I am not sure about you, but I can not stand leaf blowers. The concept does not work for me in any way.
Now if you live outside the US, or in a region that has sane laws restricting or prohibiting the use of such evil devices, you may not know what I am referring to. The concept is simple: Leaf blowers use high pressure air, like a fan or hairdryer on steroids, to move leaves from one area to another, most often this means your gardeners blow them to your neighbors, or onto the street. Problem solved? Not quite. Either your neighbor hates you now (even a bit more), or the wind blows them back to you, eventually. Solution? Have the leaf blowers come by more often.
Now that I filled you in, let’s do this again:
Leaf blowers postpone an issue, while displeasing everyone who gets in touch with them. It stinks up the neighborhood, is annoyingly noisy and pushes a problem from one place to another. Bingo! Out of sight – out of mind. Now that was quick and cheap. Consider those massive amounts of leaves handled.
On my way to our office last week, my thoughts deeply entrenched in the world of branding (as you’d expect), leaf blowers pushed their leaves smack onto a busy street during rush hour traffic. As I passed them I saw those leaves go absolutely everywhere; mostly right back to where they came from. It made me think of all these startups saving money bootstrapping (Hint: ’99 Designs Dot Com’) – now read these two words carefully – their identity by crowd sourcing it to strangers to create cool designs. They will not arrive at a solution easily, so they get more leaf blowers to work faster and more often creating vast amounts of different logo designs, spending hours over hours discussing the designs they receive in their Inbox until they need to just pick the one they ‘like’ best.
A couple months later early brand adopters gather and success hits. The wind has changed, the leaves are coming back. This is the point in which they realize that the logo is not their real identity. It does not connect. It is missing meaning. It does not have nor create a story. They need to re-brand, even though they just spent all that time and energy, and by now even a sizable expense. And this time it is going to be much more costly then had they done it right from the get-go. They have to re-educate their customers, hire a specialist whom they pay professional fees like they do with their other consultants. They need to re-create all touch points from the web site via all the collateral to perhaps even the signage. It stinks.
If you ask successful startups what they would have done differently in retrospect, many say they wish they had not cut costs on their initial branding or web site efforts. The wind changes, the leaves come back, but at that point the neighbors already like you that much less and making up is hard to do, a much lengthier process that involves other ‘leaf-behinds’ (sorry, I just had to!).
I recall my parents picking up leaves in batches in our garden and carrying them to the compost to get rid of them. Now that makes a whole lot of sense. It definitely was a time investment, but only a one-time investment. It even had a romantic part to it. It showed they cared and that the seasons were changing.
Pick up the pieces, make sense of them, do it with love, and it will show. Just remember, it’s your startups identity.
For a consultancy that has a clear focus on brand creation, you might have wondered at some point why we did not create a stunning icon or a splashy in-your-face logo for our own company. Are we not following our own rules, are we lazy, or is there a different strategy at play? Ask no more, the myths will be busted today.
I decided early on, even with my former company, Geyrhalter & Co, that designing a logo in its truest form for a business that is in the business of designing logos would not be the right path – it could only back fire. It might be too ornamental, too colorful, too round, too square, too bold, too…anything really that does not fit our prospects’ bill of decorative wishes and likes. We do not want to attract clients based on a graphic style, nor would we want to scare them away using a specific style. We are in the business of creating your brand, ours should remain in the background.
In other words, it’s a bit like the design of a logo for an exclusive car seller that focuses on the newest and most luxurious models. He decides to have a visual representation of a Tesla turn into the logo. It represents a true cutting edge car while surely representing luxury. To him. And only today. A dumbed down comparison, I know, but you get the point. A brand identity design (through its 3 components) should describe what you are in business for, it should show your brand’s personality, touch on differentiators and your brand’s core values, but it does not need to, and most of the time should not show the actual product.
Our brand design needed to lead, it had to be professional and sophisticated, but simple, clean, and most important non-invasive. Below screenshot of my former brand agency’s Facebook page header shows how our simple logotype was floating above the work we did for our clients, making a clear statement of who was responsible for the brand visuals, yet distancing ourselves from all the colors and graphic shapes of our work.
When working on our brand identity design we took many paths before arriving at our current logo, which portrays innovation and disruption through sheer use of a bright and unusual poppy color, while the simple custom typography signifies openness and professionalism. When we launched FINIEN, it looked like an established company from day one, yet a disruptor with an open mind. It had fulfilled its purpose, matching strategic goals with final design. It has treated us well, even if it does not have a cool icon or splashy design, actually, because it does not have it.
When we think of brand we first think of logo (even though we know a brand is much more than its logo). The logo is the key point of visual interaction with a brand, hence we are likely to recall it every time we think (or talk) of – or write about – a brand.
During the brand identity (‘logo‘) design process entrepreneurs often forget that there are 2 other elements that help tell the company or product’s story. They interact and bring value to the brand identity as a whole. Do not repeat the same message, but instead ensure to leverage these 3 core components to create a stronger, deeper brand message:
If your name describes your business, do not focus on showing the same message in your logo; instead use your logo to talk about other key elements that describe and differentiate your business. If you are in the cloud storage business and your name includes the two words cloud and storage (A bad company name, yet good example: Cloud Storage Ninjas), have your logo visualize security and stability, if those are key components of your brand’s message. Contrary, if your name is nondescript, either fabricated or an acronym, ensure that the associated brand identity design visualizes what you are in business for (EG: “Cloud Storage“).
Often forgotten during the brand identity design process (and beyond) is…the tagline. There are many factors to blame for the slowly occurring extinction of the tagline (mainly of digital nature, as tag lines are hard to squeeze into apps and templated web sites), but the power of a great tagline is still immense (Just do it, I say!). The tagline should be alive and kicking even though its placement has changed (from the traditional place below the brand identity design). It can now be used as the first header users see on a brand’s web site, the descriptor below the company name in an email signature, in place of yet another step-and-repeat icon pattern on a back of a business card, or in the often underestimated – yet early – brand touch point, the lobby of a business. The tag line is a powerful tool, that, together with the name and brand identity design, tells a stronger, deeper and more actionable initial brand story. It is a leading actor and you can write the script.
Keep the bigger picture in mind when embarking on your identity design project and use your Brand Platform to ensure these 3 core elements touch on more than just one or two of your core values and differentiators (while keeping it visually simple).
Next week I will talk about why our identity design looks the way it does. Are we not following our own rules, are we lazy, or is there a different strategy at play? Hint: It’s the latter.
A couple of weeks ago, Bob Garlick, host of Business Book Talk (poking through below), contacted me to schedule an interview about our book ‘How to Launch a Brand.’ With Bob sitting in Vancouver and myself in Los Angeles, I was immediately taken by surprise as there was no script that he shared with me, no canned answers to prep, no warmup chatter and no edits were made to our conversation.
The result is an honest and stimulating conversation between two individuals with a keen interest in design, branding and entrepreneurship, which I’d like to share with you. Below audio not only gives you a peek into our book, but also covers topics such as misconceptions of branding, brand strategy, how brands need to be different than 15 years ago and how to connect with your customers through branding:
(Can’t see above audio player in your E-Mail? Please listen to the audio via our site)
Now that I crossed the bridge by posting audio (how adventurous), I might as well share a quick video in which I further define ‘brand’ specifically for startups, filmed at a mentoring session (how advantageous) at the Founder Institute in San Diego two weeks ago.
“The word ‘brand’ needs a re-branding – due to its brand longevity the brand legacy is not brand-correct anymore,” I heard myself say unexpectedly in an interview earlier this week. It has been on my mind for a while. To no surprise, running a brand consultancy I am using the word a hundred times a day. Furthermore I just published a book titled ‘How to Launch a Brand’. The word gets tiring, especially since it leaves a bad aftertaste and I feel the need to first convince people that it is not a bad term before I start talking about it any further. Brand is not a four letter word.
Despite the negative connotations with the term, branding is more important today than it has ever been before and it is not only consumed, but furthermore created and curated by the masses through their very own personal (public/social media) brand. Brand is alive and kicking and we will not be able to change the term, but one can change the perception away from luxury good logos (Gucci, Chanel) and larger-than-life corporations seen as evil-doers (Exxon, Walmart) to a modern necessity, which, if created and nurtured in an honest and authentic way, turns ‘brand’ into a holistic ‘aura’ of a product/service provider (or person) that we are allowed to have admiration for (From an iPhone to a Celebrity), aspiration towards (From a Nonprofit to a highly ranked University) and sometimes draw inspiration from (From Ted Talk to Oprah).
To me, a brand is a service, product, company, or person with soul, that is attractive and smart.
1. Soul is the beating heart, the reason a company should exist and why your initial attraction matures into love. You put your trust in brands with a soul and most often your money follows soon thereafter. Not much different than with human relationships, soul is the reason why we care for each other, or a particular brand.
2. Attractive is the brand aura that allows for the gut instinct emotional connection you feel when getting in contact with the brand. It is the design and the voice that is carefully created and curated over time in a particularly consistent manner. Attraction is not to be mistaken by shallow beauty.
3. Smart is its usability. How easy is it to engage with the company/product/service/person? In the tech industry it is User Interface and User Experience, with consumer products it is the product and packaging design and with services it is often the design of key offerings combined with its delivery.
Now that we ‘talked’ about the complex strategy that creates the beautiful simplicity that makes a brand, maybe we should give the word another chance?
‘Is branding the key for a successful start-up?‘ is the topic for a speech I was asked to give at Internet Hungary this week. I could make it a 5 second speech and say ‘Yes, it is one of the most important factors,’ but lucky for me the topic is broader and will go deeper into the keys of creating a successful brand. Let me use this opportunity though to dive knee deep into this question as some brand elements are more important to certain types of companies at time of launch than to others:
No one shall skip the Brand Platform creation at the onset of a new venture, unless you want to compete on price, be boring and unattractive to work for, and are not keen on acquiring the right target audience at time of launch. You tackle the Brand Platform right after you draft your business plan (from fully fleshed out to napkin version – all are acceptable forms of business plans at this stage, depending on your own comfort level).
Launching with a meaningful and unique Name and Brand Identity Design seems like a no-brainer, a must for all entrepreneurs. If for whatever logical reason (budget not being part of that logic) you feel forced to launch with a sub-par name and logo, knowing you will have to go through a (more costly) re-naming and re-branding exercise upon showing first successes, it is the easiest to do for a tech startup or B2B venture that requires solely test users or relies on a very small niche audience, which will make it easier to educate them on this big and disruptive brand change down the road. Some Tech Startups (especially apps) are prototyping until the day of launch, making it an easy excuse to skip this essential step, whereas it is much more advisable to work on a prototype whilst formulating the brand platform, that way you are educating yourself about the target audience while you see them use the actual product, enabling you to create a meaningful brand that will not have to be rebuild soon thereafter. A win – win.
Needs for Brand Atmosphere Touch Points vary in importance and specifics from company to company with retail and other mainly offline B2C companies leading the list, E-Commerce and Tech Startups surviving off some basic, consistent touch points bundled with heavy E-Marketing template creations, while most B2B brands fall anywhere in-between, depending on their structure and audience. If bootstrap is your motto, these can be rolled out over time, making it essentially more pricey, but allowing you to spread the cost.
It only makes sense that ventures leading with digital need to make UI/UX Design part of their strategic brand implementation. Most companies – B2C/Retail and B2B – rely heavily on brand-centric (responsive) web sites to attract and convert leads of different types. For Online Retailers and Tech Startups where the web site also is the product, the prototyping should be addressed in parallel with the Brand Platform creation as it will educate the branding process as a whole. Some companies are able to save on development costs using existing WordPress templates (and such), but brand will still be key at launch.
To conclude, whenever a startup founder tells me (and they tell me all the time) “I can not afford branding at this early stage of my company formation” I reply with “No, you cannot afford not to brand at this early stage of your company formation. Unless you think a strong brand is worth less at time of sale or IPO than an ugly yet functional prototype.‘ This often marks the end of our conversation, until they call a few weeks later to get started with branding their new venture.
I was 8 when I purchased my first Depeche Mode record. I was fooling myself. I did not make this (rather big at the time) purchase because of their music; instead it was the first colored vinyl record I have seen and I fell for the surprise and sheer beauty of it. It was different. A couple of colored Depeche Mode records later I actually started enjoying their innovative electronic sound, because that too was different. And as all of the b(r)and touch points started lining up for me over the years, I turned into a fan.
When I was 18 I took my first step into entrepreneurship by organizing, designing and hosting a concert After-Party in Austria making my first $20,000 (and since had the opportunity of sharing a drink or two with the band on several occasions). The band’s visual design language was mainly crafted by photographer/director Anton Corbijn, who I cite as a major reason I turned to study Graphic Design, enabling me to do what I am doing today. Corbijn also later served as a key inspiration for my photography. Needless to say, my interest in this band for the past 30 years has a deep and personal meaning as it helped inform and somehow shape my own identity.
Over the past weeks I have watched the band perform on its current tour (yes, they are still around) and it gave me time to reflect and think about the sheer power, and design-driven innovation of this band, and how any new brand could benefit from it.
Generally, any band launches a new ‘sub-brand’ every 2-4 years. They call it an album release, but really it is a sub-brand with many objectives that need to be met. The design language needs to introduce a new era of the band that conveys the purpose, signifies change and disruption (‘growth’), yet remains close to the brand’s manifesto. It needs to be able to gain new followers while giving the loyal brand enthusiasts enough nostalgia to hold on to. And of course it requires to be highly adaptable, inspiring the visuals and merchandise for a world tour (a major financial reason for the introduction of the sub-brand) and single releases while being simple enough to turn into an avatar or a fan’s tattoo. Not a short list of brand launch objectives.
Here are some tricks of the trade that I witnessed following a b(r)and over this peculiar long period of time. The least my strange addiction can do is help you create a better brand. Here’s what you can learn and instantly implement during your new brand introduction:
Your new brand is put in place to do something that has not been done before, or at least not in this particular configuration. Make sure your Brand Atmosphere shows that you are here to disrupt.
Ensure your brand identity stands out, is meaningful and relevant, but always keep it extremely simple to allow for easy application by brand adopters, employees, vendors and of course your groupies.
If you innovate through your brand marketing, people will notice, and that’s the first step to create a following. The more unique, the more interest it will generate and the more press your brand will receive in return. Yes, unique design will lead to sales.
“Words are very unnecessary, they can only do harm,” is the chorus of the band’s biggest hit, which you may recognize. Music art relies on imagery and imagery alone. In a world of infographics, A.D.D. and information overload, your new brand should adopt that mantra and say less with more…imagery.
Nearly a given for any band leader, it also holds true for your brand launch. If you strategically infuse a brand character into your launch, it will instantly make your brand more likable. That persona could be the CEO (‘Richard Branson‘), a fictional character (‘Mr. Clean‘) or a spokesperson hire (‘The most interesting man in the world‘) that embodies what your brand stands for.
5 b(r)and takeaways that I firmly believe will make your brand stronger at launch. Now look at your own small obsessions and find out why it makes you say ‘I am with the brand,’ then share your findings with us.
You created a robust business (or launch) plan and a solid brand platform. You hired a great branding firm to tackle the important task of creating a brand identity on time and on budget. What could possibly go wrong?
There’s one thing that can come between you and a winning brand identity: You.
Before you start your hate mails, think about it with me for a second. You have superior taste in art and design. You know your new service or product better than anyone else. You need to see it succeed. How could you possibly turn into a road block? Because of exactly these reasons you will want to create a brand identity that you will like. Colors that speak to you, shapes you like, a concept that resonates with you, fonts that feel current to you. That’s a whole lot of ‘you’ even though this is not at all about you, it’s about Julian, Rich and Adrienne. Your target personas. What you need to like is that your new brand identity will resonate and be liked by them.
Will you like the new brand identity design? You surely should. Does it matter if orange is your color and that you prefer sans serif typefaces? No, it does not. Nor does it matter what the Designer or Creative Director ‘likes’. What matters behind every creative decision is why it was made and how it will further improve adaptation by your customer. This is extremely difficult as an entrepreneur, or even CMO, to personally detach from, but it is what will make the brand ID a success for your audience and in turn for yourself.
We advise our clients to dive deep into 3-5 target personas with us. We give them names, research and ‘listen’ to them. We encourage our more advantageous clients to create life size cardboard figures of them to place around the office. Next time you nod your head during a creative presentation and say ‘I like this, the colors are beautiful, the type is cool and the concept really resonates with me,’ take a step back and say ‘Adrienne would really like this, these colors disrupt her world just enough to stand out and I see her adopting the icon easily.’ You will like what you
Granted, the subject of creative agency clients wanting to make their logos as large as possible to ‘get more bang for the buck’ and to ensure people ‘will notice’ their logo on their brand marketing efforts has been beaten to death and plentiful poked fun at (The Product, The Song, Etc). With new brand introductions this notion feels more in line with reality than any other marketing efforts as you have not only an urge to see your (often first, but definitely brand new) logo large, but you are also under a lot of pressure to ensure the customer notices and recalls your new identity design and brand name.
Above: Still from the hilarious ‘Make Your Logo Bigger‘ ‘infomercial’ (2007)
Instead of opting for the ginormous logo though, introduce your brand identity as part of a visually strong and unique design language. Brand is much more than a logo. Of course it is also much more than color and layout, but unique colors with specific application manners (Eg: a vertical bar or a cropped circle of consistently same proportions, within the same locations across all initial communications) not only creates brand design consistency but it makes your marketing efforts be truly your brand.
More so than an existing brand you need to penetrate the market (however small that penetration effort is, may it only be an e-marketing campaign and your web site) with a very unique and consistent design and color approach to get your new brand into consumer’s minds. Upon creation of that distinct visual brand language, step and repeat is the best way to stay in your consumer’s heads in the first phases of your brand introduction. You can slowly minimize the branded aspect and introduce campaigns over the course of time.
After 17 or so years of introducing brand identities, I can attest that this approach works well while using a completely normal sized logo. Guaranteed.
Catering this post to those of you who target a new brand launch towards the Hispanic segment makes me aware that you will likely assume you know your niche audience. True that. But what I have deciphered for you are nuances and slight shifts in behavioral patterns based on Thinknow’s U.S. Hispanic Cultural Values 2013 study that, when applied to specific brand identity tasks, can make a big difference in your approach and the success of your next brand identity project launch.
Brand tonality is where you have to read between the lines when it comes to understanding the new Hispanic audience. If you craft a brand name for the 18-34 audience, be aware that they seek community with other Hispanics more than the above 35 group. Launching a brand for that group lends itself to creating a ‘spanglish’ name as the preferred language (especially amongst males) is English. The need for family unity and Hispanic community is also high on their list, so a Latin touch would go a long way for your brand name. Creating a name for male Hispanics (of all ages) can drift into English as they emphasize the aspiration of living the American dream and your new brand would piggy back on that aspirational connotation. With about 40% of surveyed Hispanics speaking primarily or only Spanish, a nod to both languages recognizes their multicultural experience and is the advised way to creating a new brand name for the Hispanic of 2013.
Above: Branding project we recently conducted for an American corporation offering (mainly) American brand products to the Latin American market. We derived the name ‘Yesimo’ and its correlating brand identity. Both serve as a good example of a name and identity that combine an American with a Latin feel in a warm yet sophisticated manner.
When designing a brand identity be sure to add one important keyword to your list of things you want to convey, pretty much regardless of your specific offering: Family Unity. The idea of familia is on the rise, especially with females and the under $30k income brackets. Combining warmth (warm colors, round sans serif typefaces and round shapes), with aspirations of the new, integrated and more monetary focused US based Hispanic (icons of growth and wealth, modern color hues and a corporate & trustworthy look) will resonate well across product and service offerings.
Think usability times four. As simplicity in navigation design and content is on the rise in the US, you can ride that wave while simplifying your digital design even more so based on the added language barrier. Use infographics and icons to explain steps to take or sequential storytelling. Don’t be obvious when catering your content tonality towards Hispanics as it may conflict with the rise in a need to control their own destinies. Speak to the modern Hispanic in ways you would with any other US counterpart, otherwise you might not be heard at all. Integrate and maximize social sharing tools to enable an easy viral spread of your brand amongst friends and family (#1, 2 and 10 on the revised cultural values list of 2013!) and make sure your site is created in a responsive manner (accessible and scalable for all devices from desktop to iPad to smartphone). If you have the capabilities to create a bilingual site, offer the option of Español in a drop down.
As we see the US based Hispanic audience integrate exponentially, let’s not lose track of the nuances. As we all know, the devil lies in the details, so let’s get ready to create devilish smart and detailed brands!