Branding is storytelling - crafting a story that helps customers understand how and why a business exists. The art of sharing stories has always been a powerful part of Indigenous cultures. For that reason, branding an Indigenous business can in many ways feel and be intrinsic. Corporations can struggle to define their "why", while Indigenous organizations typically know it at their core. There are, however, many complicating factors to consider in an Indigenous environment that wouldn't exist in a purely corporate exercise. Here, we look at a few key considerations when developing a brand story in an Indigenous context.
Respect for Art & Culture
Without exception, a respect for the stories and the artwork of Indigenous people needs to at the forefront of any Aboriginal brand. While Nations and Indigenous organizations will vary greatly in their preferences of how "traditional" a visual representation should be, there are always key elements of a Nation's story that can be incorporated, even in a more contemporary identity. We have often found that partnering a graphic designer with an artist or storyteller from a community can work best to craft a story that not only respects a culture but works in many different applications from a marketing perspective.
Having the engagement of key stakeholders is important to any branding process. When it comes to Aboriginal organizations, that net must be cast widely. Community support, beyond just elected and hereditary councils is crucial to success. While it is difficult to please absolutely everyone, it is imperative to consider social leaders/influencers within the community and ensure that those individuals are also included in the discussion. Having the support of well-respected and heralded community members will ease any transition and help to garner broader buy-in. Similarly, if a loud voice speaks out against a particular direction, it can derail an entire project and force a complete restart.
Different Nations have differing beliefs around the sharing of sacred aspects of their culture. This is important to consider in so far as what is included in a logo. Perhaps there is an important story that not all members of a community want shared with a larger audience outside of the nation. In those cases, it is important to fully understand what is and is not on the table for inclusion in an external brand.
In any branding exercise, the customer should be a fundamental consideration. After all, who are we branding a business for? A brand needs to resonate not only with its owners in so far as it speaks to why a business was created, but also with its customers. Without customers, we have no business. A brand therefore needs to attract your target customer and make sense to them as well as to the community. As an example, a Nation feels strongly that a bear is a part of who they are as a community. If that Nation is operating a seaside resort where no bears exist, they would want to consider whether a visual representation of a bear makes sense to visitors and if not, how to somehow include a nod to the bear as a sign of respect for the culture without confusing customers.
The Broader Brand
Remembering that a brand is bigger than just a visual identity, there are other considerations that factor into the process. For a Nation whose people are intrinsically introverted, having a tourism brand that is all about sharing broadly can feel uncomfortable for many. That can be confusing for visitors and guests who may not understand that culture. It is important to ensure that the brand we create will not only adequately set customer expectations but also live within the realm of what is possible and comfortable for a Nation's people.