Thoughts and ideas on branding and brand development in a digital world.
Tag Archives: brand identity
I remember the early days of the web when we had poor screen resolution and were just getting to grips with anti-aliasing. ‘Jaggies’ – saw-edges on diagonal lines were a common problem and designers avoided the use of italic type and angled logos. In fact some major brands subtly altered their corporate signatures to ensure good screen reproduction.
Then we saw web graphics impacting upon print design. Logos started taking on button form with radiused corners, 3-dimensional shines, glows and drop shadows.
The latest phenomenon seems to be an increasing use of logos which will fit into a generally square format. Behind this is the influence of social media. Identifiers on Facebook, Twitter et al, were initially photographic head-shots – ideal for a personal, social medium. Now that commercial organisations are increasingly using social channels, they need brand signatures to fit.
For a long time, western corporate signatures were generally horizontal – perhaps a symbol and a brand name. This was ideal for print media. The signature fitted comfortably at the foot of an ad or the top of a letter, along a shop fascia or a vehicle side. However, recently we’ve been required to create adapted signatures for a number of brands (including our own) which fit to a 1:1 shape, for use on Facebook pages etc.
It seems like we are coming full circle. The earliest trademarks are reputedly those of blacksmiths making swords for the Roman legions. These were applied by punches. In the days when few tradesmen were literate, punches, seals, stamps and other marks would be used and would generally fit in a square or circular area. It was only with the growth of literacy that more horizontal ‘signatures’ became common though often used together with a symbol.
The first registered trademark in the UK is the Bass Brewery mark – a red, equilateral triangle – which would fit in a 1:1 area.
In the east, pictograms already fit tidily into rectangles. Elegant examples are the artists ‘chops’ used on japanese prints rather than western style signatures.
New technology once again coaxes us back into old approaches, and once again it is becoming cool to be square.
This may seem obvious, but does your brand name translate into your target languages? Even proper names may have an unintended meaning. Don’t just think of the spelling – when pronounced, even seemingly harmless words may have unintended meanings.
Do you use descriptive words in your brand such as, ‘Norfolk Car Parts’ or ‘Budget Printing’? Will these words be meaningful in your selected markets.
You may not need to change a brand name, but it may help to emphasise just part of your title.
Also consider any statements or strap-lines that form part of your corporate signature; these may need adapting in translation.
While language may be easy to check, culture is rather more subtle, and potentially a bigger trap. There is no quick fix. You need to do your research and immerse yourself as far as possible in the culture of your market. Look at the media, both online and offline; look at your competitors.
Best of all, expose your brand to nationals of your target markets. Discuss your ambitions. Use your partners in-market; agents, distributors etc. Talk to embassy staff.
You’ll soon appreciate how culture impacts upon many of the other dimensions of your branding activity.
3. Brand Story
Is your brand narrative relevant to your target market? Things that may seem unimportant at home may be leveraged to advantage internationally. While your location may have little relevance to home customers, it may be a strong plus abroad. Consider the cultural context: for example, history of a family business may be very important in certain markets.
4. Competitive positioning
The perception of your brand position relative to your competitors from market to market. Be aware and be sensitive, you can often use this to your advantage. Don’t assume that your positioning will be the same as it is at home.
5. Core Values
Your core values are what makes your brand what it is. They should be strong and consistent wherever you do business. You must be clear about them and communicate them to all you work with – your staff, your partners in market, your customers and supply chain. Don’t tinker with them, but just be aware that certain values may be more important in some markets more than others.
Intellectual property rights – consider them all; brand names, trademarks, patents, designs, copyright etc.
Legal protection may be difficult or costly across export markets, but you must give them consideration. It is important to give your brand all the protection you can apply or afford. It is equally important to make sure you don’t infringe the IPR of others.
Remember, a strong brand can often be the best protection you can get – be first to market, establish a strong presence and leave potential copyists playing catch-up.
7. Visual communications.
Though language is important, visual and non-verbal communications have an equally powerful part to play. When you see the ‘golden arches’ of Macdonalds, or the Apple symbol, you don’t need the name. Strong visual symbolism can be a means of transcending language difficulties.
Consider the elements of your corporate identity, symbols, colours, typography. Maintain rigid visual standards.
It’s important to look at the cultural context of your visual elements. What semantic connotations do your colours have? In many cultures colours are far more important, and signify different states.
Brand values and more importantly, brand values, are not always the same throughout the marketing chain.
Some years ago I was pitching for a project for a major retail brand, when I realised how crucial our own brand reputation was. We had clearly demonstrated we could deliver the ideal solution; our product knowledge, understanding and research was spot on; timescales were realistic and prices very competitive. However, we lost the business to a competitor with a stronger brand who we were sure had far less product knowledge, fewer in-house specialists and would certainly be much more expensive.
What we had failed to grasp was that the brand benefits of a supplier are specific to the customer you are dealing with. We were negotiating with a middle range line manager. Of course he shared the corporate ambitions, but also had a personal agenda that meant he needed to be sure he would look good in front of his boss and not suffer too badly if the supplier did not perform.
He chose a ‘bigger’ brand. There used to be a saying many years ago, that: ‘Nobody got sacked for specifying IBM’. There was a safety factor behind the brand.
The lesson for all businesses is to understand the priorities throughout the marketing chain. What may be key benefits for the end-user may not be top of the list for the distributor or retailer. Of course all the benefits are components of the brand offer. If a brand is to sustain that offer in-depth it must satisfy all stakeholders. However, it is important to understand and communicate the relative benefits to each of the individual parties.
You have a chain of customers each with their own focus, and customers only listen to one radio station – WIIFM – ‘What’s in it for me’.
A brand quirk is a feature or attribute that does nothing to enhance the performance of the product or service, but provides a unique point of differentiation.
Some of the most notable examples appear in the confectionery or countline sectors. There are very few real differentiators between chocolate bars, few notable differences you can make. The most we can manipulate are marginal variations around a few popular themes.
Consider the shape of the ‘Toblerone’ bar. It has no effect on the taste of the product, provides no enhancement in itself – but it is a quirk or huge value in brand identity and differentiation.
The round Smarties tube is another quirk. It provides no tangible benefit. In fact, I heard a well-reasoned argument from a packaging specialist that a rectangular tube makes far more sense, providing better space occupancy in transit. I understand it was even tried once, but for the public, the round tube is part of the Smartie offer.
The hole in a Polo mint or a Lifesaver has no flavour enhancing property – it is a quirk – but of inestimable brand value.
Quirks are as important as brand assets as are brand names, logos, colour schemes and all the other identity collateral.
Though we understand their value, quirks are among the most difficult things to create successfully. They are often serendipitous, springing from creative irrelevancies and often coming from unlikely quarters within the organisation.
Consciously creating a valuable quirk is as difficult as creating a video that is ‘guaranteed’ to go viral.
If you have a brand that is clearly differentiated in terms of the benefits it delivers, you should concentrate on communicating them. If not, a quirk may help. There is no handbook to creating a killer quirk, but I suspect that the necessary conditions include an organisation that loves and believes in its product or service, that creates a truly innovative environment and has people with a sense of fun and playfulness.
‘Phenomenal’ growth – that’s IGD’s prediction for online grocery shopping (The Grocer). Online sales growth is outstripping growth through stores, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS)’s Retail Sales figures for July 2012. All exciting stuff, but what does it mean for pack design strategies?
I spent a good deal of my working life involved in retail pack design; everything from biscuits to lawnmowers. Its importance was taken as a given. It was the silent salesman, communicating features benefits and the brand values. Emotionally there is no more powerful moment than at the point of purchase. Trends in online and click-and-collect could potentially change the role of packaging design.
At the moment most products have a dual life; part on the shelf and part online. Our relationship with online brands is based to a large extent upon our in-store experience. But as time progresses products and customers may evolve who have no relationship other than online – in fact it’s easy to think of any number of online-only brands, though perhaps few in the FMCG sector.
A case could be argued for pack design to be being obsolescent. However, it’s interesting to look at how e-books that never have a bookshelf life have adopted virtual covers online: the same goes for some albums – a skeuomorphic comfort factor. So perhaps there is one important semiotic role for the pack as an icon for brand or product.
Many of the other functions of pack design present quandaries – conveying product information, size, contents, applications, instructions etc. These are not necessary for the online ‘pack’ as they can be conveyed in product information and specification details on the web page, separate from the pack. However, these may need to accompany the delivered product.
Other functions of the pack design such as communicating features and benefits, demonstrating the contents or creating emotional appeal will still be required. However, these are not necessarily roles for the pack. Rich online media, video, audio, games, communities etc., may present far more exciting ways communicating this information as part of the whole ‘pack’ experience.
Rather than presenting a threat to pack design it may open the door to a new age of retail/e-tail connection.
Packaging designers need no longer be constrained by the pack dimensions or print limitations. A single compelling icon when clicked can open a door to an almost boundless experience. The necessary data and statutory information can be separated from the emotional appeal of the brand.
The pack for the delivered product will have a different function. The purchase decision has been made. The new pack has to inform and reassure the buyer they have made the right choice and help stimulate repeat purchase.
The future looks exciting for pack design – though maybe not as we know it.
A soon as we start selling a product or service with a name, a brand exists. It emerges from the interaction of the product or service with the world at large. A business can create a new brand simply by bringing something to market.
We can then develop that brand, improve it, promote it and communicate its benefits, protect it, grow and diversify it – but branding itself as an activity, has no meaning, unless you are a cattle farmer.
I spotted an article the other day proposing that branding was an unethical activity. I was about to rush into print to respond, when I realised that I couldn’t because the argument was based upon an incorrect premise – that there was an activity called ‘branding’.
The unhelpful and uninformed use of the term has grown out of lazy journalism. Just as ‘marketing’ is misused to mean anything from advertising to PR, branding is a shorthand for all forms of brand development, identity creation and brand communication. It is also a handy term when a pejorative inference is needed to criticise those bad, mad men and women.
I work in brand development – but I would never describe myself as a ‘brander’ – because I don’t ‘brand’.
Perhaps it’s time for all of us who work on brands to champion a bit of clarity, and in the words of one of my favourite quotes: ‘Never verb a noun’.