to see where the existing brand could better live up to its price point and connect with its intended audience. As well as uncovering the meaning and feeling behind things like packaging and illustration style, even Freddie Garland himself was identified as an ownable and unique brand code. From his role to the way he speaks and even what he wears, we questioned what he represents and the associations attributed to him – and subsequently the brand – in the minds of consumers.

Freddie's Flowers boxes.

Freddie Garland, Freddie;s Flowers

Our work with Tees Valley Combined Authority was a slightly different task. Not only does the brand straddle the local authority and place-making categories, but this was a project that saw assets and codes created from scratch. As a complete brand overhaul, we had a clean slate to develop their brand assets from the ground-up. Visually, the bespoke Valley Sans font is designed to be big, bold, and unique enough to reflect the region and everything that happens inside it. This expressed the potential of Tees Valley while acting as a container for brand imagery and video. As an integral part of the brand, we’ve already seen how this is being adopted as a key brand code, building familiarity and meaning with its audiences.



Strength in the codes collective

While brand codes are crucial in building a strong, unique, and effective brand, they are most powerful when used collectively. No single element is a silver bullet to distinctiveness or mental availability. It’s the harmony of all elements working together that creates a compelling brand.

The greatest brands are always more than the sum of their parts. Each identity element – be it the logo, the strapline, or the colour palette – plays an important role. However, their true strength lies in their coming together, creating a relevant, cohesive, memorable experience. Crucial to this success is ensuring that the visual and verbal system is consistent with ingredients but flexible with its recipes – in other words, the brand system can never be so rigid that it becomes unusable or stale. It’s this impact that resonates with audiences, turning casual onlookers into loyal advocates.

When crafting a brand identity, remember that it’s not just about standing out; it’s about resonating on a deeper level with your audience. It’s about each element playing its part, contributing to an overarching world that’s uniquely yours. This brand world can win the battle for attention and retention in the modern world.

So, think about your brand codes. Do you know them? Could they be more distinct? Are you using them effectively and consistently?

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