Remember the good old days when going to the beach for a swim or surf was considered healthy? It got me thinking about one of my last trips down to the Torquay beach back in January.

Ever heard of a surf gear company in Torquay that claimed not to be a brand? I hadn’t either, until recently. I was driving down to Torquay with my brother for a surf when I mentioned I might get a wetsuit vest for the cooler days. He told me about a local business that was producing high-quality wetsuits at a very reasonable price. And they didn’t have any branding or excess, just the best quality, black wetsuits. I was intrigued by this completely different philosophy to surf gear. Every other surf brand I could think of promoted their brands heavily. Even the cheap knock-off brands would plaster their logos over their gear. This company sounded like a bunch of rebels, so I had to explore further.

We are not a brand

needESSENTIALS was established by Ryan Scanlon in response to an industry he felt was bogged down with superfluous waste. The company is driven by a ‘less is more’ approach that minimises waste in production through packaging and in marketing that effectively drives the price of products up for consumers.

What does this mean for branding or corporate identity? Creating a unique identity is important for all businesses, even when part of that identity is to have no visual identity at all. There are no logos or designs printed over the needESSENTIALS wetsuits. It’s just great-quality black wetsuits.

When you think of surfing brands in Torquay, there’s probably a few that spring to mind. Even non-surfers will be familiar with these businesses. Launching a disruptive business like needESSENTIALS could be a game-changer and one that could pave the way for other similar businesses across many industries.

It turns out you don’t need a brand (depending on what meaning you give that word) or a logo at all to be successful in the surf gear industry. And you probably don’t need them in your industry either. What you do need is a strong identity. The first step in building an identity is to develop a vision.

What is business identity?

Before delving into developing an identity, it’s important to define what your identity includes. Many experts will suggest your identity and brand are the same thing. While that may be true, depending on how you define a brand, I prefer to avoid the semantic confusion and use the word ‘identity’. If you’re one who chooses to use the word ‘brand’, good for you, let’s continue…

Your identity is the perceived overall understanding of a business. For instance, when you hear of well-known companies like Rip Curl or Quicksilver, it is likely to evoke thoughts in your mind based on your exposure to that company. You may think of their products, community activities, and culture. It is also likely for them to elicit an emotional response based on your relationship with that projected image. Your past experience with the brands, stories you have heard about them, and what you believe they stand for all tell us something about their identity. To go head to head with the big boys can be challenging as a new business, but to take a unique approach is a more likely winning formula.

What do you want to be known for?

What you are known for right now may not be what you want to be known for in future. Maybe you got busy doing the work and forgot why your business began in the first place. We all evolve as businesses. We all have blind spots and room for improvement. Hiring a graphic designer for ‘branding’ probably isn’t going to solve your problems. Neither is hiring a consultant to tell you what you already told them.

Developing a vision will help you become what you want to be as a business. Your vision sums up the strategic goal of your company. It forms a guide for the development of your identity into the future.

Your vision:

  • Provides a focal point for a company that helps to keep it on its intended path and creates consistency among all of its activities. In other words, the vision sets the overall, macro direction of the company.
  • Defines the overall purpose and meaning of your business. It establishes what you plan to achieve and the road map you plan to take to get there.
  • Focuses on the human element of the business by considering the team included in the business and those that the company serves, rather than focussing on profit alone.

A strong business vision has a number of common features, regardless of the size of the business or the industry. It should be clear, concise and easy to grasp. It may be helpful to develop some short, simple statements. needESSENTIALS did this well with the phrases “only premium materials”, “only what you need” and “only the essentials” featured on their home page slider.

Provide meaning and purpose for your team

A carefully thought-through vision helps create cohesion within the organisation. If team members know and understand the vision, and their role within it, it helps to give their job meaning and purpose. This is likely to make them want to work in a way that is consistent with the vision. By involving them in the vision, you provide them with a degree of ownership in the vision, and a sense of meaning and purpose.

Mission, values and philosophy

A strong vision needs to allow for future expansion and growth. A company needs to take time to re-establish or refresh its vision if the business evolves or is losing its relevance. Be consistent and forward-looking yet adaptable with your identity.

Your mission and values expand upon your vision and describe the organisation’s reason for being. You could define it as your philosophy. needESSENTIALS did this well by establishing a philosophy to ‘waste less’. When they unpack that philosophy, it means responsible marketing and packaging, responsible design, and responsible materials and production. These are all values their target market will also value in varying degrees.

How might this be applied to your business? If you run a health-oriented food production company, for example, your mission might be ‘to provide access to healthy food products for all Australians’. One of its values might be something like ‘we use only organic, locally grown produce to support local communities’.

Your philosophy should be distinctive and strong so that anyone associated with your business will understand and buy into it. It should be meaningful and differentiate you from that of potential competitors.

Your philosophy needs to articulate a unified set of values and ideas that are supported throughout every level of the organisation. The philosophy should be the key driver in all activities associated with your identity to communicate a consistent message.

Your business already has an identity

Whether you like your identity or not, every business has one. The difference is some businesses choose to influence that perception actively by working to a philosophy. People make value judgements on your company based on what they can observe. The quality of your logo and website are obviously important, but of course, I’d say that…

If you want to build a strong, successful identity, you’ve got to think beyond the visuals and get to the heart of your business. Before you commit to designing anything visual, you must think clearly about who you are as a business. You must devote time to defining yourself and where you want to be in the future. A good identity expresses the vision of a business to its target market in many ways, including its graphic and website design (insert shameless self-promotion here).

Here are some guidelines in creating your philosophy:

Authenticity: Being authentic shows that people who care about a higher purpose are involved.

Position: Where your business fits within the marketplace will help you identify your niche and ideal market.

Difference: By highlighting your point of difference, you show what sets you apart. Not everyone’s going to like your position, and that’s okay.

Create an Experience

The ultimate experience is when your business creates a sense of pleasure, well-being or achievement for the customer. There are three key ways to create a fantastic experience. The key is to identify which experience/s applies to you. With this understanding, you can direct your marketing to a particular niche and build a highly focussed strategy.

1. Ideological experience

Ideological experience works on the highest level of consumer values. Ideological experience works on deep-seated beliefs that may have been held for a long time, even from childhood. It’s my view that needESSENTIALS fits within this category of experience.

2. Psychological experience

Psychological experience refers to personal achievement gained from associating with a business. This happens when a company creates a sense of success or victory. Some of the major global sporting companies, including the surf industry, focus on this principle.

3. Sociological experience

Sociological experience comes from the satisfaction consumers feel from association with, or recognition by, a company. For example, driving a particular brand of car associates the consumer with a certain social group. You’ll often see non-surfers wearing surf brands because they want to associate with that image and culture.

Your business may fit within one or two of these categories of experience. To try and fit in all three may be a stretch. To under-promise and over-deliver is a cliché that remains true when it comes to creating an experience. It’s about perceived value: When you go above and beyond the minimum service level, your identity is the winner. It isn’t always evident to customers that they have received additional value. So make sure you discretely bring attention to any additional value you have provided.

In business, products or services are not simply a set of items, but solutions to problems. Customers build a relationship and an experience with your business, which becomes your identity. Tangible and intangible elements of your identity come together to create an experience.

When you present an identity, you are making a promise. Balance aspirations with the reality of what you can genuinely deliver. Your promise comes to life when it’s understood and supported by every employee or representative associated with your business. Delivering on your promises creates authenticity. Authenticity is what drives successful, long-term business because it generates word-of-mouth and creates trust.

The Emotional Bank Account

So you have planned an identity, established a higher purpose, distilled your philosophy into something easy to grasp, and are ready to create a customer experience… So what next? It’s time to focus on the most valuable aspect of your identity – Trust!

Once you have your vision in place, it’s going to take some time to establish or transform your identity in the marketplace. Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for this.

Most businesses devote a lot of time to building a business by gaining new customers. Many businesses neglect the task of building on the existing relationships. You should do everything you can to understand your customer and make your relationship as secure as possible.

Just like any relationship, there will be testing times along the journey. A good business makes deposits into the consumer’s emotional bank account, knowing withdrawals might be needed during testing times. Successful businesses must always be ready to solve problems, but it’s important to build and maintain strong relationships in successful times.

The life of your business depends on the customer. You must do everything you can to keep customer satisfaction high. That’s not to say you should keep every client you have. Some customers simply are not suited to your business and will waste valuable resources that could have been invested in others who are more suited. That’s why establishing your unique identity in the marketplace is so important. Potential customers may self-assess and decide they are not a good fit for you before making an enquiry, and that’s great for both parties.

Where you discover a customer is not suited to your business, you need to be very careful how you treat the transition. A discontented customer can do a lot of damage to your identity through negative word-of-mouth these days, particularly with social media and online reviews. Always strive to find what will satisfy your customers’ needs and provide solutions for them—even if you refer them to your competitors.

Successful companies are not afraid to be selective in who they do business with. They even refer work to other providers who may be more suited for a specific need.There’s no scarcity mindset with those that are truly successful.