Co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Future London Academy, an executive school for creatives.
Remember Mad Men and how glamorous the life of an ad man was? Advertising agencies with their Eames chair interiors ruled the world, and you could sell anything if you had the right campaign and a big TV budget. Since then, the advertising world has lost its allure and has gone from aspirational chick to daily basics with attribution rivalry. And now there's a new kid on the block, called branding.
America in the 1960s was the same for advertising as London is for branding nowadays. Today's brands rule based on what they stand for, how they look and who they represent. Big budgets are spent on rebranding, and changing the logo can be discussed for months. New brands pop up and build loyal followings practically without any advertising spend, and companies fall because their brands don’t connect with the consumer values anymore.
The good news is that if you work in branding, now is the most exciting time to experiment, reinvent and push the boundaries. The bad news is that the branding scene evolves quickly, with customers demanding more from brands every day, so design agencies need to constantly find new approaches to make a brand stand out.
Here are three things you should consider if you want to build a strong brand for the modern age.
Once upon a time, humans loved to gather around an open fire. They would eat, relax and tell stories about the tiger nearby, a place to fish or a poisonous mushroom. Our brains are drawn to stories as a way to remember important information. Even at school, some of us were taught to remember the colors of the rainbow by memorizing this catchy phrase "Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain.” Being memorable as a person can give you influence. Being memorable as a brand can bring you an audience.
So how do you craft a brand story? Writer Rob Self-Pierson recommends approaching it the same way as any other story: You need a character, a conflict and a world.
1. First, find your protagonist. It could be the founder or a fictional character. Think about who represents your brand and what they care about. Is it Steve Jobs with his obsessiveness for good design? Or is it George Clooney who needs sophistication in his Nespresso coffee? Or maybe it’s cheeky M&M's who always get in trouble.
2. Now, you need a conflict. The Wizard of Oz with no tornado is not a story. Batman without the Joker wouldn’t be that interesting to watch. It might be trying to disrupt an established market or overcome a personal obstacle. Are you like Dove, which is fighting for equality and real beauty? Or maybe you are like Jamie Oliver, who is on a mission to tackle childhood obesity? What do you stand for, and what are you against? What gets in your way? How do you overcome it?
3. And last, but not least, you need to make it real by creating a world around it. Do you have a tangible place and time, like Innocent smoothies’ founders testing their business idea by giving away drinks at a festival and asking people to vote with their empty bottle in yes or no bins? Or are you like ANNA bank that did cat casting for its brand sound? How does your brand world taste, smell, feel and sound?
It’s no news that typography is a massive part of any brand. But we've also seen big brands begin to lose their identity because they're so focused on looking modern. A custom font has become a secret weapon for many creative agencies.
Wieden+Kennedy used this opportunity to create a bold, distinctive typeface for F1 that immediately gives you a taste of what F1 feels like. JKR also embraced this approach when rebranding Dunkin' and commissioned Colophon to produce a font that would build upon its highly recognizable type usage. And, of course, Wolff Olins’ bespoke typeface was created by MCKL for Uber, designed for hyper-legibility across 13 or more languages.
Building a custom font for global usage might not be for the faint-hearted. Bianca Berning from Dalton Maag font foundry shared that creating a universally recognizable font for Nokia that worked in all languages and on all screens (yes, the tiny 3310 one as well) took multiple years. But the result was definitely worth it, and you can immediately spot the Nokia font wherever you are.
Use the power of how.
Simon Sinek popularized the why many years ago with his TED talk. And why your brand exists is undoubtedly important to build something meaningful, though it’s not something that you can do overnight. So in the fast-paced world that we live in now, how you show up becomes even more of a priority. Your how is all about the behavior that will amplify your brand identity.
Creative agency Buck nails the power of how with motion as a connecting tissue of all brand interactions. Just have a look at what it has done for Facebook with a detailed visual system called Algeria that includes textures, micro-animations and sophisticated color palettes.
You can also tell the whole story through the artistry of packaging like Design Bridge did for Tanqueray. The bottle tells a story of a citrusy London gin: The bottom of the bottle looks like a squeezer, and the top has a zester. The wax seal stamp is reminiscent of London, and the cocktail shaker-shaped glass inspires mixology.
That’s it for today, folks. We finished where we started — with an elegant drink waiting to be poured. I will leave you with a question: Look around you and think about what brands you have in your room, and ask yourself why you bought them. Was it the brand’s story, the distinctive identity or the visual pleasure it brought you?
Now it’s time for you to build a brand people will fall in love with.
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