Printers spend the vast majority of their time producing eye-catching, creative printed collateral for their clients. They excel at producing consistently high standards of corporate communications and marketing materials.
Yet when it comes to their own corporate identity they are far too often found to be lacking. Company names sound antiquated, many company logos look banal and they have badly designed websites. But this is where printers are missing a trick because a professional corporate identity can make all the difference when it comes to retaining and winning new clients, according to branding experts.
“Printers can often underestimate their target audience and don’t appear to make the connection between the wonderful creative work they are printing and their own brand identity,” confirms Phil Morrison, design director at brand design agency Elmwood. “It’s quite surprising how few printers understand how to communicate with designers. The ones who do appreciate the visual language that is required to attract their key audience, are the ones reaping the rewards.”
So what do printers need to know about creating a slick corporate identity to ensure that they’re the ones reaping the rewards?
Firstly it’s important to note that to build a strong and distinctive brand you need more than just a new logo. “It’s about creating an emotional engagement with your audience,” says Morrison. For him it’s vital that companies do their research before they “dive into the creative”.
“Looking at your world through your customers’ eyes is a fundamental starting point,” he explains. “Identifying who your customers are and what world they live in will help to formulate a strong starting point for the design brief.”
In this modern era of manufacturing when companies essentially have access to the same technology as everyone else, which means there is little to differentiate between companies, having a distinctive brand can enable a printer to stand out from the crowd.
“Competitors can easily copy your products and services, but not your unique and genuine personality,” says Morrison. “In every sector, companies seem to have the instinct to look like everyone else. It’s a particular problem in the world of printing where the majority of companies utilise the same key assets and colours. Rather than following the crowd, a brand should look to be unique both in its identity and its behaviour.”
It’s a view shared by Elliot Wilson, strategy director at branding agency The Cabinet. “While to an outsider the world of print probably looks pretty gloomy for those who have not raced to the bottom of the hill, there is still much innovation and differentiation that can be had,” he says. “Brand is one small but important component of establishing some difference in a challenging industry and those who demonstrate that they are different to the rest will be the ones who are able to retain their customers and maintain a decent margin.”
So what are the brand rules printers need to abide by to ensure they maintain that margin. “Be clear about which part of the market you are playing in, demonstrate an empathy and understanding of your target audience and bring what it is different about you to life through design and user experience,” says Wilson.
Another good rule of thumb – particularly when it comes to logos – is to keep it simple. “When a logo’s good, it’s instantly clear and there is a solid, simple explanation behind it,” says Morrison.
Also bear in mind that the corporate identity needs to be adaptable to both traditional applications and digital platforms.
“The target audience lives in a digital world and printers who don’t embrace this are missing out,” says Morrison. “The printers who are utilising social media to develop their profile are gaining valuable exposure on design blogs and internet forums that they would never reach through traditional channels.”
In terms of printing companies who are currently getting it right in terms of their branding and the way they talk to their audience, Morrison singles out Team Impression (Leeds), Push (London), Pressision Print (Leeds), Kingsbury Press (Doncaster) and Generation Press (Brighton) for praise.
While following the above guidelines will ensure printers are on the right road when it comes to branding, there are also a number of common pitfalls that they need to make sure they avoid.
“Like anything, there is a process to follow,” says Paul Spiers, head of creative and digital services at AD Communications. “Don’t make the mistake many companies do of developing a logo independent of any strategic thinking and then trying to retro-fit your values, personality and company vision. It will never work and customers can smell a lack of brand authenticity very quickly.”
Also be aware that as brand identities are “organic entities that grow and evolve naturally over time” they need to be in line with the changing business and economic landscape, and reflect and represent the company and its products, values and offer to the market at any given time.
“Logos are the most overt representation of the brand from a marketing perspective and a quick search of most of the big global brands on Google Images will reveal in an instant how all these brands have constantly evolved over time – from subtle tweaks to wholesale rebrands – to fit more succinctly and reflect the needs and aspirations of the markets they serve,” says Spiers.
Regardless of whether or not you’re a new company trying to develop and establish a brand or an existing company considering a rebrand, branding doesn’t come for free and even though you won’t have to spend huge amounts of money on it to do it well, you will definitely need to invest lots of time and energy into the process. But if you get it right it will be worth the effort, according to Wilson.
“It’s a big world out there and the longer that you are able to consistently express your message succinctly the more likely that you will be heard,” he says.
“Branding is no different in the printing sector to any other sector and the rules of brand and design apply to them the same way they apply to all.
“Ultimately it all depends on which part of the market you want to go after, but as an advocate of brands and branding, I believe that the companies that will prosper are the ones that have a greater focus on what makes their businesses different and expressing that in a compelling and considered way through all available touch points.”
Case study: Geoff Neal Group
For Sam Neal, managing director of London-based commercial printer Geoff Neal Litho, the decision to rebrand was a tough one. The business is nearly 40 years old and in that time it had built up a strong reputation with clients. So changing its brand identity carried obvious risks. However, Neal felt that changes were necessary.
“We decided to rebrand because we found it very hard to talk to new clients and say that we really understood the importance and value of their brand when our own one didn’t say that,” he explains.
The rebrand didn’t happen overnight. The company worked with a strategist for around four months before bringing the strategy to life.
The result of the rebranding process was unveiled in October last year, with the company introducing a new logo, company name and website. Although it might not seem like a big deal to outsiders, for Neal one of the biggest changes was dropping the word ‘Litho’ from the long-standing company name and replacing it with ‘Group’.
“Dropping Litho and adding Group enabled us to stop being pigeon-holed and also kept things simple and made the name up to date,” says Neal. “I was really worried that people wouldn’t like the new look and feel, but I kept being told to trust the professionals and to remember that not everyone will like it and that is OK – but the message should be clear and everyone should understand the company’s positioning and can decide if it is of value to them.”
Neal says that the company still regularly refers back to the strategy document that was devised by the brand strategist so that he can examine “the brand values and truths to ensure that our messages are consistent and true”.
In terms of the sage words of advice he would give other companies considering going down this route, he offers the following: “If you are serious about it, bite the bullet and pay the money, the result will be well worth it. If I had known how much benefit there would be from the rebrand I would have done it sooner and not agonised over the cost.”