WTF is a layered brand?

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by Mark Campbell
Here at Ply, we sometimes fall into the agency trap of using alienating jargon, despite our best efforts to remain a wanky-language-free zone. One such offence is our occasional use of the idea of a ‘layered brand’.

Layered branding is a key concept for us – after all, it’s where our name comes from. But while the idea is crystal clear to us, it’s not always obvious what we’re getting at, so we thought we’d explore it in better detail.

Layered brands explained

The layered idea comes from our belief that a brand is truly the sum of the user experiences it creates and not just the shiny surface stuff like a standout logo or an embossed business card. Those things are awesome too, but truly great brands understand that the shine doesn’t last long if your image isn’t backed by genuine substance. A brand’s visuals or marketing campaign can make a good first impression, but it’s the collective interactions you have with a business that truly shape your lasting feelings.

Think about the last time you had a bad experience with a brand or product and almost every time it’ll be to do with unmet expectations. We’ve all seen the airline ads that portray travel as a glamorous and romantic pursuit, but the real-life experience falls short as soon as you’re elbowing your fellow man in pursuit of an aisle seat. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how good looking the staff in the ad are, or whether you prefer one airline’s logo over another, your lasting impression of a brand will be shaped by your experience actually using its product or service.

Unpacking the layers of your brand

The flipside of that is a brand with depth – a brand that delivers. In our experience, these brands are the businesses where:

  1. The branding, personality and messaging of the brand truly reflect the people, values and services of the business.
  2. Every layer of the brand experience is considered, developed and delivered in a way that reinforces that brand position.

Looking at the first part, it’s actually pretty straightforward if you’re being honest when evaluating your own brand. If your marketing portrays your team as dynamic and energetic, but they’re actually the strong silent type, there will be a disconnect (and usually disappointment) when customers engage with you. On the flipside, if there’s something awesome about your business that isn’t a clear part of your message, that’s a massive missed opportunity to let the world know what makes you great.

The second element is really an extension of the first. It simply requires you to think beyond the obvious and consider the different elements of the customer experience as part of your brand.

When you start to ponder it, there are many layers that shape brand experience and create that lasting impression for your customers:

  • Visual style and branding messages (yes these still count, they’re just the first step)
  • How you price your products or services
  • Customer service and interactions with your team
  • The staff you hire and how you train them
  • Whether your physical location represents your brand, values and team culture
  • Resources, events and other tools you share with your customers
  • Other brands, events and groups you associate your business with
  • The overall service or product experience and whether it was easy/pleasant/useful

Layers + depth = greatness

Basically, the idea of a layered brand boils down to any touchpoint that a customer has with your business – no matter how small it may seem. At the end of the day, your logo is simply a symbol that triggers an emotional response. This response, however, will evolve in the customer’s mind following every experience they have with your business.

Great brands understand this and look at every layer of their business through a consistent lens, shaping how they do things to deliver on their promise and create something special for their customers. Great brands have depth (and layers).

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