How best to create a successful brand book

A little while ago we created The Life Negroni. We didn’t intend it to be a classic cocktail book – you know the ones with a brief historical account as an intro, followed by a menu of cocktail recipes. Rather, we saw this as an opportunity to build a narrative that had as its protagonist the negroni. Meanwhile the ingredients, the people, place, history, politics, art, design, life, all play supporting roles in the storytelling. It was an exercise that paid off. Not only was the book an unexpected success story, selling far beyond our plans and receiving wonderful reviews, the project led to some great work with many of the mentioned brands.

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

Our agency specialises in building new brands and evolving existing ones. And the work will likely involve creating some sort of brand book along the journey to narrate the new brand to internal teams and external audiences. A well written and designed book will do wonders for communicating the brand essence, its values, position and objectives to those who may not have directly been involved with the project. It also acts well as a reminder to all as to why and how the new objectives were set.

But what should the 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.

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. 

Cowshed Brand Book by Spinach Brand Agency

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 cover, La Vita Campari brand book, Cowshed brand book for Soho House, The Life Negroni ©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. 

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