Some people think that traditional branding design is becoming irrelevant in the age of social networking, new media, and the “personal brand.” I say that’s ridiculous. Of course, I may be biased, being a branding designer myself. But large, corporate brand strategies cost millions of dollars to create, and no CEO would ever spend that much money on something that yielded no results or dividends.
If you work in-house for a design or advertising agency, or if you’ve ever had a large freelance client in the corporate world, you know that a lot of work goes into creating those so-called ubiquitous brand presences. Today, we’re going to look at why brand design is so important to the success of a business, for the little guys as well as the big players.
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Brands Only Appear Irrelevant…
Because companies work so hard to make them ubiquitous. Big brands spend billions in advertising every year to make sure you never forget about them. But trust me, if they stopped doing that, you would see their market share go way down. The truth is that brands are always communicating a message. Whether it’s Coca-Cola or Joe’s Shoe Store down the street. Branding is about building relationships that the everyday person doesn’t even realize have been made. Ever get a jingle stuck in your head from some commercial, or unconsciously gravitate toward a particular brand of some item at the store? That’s the power of branding at work.
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It’s up to you and your client to decide on what the message will be for the audience you are serving, and how exactly you will build those vital relationships with them to keep them coming back as customers. When people see the logo or website you designed, they will associate it with whatever your client’s predominant message is. So be careful with what you choose to associate with a brand. The big corporations have entire departments devoted to keeping the company “on brand” and connecting well with their target markets. When they make a misstep, it can cost millions of dollars.
People Pay More For Branded Products
We all do it, even when we know there’s no difference in product quality. You will pay more for a T-shirt with a cool design on it than one without, because the brand is important to you. Sometimes a lot more – even if you know that the two shirts are exactly the same otherwise. They could have been made by the same manufacturer, in the same factory, by the same worker. But one has far more value than the other.
In fact, an item with a compelling design on it has so much more value that it can sometimes gain worldwide recognition for the entire company simply from that one design. The apparel brand Paul Frank, with its famous monkey mascot, is a good example of this phenomenon. When artist Paul Frank Sunich started printing Julius the Monkey on plastic wallets in his garage, he had no idea that his little character was going to be such a worldwide success. Perhaps if he had realized it, he would have been better able to protect his intellectual property when things turned ugly between himself and his business partners (I recommend reading the full story if you have the time – it’s a sad cautionary tale for any creative with strong branding potential).
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Manufactured Goods Are Practically Worthless
On their own, that is. It’s only through brands that the myriad of cheap, plastic stuff made in China has any value at all. Think about it – the process of manufacturing products has been automated literally to death. Actual human beings are required very little – the rest of the work is done by machines. That’s why the profit markup is so high on manufactured goods – you’re literally only paying for the brand. Think of the T-shirt example above. The T-shirt itself is practically worthless. It might have cost a few cents to make, at the most. Yet, a retail outlet will sell it to you for hundreds of times that amount, simply because the brand is valuable.
The most successful businesses understand the true power of their brands, and they work tirelessly to protect them at all costs. Disney is infamous for extending the copyright laws themselves in order to retain its hold on old works that would have otherwise gone into the public domain decades ago. John Stuart, the former CEO of Quaker Oats, famously remarked: “If this business were to split up, I would be glad to take the brands, trademarks and goodwill and you could have all the bricks and mortar – and I would fare better than you.”
Know What Your Audience Really Wants
Recently, I went with my family to a much-lauded restaurant (if you’re curious, it was an upscale fusion place). We had a blast; as a Busy Person™, I don’t get nearly enough time to spend with my family – even working from home – and it was nice to have the down time. The décor was lovely and really showed off the blending of American and Polynesian cuisines we were being served. The service was top-notch, and our server even gave us a mini-history of the founding chef and how passionate he and his team were about their work. There were no long delays waiting for our food, the staff was attentive and entertaining, and the restrooms were spotless (a huge plus for me).
There was just one problem: the food. It was just not good – utterly bland and uninteresting. Not at all what we had been set up to expect. My family and I kept making faces at one another as we all realized that this perfect restaurant had one fatal flaw. But – and we’re getting to the point here, I promise – not one of us sent our dishes back to the kitchen. We were having so much fun, and the ambience of the place was so nice, that the food was almost an afterthought. And, in case you don’t know, this is a HUGE statement for a foodie like me.
This, designers, is the power of branding. It’s what allows people to enjoy a mediocre product, whether it’s food, or a concert, or an airline flight, and still have fond memories of our experience.
Brands are like prisms – they collect and focus light to a single, refined point. They help businesses cut through the chatter and make a lasting impression on the consumer. Exploring and understanding the science of good branding is what will help you set your or your client’s business apart from the competition, so that your users will be raving about their experience, no matter what.