Is your brand being misunderstood?

Is your brand being misunderstood?

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There are times when it isn’t easy to focus on the big picture. Sometimes it’s just a phase where as a company, you’re putting out so many small fires that the brand tends to be relegated to the back-burner. After all, if there are problems in the production line and quality control, it makes sense to put branding decisions to one side so all of your focus is on finding solutions.

The common thinking goes: what use is a brand, if one doesn’t have products to sell?

Unfortunately, the vice versa also holds true.

What good is a solid product line, if your customers can’t distinguish them from the competition?

The modern consumer isn’t just fickle. They’re also making conscious and subconscious decisions, from moment to moment, about the products they use. In a world where switching from one brand of cereal to another is as easy as scrolling down the Amazon page, standing out is more important than ever. 

Both parts of the production process are equally valuable to your business. Where the unique benefits and quality of your product are being judged by your consumer’s conscious mind; the typography, colour palette and presentation are attracting/distancing them at a subconscious level. 

So assuming you’re in the process of putting out all the small fires in the production chain, it can be a useful exercise to reevaluate your brand at the same time. Here’s a few aspects you can look at for starters:

1) Type

Type design is simultaneously the easiest and hardest element to get right in your project. Just the notion that how a word is written changes its meaning is hard to wrap one’s mind around. Time for a quick demonstration. Look at three examples below and notice how each one affects your notion of the kind of atmosphere at Hogwarts: 

Capture d’écran 2019-09-17 à 10.11.48

On first glance, each of the above typefaces inspires a different emotion.

 

The first one has an air of quiet authority and tradition about it. It isn’t flashy, lending it a feeling of ‘seriousness’ as if the people running Hogwarts want you to know that it’s a school for serious witches and wizards looking to perfect their craft.

The second one is more striking with an air of lightness. Like, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s bold and out there. As if the professors are instilling you with confidence from the get-go. 

The third one is the most casual. The feeling you get is more of a summer camp than an institution. It’s a place for fun and magic and all the wonderful stuff you could achieve by bringing a bit of magic in your life.

None of these is the ‘wrong’ choice, per se. Because the decision to choose one typeface over the other is all about what you would like your audience to feel. If you were the Headmaster, you could very well want your audience to feel like your school of magic is a fun place. In which case, the third direction would get you closer to your goal.

Of course, this isn’t all there is to typography. There are decisions to be made about lettering, kerning and all the jargon that we, as a creative agency, are here to help you with. This is just to help you understand why agencies place such an emphasis on each aspect of your brand.

2) Colour

Colour plays an important role in how your brand is perceived. It isn’t a coincidence why most fast food joints have a strong red colour. It’s because red is a colour associated with hunger. Similarly, you never see blues and teals used in a burger joint, because it’s mostly used in the medical stream as a method of relaxing and calming the atmosphere.

Colours evoke feeling. They incite emotion. And it’s not any different when it comes to selecting colours for your business. Another thing to learn about design is that the symbolism of elements stack over one another. The colours you choose can be used to lighten the seriousness of your typeface or vice versa. As you add more elements, they interact with each other to create new meanings. You up for a quick demonstration? Perfect.

Yellow is the colour of happiness. It’s the colour of sunlight and joy and bright memories that leave you feeling a glow of warmth inside. Black is the colour of the dark, moonless night. It’s the absence of colour. But it also has connotations of ‘premium’ attached to it. Pairing them not only gives us a visual contrast, it gives us a metaphorical contrast as well. Light vs dark. Day vs night. The petal of a sunflower vs the infinite vastness of space. 

But which colour should dominate? 

Is Hogwarts a place where light illuminates the dark? Or is it a place where the power of night is brandished in broad daylight? Again, there is no ‘wrong’ answer here. It’s what you want your audiences to feel on a subconscious level that matters. And while you think about that, take a moment to notice how the tone of the ‘serious’, ‘traditional’ typeface is lightened by yellow’s presence. 

The typeface still has that power but seems a lot more approachable than before. This is how elements of design interact together to create new, more interesting meanings. Sure, Coca Cola and Ferrari use the colour red in their logos, but you would never mistake one for the other. The colour is just one part of a whole, the typeface is another, the logo yet another and then of course you have the name and so on. As you start making these little concrete decisions (playful type or serious type? primary colours or premium colours?) they add up to create what we call a Brand Identity.

Once you know your Identity, everything else falls into place. 

3) Consistency

As we approach the end of this post, let’s talk about one last thing. It’s well and good to create an Identity but the most important part is maintaining it. We like to imagine brands as people. Each unique in its own way. Do the same exercise with yours. Imagine your brand as a friend and think about how that friend would react in different situations. 

Would it make sense for this friend to react negatively to criticism? What are the values this friend likes to uphold? Maybe they’re outspoken about their values. Or maybe they like showing over telling when it comes to what their beliefs are. Again, as we’ve learned before, there is no ‘wrong’ answer here. But knowing the answers to each of these questions helps you figure out what your Brand is, and helps your Brand’s message remain consistent regardless of the platform. 

Because only when you’re consistent, can you start gaining someone’s trust. Every business card, email, packaging, web page needs to be consistent with your Brand’s identity. It should be something that feels obvious in hindsight because that’s how we make friends. We discover things about them slowly and link those things in our minds to build a picture of someone important to us.

Wouldn’t you like your Brand to be someone important in your customers’ lives?

Wouldn’t you like to have them think of your Brand as a friend?

 

Photo by explorenation # on Unsplash

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The Case Against “Style”

The Case Against “Style”

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Alright, creatives around the world, brace yourselves because this next sentence is gonna hurt: your commitment to a personal style is harming the work you do. 

There, we said it and we will not apologise for saying it. It’s blasphemy for any creative to admit that their sense of personal style is anything but perfect. After all, we define ourselves by our personal styles. The way we think about certain things in the world helps us to creatively engage with the world around us.

That’s the point of our whole job: to creatively express the values of a brand. If the client wants to sell Coca Cola, we tell the client to associate the brand with happiness. We build brands and strategies, just on the basis of our outlook towards the world. Do we feel “happiness” is the best idea to associate with a cold drink or “adventure”? What if we associated the traditional cola drink with “happiness” and the client’s energy offering with “adventure”? What’s the best tagline to associate adventure with the client’s energy drink? 

How about “Do The Dew”?

We think about ourselves as the creative heads who made those decisions. At least, that’s what most of us aim for, right? To create an idea that connects with billions and lasts well beyond our lifetimes. Sure “Do The Dew” isn’t the epitome of art but it’s a tagline that satisfies the client’s marketing needs while living well beyond its creator. If that’s what comes out of “personal style”, why then should anyone argue against it?

Well, here’s a few reasons:

1) A set style limits growth

In the design world, the phrase “form is greater than function” is thrown around a lot as a the most obvious critique. That criticism comes directly out of the idea that the “personal style” of the designer is weighing down the functionality of the logo/branding/identity. 

When all you have is a hammer, everything does start to look like a nail. It’s good to have style. But if, as a creative agency, you’ve boxed yourself into a certain style, you’ve limited the growth of your work. Not only do your current clients start looking elsewhere for the work that needs to be done in a separate style, your future clients don’t even consider you as an option. 

Because guess what? Brands aren’t really paying for art. Brands have problems which need solutions. And our job as a creative agency is to provide solutions for their particular problems. The more specific our solution is to the client’s needs, the better.  And those solutions can only be arrived at by working with clients as partners, not blank canvases. That’s where growth happens, both for you and your Brands.

2) It gets boring, for everyone including you

Say you’re a great illustrator with a fun, quirky, pop aesthetic. Did you start out as that? Or is it something that you’ve only recently been exploring and you’re really proud of the results? Is it a style you’re committed to, for the rest of your life? 

Chances are, no. As an artist, you probably want to do a lot of different things. You want to leave your mark on all the things. You want to explore every possibility you have the time and resources to explore. If you’re a filmmaker, your medium is the moving image. And you want to tell all sorts of stories within that medium. Everything from music videos to TV shows to cinema to YouTube videos to TikTok. Why not? Why not show everyone the stories that you, as a filmmaker, would tell using TikTok? 

Think about your favourite artists. None of them got to the place they’re at, by doing the same thing over and over again. They experimented and evolved their way of looking at the world. They gained, and lost, styles over time depending on the needs of their current project. Sure, Quentin Tarantino has a recognisable writing style, but is Reservoir Dogs shot in the same way as Inglourious Basterds? Do they even share similar visual compositions? You could argue yes, and no. Yes, the visual compositions and the dialogue share a similar sense of hyper-characterisation. No, Reservoir Dogs is much more focussed on a rough-and-tumble guerrilla style of shooting because that style is a reflection of the characters’ lives, whereas Inglourious Basterds is treated as a classy period drama because Tarantino wants to associate that image of classiness with the idea of killing Nazis. 

It’s a political statement that he makes using a particular style. Which brings us to our last point.

3) Style finds you; you don’t find it

If you, as a creative agency, are approaching every brief with a style in mind before even having read it, you need to take a second to reassess your way of doing things. The style you want to use is fundamentally dependent on what the brand strategy requires. 

It’s a decision that needs to be taken after understanding how brand has to be perceived. Because only then can you know what is the visual style that suits their brand and product. No two brands are the same. We’ve been running the Bold for a good 5 years so take this on good authority: the vision behind every brand is unique. 

A brand that encourages sportsmanship and community, is different from a legacy jewellery brand. Their values are different, the things they want to achieve are different, the people they’re talking to are different; so how can their styles be the same? 

Think of style as a flower. It emerges from the plant that is your Brand Strategy. And once it’s grown, it seems obvious in hindsight. Of course a startup that encourages people to both play a sport and learn about it would be called “Game Theory”! Of course! It seems silly now to not call it that. But did we have that in mind before even reading the brief? Before striking a relationship with the person building it? We couldn’t have. 

And that’s what we’re gonna close with, for today: style isn’t something you inherently have or find, and then bring to your clients. It’s built from Brand Strategy.

Is Your Campaign Worth The Risk?

No seriously, is it? 

As a creative agency, this is one of the hallmark questions that defines which ideas should even be pitched. You never know if your ideas will be dismissed out of hand for being too edgy or progressive or bold. You never know exactly how much the client is willing to risk to generate a buzz. You never know whether an idea is even good. 

Except, you almost always know.

1. Know The Brand

Every brand or industry has a history. If you’re working on an established brand, look at what they have done in the past. Not only that, look at how people have viewed them historically. What have their values been, and are those values still relevant to their primary audience? Once you ask this question, every other answer starts falling in place.

Take for example, one of the brands we recently did a lot of work for: CKC Jewellers. As a jewellery brand, their primary audience has been women for the longest time. One of the core philosophies that the brand holds dear is that of “Ethics”. Their legacy is associated with jewellery of the best quality, ethically sourced diamonds, fair trade and contributing back to society. So that’s one part of the homework sorted.

The other is understanding why there seems to be a disconnect between the current generation of women and the brand. The product hasn’t changed and neither has the brand’s core value of “Ethics” that was instrumental in growing their audience. Here, we gain an understanding that the audience themselves have changed. They didn’t associate themselves with the women in the CKC ads because they didn’t see themselves reflected in them. 

So, simple. We change the image of women we use in the ads. Right? Not yet.

2. What’s The Insight?

In the previous point, we solved the problem of what needs to change. Now comes the harder part of deciding how to go about implementing that change and why our current answer is the only one that makes sense. Simply put, all we know is that we need to update the imagery and visual style of the brand to suit the more modern aesthetics of our time. But what should that imagery be? Should it be a Bauhaus style deconstruction of the idea of femininity? Or should it be more playful, toying with the idea of jewellery as accessories itself?

Here, we encounter our second insight: women have changed and so has their relationship with jewellery. Women today are strong, fierce and and are empowered to embrace their quirks.

This insight leads to the idea of embracing body positivity in the campaign. We use images of real and influential women, instead of models, embracing confidence and showcase how jewellery adapts to modernity. 

Is this enough to believe in this idea? Almost.

3. The Message

“Themes are for eighth grade book reports” – The writers of Game of Thrones, Season 8

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the last season of Game of Thrones was…. controversial, to say the least. The writers knew what they had to do, they knew how to do it but somewhere along the journey, they forgot to think about why they were doing it. So the most hotly anticipated final season of this decade unanimously turned into the most hated final season of this decade. 

If you are trying to build a case for your controversial, path-breaking, boundary-pushing campaign, you need to think about the core message of your campaign and how it relates to the brand. This part is arguably the most important. If you mess up one of the things in the previous couple of points, all you’ve messed up is the execution. But if your campaign doesn’t tie in with the core message of the brand, you’re going to have another Gillette on your hands. 

They knew what they wanted to say and they knew how they wanted to see it. The most damning criticism, though, wasn’t related to what they were saying. The most damning criticism agreed with their core message that toxic masculinity is harming society but pointed out that Gillette still charges more for women’s razors than men’s. Gillette uses the “feminine” pink colour for women’s razors and the more “masculine” blue/grey for men’s. The most damning criticism isn’t that the campaign itself was wrong, it was that Gillette itself doesn’t believe in the values it is espousing. That’s what happens when you and your client are not on the same page. You can create the best, most amazing campaign for healthy drinks, but if the message is coming from a brand like Coca Cola, people are gonna drag you for it.

For CKC, we decided on the messaging to be representative of everything we had been talking about: empowering women. 

We broke the template of regular jewellery ads by featuring real women, embracing who they are but never lost sight of the brand. The campaign shows how modern women may not conform to standards of the olden days, but they still embrace their heritage, culture and stand up for what they believe in, in their own way. The hashtag #MyWayMyStyle was paired with stories of real women who were accessorising their outfits with CKC jewellery. 

So while our campaign changed the visual aesthetics of CKC alongwith our message of embracing empowerment, it wasn’t controversial in the slightest. 

Before
After

Coming back to our original question, is your campaign worth the risk?

If you’ve done the work we did above, you should be able to answer that for yourself.

What is branding?

What is branding?

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We all know what it’s like to curate our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok etc feeds to reflect certain sides of our personalities. 

But for most of the general public, all of those accounts are rolled into one big display of our personality. Truth be told, most of us don’t even know we’re building personal brands. Our posts are just what we happen to think about stuff but that in itself becomes a brand because our followers and friends start associating our names with food pictures or cat memes or revolutionary leftist commentary.

And because all of us have experience of playing up certain sides of our personalities and playing down others, we have a somewhat intuitive understanding of branding. We can tell when someone’s being genuine versus when someone’s being performative. We’ve developed a sixth sense almost that tells us “x post by Burger King makes sense for their brand” but “y post by McDonald’s is a blatant cash-grab”. That intuitive understanding is going to come in handy when we discuss how branding works in this post so hold on to that thought while we discuss how we got here to begin with.

A Brief History

You know how the word “brand” can also mean to stamp your name on something? Yeah, that’s basically how this whole thing started. Farmers used to brand their cattle with the names of their farms so they could keep track of which cows were theirs. That evolved into more forms of branding. Early cave painting artists would have a symbol to tell others that “yo Klarrggg made this one cheggit”. Think of cave-people as early versions of Banksy, but interesting and with a more cohesive viewpoint on the world.

In advertising, “branding” didn’t really become important until the 50s or the “Mad Men” era, where creatives started associating values with brands. Up until that point, you would have three or four companies making cornflakes and you’d choose the one that you liked. Packaging wasn’t flashy and colourful. They were boxes and tins that just had the name of the company on them. With the advent of more and more companies, it became important to set your product apart from the crowd. So you had the Coca Cola ads that spread the message of friendship and companionship. You had Campbell’s Soup which associated itself with wholesome meals. The values of a company became arguably as important as the product itself. 

Today, it’s almost revolutionary for a brand to not have flashy packaging. When a brand chooses to be minimal, like say Muji or Brandless, they’re making a statement about what their values are. Muji prides itself on simple, well-designed products that are tied together by a philosophy of an uncomplicated life. Brandless’ whole schtick is that their products promise nothing but simple, good functionality. The Brandless soap doesn’t promise to make you happy by making your skin glow; it’s just a pretty darn good soap.

Which brings us to our current dilemma. 

What exactly is a brand? If a brand is all packaging and copy and colours, Brandless and Muji consistently prove us wrong. But if a brand is nothing but the product, then why do we only know the names of two or three types of soda? Maybe there’s a great soda out there with no consistent design language that no one drinks because no one knows it exists. Where does the balance exist? How does one break into an already crowded market and have any hope of success? 

The Answer

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of brands in our lives. So let’s go back to the basics. We know what it’s like to build our own personal brands. We do it everyday without even knowing we’re doing it. 

Remember the intro? This is what it boils down to: your personal brand is you. 

Everything that makes you unique goes into your brand. You’re a passionate designer who enjoys the spectacle of Marvel movies but is known to dabble in arthouse cinema. You love electronic music and are always looking for new artists to follow because there are so many wonderful musicians in the world. You’re a vegetarian by choice and don’t identify with any particular religion, though you do believe that you’re spiritual. You enjoy yoga as much as you enjoy krav maga. I could go on but you see the point, right? Your personal brand is just a collection of the things you enjoy, love, think and post about. Your friends identify all of those things with you so when they throw you a surprise birthday party, they take care to make the menu exclusively vegetarian and get you a Mubi subscription as a birthday present. 

Building a brand’s personality works the same way. Your personality seems authentic because you authentically enjoy everything you post about. It’s necessary for your brand to feel authentic, too. So you associate it with things that fundamentally influence it. Building a brand isn’t about creating a personality for your company. Building a brand is about finding the personality that’s already hiding in there. If your products are organic and cruelty-free, then congratulations your brand believes in protecting the environment. Your brand believes in lessening the suffering that animals face in scientific trials. Your brand can proudly associate itself with those things. 

It’s all about finding the truth of your brand.

Here are some questions that you can ask your brand to get to know it better, and each of these questions is linked to an essential part of branding:

#1. Brand Identity

How does your brand look? 

What’s in a logo? 

What can be the one image that ties all of your values together?

Which colours best suit the personality of your brand?

#2. Brand Positioning

How is your brand placed in the market?

Who are your competitors?

What does your brand do differently than those competitors?

#3. Brand Image

What does the public think about your brand?

Do they know you exist? If not, why?

Do they know what your brand believes in?

How can you let them get to know your brand better?

#4. Brand Personality

Does your brand have a sense of humour?

Is your brand more real and down-to-earth?

If your brand was a person, how would you describe that person?

#5. Brand Messaging

What does your brand want to say?

What is the one thing that it really wants to communicate?

What are your brand’s views on your industry, in general?

#6. Brand Values

What does your brand believe?

How does it show people that it believes in those values?

Are there hidden values that the brand has, but the public doesn’t know about?

#7. Brand Story

Where did your brand come from?

Why this brand and not any other?

Why this personality and not any other?

#8. Brand Equity

What is the emotional/financial value of your brand? 

Has it made itself indispensable in its audience’s lives?

What more could your brand do to connect with its audience better?

A combination of all the above is what’ll help you start building a brand.

Once you know the answers to these questions, you’ll be able to start your journey.

Brands aren’t built in a day, they’re built over time as you keep on consistently showing the world who this brand is, and why this brand exists. These aren’t the only questions you’ll have to answer either. You’ll find more questions as time goes by, but soon enough you will be able to look back and see that you’ve built a relationship with your brand. 

Just like your audience.

And if you’re having trouble with some of these questions, well, that’s what we’re here for.