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Using a Tree to Understand Branding

September 23, 2020


Using a Tree to Understand Branding

Branding is a very visual exercise for a lot of us. It is one of the most interesting discussions in boardrooms, with a varying understandings and in many cases branding stops with logos and typefaces and brand colours. A brand is much, much more than the logo. A brand is something that grows, changes and evolves. The brand is an entire living tree.

That’s why using a visual can help us keep track of all the different parts of our brand. One of the best visualizations I’ve used is that of a tree. The tree corresponds so well with the different parts of our brand and what they do.

So, what do our brands look like when we create a “brand tree”?

The Roots: The emotional foundation. The purpose, promise and essence. The “why”.

The first, and perhaps most important, part of our brand is the roots. A brand without purpose will develop a skinny trunk and fewer leaves. It will never grow strong. Like a real tree, the roots of our brand keep us anchored to the ground.

The roots represent our higher purpose and where the story begins. Everything begins with the “why”. It’s the why behind your purpose, the emotional truth in your business, the subconscious reason people buy you vs. what you think you are selling.

It is the promise that a brand brings to life in the emotional benefit or need being fulfilled. It is the unique reason that a brand exists vs. its competition. And the greater clarity and understanding by the marketing team, the straighter and healthier the trunk.

The Trunk: positioning, reason to believe and customer defined. The “How”

Positioning and unique type of the tree is what differentiates it within its environment, or competitive set. It is anchored to a purpose or “why”, but it is adaptable. The positioning is “how” you as a brand exist among competition and consumers. The trunk grows in support of achieving the higher purpose.

Like the tree, our brands’ trunks keep us in place, but they also allow us to grow.

This position in the market or story may evolve and gain rings of growth with age, as the brand gains in experience and grows in segments of consumers and meeting more needs. 

The trunk holds the “reasons to believe”. This is where the values of the brand (roots) are measured through behaviour. It is a confirmation of a position and the underlying values.

A young brand may be more versatile and nimbler (like our young trees). An older brand tree will be more imposing in the market, able to command respect.

Executional elements: Branches, Leaves, and Flowers. The Who, Where, When

If the roots are the “why” of the brand and the trunk is the “how” then the branches, leaves, and flowers of our tree represent the executional plan and the “who, where and when” of a brand.

This is where we see visual branding, logos and any other visual touchpoint. The executional side of the brand is focused on how the brand looks and is perceived. Without effective communication, campaigns, slogans there would be nothing to draw attention to prospective customers. The stronger the roots and straighter the trunk, the more the messaging is vertically aligned to the higher purpose of a brand, the stronger the sales appeal.

The tree’s extremities are a visual manifestation of our higher purpose. It is a reflection of our brand’s DNA. A cherry tree can’t produce walnuts, and a maple tree can’t produce acorns. The flowers on the cherry tree may change from year to year—they’re never the same flower—but they always reflect the cherry tree’s DNA.

The same is true of our brands.

Visualize Your Brand

Now that we understand the different parts of our brand tree and what they do, the question is if we can actually draw our brands this way.

Most of us can start with the leaves, branches, and flowers. This is often the easiest part of our brand to recognize and visualize. We can put our logo on the tree, as well as our current campaign images, ad slogans, and more.

What about our trunks? We might have a harder time envisioning this. If our brands are new to the market, we could draw a slender tree. If we’re an established brand, we might give our brands a thick trunk.

How do we know if our brands are straight up and down or kind of gnarled? How do we know if we’re that tree growing sideways out of a cliff and precariously hanging on?

We might get a better visualization if we think about our brands’ histories here, as well as the market and our competition. Are we alone in the market, or is it crowded? Do we occupy a niche, or are we dominant players? If we’ve been around for a while, have we experienced a sudden rush of growth?

This can help us visualize what our brands’ trunks might look like. If we’re in a niche, we might be growing around a lot of similar competitors. If we’re dominant, we might be more straight up and down, forcing others to grow around us. If we’re alone in the market, we’ll likely have straighter trunks than if we’ve had to dodge around competitors. And if we’ve grown a lot—when we were younger or even in the last couple of years—we might be standing head and shoulders above our competition.

Finally, we need to draw our roots. This is the part most of us have the hardest time visualizing—we may even feel like we’ve never seen our roots at all. We need to think about what our values and our higher purpose are. One root will likely be particularly deep and long—this is our “taproot,” the central purpose of the brand. All other values branch off it.

Identifying this one can be tricky, but it’s key. Once we know it, it becomes even easier to visualize our tree trunk and to think about developing new parts of our visual branding.

So, start with the why, and you’ll have a clearer picture of your brand!


Meet Margo…brand visioning & marketing

Margo Jay is a Master Brand Strategist with a career leading globally recognized brands; developing and launching a proven model that maximizes competitive sales potential and consumer appeal. She has built the model to help companies of all sizes. Her Client roster includes entrepreneurs through to Fortune 100 brands: NHL teams, Global QSR brands, CPG brands, Broadcast brands, Agencies, Non Profit brands, Hard goods…this model and process provides competitive advantage in any category.

Complete clarity. Ownable distinct selling proposition. Shared values. Brand Clarity. Brand Focus. Brand Inspiration. Brand Obsession. Unlocking brand potential is what she does.

And it all starts with why!

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