How 2B iconic

Nick Eagleton, creative director at The Partners, explains how B2B companies can make their brand truly iconic

Gone are the days when business brands could afford to be dull and faceless. And thanks to the way digital has transformed our lives, gone too is the line that separates the consumer world from the world of business. Ever since a crowd of geeky engineers with a silly name turned a search algorithm into the coolest brand on the planet, the notion of what makes a brand iconic began to change. Now most business brands are wondering if they, too, could one day be as iconic as the Nikes we wear, the Apples we tap, and the Ubers we ride. But how? What makes an iconic brand, and what can business brands learn from them so that they might one day put themselves into a category of one?

Strip away the myths and the millions of advertising dollars and it’s simpler than you think. Simple, of course, is rarely the same thing as easy, but the journey to iconic status follows a few laws relevant to every brand.

1. Know yourself

First, you have to know who you are, and let the world get to know you by sharing your story. Whether it's what you believe in, how you began, or how you will change the world, to be iconic you have to start with your story.

Airbnb is a tale of two broke blokes who couldn’t pay their rent so they decided to blow up some air mattresses and charge people to stay in their apartment. They weren’t the first people to rent out their apartment but they were the first to tell a story around the home and the people who live there, transforming the travel industry from a faceless transaction to a human-centred experience. Thanks to Airbnb now we can belong anywhere. Still today, Hermès never lose sight of the saddles that made their reputation. Every bottle of Coke is a chance to open happiness, and every touchpoint they make a chance to reinforce that. And IBM have been busy brilliantly building a smarter planet for over a decade now

2. Find your icon

Next, you need your icon. The singular point of focus that is instantly recognisable, uniquely ownable, and encapsulates your story in a moment.

Think of the most iconic logos – how reductive they are, but how evocative. The bite of temptation, a chatty little bird or a snow-capped mountain top. But an iconic brand’s most distinctive signature often isn’t their logo at all. A little robin egg blue box tied with a white ribbon, a brashly bright red car, a pattern of multi-coloured stripes all show how powerful colour can be to carry the promise of a brand. Or those distinctive touches in a product or service that people love you for, even mock you for, but always know you for. The seductive curves that have softened every product from Cupertino’s finest for a generation – so good to hold, so easy to drop. Or a simple handwritten name on a paper cup. We may laugh at the spelling, but we remember the brand.

3. Get creative

You’ve nailed your story. Defined your iconic signature. Communicated that compellingly and consistently to set yourself apart. After all that hard work you’re done, right? Here’s where we come to the last, and most important law of iconic brands. You’ll never be done. To be iconic you have to keep reinventing yourself. It was once called invention, then innovation was on all our lips, and today disruption rules. At heart they’re all the same thing – the thing that makes us most human of all, creativity.

Every day Google reinvents it’s own identity to tell an ever-changing story of where search can take you. Whoever thought that being iconic could be so much fun? They’re even called Doodles. So confident are Coca-Cola in their brand, they let you write your best friend’s name on the bottle instead of their own. And the very epitome of anticipation of something totally new – the Steve Jobs’ famous ‘One more thing…’

However great your story, however distinctive your signature, without your ‘one more thing…’ you might one day get to be iconic, but you couldn’t stay there. It takes honesty and authenticity to tell your story. Total single-mindedness to define your icon. But most of all, it takes a playful, questing mindset to change the world, and is that not the very definition of an iconic brand?