Monday, 18 April 2011

Brand Design, and the Power of Perspex

Yesterday morning, I rolled out of bed and stumbled bleary-eyed to the bathroom to "ablute", as one does.

Opening the drawer to grab the toothpaste, I noticed a spare toothbrush in mint condition squirrelled up the back behind the usual bathroom paraphernalia. 

Now, my regular toothbrush was right there at my fingertips.

There was nothing wrong with my regular toothbrush; it was reasonably new and in good condition, and it would have made perfect sense to grab that one instead.

But I didn't.  I bypassed my regular toothbrush and grabbed the new one.

What possessed me to do that?  Simple, really: It made me feel happy.

When I was a kid, we were one of the few families in the neighbourhood to have a backyard swimming pool, and this made us popular with our friends.  It also made me popular with a certain girl on whom I'd had a massive crush since third grade.  Every now and then, this girl would agree to visit with my other friends on the promise of a swim in our pool.  I considered this a perfectly reasonable trade in exchange for the opportunity to see her in a swimsuit, and the chance - as remote as it was - to brush up against her as we swam past each other.

After every blissful session in the pool, my mum would call all of us in to the kitchen for a round of ham sandwiches and a glass of lime soda. Happy times.

Now none of this came to mind when I chose to use that new toothbrush yesterday morning.  All I knew at the time, was that the sight of that toothbrush suddenly made me feel happy.

It took a few moments to realise that it made me happy because its bright green transparent handle had the same light qualities as a glass of lime soda. 

Pretty abstract, eh?

So why am I telling you all of this?  Because it demonstrates a simple fact of human nature:

Despite our ability to engage common sense in every choice we make, we quite often succumb to spontaneous behaviour triggered by a subliminal, abstract feeling that occurs at the sight, sound, smell or touch of a simple object.

And this is the potential power of a logo.

Of course, you can't hope to design a logo that instantly triggers endorphins in all who see it, but you can certainly adopt a strategy of customer relations that ensures your market has a mutually satisfying relationship with your business, and at the same time ensure that your logo is always present during that relationship.  The effect is not immediate, but the longer your business maintains operations, the greater persuasion your logo will have over consumer behaviour due to that emotional recall.

The key is not to try too hard to create the greatest logo in the market, but to ensure that whatever logo you have is always present while your business is engaging that market.

...And, for the record, I hate lime soda.

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Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Brand Design: Getting a New Logo? Not So Fast!

As a new business startup, you're not necessarily concerned about what your brand is going to be.  There are far too many grassroots issues to deal with right now.  You need to register your business, set up bank accounts and payment systems, line up suppliers, sort out pricing structures, organise staffing and so on.

But at some point during the initial planning, the question of the business logo will be raised.  The subject will usually be brought up around the same time as the subject of advertising and signage. As far as the issue of business branding is concerned, this can be a good thing and a bad thing…

Your brand is your reputation, and your reputation will transcend the best PR your money can buy.

It's a good strategy to have your brand in mind early on, and the subject of logo design is the most common trigger that brings the issue to mind; "What symbol do I want to represent my business?"

Your logo is the visual transference of your reputation, and it will carry that reputation of its own accord.  It has the power to bring to the mind of whoever sees it, an emotional connection that has already been established via that reputation, and it can trigger a subliminal loyalty in potential customers, or a compulsive choice to purchase, even if no other visual elements accompany it.

And yet, because your logo is such an important element of your brand, it needs to be one of the last elements of brand management that you acquire as part of a new business venture*.  If you rush into commissioning a logo, then you may waste a lot of time and money, and scar the longterm reputation of your business.

[I'll expand on that statement in a later post.]

To be slightly abstract for a moment: In order to get your logo just right, you first need to work out what your business is.

Here's a question: Do you have a polished business plan that you understand and are happy to follow? If you have, then well done. You pretty much know as much as any new business manager can hope to know about what your business will be doing, and where it's heading.  You know what your business is.

The beauty of a business plan is that it forces you to think long and hard about what you, and by default your loved ones, are getting yourselves into. It allows you to gauge whether your vision is feasible, and it allows you to know this before you invest too much money and time.

It also allows you to answer some of the crucial questions that define your brand:
..and many, many more!

So your business plan represents the foundation of brand management, and provided you take your plan seriously, you can begin to implement brand design starting with your logo. With the answers to the questions listed above along with others outlined in your business plan, both you and your nominated graphic designer can collaborate and form a clearer idea as to how your logo should look and where it should feature.

You'll know the customer demographic to whom it should appeal.  You'll have a good idea of the various media with which your logo should be compatible (eg: printed stationery, screenprinted shirts, embroidered caps, website display and so on).

In short, you have the key information that a professional designer needs to know in order to create the ideal logo for your brand.

If you haven't got a business plan or you have a plan that you don't understand, or you've simply decided that drawing up a business plan is either too hard or simply not necessary, then you probably don't know what your business is. As such, you'll have a much harder time working out what your brand is, and consequently any brand design will be hit-and-miss.  In this scenario, the best that a logo designer can do for you is produce what you believe you want, as opposed to what your business needs.  There is a crucial difference.

Let's say you've considered all of this and genuinely believe you don't need a well defined business plan.  Maybe you really are the kind of person who works best flying by the seat of your pants, testing the waters as you go and revising your procedures and goods as required until you settle into an ideal niche.

Well, of course you may want to go ahead and get yourself a new logo anyway.  Because all businesses need a logo, right? Well, actually they don't, and my advice to you would be not to bother. Or if you do bother, get it done cheaply, perhaps by a young designer who needs the experience, because I'm guessing you'll want to dump it later on.

Here's how it could potentially pan out: You'll direct the hired designer to create something that reflects your proposed business as you see it in your head.  You may end up with a brilliant icon that is both aesthetically pleasing and functional, and which visually reflects your current vision.  But what happens two or three years down the line when, through your deliberate seat-of-pants strategy, you realise that you need to change your procedures, go into a different line of goods, or target a different demographic?

If you don't change the lure to attract the right fish, you may not like what ends up on your line.

Will the logo you had designed prior to these changes continue to reflect your business' revised brand? In the case that it doesn't, how much time and money are you willing to spend to have that logo revised, or replaced entirely? Keep in mind, also, that if you follow best business practice and register your logo as a trademark, then you may have just wasted the cost of that registration as well.

You might decide to stick with what you've got. Well, think hard on that...

If your business was in commercial operation during that dubious seat-of-pants phase, how obvious has it been to your early customers that you weren't a well-defined operation?  How has that affected their opinion of your business?

If your logo has already been equated with inadequacy, then its future presence in your publicity and promotional strategies may do you more harm than good.

Regardless of how competent and grounded your business has since become, that first generation of customers may never revise their low opinion, and the sight of that logo will bring that opinion to mind.

Remember: word-of-mouth is still the most influential means of promotion;  a dissatisfied customer only needs to criticise you once, and the viral nature of social media will do the rest.  The person who sees that logo doesn't need to have been a past customer to hold a low opinion of your business; they just need to have seen that post on their Facebook page, and the sight of that logo years later will still trigger a negative vibe.

Committing to a logo too early can be an expensive mistake. As stated earlier, your logo carries your reputation of its own accord.  It transcends the best publicity, the cleverest give-away gimmicks and the most expensive celebrity endorsements.

So stick to a list of priorities while you initiate your venture:

  • Commit to a business plan;
  • Use the business plan to help determine your brand;
  • Commission your logo design based on that brand.  

After that, the pieces of your brand management puzzle will begin to fall into place.

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Friday, 8 April 2011

Article Link: "Growth" by Marc Peskett

In the near future, I'll be posting an article outlining how a developing business can integrate brand design with its growing operations without losing sight of other priorities. In the meantime, I've found this article by Marc Peskett that has good advice on how small business can prepare for future growth in all areas.

The lesson for the day:  Pace yourself and plan ahead.

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Sunday, 3 April 2011

Brand Design: What are we talking about?

"Branding", "brand design" and "brand management" are all terms whose definitions are not immediately obvious to most people, including those of us whose professions deal with the concepts on a daily basis.

The problem seems to be that the relevant definitions depend somewhat on the context and intention of a particular discussion using the terms, and the variation in terminology that each participant chooses to employ (It shouldn't be the case, but human nature is human nature). So the best way to get a handle on what's what, is to first define the word "brand"...

Let's clear one thing up:  Your brand is not your logo.  Don't feel embarrassed if that's what you were thinking.  It makes sense to assume that a word that originally referred to a mark that is seared into the hides of livestock to identify ownership, would naturally refer to what is essentially the modern-day equivalent in the commercial environment.

But no.  Your logo, if you have one, is an important part of a branding strategy, but it's not what we're talking about here.

Your brand is not a physical thing. It's a mental concept. It is quite simply the perception that your customers - current and potential - have of the quality of service, or goods, that you provide.

So when we talk about "brand management", we're talking about actively controlling how your business is perceived. "Brand design" is the strategy implemented to achieve this management.

"Controlling how your business is perceived"?  Sounds a bit devious, eh? Well, it's not so much about brainwashing customers into thinking your service is great, but more about putting in place policies and methods that ensure that any experience a potential customer has with your business is a good experience.

This could mean little more than designing your website to be easy to read and navigate, or ensuring that your receptionist always has a cheery disposition and genuinely takes the time to be as helpful as possible, regardless of the potential for a sale.

That sort of experience is what the customer remembers about their interaction with your business, regardless of whether they buy into your service or product, and even to some extent, beyond what they think of that service or product.  You can often recover from failing to deliver what you originally promise, but you can't recover from the perception that you don't care about the customer.

That isn't all there is to brand management, but this explanation attempts to break the definition down to a singular concept:  Making sure your business acquires and maintains an appealing market profile!

In future posts, I'll explore some basic methods of introducing brand design techniques to even the most modest business ventures.

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Saturday, 2 April 2011


About a month ago, on March the 1st, I was made redundant by the company with whom I'd been employed for just over twenty years.

It was a move prompted by the restrictive financial climate and a change in administration and, while I was initially stunned and a little bitter at the decision, I suspect I should have sought greener pastures of my own accord quite some time ago.

A former senior colleague once told me, as I'd come up to my tenth year with the company, that once you've had the same employer for ten years, it's time to leave and get a life! This was said tongue-in-cheek, but in the back of my mind, I think I pretty much agreed with the sentiment.

Of course there are pros and cons in any situation, and the clear advantage to long-term employment was the acquired sense of stability that makes it easier to commit to a mortgage, marriage and family.  So I stuck around. Ironically, while this work colleague left the company a few years later when she reached retirement age, my termination has come just a year prior to my first child starting school. Different dynamic, different consequences.

So here I am, a free agent after two decades, a well-heeled design professional in my early 40s with a comprehensive knowledge of the various processes involved in getting a graphic asset all the way from concept to pre-press stage for any number of production methods. As impressive as I hope that last sentence sounds, I know the chances of landing a secure long-term position with a single firm are pretty slim, certainly in the regional area that we've chosen to call home.

In any case, after all those years why would I want to go back to the same old grind?  What better opportunity to set my sights on something a little more fulfilling, even if it doesn't pay as much.  I've only been a month away from the job that has defined me for so long, but already I feel far more relaxed than I have in years, I've enjoyed playing with our kids more than I have in a long while, and I finally have the time to expand my professional knowledge beyond what I've needed to know to get my everyday tasks completed.  That last point is quite pertinent; despite my expertise in press media, it's obvious that most of my younger professional peers have been more smoothly indoctrinated into the broader disciplines of multimedia than I could ever have hoped to be.  And there lies the con of longterm employment with a single firm; you don't get to be a jack of all trades.

But as I said, I now have the time to catch up. I'm already one-third of the way through a comprehensive self-paced course in Dreamweaver® - a program I've been dying to master but which has sat forlorn and neglected for many years in my Applications folder among the more well-used apps of the Adobe® Creative Suite®. I'll be pleased when I can say I've mastered every app, and can justify having purchased the entire package in the first place!

So what happens once I've got myself up to speed with contemporary design disciplines?  What will I do with all this updated knowledge?  First and foremost, I'll be applying it to my own creative projects, which may or may not make me a lot of money.  And I would also like to offer my services to small businesses as a professional consultant in the application of brand design management.

"He said what now?"  Basically, I would like to provide small start-up enterprises with a grassroots understanding of how to foster a positive image of their business through a well managed presence in various media.  This is called brand design, and it's a concept that all the big players embrace through strict and structured management. Unfortunately, the big players embrace it because they can afford to employ staff who specialise in design management.  The small players, meanwhile, are too busy keeping the business viable through day-to-day operations to worry about what appears to be a fairly frivolous concept.

More often these days, design studios are promoting the advantages of brand design management to their potential clients, but from my observations over the last two decades, what the design world thinks is important for businesses bears little resemblance to what small business operators are able to give priority. Logo design is as far as many relationships go between a small businesses and a design studio, and in many cases the lack of understanding between the business manager and the designer results in a brand presence that fails to do justice to the business.

The philosophy behind brand design management is often expressed in a manner that ostracises the small business community, and it's no wonder that there is a significant gap between those businesses who indulge and those who don't.

There has to be a middle-ground that benefits all parties. I'd like to put my accumulated experience to good use and help the small business community tap into the knowledge-base that has served the big players so well.

In future posts, I'll explore the fundamental aspects of brand design and suggest ways that small business operators can cost-effectively accommodate procedures that add perceived value to their operations.

I look forward to feedback from both designers and small business operators.

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