This is how to create a successful and enduring brand book

A little while ago we wrote and created The Life Negroni. We didn’t see this as a classic cocktail book (as in a brief historical intro, followed by a menu of cocktail recipes). But rather, we wanted to build a narrative around the cocktail with the negroni as our protagonist. So, the ingredients, the people and places, histories and stories fact and fictional, politics, the arts and design and life, all play supporting roles in the storytelling.

It was an exercise that paid off. Not only was the book an unexpected success, selling far beyond our plans and receiving wonderful reviews, the project led to some great work with other brands.

We never intentionally set out to win business on the back of the book. That just happened naturally. But what The Life Negroni showed us is the sheer power of storytelling, when done in a genuine and original way.

But what should a brand book look like, feel like, sound like? Should it be in print, be a digital platform, or even a moving image?

Now, this is when the creative process gets exciting.

A brand book is not something that follows a set of strict rules. Quite the opposite. The book should be a personal expression of that particular brand, or at least its intent. It may not even end up being a book as such. A professional branding agency should be able to allow team workshops and the creative process to determine the narrative and design. One style does not fit all. Too often we see agencies mimicking others and failing to utilise the brand book’s real value: communicating the brand, rather than being a vanity project. 

A great example is Campari. The Italian drinks giant contacted Spinach a few years ago to help define the brand in the UK market where it was largely known. Following extensive internal and external workshops, we identified a connection between the bitterness of the Campari and a developing palette among young urbanites who were eschewing the sweeter cocktails on the market in favour of more complex, bitter flavours. Our national ad campaigns ‘Read of Bitter?’ tapped into this mindset and helped define Campari for new drinkers across the UK.

VOICES by Maze Row is created by Spinach Branding

But to reach this conclusion we first needed to define what it is about Campari that sets it apart from other bitter drinks. While researching The Life Negroni we came to see Campari in a new light. This is a drink embedded in the cultural fabric of Milan. It is a drink associated with the avant-garde, with artists and designers and filmmakers who collectively have shaped the Italian city to be at the cutting-edge of creativity. It is also a drink that symbolises aperitivo, that sacred few hours when work ends and a celebration of the evening begins. 

Our brand book and website for Campari, La Vita Campari, captures the essence of the brand beyond its liquid nature. During the Covid-induced lockdown, we created a spin-off book of Campari cocktails, The Little Red Book of Campari Serves & Negroni Twists, available to download for free on the website. Stuck at home with little entertainment prospects, the book was a phenomenal hit and helped raise Campari’s profile further.

A similar exercise helped redefine Cowshed, Soho House’s wellness brand which had begun to lose its way. For Cowshed, we created a more traditional brand book that spoke of the brand values, the purpose and position for the company’s staff and stakeholders. It helped us and Soho House’s internal design team identify a new visual and verbal identity for Cowshed products.

More recently, we worked with a US client to help create Maze Row, a new brand in the fine wine scene. Through extensive workshops and national surveys we saw that wine, at this level, is about so much more than a drink: it is about the craft, discovery, innovation, heritage, culture, land, nature, philosophy, people. It is about building a community with a passion for wine and wine culture. Thus, ‘In wine, we find life’ became Maze Row’s brand essence. 

A brand book followed to communicate this statement of intent to the team, but also to the partner winemakers in Italy and beyond. Then came VOICES, a quarterly publication and digital platform to express further and expand on these values. After all ‘In wine, we find life’ is not a static concept: it needs nourishment. And so VOICES has become a place where a likeminded community with a passion for wine and wine culture can share their lens. 

‘Although Campari and Cowshed are established and Maze Row a new brand, they share a vision for creating powerful and timeless branding and design rooted in brand narratives that are unique to each one of them,’ says Spinach branding director Leigh Banks.

He warns: ‘The brand narrative must remain consistent across multiple channels. This includes language, photography, design. As ever, the risk is that the messaging platform becomes diluted as it is distributed out across agencies. This is where it is vital for the lead branding consultancy to be the guardian of the brand proposition and the narrative. Ultimately, this will lead to the team having a greater understanding of how to communicate this.’

Images: The Life Negroni, VOICES by Maze Row, and La Vita Campari ©Spinach Branding

Spinach Branding is a specialist branding agency based in London. We work with established businesses and start-ups around the world to build and refine their brands. See how we work and get in touch to discuss your brand. 

La Vita Campari © Spinach Drinks Design Agency
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