How Branding Manifests

8 July 2019

A review and guide to transforming your brand from an empty promise into tangible proof

I bet you have at least one friend or colleague who believes branding is bullsh*t. But that’s just because it often is.

Branding is not easy to explain to skeptics. Ambiguous words like “mission”, “vision”, “purpose” don’t help. Nor does the fact that the difference between visual identity and brand need to be pointed out again and again and again.

But there is hope. In his book “How to…”, graphic designer Michael Beirut says:

“Organizations seeking an identity often think what they want is a logo […] More important is what you say and how you say it. And most important of all, of course, is what you do”

Olivier Kennedy, founder of Swiss agency, enigma, uses the words of Batman to make his point:

“It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me. — instead of showing your values, you have to act, to make them understood by people.”

And Bob Domenz, CEO of Avenue summed it up by saying:

“brands need to get their “Be.Do.Say” in the right order.”

Meaning that brands of course need to “be” something (the mission-vision-purpose-etc. part). And brands also need to “say” things (the communications and the campaigns). But equally important, and often neglected is what companies actually “do”.

We must reduce the proportion of mushiness in branding! We need to add “brand manifestations” to the process and end-result of brand development.



So where do companies who get it inject these so-called “brand manifestations” into their presence? So glad you asked. Everywhere! For example…

Branding efforts can change the world

“Leadership in safety” is one of Volvo’s three core values. So it makes sense that in the late 50s they developed the 3-point safety belt — the kind you use in your car today. What makes their brand value really manifest though, is that they made the design freely available, to save lives not only in Volvo cars.

Google has a similar story. Their mission is “…to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible…”. A clear obstacle was that not all languages were available in the digital world. Many characters did not exist in typefaces at all. So Google had a typeface created that supports every character in every language: Noto. 800 languages. Hundreds of thousands of characters. Oh, and they made it available for free.

Did you see how the “be” (what the brand stands for) is mentioned for both examples? To make sense, manifestations have to be rooted in the brand.

Of course not every brand effort can be world-changing. So here are some more down-to-earth examples that you can use in your branding efforts:



Of course not every brand effort can be world-changing. So here are some more down-to-earth examples that you can use in your branding efforts:

Use copy to convey the brand’s essence

Many digital services suffer from the fact that, due to focus on utility, there’s little space to let the brand shine. But just look at how the “fun” element of the foursquare brand comes to life in their app store copy.

The fun brand shines through in as little as a few lines

Compare that with skype’s usage of the same opportunity. Meh. Weak. Vanilla. No emotions. A real miss for a software that revolutionized how people connect with each other.


Tone of voice helps brands manifest too

Languages of some countries have a formal and an informal way of saying “you”. And they often love using the official version, especially in mass media. Yet the Swedish company IKEA is using the informal version in their communication in these countries (e.g. Germany or Hungary). This helps IKEA better convey the “friendly” aspect of the brand, and its focus on the very personal concept of “home”.

Your brand is what you measure

Key performance indicators steer what companies focus on in their actions. So what you measure has a great impression on how you are perceived. Zappos is a brand that wants to “provide the absolute best service online”. One way this brand promise manifests is the fact that their call center does not rely on “time to close issue” as a KPI. Yes, faster call closure would decrease call center costs. But t would not serve the “best service” promise. So instead Zappos usees other metrics to improve call center operations.

The sales channel leaves its mark on your brand

Let’s also look at a negative example. The doughnuts of Krispy Kreme were an almost legendary product. The company has been in business for nearly 80 years, and had a loyal customer base. In 2003 Fortune magazine called them the “hottest brand in America”. But soon after their IPO, they made all the wrong moves in their franchise strategy. They sold not only in their own stores, but many other channels, including supermarkets and gas stations. This eroded the brand, and also the franchise-level profits. By letting control of the sales channel out of their hands, and deluding the product as a consequence, the Krispy Kreme brand suffered. And so did the stock price.

Branding starts with the sale: manifesting the brand promise in after-sales service

One key piece to the mission of garment manufacturer Patagonia is to “implement solutions to the environmental crisis”. In this spirit, they have a section on their website with repair tricks. They operate the largest garment repair facility in North America. They promote “worn wear — better than new” with their free clothes-repair truck. And they collect stories of repaired gear to further enrich the brand.


Physical spaces make branding truly tangible

A key to the brand of London-based hotel chain The Hoxton is to “stay local”. To this end, they focus on “bringing the outside in”. Their lobby is home to what they proudly call the “Hoxton Hustle”. It is an open and inviting space, featuring a restaurant, coffee, bar, and a reading corner with lots of books. Hotel rooms are aptly named “bedrooms”, and come equipped with books and personal items. Indeed, they feel like a real home on airBnB, rather than a run-of-the-mill hotel room.



So next time someone accuses branding to be full of hot air, quote some of the above examples of brand manifestation. How branding can guide customer touchpoints and company operations alike. When done right.

Branding can manifest anywhere. In what you say, how you speak, what you measure, where you sell, how you engage after sale, the physical space you create, and many other aspects. Brand manifestation is the way to make your branding efforts be more than a vanity project. They help brands take shape in the minds of your users, audiences, constituents:


But be careful! Brand manifestation does not only happen willfully. It happens also when you don’t design for it. And probably not in the way you want it to happen. Whatever you do as a brand, shapes the brand. So be sure to carefully plan what you do — both at customer touchpoints, and within the company walls as well.

And next time you create a branding document, make sure to fill a few pages with how the promise will manifest.



This article was written by Peter Horvath, digital strategist and unconsultant based in Geneva and to be found here

Brand Storytelling, Brand Strategy