Brand Design

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I did a little driving this past week and noticed two rebranding efforts in the hospitality sector.  Holiday Inn did their’s a couple of years ago and Best Western more recently.  I wonder what each company paid for their rebrand efforts. If anyone knows, please share with me. It seems a no-brainer that one job was worth its weight in design gold, the other not so much.

Holiday Inn’s logo is contemporary, active, clean and refreshing. It suggests the same approach was taken renovating all the properties.  Though green is not one of my favorite colors, I have to admit the mark, type and name treatment work wonderfully.

The Best Western logo on the other hand, looks like a too-cool-for-type-school designer worked on it and it’s way over our heads, or, it was crafted by the CMO’s daughter who cuts hair in Jersey City.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with beauticians or Jersey City.) The Best Western logo is the opposite of Holiday Inn: Logy, a tad unkempt, colorless and sans any fashion sense. Close your eyes and imagine what the new room designs must look like. That is, if they were done at all.

Logo and style manual design in a rebrand isn’t everything but it’s a HUGE thing.

McPeace.

 

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Last year, I did some consulting for a really smart athletic wear company. The CEO grew up in a niche, understood the market opening and built a company to fill that opening. Focus is a critical component of marketing and this CEO had it. Brand planners and brand experience consultants are always on the lookout for focus.  

Marketers sometimes fall into a trap to expand that focus beyond what they know (and love) which can be the beginning of the end.  Line extensions – endemic line extensions, that is – are okay, but things like sales growth numbers and market growth data can intoxicate a leader.

During this consulting gig the company owner brought me in to help create an “insanely great” retail shopping experience.  Since the owner already had the focus down, this “ask” was a brilliant next step. As brand experts Megan Kent and David Kessler would tell you, building a strong brand is not about just about the creative, it’s about the total experience.  And that’s execution.  That’s deeds not messages.  

One is most likely to build an insanely great retail brand experience if s/he follows the brand idea. Go generic, e.g., customer care above and beyond, and you have no muscle memory.  Or you are compared to Nordstrom.

Of course, production and pricing must also come in to play but they, too, are decisions informed by the brand plan.  Peace.

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I like to write about trends that impact marketing. One such, is the craft economy. It’s an exciting movement that is slowly taking hold and can be seen in craft beer, home-made pasta, woodworking and the neat site Etsy.  What makes the craft economy a trend worthy of notice is the bigger phenomenon that has lived here for too long: the junk economy.  Junk food, junk games, mass produced-low quality gear. When ladies can go to Target and pick up a blouse for $6.00, something is wrong.  When it makes more sense to buy a new laptop than fix the old one, something is wrong. When a TV only lasts 5-6 years rather than 15, something is wrong.

I love old stuff.  I am old stuff. I have tee-shirts older than my 20 something kids.  My old Poppe Tyson softball tee just ripped.  Pissed I didn’t buy a better weight of cotton Hanes back in the 80s.

Junk is bad, craft is good. Market with that thought in mind and the messages and customers will follow.  Eric Ripert has built an empire on fighting the junk economy. He is an inspiring hero.  Lose the junk. (Not that junk Terrence. Oh, and Terrence, Pearl Jam is coming to Philly.) Peace.

 

 

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Do you have a favorite sneaker brand?  What is it and why. 

I love Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars, though I have to look to see how you spell Taylor. Black, high tops.  I like the style, the weight, the cost and for me they are a roots product.  As for my basketball sneakers, frankly Scarlett I don’t give a damn.  Probably more often than not I buy Nike, but that is more a function of what’s at the store.  I want to pay $50-100, I want them to last and not smell after a few months (good luck with that) but my allegiances are not strong.

I watch a lot of sports.  You’d think the advertising would have made an impression on me.  I recognize the Michal Jordan logo and like Michael Jordan. That said, I  have no interest in buying his shoes over any other.  That’s like 50 billion dollars of advertising later.  Why am I not a Nike or Jordan fan?  You tell me.  I suppose it is because they have not built anything meaningful in to the design, and patented it, that I care to invest in.  They have a great creative shop in Wieden+Kennedy. The ad craft is wonderful (I still love Mars Blackman) however there is nothing as a consumer I can tell you from a product standpoint that differentiates the sneaker beside the logo. (Not like nfinity with its “designed for women” cheerleading sneaker, for instance.)

Do you have a favorite sneaker?  If so, please tell me why. Peace!

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When developing brand strategy I look for the claim then search for 3 business-building planks that support that claim. Proof planks, in other words. Proof can be tangible or it can be developmental and additive.  What do I mean by developmental and additive? Let’s just say it’s a goal and we may not be there yet — it’s under development. From a messaging point of view we may not have the scientific proof yet, but we know how to talk about it. Sympathize with it. And celebrate it.

Were I selling for Taco Bell and had a proof plank about using ingredients imported from South and Latin America, I might talk about the qualities of those ingredients that make for a uniquely South American taste (soil, sun, mountains).  In the meantime, while that proof is under development, the company had better be looking for real sources. Proof under development is a little like working at a start-up, it’s about what you know, not what you make – about what your mission is, not what you can deliver right now.

This may sounds disingenuous, but it’s not. I would never suggest lying or misleading. In the Taco Bell example it would have to be known that, say, the peppers were from the arid southwestern US – but the story has a beginning, a direction and a motivation.  Peace.

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Microsoft Tiles

The more I see and hear about the Windows 8 Operating System by Microsoft, the more I realize Steven Sinofsky should have named it “Tiles.”   Language is a funny thing.  Market research is great, ideation is great but user ballast is greater.  We don’t really have the foresight sometimes to see the words the general population will adopt surrounding a product, so we try to force language on them.  But organic user language, the linguists will tell you, trumps marketing.

I believe in this name so completely, I predict it will be adopted by Microsoft and replace Windows as perhaps the most known brand names in technology. (And BTW, Stop Brand Diaspora!)

Short post. Big claim. Peace.

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Were I to guess, I’d say 90% of people who use the word “branding” misuse it.  Designers use it to define packaging. Art directors to describe “look and feel.”  For P&G brand managers it’s a reference to budget size. Direct marketers think it means synergy with general advertising. Copywriters don’t really know what it means. The digiterati try not to use it. And agency principals think it is whatever makes the bank deposits flow. 

Noah Brier while a head strategist at the Barbarian Group once asked me “There are lots of definitions of brand plan, what is yours?” That’s a question every marketer who hires an agency should ask. There would be a lot of Rick Perry answers, me thinks.

Branding is an organizing principle. Locked onto the right organizing principle one can build a brand with ease and sharp measurement. Brand strategy as an organizing principle can guides all the other strategies you will hear during the course of the marketing day: the product strategy, sales strategy, retail strategy, channel strategy, pricing strategy, media strategy, messaging strategy.  I could go on.  

The organizing principle defines how a product is built, cared for, presented and nurtured. It’s one simple piece of paper that organizes the others. It organizes leadership, employees and the hard to manage consumer. 

I always wanted to create an ad agency named Foster, Bias and Sales. It’s where the rubber meets the road in marketing. But without an organizing principle to guide these steps to a sale, you are simply a tactics jockey.   

When is faster not faster?  And when does modular, formulaic construction create an inferior product?   The answer is in marketing communications. Here’s how this shizz should work.  After all the money discussions are complete, after the bosses shake hands, and proprietary company information is exchanged, someone with strategic  bone at an agency should write a brief.   Brand brief, creative brief, project brief, call it what you will. If there is not a strategic idea within the brief that feels right (and I do mean feel), that inspires pictures and music in the heads of the creators and developers, then the brief is poor and should be rewritten.

Time to market.

Once a brief is right and approved (and be prepared for some fighting, fear and diplomacy), only then should creative work begin. A tight brief is the fastest way to good work. For those who like metrics, a tight brief gets to approved work faster.  Approved work gets produced faster. Produced work gets seen faster. And organized, singular work – be it banner, website, promotion, direct, promotion or advertising – gets acted upon by consumers faster.

Where the system breaks down is when the strategic idea is unclear. As creators of marketing deliverables become more process focused and less idea focused, as they become more formula driven, the work suffers. Formula replaces the cerebral cortex when creators are uninspired.  I wrote a brief for a friend’s commercial maintenance company that took some real digging.  The brief likened his operation to that of a team of Navy Seals.  That’s who they were.  That’s who they will be. The company is  “fast, preemptive and fastidious.” That’s a plan creators can get behind – without formula or module. That’s brand design. Peace.

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Wikipedia defines a brand as an identity.  Many years ago, while excavating a late woodland Indian shell midden on Moshier Island for the University of Southern Maine, I came across a piece of deer rib bone I assumed was some type of weaving shuttle. (It wasn’t my day job.)  It had some notches on the bone which gave it a unique appearance and I wondered if they were ornamental or a personal identifier. 

Outside branding nerds, many in marketing today don’t quite know the difference between identifier brands and ornamental brands.   What’s the Idea? builds and rebuilds identifier brands.  Only then do we allow them to be ornamented.  And that dress up, as beautiful as it may be, must add to the identification story.  Go into a room, turn off the lights and listen to the voices of your friends and family. You can identify them.  But if you feel their clothes, not so much.

The big girls and boys know this.  Whenever an Interbrand, Landor or Wolff Olin starts a new  logo project they create a brief; one that sets the identity direction.  Recently for a commercial maintenance company I developed a strategy suggesting they were the  “Navy seals” of maintenance.  Preemptive, fast and fastidious.  When the art director went off to do logo designs, he had a directive. When the client reviewed designs, he knew “how to buy” and “what to approve.”  Of course some ornamentation got in the way and he wanted to be a “green” company and, and, and.  But the CEO ran his group with navy seal precision – it was the company. It was his identifier.   The mark and brand organizing principles where hard to debate.  This is how we do-oo it!.  Peace.

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Which comes first?  It’s not a trick question.  And I won’t go all “sort of” on you.  The answer is product design.  A good brand planner will take the product design, understand it and package it.  A great brand planner, while packaging the product will “inform” it — change, evolve, aspire it and help create its future.

Brand planners know when you see a friend’s baby for the first time there’s a difference between “What a beautiful baby” and “Ooh, what an amazing rosebud mouth.”  It’s the different between talking an observing. Most marketing today is talk. When you talk to a product designer and really see what they have created, you connect.  Just like when you really see someone’s baby.

In today’s commodities world (see yesterday’s post on banks and healthcare), it is imperative for planners to find the difference.  It may only be a DNA-like strand, but it’s there. And once found that difference can give form to the brand idea.  Not a tagline, not a campaign, but a brand idea: The world’s information in one click. Refreshment.  Different.  The people who tell you brand design comes first are probably art directors. Or peddlers of marko-babble.  Peace be with you and with Lara Logan and her family.

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