Brand v Product

A great product with an average brand will be outsold by an average product with a great brand.

There was a bit of a meltdown on Twitter this weekend regarding x-factor (but what’s new there?) and that the “best 2 singers” were in the bottom two and one was about to be eliminated from the competition. Shock!! But from an entertainment brand point of view the person who got eliminated probably had the most average brand. All the other competitors have been in the press constantly, stories written, truth or otherwise it’s seen as entertaining… it gauges an emotional reaction.

I’m sure there’s people still watching believing it’s a “singing” competition where the best wins, but its no longer that simple. It’s played out on many levels, across a variety of platforms and like any good pantomime at this time of year it involves a good dose of audience participation, giving you the belief you can change the outcome, but in truth like all good stories the storyline has already been written.

When I was in advertising I always worked on the basis of “Facts Tell, Emotions Sell” and one of the best ways to get your brand out there is by telling engaging people in an interesting and entertaining way.

Today its about becoming less focused on telling us about the product and more focused on entertaining. A great example of this is the recent Red Bull Stratos jump from the edge of space with Felix Baumgartner. Entertainment that captured an audience and broke many records.

You see commodities and services are ten a penny, and although someone is always producing something a little bit better, or cheaper, or quicker, in truth the improvements are negligible but time is precious, in a world of consumerism, time is still something we can not buy, so we feel we need to spend it well, and that’s on an emotional level.

So if you want to be a successful brand how are you going to create an emotional reaction in an entertaining way?

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Brand vs Branding

To me, there is a big difference between “Brand” and “branding”.

One is the emotional pull, the other is the logical application of pushing it out.

I see these words banded around a lot but quite often the meaning of them is misunderstood. It is all intertwined but its amazing how many companies go straight to the end products like websites, packaging (the branding) without working out their brand value before they start. I know your “brand” is not your logo, and we would say it’s also not the physical applications of things like websites, packaging, etc but it’s the things you can’t always see, like personality, integrity, passion – the things that bring the elements like the website, brochures to “life”.

So please before you fill the world with more junk, please spend some time working out what it is that’s going to bring your products to “life” and you know what, you may find people spend more time reading your brochure, think more positively when looking at your website and it might result in less business cards and mailers being filed immediately in the bin!

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Logo vs Brand

This is always an interesting point to get across to new SME clients or start-ups. When I first mention brands to them I usually get a reply like “Oh, if only you were here two weeks ago we could have used you, but our brand is sorted thanks”. So being inquisitive I ask them to discuss their brand and the reply is usually along the lines of “It’s at the printers”.

Now brands are like people; they have character, personality and values.

So how can this be at the printers?

Oh, I see, what you mean, your new logo (corporate identity) is at the printers.

How I look at it is like this, imagine if you were to put a lonely hearts ad in the paper, or online, if you put “GSOH, energetic & professional” these are emotional qualities, the BRAND. If you put “brown hair, plays sport, wears black” these are physical attributes, the LOGO.

Now based on common or easily recognizable patterns from our past experience and understanding we associate certain emotional qualities to the physical attributes, hence why some people can’t distinguish between the two. And you can also see why your logo is an important part to your brand development, but can you also see why your logo can change without your brand values changing and visa-versa.

And like people, brands take time and interaction to be understood, to be loved and in an ever crowded world, they often need to do something wonderful to be noticed.

Also before you can get the logo designed you should know your brand.

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Who “owns” your brand

The more I read about brands the more I’m reading your customers “own” your brand.

To be brutally honest, this is absolute rubbish.

BUT in all honesty does anyone, or can anyone actually “own” a brand?

The reason I say this is because a brand is the intangibles in and around a company, and can these be “owned”? Obviously the tangibles are owned, like a logo, a product or even a thought about something but for everything else all you can do is influence.

As the owner, or group responsible for your business and therefore the brand, you ALWAYS steer your brand direction, so is this as close to ownership as you will get? Customers merely have an OPINION of your brand. Now this opinion may not align with your hopes for the brand but this is usually down to unclear or no interaction with your customers, but the only person who can change this is you, the owner(s).

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Your brand is alive

OK, so we’ve established your brand is not your logo.

Basically a logo can be designed in 6 hours, a brand takes at least 6 months.

Your brand is like any living thing, it requires nurturing in its infancy, it requires feeding and it continually grows or dies by the love and care you give it. It also grows by the interaction your customers have with it. And this is more critical because they are your lifeline.

So how do you build a strong lifeline?

I think it comes down to 3 parts.

Expectation | Experience | Evolving

Each brand has different timelines between the stages, but all must follow, control and develop the stages.

Expectation. This is what you create as the owner or CEO. This is in the marketing, the advertising, the PR etc. You create buzz, anticipation; an excitement.

Experience. Now comes the part of your customer trying it, whether it be a product or a service. Here lies your customer service, your point of sales and point of purchase material or people. Here is the interaction with your customers. Does the experience live up to the expectation?

Evolving. Why I think this stage is critical but often overlooked. Like most things, repetition becomes boring. I enjoy a Starbucks coffee, but after you have had 3 or 4 during the week, the experience seems to fade because the expectation is no longer there. So I’ll move to Nero’s, then Costa and so on. After a while I’ll probably come back to the start, or I might mix it up a bit. The important thing is, it’s important to evolve so to create the expectation again, so I try the experience, so the brand can evolve again. And so the cycle goes.

As with all these stages, strategies need to be put in place but it’s the design that ignites action through stimulation.

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The 100% guide to brand building

When it comes to building brands, the problem is, most SME’s believe the brand is not important and look at it like this:

1% their name, 2% their product and 97% their logo.

A bigger logo won’t fix a small brand nor will it make a brand more remarkable. Actually that’s probably a little bit harsh, I think most owners see it as 49% their logo and 50% their product. Now at the beginning, the logo is important as it creates an instant point of recognition, but in truth a great brand can achieve this without displaying their logo, because the feel and look of their imagery and copy is consistent* and creates the same instant connection. The other problem most owners have which they don’t recognise, is they concentrate too much on the product, without ever seeing if there is a market first. They create themselves a “job” developing the product rather than spending time doing marketing, PR and brand awareness.

So, when it comes to building brands I look at it like this:

1% your name; 2% your logo and 97% your story.

So what makes up your brand?

Well it’s how you deliver your story, your values, your goals, your promise, your personality, your actions, your ideas, your honesty, your passion, your achievements, your meaning…

…your customers experience.

So basically, it’s the intangibles within your business that makes your brand.

*consistent is not the same as repetitive

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The beautiful art of typography

Typography is a great discipline to learn and understand in the field of graphic design and one of the clearest indications to me as a Creative Director, if a designer understands the rules of design or whether they are just using a computer to lay it out.

When clients can not afford imagery great typography can infuse the emotions required to bring a piece of work to life.

Now this might sound obvious, but having worked with many teams consisting of a designer and copywriter, how often the copy is not read by the designer and the language understood. This is a huge mistake. As a designer it is critical we understand the language of the copy so we can bring it to life visually when typesetting.

Now typesetting is the actual process of laying out the text, starting with a grid, a foundation that fits within the requirements of the media to be used, for example website or brochure. One area of printed typography I can never understand is why designers use columns within the grid that are too narrow and produce endless hyphenations. This is a classic mistake of inexperienced designers who are lazy and allow the computer to lay out their text. This makes the text difficult to read and can ultimately make the reader not be bothered to continue. I appreciate this is the small detail but this is the difference between standard design and good design and something I always look for in CV’s and portfolios when people apply for positions with us.

Now within the typesetting you need to look at the font choice, sometimes brand fonts will already be stated so the actual layout will be important to attract your attention. Other times you have a free reign on choice and this is probably the main factor to embed a personality into the piece.

Then you need to look at hierarchy, the levels of importance of certain parts of the text and how the rhythm will draw your eye in and lead you through the story.

Colour is actually one of the last things you need to apply as this can distract. I usually design in mono first, especially when it comes to logo’s as the above require craftsmanship whilst colour is styling and that should always be last.

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How great leaders inspire action

Though the title of this talk is called “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” the principle applies to all successful brands and the important point is “Why” we do anything.

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I’ve just finished reading an interesting book by Professor Richard Wiseman called :59 seconds Think a little, Change a lot. It’s about scientifically proven advice over misleading myths, on which a chapter is on brainstorming.

Now from my experience from working in some large advertising agencies I’ve found group brainstorming to be nothing more than the so-called non creatives to have a go at it and what I’ve found is one person would become very loud and shout out “ideas” and the other account directors would follow like sheep without questioning the offer or actually looking to solve the problem, and for the majority of the time I found it a waste of time.

Then 1 hour later, and for some reason its always an hour, we would come out of the meeting with this idea dropped on my lap and I would then mention the problems of executing the “idea” and the original problem we sort of haven’t solved.

But the majority thought this was good so we had to be wrong, right?

Well from the research for this book they tested individual and group brainstorming and were amazed to discover that in the vast majority of the experiments, the participants working on their own produced a higher quantity and quality of ideas than those working in groups. Other research suggests that group brainstorming may fail, in part, because of a phenomenon known as ‘social loafing’ – a diffusion of responsibility.

In short, a large body of research now suggests that people using group brainstorming may have inadvertently been stifling, not stimulating, their creative juices. When working together they aren’t as motivated to put in the time and energy needed to generate great ideas, and end up spending more time thinking inside the box.

At most agencies I’ve always worked initially on my own to brainstorm and only come together afterwards to discuss the ideas and see if there are any obvious flaws or problems we will need to overcome before we present to our clients or to use it as a spark to create a new line of thinking.

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One size doesn’t fit all

A lot has been said over the last few weeks about the “new” Gap logo. So I thought I’d add my two pence worth.

New Gap Logo

There’s was a lot of furor against the “new” Gap logo (above left) from people online but I would hazard a guess most of these were from “designers” saying what they thought about it. But I think this isn’t just a case of whether this was a poor logo. I think there is a lot more to look at, including marketing and PR, you see, one size doesn’t fit all, any promotion in truth involves many parts.

Firstly, let’s look at the actual design of the logo. I have to say, Helvetica is a great typeface to use in advertising, because of its many weights and interestingly the agency responsible have also been delivering the advertising. The typeface has strength in advertising because it gets a message across quickly and effectively, but in truth it lacks “personality”. In advertising the personality usually comes from the images and not the logo, hence why it’s preferable if a logo isn’t fighting the imagery. But here you have to look at the bigger picture, not just the advertising. And unfortunately as a logo I feel it lacks personality, as a fashion brand it should have some style and beauty. It’s been mentioned it was designed to be more contemporary and current, honouring the “heritage through the blue box while still taking it forward”, but in truth it has no distinction or clarity. In truth if we didn’t know who GAP were the logo could be for an IT company or removals firm.

A logo doesn’t make a brand, in fact its a very, very small part of the brand; but what it does do, is start to help us understand the values and positioning of the brand. Although the old logo may look a little dated, it has a style that positioned GAP in the market quite clearly. Now over time GAP are evolving and feel the logo needs updating. I totally get that, but not this way.

Now if the logo was done purely to generate a reaction and it was mentioned they would consider crowd sourcing a new logo on their Facebook page after the initial uproar, then a poor logo will generate more interest and possible ideas than a well designed and thought out one, and since no big launch, maybe this was the case all along. The problem here is that 99% of these logo’s were even worse! You see, to create a powerful and valuable logo you need to understand your brand, it’s not just about choosing a typeface and adding some colour…

…So, as they say, the only bad PR is no PR, and in truth could GAP have got any more coverage if this was a well executed PR stunt? So I feel the PR has been phenomenal and has been trending for days on social media sites like Twitter. It’s been mentioned on hundreds of websites and created news stories on websites like the BBC. Let’s be honest, in today’s current climate this amount of exposure is almost priceless. But the problem here is, has it caused a lot of brand damage? At the moment only the sales figures next year will tell us that. PR should have been used more though to communicate the reason and give a clear understanding of why GAP felt the need to change.

I’ve also read this week this shows your brand is in the hand of the consumers. Well I’d disagree with that. I think what the social media uproar has shown is that GAP probably have weak management. I mean, there was an outcry against the 2012 Olympics logo when that was first revealed, but that wasn’t swiftly dropped. Here the management team stood strong because they believed the logo represented the brand and the long-range brand strategy. So the backlash hasn’t given you control of the brand but just highlights the strength of the management team. I’m sure if every company changes their logo every time the public kick up a fuss there is going to be a lot of work for designers.

So now Gap have returned to their original logo was it all just clever marketing or a really embarrassing mistake?

If the latter then they should be applauded for being big enough to accept the mistake.

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