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Stonebridge Talent Branding

September has been a really productive and busy month – perhaps businesses are getting their ducks lined up for the winter months or perhaps it’s a general vibe of wanting to get things done after the summer. Whichever it is, I am in design heaven, with different tasks and challenges each day.

This project was just completed. The coach, Terence Perrin, is a start-up with many years of experience in talent coaching under his belt. He wanted to use a pre-designed logo from an image library (I am never a fan of this but his budget constraints didn’t allow for more, and at the end of the day what’s most important is to do a great job for a client within their budget). So instead of starting with concepts from scratch, I scoured the market place for an appropriate icon which we purchased and I adapted to make it work for him. It did however remind me of why it’s best to invest in a bespoke brand – even if just for the fact that only your brand will have that particular image. Of course with something as local and personal as coaching, it won’t have such a big impact if someone on the other side of the world uses the same icon, but I’d always strife for uniqueness.

I setup a website in a web builder that came with his domain name, same reason and even more restrictive than I ever imagined – again, if you can, it’s well worth investing in a product that is future proof for a business that’s evolving and changing. I like a challenge though and hopefully the result is still effective in terms of message and brand identity even if it was pretty limited in what one could do.

Add a flyer to the mix and we’ve delivered a nice little start-up collection for a start-up business. Fingers crossed it will be an exciting time ahead for Stonebridge Talent!

It’s back again!

Many (actually shockingly many) years ago the US part of the charity YMCA did a re-brand. A in my mind rather underwhelming one. I wrote about it back in 2010.

And – it’s back again as the logo for estate agents yopa – yopa.co.uk – which in itself sounds like they want to catch everyone mistyping zopa into google 😆

It’s still not bowling me over – but it did make me remember the YMCA and its long standing efforts to help homeless youths – which may also be exactly the kind of association one should perhaps try to avoid when selling houses?

brand perception, brand personality

Carter Wong revamp for British craft beer is just the ticket

British craft beer brand TicketyBrew has unveiled a refreshed identity with design by multi-disciplinary studio Carter Wong.

Restoring impact and structure
Having quickly expanded to include more than 35 flavours the brand had begun to suffer from a series of tweaks to its overarching visual identity. To restore impact Carter Wong refocused TicketyBrew’s messaging, stripping the brand back to a simplified identity with a more contemporary look and feel.
The range was then segmented to provide structure, splitting the portfolio into a Core Range of 11 beers and a Limited Editions range of approximately 26 more unusual flavours.

Stripped back design
Carter Wong retained the original colour palette for the Core Range but reduced the volume of written content on the wraparound label for a cleaner feel. Each flavour within the Core Range now has a number to help distinguish between the products, with a stamp design to celebrate where the beer is made and touches of bright colours to appeal to the latest trends.
Across the Limited Editions range, a patterned background in vibrant tones creates standout to differentiate from the Core Range, with four patterns on rotation and colourways chosen based on the individual flavours.
Where the Core Range shows a stamp of origin in a contrasting hue, the Limited Editions have the year the flavour was introduced. With new flavour profiles released every 4-6 weeks, a newly-introduced digital print approach enables TicketyBrew to amend and print new versions quickly and easily.

 

Engaging a more informed consumer

Sarah Turner, Managing Director, Carter Wong, says: “Since the launch of TicketyBrew in 2013, the craft beer market has grown considerably and as a result, the average consumer is more knowledgeable about their options. Once fit for purpose, the TicketyBrew brand had begun to lose impact as the craft beer category became more competitive.

“We retained the core brand identity with its wrap-around labels and perforated tickets with hidden glass shape but refined the core messaging for an evolved marketplace. The updated design sets the brand apart in an increasingly crowded sector, with added flexibility to introduce new flavour profiles as it continues to grow.”

Ups, I forgot to mention…

…. the name of my product!

Don’t walk up too closely to this banner stand in the local cinema. What looks like a standard ad for Doritos quickly becomes a giggle when you see that the actual ‘new flavour’ had been forgotten (unless this is a new way to style roll up banners) and had to be stuck on with paper and the perhaps slightly uninspiring line ‘Have you tried Chilli flavoured Nachos ??’
I won’t even mention the typography (or lack of).


And why would a triangle have a thinking bubble? Perhaps it is a dream cloud and the designers found themselves in a little bit of a nightmare…

A smell of Mercedes-Benz

I’ve been bemused many times by brand expansions that perhaps don’t come to mind naturally… mustard made by a whiskey brand, marinades by Dr. Pepper, perfume by Zippo lighters. And we seem to be having a new one that seems just a little contrived to me. The Mercedes Benz scent is upon us. Complete with baseball cap offer.
Just one thing made me smile – a special smell of petrol positioned right next to Diesel.

Packaging for the zombie generation

I love sports, dancing, skating, running… And healthy eating goes with it. This however has stopped me in my tracks, confused and perhaps a bit bewildered.
What were they thinking? Is it a promo merchandise goody for the latest apocalyptic movie hitting the screens? Or did I miss the band wagon of runners fashion etiquette? Or is it leftover stock from a yet unpublished branding exercise episode of The Apprentice?
Eventually I was ready to move on, Spring in my step and fuel your 10k hours left of the shelf.

scary, not yummy, perhaps I’m not zombie enough!

 

Mental branding for memorable business

When there are about a million competitors in your marketplace, it’s hard to stand out and be recognised as different. 
mental rental branding
“A mental rate for your rental mate” — its perhaps a tad unexpected for a van rental business, but hey, why not! 
Made me chuckle and remember…

brand message, Funny

The trials of brand positioning …

… Quite literally actually! Returning from a trip to Germany, I came across this ‘freshness centre’ which left me chuckling. Toothbrushes and mints may go well together but slotted together with tampons and slip inlays seems somewhat inappropriate and perhaps a tad tasteless. I am not sure why, but since branding involves a lot of gut feeling, the feminine hygiene or travel refreshment guidelines could have done with some brand guidelines stating a product clear zone – even if it’s just the width of a hand – the way we prescribe them for logos to ensure they have enough clear space around them to stand out and not be compromised. We call it logo integrity. 

Product integrity should be a consideration in my mind, see also the boots example of amusingly misplaced water filters on the bladder weakness isle. 

Oh well, it is all in good humour and invites to caption writing!



product integrity
Fresh at both ends. Lovely!


Back to basics

We have a newbie in our family – which is why it’s been quiet on the blog. Now that life has settled in a bit, I think it’s time to go back to basics.
Branding is not only relevant to businesses, personal brands have been expanded and monetised for a long time – think Jamie Oliver, the Beckhams or in a crude way, politicians vying for votes.
Brands help categorise not only products, but also personalities, and as a combination of both they make us belong to our own little (or large) tribe. We all naturally brand ourselves not just by the clothes we pick, the phone we buy and the car we drive, there are also professional differentiators, such as job titles – and which company we work for.
With business social media sites the likes of LinkedIn, personal and professional branding has become more and more connected to our status in the market place.
Previous jobs, references, titles and responsibilities shape an image for those researching ‘human resources’ or useful connections for their own venture. Taking care of your image online is now high on the agenda – and it’s not down to make-up and work wear.
We have become official representatives of the businesses we are connected with, be it employers or our own. And they in turn need us to complete their own brand image. It is one big branding soup served as the market dish of the day.
Have a go and google yourself! It’s quite insightful to see what the world sees when your name comes up.
There are lots of little helpers to create a personal brand image for yourself. Depending on how you value your privacy and perhaps how ‘delicate’ you everyday life is, Facebook is one of the most known platforms. But, for a more business related approach, here are some thoughts on what to look out for:
Personal profile websites
Flavours.me
Flavours
About.me
About.me
Pixelhub.me
Pixelhub
Other useful sites to build – or check – your online brand reputation
Quora is a question-and-answer website where questions are created, answered, edited and organized by its community of users.
LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking service. Founded in December 2002 and launched on May 5, 2003, it is mainly used for professional networking.
Klout is a website and mobile app that uses social media analytics to rank its users according to online social influence via the “Klout Score”, which is a numerical value between 1 and 100.
Twitter is an online social networking service that enables users to send and read short 140-character messages called “tweets”.
Many more are available and it depends on your location, your situation and your intention.
There are however boundaries to even the best attempts to brand yourself professionally – at least when it comes to insurance quotes! We work so hard on differentiating ourselves with job titles and descriptions, yet the IT systems behind the insurance broker websites don’t recognise half of them.
I have specialised in brand consultancy for many years now, combining the analysis and development of a brand strategy and visual brand identity / implementation, being, if anything, more of an art/creative director – yet I will always end up being a ‘graphic designer’ in the field of ‘marketing’. 🙂 I don’t mind, because at the end of the day I work with people and not form fields.
Personal branding is not about pigeon holing and it’s not about being crazy (unless there is a strategy for that) – but at the end of the day we are all professionals and the titles will only matter if someone actually has a tick box for them in their system.

Proud to be broken

Lego is coming to a cinema near you.
Lego is coming to a cinema near you.

With two boys under 6 there is no way you can escape Legomania! We have been bricked up ever since my oldest could hold a shovel – it’s a brilliant toy for training fine motor skills and as a mum, I personally prefer playing Lego with them than endless car chases or the usual boisterous fighting games.
I played Lego as a child (the East German version with limited colours :-)) and remember the magic of unpacking a set of the Western counterpart that was more than just a heap of bricks ready to be transformed into something. There were little men and bits that made a motorbike or a fire engine. I don’t think I had many Lego man but we did find my husband’s childhood collection in the loft and there were quite a few space men with helmets and rocket packs, awesome. Sadly, quite a few of the helmets were broken at the chin strap, promptly rejected by perfectionist dear son.
So, when walking through town centre and seeing the large version of the cinema poster for the Lego movie, I was double impressed by the brand and its attitude to super heroes, not shying away from self-deprecation and mixing grown up humour with childlike excitement and naivety…
Whats that tear in the helmet? Tradition! A  convincingly human brand attribute...
Whats that tear in the helmet? Tradition! A convincingly human brand attribute…

The rocket man in the post has the renowned broken helmet! Well done Lego! It’s a display of confidence as much as known brand loyalty when a product brand can actually celebrate its flaws from the past – a true translation of human traits and values.
Just clever. The magic continues…
 
 

BMW – Beautiful Marketing Opportunity Wasted

BMW-Brand-advertising-franchise
What were they thinking? This amount of words from such a brand is leaving me speechless…

Hands up everyone who thinks that this is a yellow pages ad from a small business with the BMW logo stuck on… I hope I am not the only one that feels this is way below the usual brand aesthetics of BMW, brand managers cry your eyes out.
Upon closer inspection I realise of course that this is a franchise advert – but I still don’t understand why that implies you can throw any typography style out the window. They may however have gotten a decent discount from the media agency backed up by brand guidelines because there must be a paragraph somewhere that states that the type should be completely visible after the ad has been stuck on, and not like in this sample missing a letter right in the middle of the sheet.
BMW-Brand-advertising-franchise-error
We know how it happened, but that still doesn’t make it right.

Located at a prime spot in our town, this seems such a wasted opportunity – although I wonder how many target market drivers go past the local Aldi… It does blatantly highlight the difference between brand advertising and franchise advertising where the bar still seems to be set much lower and price dictates quality of design.
Whatever the motivation  behind this, in my mind the brand would have been better off with just the logo on a white background.

Which Came First – The Chicken or The Chicken?

I know that when you really look hard, everything has been done before in some way, shape or form, and the challenge of creatives is to come up with new and innovative ways to use a set number of visual devices us people are familiar with to communicate in an engaging manner, but it does strike me as strange when a big brand like McDonald’s uses literally the same device as another big brand (albeit in the pet food market) to advertise one of their key products.

mcdonald's brand advert
What does it say about the brand – apart from ‘hey, we like the Whiskas campaign and thought we do the same!’

Looking at the advert for McDonald’s chicken burger, I am not convinced that it actually works as a brand or product advertisement. It is neither here nor there in terms of emotion and message. Surely if you stuffed your face with a chicken burger in a delightful frenzy, the packaging would look worse for wear with eager fingers dipping in?
Whiskas product advert
Cat food origami… a bit different… but quite sweet.

I know that you can’t always avoid repeating visual devices, in this case origami, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that as such, if executed in an innovative way or used to tell a new story, be relevant and fresh.
tissue brand advert
Folded message. Not really unfolding well.

Looking at this ad for Colhogar, I am not sure the connection with tissue paper for runny noses is really evident. And if you ever tried to actually make origami out of these type of tissues, it is nearly impossible and frustrating because of the softness of the paper (now here is a thought that might actually show a benefit of the paper to the consumer who might prefer the message of ‘too soft to be stable’ for their noses).
greenpeace advert
Missing something.

This Greenpeace advert is another origami example, the connection being the ‘wasting paper kills more than just trees’ but the visual execution is somewhat missing some warmth or depth.
bancoMatoneparrots
This bank’s strapline is ‘multiply your money’ but it beats me why they used birds instead of animals we naturally associate with rapid breeding (rabbits, anyone?).
brand advertisement
Sport artificial leather to stop animal slaughter – sorry, lost on me!

I also don’t quite get this advert for Rexiine House. I don’t even know what the connection is to their brand, what they do, why I should care. Perhaps this is simply an unlucky find because they are an indian company and won’t have exposure here.
The adverts below for Western Union also use origami, but I do like what they have done with it. Unlike the ‘multiplying’ advert, they used the essence of the bank notes themselves to create a connection between money transfers and the human aspect as well as the distance and cultural differences. It shifts the brand message from being a financial transaction to being a human interaction. Nicely done.
western union advert western-union-money-transfer-faces-1
I wonder how the McDonald’s chicken burger campaign will work for them. Perhaps they have planned a whole interactive origami media campaign with in-restaurant tutorials and bespoke packaging with instructions to bring the rather unsubtle copy of the Whiskas adverts to a better live… but why do I doubt that?

advertising, brand advertising, graphic design

Spot the Brand

Spot the Brand
Unless they are trying to promote eye tests, this seems to be a rather very poor brand application on the site of a mighty big van. It is also a good example why we test a logo during a brand identity design process, and why there are brand identity design guidelines that help avoid such failures.
Colour and legibility go hand in hand and there is no doubt a bit of an art to finding the perfect mixture. It’s another tool for communicating a brand’s values – and a very emotional one.
Sadly, the only emotion this van evokes is that of frustration and strained eyes.

brand advertising, graphic design

The Day My Hands-Free Device Came to my Rescue

This is a weird one. I don’t drive a fancy car and in order to take a phone call whilst I am out driving, dear husband researched and gifted me with a hands-free box that clips onto my sun shield and connects to my iPhone via bluetooth.
Sadly, after months of working blissfully, I started losing connection about a week ago and despite best efforts of restarting, disconnecting and finally forgetting the device actions I didn’t manage to get my iPhone and Jabra to talk to each other again. This morning, about to head off to a client meeting and expecting a phone call on the way, I once again tried and tried, with no luck. Finally, and almost in jest, I held the hands-free box in my hands and pressed the function key for what is I guess a SIRI equivalent asking me to say a command and voiced in a rather desperate tone ‘pair with my iPhone’ – only to receive a simple step-by step guide to pairing the devices and within seconds I had a connection again!

Brand experience with a voice
Answering my desperate calls… unlike SIRI, this technology created a brilliant brand experience.

What a positively surprising outcome to a frustrating process! I want that Jabra computer everywhere! Where SIRI clearly wasn’t ready for the market, this simple version did just the job. And the brand’s tagline ‘You’re on’ is translated brilliantly into a rewarding brand experience.
I think I will always remember the day when a computer became a little bit more human (and a whole lot more helpful) without being gimmicky and trying too hard.  Thank you, Jabra! You are officially my personal brand of the week!

brand experience, SIRI

Wilkinson – A Big Brand Let Down by Poor Typography

They have seemingly filled the gap on the high street left by Woolworths. Wilkinson has become a household brand in the purest sense – whether you need a bucket or some baby wipes, some wallpaper or gardening tools, they stock a wide range of household goods at a cheap price compared to the more specialised retailers (Boots for baby items, B&Q or Homebase for DIY, the usual supermarkets for household goods.)
It makes sense to highlight this versatility in a marketing campaign and even more so on their delivery vans for the mail order side of the business. But whilst their online appearance seems to be professional, with attention to detail (such as this 404 not found page design), their lorry advertising is just plain awful.
It’s not only the forced justified type that causes huge gaps between some of the words and looks dubious, it’s the inconsistency in the use of the singular or plural that follows no rule or reasoning. It’s a nice concept, but the execution lets it and the brand down big time.

wilkinson brand identity
A clean, simple logo…

Wilkinson-truck-typography
… spoilt by poor typography.

Wilkinson-truck-typography
Jarring even in the dark..

Wilkinson-404-fun error 404 message
That’s better! Makes you want to get to an error 404!

The concept has been visualised by other stores in a more sophisticated manner. John Lewis’ tissue paper shows outlines of all sorts of products, and Bob Gill did the concept of visualising ‘we do all sorts of things’ many, many years ago in a poster that showed the goods of a department store arranged to a nearly out of context graphic with the interest kept by ignoring the actual scale of the items and arranging them, no matter what their real size, next to each other.
It may be that the back of a van does not make or break a brand, but poor typography does reflect on the professionalism and attention to detail of any business (even if Wilkos could have done worse – they could have used Comic Sans)….

Brand Identity, graphic design, typography

A Logo is a Logo is a Logo…

They famously sparked the usual rebranding debate in 2010 when Waterstones changed their logo from the traditional serif W to a rounded sans serif. It was linked to a campaign ‘feel every word’ – and the typography that ensued always struck me as uncomfortably familiar to Unilever, rebranded by Wolff Olins.

Waterstones rebrand 2010
Feel every word… I feel the world ‘familiarity’

Waterstones Logo 2010
Familiar concept? Compare it to the Unilever brand…

Unilever branding
Plagiarism is a form of flattery…

Early this year they have undergone a backward revolution, I suppose, by abandoning the sans serif FS Alberta Pro back to Baskerville and by dropping the apostrophe. Perhaps it got a bit crowded in the logo marketplace when even Tesco adopted that visual type style.
Tesco welcome typography
Another Unilever inspired brand visual…

It’s an interesting decision by the brand owners, and a somewhat brave step to go ‘back to the roots’.
Waterstones brand evolution
From brand evolution to brand revolution – and back again…

They did however still keep that very Unilever style, now on the new old type.
VentureThree rebrand of Waterstones
VentureThree sticks to the Unilever branding approach…

With all this happening, one can excuse the shop owner of the bookstore chain for struggling to keep up with the latest brand guidelines! This Birmingham outlet seems to believe that if in doubt, stick them all on the shop front – something for everyone…
Waterstones-brand-confusion
Brand confusion? If in doubt, stick them all on!

Perhaps the brand guidelines never made it up to Birmingham, or perhaps there is a hidden message here – but it makes me smile in disbelief that such an established brand can allow a clash of identities…

brand guidelines, brand management, Brand Managment, brand message, Brand Strategy, Brand Vision, typography

Form over Function – Is Being Fashionable Really Enough to Innovate a Brand?

It has taken me a few days to digest a press release I received relating to Filofax, a brand I have been following for a while now. Here is the bit that that is almost too bad to be true when relating it to those brand followers that have been loyal and dedicated to the brand throughout its turbulent history.

Filofax press mention
Working the media… enough to reposition the brand?

The Filofax personal organiser is an iconic product with a strong heritage but as a brand they’ve found it challenging to stay relevant in the current digital age. We were challenged to re-position the brand to make it culturally relevant again and re-capture the imagination of ‘lapsed users’ who once used a Filofax but now rely on their smartphones to keep their diaries.
Following a usage and attitudes study, we identified that lapsed users and current Filofax users share the same common ground – they like to write notes and are very interested in fashion / stylish accessories. With this in mind we needed to make Filofax fashionable again to recapture this audience’s attention, so we set up a fashion-focused press office targeting key fashion and style journalists in aspirational and mainstream media, as well as influential bloggers with style focused tactics to change their perception of the brand.
From creating monthly trend reports that tied Filofax designs into leading catwalk looks, celebrity seeding, to implementing a series of style led blogger challenges, over the course of six months Filofax was starting to become recognised as a style accessory. This was all supported with a design partnership with iconic British fashion designer Alice Temperley who created a limited edition collection designed to showcase Filofax’s design capabilities but ultimately raise their profile amongst a high fashion crowd.
Helena Bloomer, MD of SLAM PR

Especially the ‘usage and attitudes study’ must have felt like a slap in the face of those users who are more keen on what’s in it than who made its cover. Some vented their frustration and published an open letter addressing the issue.
Dave Popely wrote a lovely reply to the PRs strange conclusion based on focus groups or other research which, if anything besides missing the point of the brand and its followers, puts our industry in a bad light. It made me cringe reading the buzzword loaded marketing speech and I am going to try doubly hard not to jump to marketing conclusions that are short sighted and biased.
Even though I am not a Filofax user, having just had a few encounters with those passionate about the product on sites like Philofaxy (hello Steve), I believe the very core of the ongoing success of the brand lies in the provision of a tool helping people organise their lives. Those people don’t want to rely on fancy gadgets, they appreciate the versatility, flexibility and reliability of paper and Filofax’s different systems for keeping notes is at the heart of their social and business organisation – day in, day out. To be pigeonholed as “people who like to write notes and are very interested in fashion/stylish accessories” is not only patronising, but alienates exactly the core of brand followers that seem to be keeping the company alive amidst the mass of digital alternatives.

Winchester and Malden
Kindly provided by Steve Morton from Philofaxy, throughout the decades Filofax has excelled as a brand of quality and function

I had a read of a PDF published on Philofaxy in which Kevin Hall lists the chronology of the company since the 1920s and if anything it highlights once again the lack of understanding that the true magic of the personal organiser lies in its functionality rather than its form.
There are so many possibilities of rejuvenating a brand without attempting to use the glittery but fickle and  shallow fashion direction. The best brand ambassadors are those who believe in the product and I just can’t understand why they are not being included in the development of the brand be it for a social campaign or at least for an in-depth forum or brainstorm. They meet up regularly as a group of enthusiasts sharing ideas, ways to file information, laughs no doubt. Why can the Filofax marketing department not see and capture some of that social magic and break through this strange notion that style will rescue them all.
Cat137_page9
An old system based on functionality

Just like Apple used to create extra special hardware and software for the design community, there is an opportunity to develop an extra special functional paper organiser that looks good as well – and if, as it has been with Apple (excluding SIRI and Maps to date) the design is just as amazing as the product itself, people will happily pay a premium.
Scotsman article about the filofax brand on sale again
Up for grabs – will the French know how to take the brand in the 21st Century?

It remains to be seen what’s next on the cards – with a new edition of the Alice Temperley range announced for the 2013 London fashion week and all those “style led blogger challenges and celebrity seedings” – or perhaps with the possibility of a takeover by French firm Exacompta Clairefontaine. Possibly the future ‘Le Filofax’ will be naturally confident of their French style such that the focus of the brand managers will shift towards the deeper appeal of the product for those using it as an integral part of their life.

brand loyalty, brand management, Brand Managment, brand message, Brand Strategy, Brand Vision

A Brand Architecture of a Rare Kind

They have been spending lots of time, money and resources on building their brand. They have invested in advertising and PR, social media and other means of getting your message out. You have perfected your image and relating product. And they seem to have made a success of it. People aspire to wear their brand name on t-shirts, trousers, sun glasses and anything else they decide to stick it on – so what more could they do?!

Abercrombie & Fitch brand architecture detail
Unless I have missed a vital lesson in luxury roof finishes, this tiling method does not live up to its brand’s promise

Talk to the architect of their themed shops is one thing that instantly springs to mind! With a brand as upmarket as Abercrombie & Fitch you would assume there was some budget left to fit the roof tiles of their outlet in a shopping mall. And even if it was the mall’s shop that finished the exterior, there must be a way to ensure the quality of the brand is reflected in the quality of the roof it sells under.
As with most elements of branding and marketing, consumer perception does not start when they hold their purchase in their hands – it’s important to think through the entire shopping experience or in the case of A&F to not just see the exterior as a means to an end but as an opportunity to shine… or at least stick together nicely!
Abercrombie & Fitch brand architecture
All under one shabby looking roof…

Abercrombie & Fitch brand architecture
Be assured we put all our money into the production of our expensive clothes – not in our shops!

brand management, brand perception

Odd Things to Stick Your Brand On Olympics Special

The Paralympics have arrived and we are once again bathing in the excitement of a global sporting event hosted in our capital. I had been on the lookout for cool and crazy merchandise featuring the much debated and much protected London 2012 branding, and here are just two recent ones I came across…
It’s odd to think that this is the item of choice for promoting an event that excels in its dynamic nature, is full of vibe, confidence and energy, that is about breaking records and inspiring a generation. Was the underlying brand messaging strategy to engage with the nation every time they take their  Sunday roast out the oven or put the tea pot on the side table? Oven mittens and tea pot warmers, ladles and other cooking equipment may be apt for MasterChef or Ready Steady Cook… but I am somewhat doubtful of the effect beyond the gimmick and ensuing giggle… Then again, we might inspire a generation of record breaking oven users and tea makers.
Anything is possible!

Olympics-Branding-potholder
Serving oven roast dinners in record time – the 2012 branded olympic oven glove. Torchbearers accessory perhaps?

Olympic-branding-tea-pot-warmer
Polly put the kettle on! We have an Olympic tea pot warmer to watch the 100m!

Funny, Logos, merchandise, product development, product placement

When a Brand Identity Gets a Second Meaning – Let’s Hope by Chance…

Brand identity chilled ambient
Waiting for your food? Chilled ambient and the ‘wheel of doom’ from apple…

They have everything going for their brand identity. Clean, clear type and colours. A bold message. A modern feel. Shame that the first thing I associate with their logo is not anything to do with food and transport / logistics – it’s simply the feeling of frustration and losing time watching the famous Apple pin wheel rotate on my screen.
What is a shame is that exactly this association of waiting is less than appropriate with a delivery company of any type.
Apple Pin Wheel Icon
Looks familiar? What a shame about the implied association which seems to be a bit ‘off brand’ message!

Apart from that… I like!
 

brand design, brand identity design, Funny, Logos

The Olympics are here – but which brands try to play it?

With the Olympics finally here, I was interested in those brands that paid to be affiliated officially with the event.
The big brands have the cash to participate – but having observed who does what in recent weeks and months leading up to the event, I wonder if they are playing their cards right.
When visa insisted tickets could only be purchased with their cards, they lost a lot of respect from me simply because a brand that limits options is in my mind a brand that reflects an attitude of wanting to gain rather than wanting to give and that doesn’t support individualism and consumer choice.
And why everyone has to eat Mac Donald’s is just another example of selective monopolism that is so very much against the idea of the Olympics, it makes me somewhat doubt their brand strategy in this respect. I understand they give a lot of money to be sponsors and allow for better games for all of us – I just wished someone tried a fresh approach to the inevitable marketing frenzy of the event that ensues.
In comparison, it seems rather harmless that Panasonic puts his Olympic stamp on products designed to capture the moment. (A bit like crunchy bars as the snack for audiences…)
I would have liked to see a truly refreshing brand action in connection with the Olympics that was more than handing out micro bottles of coke on the torch route – at least with crunchy bars you got the full size! 😉
It just shows that most brands are motivated by profits and whilst there is nothing wrong with that, in connection with events such as the Olympics makes their benevolent activities seem somewhat contrived.

I am still not sure it’s the ideal colour combination for brand and logo, but it certainly makes the olympic logo stand out.

sponsorship

SME Branding Lesson #20 – Function Over Form or Form Over Function?

20120724-074444.jpg
I’m on holiday – thus the rather sporadic and short entries – but I always look out for anything branding related that can help my SME clients.
This one is a tricky one – it’s a design issue for sure but one a brand manager has to handle. Does your brand identity have to be forced onto every object even if it distracts from its clarity and even destroys its legibility?
Brand guidelines generally contain rules on how not to distort, change, discolour or deconstruct a brand icon or name – but perhaps we need to add another rule and send it to supermarket giant Sainsbury… How not to space out your brand name or website address!
Especially if people won’t consider your business a household name (yet) clarity is paramount and designs such as this example from Sainsbury can do more harm than good.
Sometimes it’s perhaps better not to feature a name or logo if it is confusing and detrimental to a brand – or find a different brand vehicle, pardon the pun…

brand management, graphic design, SME, vehicle design

SME Branding Lesson #19 – Brand Strategy and the Recession

branding in a recession
Saving in the wrong place – an easy mistake in the world of branding and marketing

It’s much talked-about in the media and favourite subject of a lot of marketing agencies – for good reason. An economic downturn inevitably means budget cuts, and marketing, design and advertising budgets are often conceived to be the outgoings which businesses can live without.
Of course everybody who knows even just a little bit about market positioning, purchasing cycles and consumer behaviour knows that this is a bit of a trap a lot of SMEs fall into. Because it is so hard to track the ROI (return on investment) of marketing elements, such as a new brochure design, an updated website or even a fully fledged re-brand, businesses find it hard to see why they have to keep the work up in order to reap the rewards.
I like to think of it as one of the vital habits of business. Just the way you can’t expect your teeth to stay clean if you stop brushing them because you are short of time (or toothpaste), you can’t expect your brand to flourish and grow if you don’t keep working on getting your brand message out there. So in that sense, all that marketing talk is very true. I do however think that the recession does give more than the challenge of continuing marketing activities to benefit from gaining market positions due to competitors bailing out or lying low.
When money is tight, creativity becomes extra valuable. Creativity allows to stretch a brand, to tweak out new methods of getting it out there, to household with budgets and still stand out with truly beneficial messages, information, services or products instead of  expensive gimmicks. Looking beyond the print and online marketing could yield inexpensive answers that retain existing customers and get your brand talked about.
Consider some of the following:

  • Have you clearly defined your target market or are you ‘carpet bombing’ and thus having increased spending without guaranteed response?
  • How can  you add value to your existing customers – can you share some expert knowledge that will help them and set you apart from competitors?
  • How do your target audiences engage with your brand? Is there a way to reach them that does not require expensive ad campaigns?
  • Do you have a single focus product or service that is the core of your brand and that convinces new and existing clients? Are you pushing this or are you in danger of diluting your brand by trying too many other things that may or may not increase business?
  • Do you excel through excellence in your field – and in the way you treat your customers? Are there ways you can improve the interaction between your brand and consumers with staff training, brand understanding and focusing on delivering an amazing experience?
  • Are you talking to the right people?
  • Could you use the press to gain some coverage through interesting stories?
  • Is your brand easy to recognise? Is your existing marketing material adding to your brand and are you proud to share it?
  • Do you spend your time and resources on perceived ‘free’ marketing, such as social, because it works for  you or just because everybody else does it?

Each business is individual and has individual challenges. The recession is not great for most of us (money lenders and crooks not counting). It is however a definite opportunity to drive a brand forward and gain momentum when the competition seems to stand still…

brand management, brand positioning, creativity, marketing, recession

Spiderman, Spiderman – What Have They Done to You Now?

Spiderman
White trainers? Short sleeves? This rainy summer does not help convince my little one that this is still spiderman despite the suit alterations…

They have done well getting their movies linked with instantly available merchandise. My three year old can name you all the super heros not because we have taken him to see any of the movies, animations or comic strips, but because they are omnipresent in shop windows, supermarket isles, on food packaging and clothing.
A great example of creating a far-reaching brand. However, after this weekend I am not sure how loved the brand is in parent’s eyes! Dear son had earned a toy and since he is in spiderman mania we got him a matel toy figure – happy it did not come with another silly plastic gun that gets lost, doesn’t fire and is totally unrelated to the super hero within their movie story lines. What should have been an amazing spider man success turned out to be an amazing disappointment when little one pointed out that they made him all wrong! He was not wearing the right boots, he had no gloves, his sleeves were too short and he could not bend into the position of the poster display where he is crouching.
We resolved it by actually painting the faults in with permanent red pen and discussing at length how this was just a pretend toy – but it did make me realise once again how well we are trained to recognise music, patterns, visuals, logos and how deeply we associate them with our experiences of those brands – and how we struggle when somebody changes them.
It may be one of the many reasons why big brands tend to evolve their brand identity instead of giving it a completely new look – unless they are looking at a very different positioning and new brand message ‘ala BP in 2000.
BP rebrand
A new look for a new brand message and brand positioning strategy. Shame they messed it up a few years later.

Just why Matel decided to release a toy that bears so little resemblance to the icon they spent so much time and money for creating I don’t know, but I do have to admit it has been a valuable lesson in Martin Lindstromeque ‘brandwashing’ and the power of a marker pen.
 

brand loyalty, Funny, product development

What Were They Thinking?! – An Innuendo Logo

Hertling logistics brand identity
Anyone feeling a sense of innuendo? Do they really not see the resemblance to a male body part? 

From their website – anyone notice a familiar shape?
This may be a case of juvenile association – but perhaps I am not the only one wondering about this choice of logo shape. Even describing it as an icon symbolising fluidity and movement seems inappropriate. If it was a word, I would understand – plenty of those happened when international brands made cultural slip-ups with ill-advised translations. But this is surely an international symbol and I can’t help but not take their branding serious!

cultural references, Funny

An Extremely Challenging Choice of Brand Name

Challenge-extreme brand name
Is it a sports brand? Equipment for mountain expeditions or marathon runners?
No! It’s a DIY tool… Puzzling.

Challenge-extreme-DIY-tools
A challenge too far?

Yesterday, I had one of those moments where you see something, walk past, stop, walk back and smile in disbelief. No, it wasn’t yet another Banksy display – not here in sunny Sutton Coldfield! – it was the packaging displaying the brand name ‘Challenge Xtreme’ and the realisation of the content: a lawnmower.
Little did I know then that the brand also comprises more home grooming products, such as a grass trimmer and a screw driver. Is it just me or is there a disparity between the brand name and the product? Should trimming or mowing your lawn be associated with ‘challenge extreme’? What does it tell me about the brand? Is it an extreme challenge to operate? Will it always break or is it challenging to store? I just want a lawn mower that is  ‘extremely easy’ or ‘the quick and simple’.
There are of course other lawn mower brands and a quick search on Argos reveals the following list:

Black and Decker, Bosch and Flymo are brand names that connect with attributes such as quality, reliability and technology. Especially Flymo stands for ease and comfort when keeping that famous English lawn neat and tidy.  I am not much of a gardener, so the other brands are unknown to me and, apart from Qualcast reminding me of the “It’s a lot less bother than a hover” controversy against Flymo many moons ago, they don’t evoke much feeling or reaction. Challenge and Challenge Xtreme, however, stick out like sore thumbs and I don’t quite get the brand strategy surrounding the product name.
Are they targeting a nichè of ninja gardeners? Is there a secret society of cutting-edge DIY practitioners who will require the emotional backup of a Challenge Xtreme screwdrivers to conquer those plasterboard walls and hang up some pictures?
Perhaps I should hang out in garden centres a bit more and see who goes for the Challenge or Challenge Xtreme – it may be one surprising tribe to belong to in and outside the house…

brand names, brand personality, Brand Strategy

The Brand as an Asset – As Proven by Ford

Ford brand icon
The Ford Oval – more than just a logo

If someone is in doubt that a logo really is of monetary value to a business, and that a brand identity can be used to vouch for credit re-payments, here is a current news article that describes just that…
Ford pledged their Ford Blue Oval as part of a loan package and a representative commented on this: “When we pledged the Ford Blue Oval as part of the loan package, we were not just pledging an asset (…) We pledged our heritage. The Ford Blue Oval is one of the most recognized symbols in the world, and it is a source of great pride and passion, both inside and outside our company.”
Now, seven years after the bailout, Ford have their logo back in their possession – and comment further that this has an ‘enormous psychological impact on Ford and all of our employees’…
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pT610oLXLjI&w=640&h=360]
It’s just great example to advocate the importance of a brand symbol and why companies work so hard on keeping their icon unique and memorable. It is, after all, one of the easiest visual identifiers of a business, if neither the product or service are visible.
Whether Ford will use this opportunity to once again evolve their logo and thus mark the beginning of a new era will have to be seen – and maybe there is a brand strategy meeting being planned as we speak…

brand icon, Brand Strategy, emotional brand

SME Branding Lesson #17 – Expect the Unexpected

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It may be a very obvious detail of shaping a customer’s brand experience, but the fact that I had two reactions from the same brand representatives in the same shop made me wonder if it is something to think about a bit more as part of staff training.
I had used my smartphone all day and was literally left with an important call to make from town and 1% battery left.
I thought ‘why don’t I just pop in at my local mobile phone supplier and ask them for a few percent of their electricity?’ I approached a member of staff who was alone in the shop and kindly stopped whatever phone call he was making at the time. When I explained, he said all I could do is buy a new charger and use it there.
I didn’t think it was worth it and was left feeling a bit disappointed about the lack of empathy and non-apparent creativity in dealing with my plea for help. Just as I was about to leave to try elsewhere, his colleague came in and asked what I needed and quickly suggested I just use one of the cables they use when sorting people’s phones out. Easy! We chatted for ten minutes and I walked away with enough charge to make my call and a much needed brand love boost from T-mobile.
I don’t understand why the first person didn’t have the guts or brains to think outside the staff manual. It was a bit of an unusual request, I know, but the shop was empty, Friday afternoon, and no harm was coming their way by offering to help.
The self-initiative of the other shop assistant really made a difference to my brand experience and I am passing on my good opinion about the brand – more so then I would ever do when seeing an advert or marketing campaign.
When you are dealing with clients, no matter how large or small your organisation, working on great customer interactions to create and maintain a food reputation should be one of the most fundamental things to consider.
Even if a consumer proves difficult or hard to please, giving up on him could be the route to mediocre customer service and a ‘why bother’ attitude that will spread into other areas of the business and effect not just the brand but also ultimately the product or service.
Branding is all about creating that connection with a product, that warm feeling of goodness and positivity about a company, so the more human the ‘corporate machine’ can appear, the more it has a chance to be a success.
If you manage to train your brand representatives to act in the manner you want your business to be perceived, even the weirdest and unusual situations will be not just a challenge, but a much cheaper and more sincere way to surprise and be remembered than the most ingenious ad campaign.

Brand Managment, customer service

SME Branding Lesson #16 – Business Cards – Your Brand Message Exposed

I am working on quite a few corporate identity projects at the moment and the question keeps coming up as to what should be on a business card and how vital a good design is these days for a small business.
So here are some thoughts on the origin, relevancy and importance of the business card.

A brief history of the name card

With a history pointing back to the 17th Century, business cards, or ‘name card’ as they were first called, have been a consistent part of communications. Originally used to introduce the owner as a ‘calling’ visitor, the cards were designed to be just big enough to fit in the palm of a hand and to announce the arrival of its owner ‘in all his glory’.
Whilst name cards were tailored for the individual, businesses used trade cards to advertise where their shops could be found in cities such as London (where at the time there was no formal street numbering system available.
The arrival of printing methods also meant the change of the card design from woodcut or letterpress to lithography and subsequently to include tints and colours. Whilst very popular in those days, come the 19th Century (with new technologies and a wide-spread distribution of newspapers that allowed businesses to display their services more lavishly and prominently) businesses preferred to place adverts, leading to the decline of the trade card industry.
Especially in the US, a distinction was made between calling cards and business cards, one serving social etiquette, the other trade and the promotion of products and services.
Today, we are probably still most familiar with business cards promoting brands – though individualised for the representative – though the availability of off-the-shelf printing solutions such as Moo or printed.com allow greater accessibility of affordable custom print services for those who want to promote their own personal brand.

So how do you start?

If you are looking to promote yourself or your brand, there are a few vital pieces of information that should be found on any card. But whilst you may be tempted to stick everything on there, and possibly everything on one side, it is one of the biggest design challenges to create a clean, clear and legible layout on 85mm x 54mm or thereabouts.

  • Who are you?

This is easy – kind of. You want your brand identity clearly displayed as well as your name and professional title, should you brand use titles. Sometimes the use of lengthy acronyms is more off-putting than useful. It all depends on who you are trying to reach with the business cards. If you are a doctor, surgeon, lawyer or any professional where titles signify the level of experience and the specialism and you are targeting people who understand and value the expertise these titles imply, then by all means include them.
Sometimes however, a brand will benefit from steering clear of the use of titles to create a more accessible, friendly, non-differentiating culture amongst its staff and brand ambassadors.

  • What do you do?

Business cards offer the opportunity to visualise an ‘elevator pitch’. As such, the ‘what do you do’ part needs to be concise and memorable, avoiding endless lists of buzz words relating to your industry.
Also beware that once you write down certain areas of your business, people tend to assume that this is all you do so you may miss out on inquiries relating to those areas you did not mention.
A clearly defined brand essence and core brand message will help to get people interested enough in your brand to engage and find out the details on a website.

  • Where do you do it?

Depending on how you operate, you may or may not include a physical address here. These days, every business should have a thought-through and well-designed web presence that contains these details for those who need them.
However, it depends on whether you are operating from multiple sites, whether you are a local consultancy looking to attract visitors to your offices, whether you are selling a product and really only want web traffic.
Think about what you want to ideally happen when someone picks up your card and is interested. That should dictate how much you disclose about your whereabouts and also how you would like to be contacted.
If online and social media is your aim as a communication platform for engaging with your clients, this would mean the inclusion of relevant icons and perhaps a QR-code. These are constantly evolving and you can now include little brand icons within them to make them more your own.
These are probably the most important pieces of information to include on a car. What will make your card different from others and thus more memorable and valuable for your brand is the consideration of the following:
Format (Size)
Whilst the common size of the business card is practically dictated by wallet and business card holder sizes, there is some flexibility in width and height you can play with. I would never suggest to go too crazy as it may backfire – unless of course you are making a statement and have a solution in mind so the size becomes an asset to your brand.

Unusual size Business Card Sample by Catalyst Studios
This elongated format still fits in a wallet but stands out not just by the material used, but by the size as well.

Shape
As mentioned above, there are certainly restrictions to the shape of a business card which needs to remain practical or may just end up in the bin with all the other uninteresting print material. However, even subtle elements that make the shape special and relevant to the brand can really make your business stand out.
One or more rounded edges, a cut-out bit, a rough boarder – look at your brand essence to see if there is some element that can be visualised by an alteration in the shape of your business card.
Shape Business Card Example from Couldbe Studios
Who says round edges are all you can do? If it works for the brand, an unusual shape can greatly enhance the brand message.

The use of type
There are cases, where you want a lot of information in a small space. That does not mean it has to look busy or cluttered. The challenge of the designer is to find the right balance, the right size and the right fonts (which is why business cards are usually part of the brand identity design development, where type faces and colour palettes are defined).
Luxury Vacations Business Card Design by Essence Design
Even if you have quite a lot of information to display on a card, using clean typography and leaving plenty of ‘white space’ will ensure legibility and that the type does not take away, but adds to the brand identity.

Use of colours
Colour greatly affects how people perceive your business. They are of course part of your brand identity and but a business card gives the opportunity to make bold statements and to use colour in an innovative way. Double sided cards come to life with one side displaying a contrasting colour. Sometimes, less is more and the subtlest shades create an amazing effect that supports your brand message.
CathyPhillips Business Card Design by Essence Design
Here is a sample of a brand ID for an interior designer. Keeping the colour scheme cool and contemporary and printing two coloured business cards at a time reflects the nature of the business as much as the hand crafted logo design and paper choice.

Variations
When working with a printer who either accommodates variations of colours or designs or sets up a job bespoke for you, there is always the option to include different colours, patterns, backgrounds or content on a business card set to create a versatile, collectible feel. It’s something worth considering especially for B2C customers.
Fish Restaurant Business Card Design by Essence Design
This restaurant has a quirky, colourful interior and the business card set reflects this by coming in two distinct variations.

Brand essence
It always creates some magic when you can visualise the brand essence of your business. A tire company with a tire profile across their card. A nitting shop with a needle effect. A visual on the name, such as this example with ‘Hidden’. Once you know who you are, you can play with it to great effect.
Brand Essence Business Card Design Sample by Hidden Design
In this example, the company played with their name ‘hidden’ and created a fun and memorable design.

Paper and material
The material a card is printed on can be as simple as plain paper or as crazy as a bit of wood – if it fits the brand, innovative materials can really bring out the brand message.
There are thousands of specialist papers out there, and companies such as Fedrigioni, GFSmith and Robert Horne work closely with designers to achieve the best creative solution. When it comes to the ‘printability’ of the stock, I would always recommend to work closely with a printer to ensure the design will translate well into print. Sometimes, a ‘wet proof’ is the best option where by the actual paper, inks and print finishes are used on the actual press to create a proof. It’s expensive, but especially if you are using experimental papers and printing methods, it can save hundreds of pounds later if something does not go quite as expected.
Other materials, such as rough card board, Priplak (polypropylene), soft plastics or even wood can be utilised to create a unique feel and special effect for the brand.
Meethalfway Business Card Design by Essence Design
On this example, we simply used a matt laminated card that avoids fingerprints and is sturdy enough to give the card longevity as it is meant to be kept in the wallet for future reference.

Printing methods and print finishing
Two colour Pantone, full colour CMYK, screen print, blind emboss, thermography, UV spot varnish, silk or matt laminate, gloss UV, emboss, die cutting, foiling – the list is extensive when it comes to available printing methods and print finishes. Some simpler print finishes, such as laminates, are now often part of the printing press setup and thus available even on the cheap printing websites. For everything else it is good to find a knowledgable, passionate print partner
Anam Cara Business Card Design and Folder by Essence Design
In this sample, we used copper foil to enhance the visual of this alternative therapy brand.

What else is there to think about?

You could say that that’s enough – but I wouldn’t stop there. Think about how you will hand out the business cards. How does the container look that you pull them out of? Which side would you ideally present first? How do they fit with the other brand collateral? Are you proud to hand them out? What does their appearance say about your business? Do they look cheap? And if so, is that ok for what you do? (A charity has to take a different approach to a luxury good retailer.)
Business cards are one of the smallest print materials every brand should call their own – but they are also one of the biggest opportunities every brand should make their own.

brand message, business cards, graphic design, print finishes, printing

SME Branding Lesson #15 – Be Generous

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It’s been twice now in recent weeks that I have been surprised by the generosity of businesses who didn’t have to, but did go beyond expectations.
I was about to travel with my youngest son to see the great grandma quite a long way away and someone made me aware that my break lights stopped working. So I headed to the local garage since I never had the opportunity to do that type of car DIY myself and asked if they could change the bulbs for me. The mechanic booked me in and we got the pushchair put so I could take the kids home and leave the car there. (Hurray to truly local businesses).
What happened next was sweetly unexpected – he came back to me fumbling in his pockets and pulled out two pound coins. One for each son to put in their money box – for good luck.
My car was fixed for less than 10 Pounds within the hour and I was left happy and ready to send any car owner their way!
It wasn’t that they had some marketing theme, some ‘buy one, get one free’ offer or a prize draw for getting more customers – they were simply human and tried to make my life easy and put a smile on my face.
At the weekend we visited York and ventured into a board game shop to get an expansion for Dominion. My husband joked whether they would give a birthday discount (it was his 40th that day) and a few seconds later the shop manager came out of the wood works (ok, the window sill) and told his staff to give us 10% off. How nice was that!
Again, there was no email subscription offer, no referral scheme, just good old customer friendliness and unexpected generosity.
It’s something I think any brand can learn from. We spend all this time, effort and money to give brands a human face but sometimes the simplest human interaction is worth a hundred campaigns. It doesn’t have to involve money, and it’s not about just giving away things, it’s about relevancy and an appropriate response that allows people to feel connected to your business.
Think about how you can add value to a customer’s purchase. Can you train your staff to be able to take liberties and react to enhance a purchasing experience? Is there another way to engage with shoppers apart from the age old ‘can I help you with something’ question?
Put yourself in your client’s shoes and try to create an experience with your product or service that will keep your brand in their mind and on their tongues when recommending you to others.

Brand Strategy

Ladybird Has a Cuppa

I wrote a post not long ago about ‘odd things to stick your brand on’ and I guess this entry is the opposite — odd brands stuck on (in this case a mug).
Whilst I love the whole Pantone colour merchandise, I am just not sure that simply sticking an image from the old ladybird learning to read books makes for good brand application… Perhaps if they had some reading exercises to do with tea and coffee or played with the alphabet…

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Funny

SME Branding Lesson #14 – The Downsides of Niche Brands

Having written about niche brands and why they are a great way to dominate the market place, demand higher prices and have the ‘expert factor’, here are some thoughts on potential issues with being so specialised and targeted.
Don’t Get Stuck in a Niche

Brand diversity
Niche can be too niche...

I have a vast portfolio of work within the hotel and leisure industry as well as arts and culture. However, was I to concentrate on these sectors alone, a number of issues would occur, including the number of clients I can work with without causing problems with competition, the fear of clients that my work may be repetitive if I am not exposed to other markets, the danger of the industry being in trouble and marketing budgets being cut; not to forget my own personal longing for diverse problem solving within a multitude of industries and company sizes.I guess it is about finding the right balance between being a ‘Jack of all trades’ and a master of not a lot of industry.
Whatever your niche market, make sure your product and service are far reaching and adaptable to a larger playing field.
Keep Your Eye on the Mainstream 
Mainstream brands
Step out of the niche and into the world of household brand names

Starting out as a niche, you may find yourself comfortable and secure – but it may be a good idea to strive for a larger market long-term. We all know the typical global ‘household brands’. Apple, for instance, used to be very focused on the designer’s market alone before breaking into the mainstream with their innovative iPod and iMac many years ago now.
Being a niche brand, you may never consider that step – but it’s a good one to aim for if you want to grow into a global brand with the relevant advantages of a much larger market and influence.That’s not to say mainstream is the ultimate solution for brands – BlackBerry are just abandoning the consumer market in favour of going back to their roots in targeting businesses, Dell is another example that struggled with trying to be everything to everyone.
Sometimes though, a niche (such as FairTrade for instance) becomes relevant and popular with a large part of society and is the next step for a brand.
So, if it suits your product, service and the demand on the markets, mainstream is a viable aim. On the upside, retailers are discovering more and more the power of niche brands and are offering smaller brands valuable shelf space.
Innovation is Key (again…)

brand Innovation
Make sure your niche has its place in the future

Even though you may be the expert in your field and have a great reputation, without innovation and pushing your brand and its boundaries, the competition will catch up and overtake you in the long run.Purchasing preferences even in specialised sectors change and evolve so be aware and step out of your comfort zone to explore new value-adding products and services – or markets.

Brand Strategy, niche branding

SME Branding Lesson #13 – The Power of the Niche

Widely publicised in recent years, one of the most popular choices for entrepreneurs is niche marketing. Whilst I would be careful with the trend of ‘finding a niche and building a website around it’, I think if a business has established a differentiating factor that sets it apart, the targeted approach of a niche brand may be the next step in securing brand loyalty and higher profit margins.

What is a niche brand?

In simple terms, a niche brand is a brand that addresses the need for a product or service that mainstream brands don’t provide for. It is a very specific brand appealing to a subset of the market.
Niche brands often withstand market forces better because they have increased brand loyalty and a prime position within their market segment.
A niche could be a luxury brand, such as Rolex or Hermes who only target the richest consumers – or it could be a shop selling household products for people with dermatitis, e.g. catering for a very specific need.

Some niche brands on or off the high street

The following are just a few samples I would consider niche brands – though some have made the break-through into the mass market.

Under the Nile clothing brand
Under the Nile is an organic clothing company for kids. Niche and boutique.

Trunki
Another niche brand that has grown to be part of the high street. After initial Dragon's Den disaster, Trunki is synonymous for bright, fun travel accessories for kids.

MeisterSinger
MeisterSinger is a super luxury niche brand. Don't ask how much it costs!

Hot Milk
Hot Milk lingerie is a refreshing maternity lingerie brand that is not afraid to put some humour into pregnancy...

Even Hotels
The hotel that is looking after your health. A niche with potential.

EO niche brands
Another niche brand in the beauty market

Ellas Kitchen
If you have children, you will probably know Ella's Kitchen. It's a regular in the supermarkets but an independent brand – a bit like Innocent.

Crocs
Everyone knows Crocs now – but the brand started as a niche and perhaps still is...

Avene niche brand
Avene has a beauty reputation

How can you find a niche?

Start with market research. If you don’t have a specific product yet, you can use a variety of online search tools to find out what consumers are interested in and if there is a range of products or services that can cater for their demand. You can use free tools, such as the Google keyword tool, to find out how many people search for a specific keyword and to find related terms to give you more ideas. Find something that has a good balance of demand and supply, so you can easily become the market leader and have sufficient interest in your product.
If you already have a product or service, consider the following: Which market are you in? Who are your customers? Think about to whom your product mostly speaks. What problem does your brand solve? Is there a recurring customer profile that works for your business?
Without trying to please everyone, you can become a market leader in a specific sub group and compete through your expert knowledge of your customer’s requirements.

Why should you find a niche?

In terms of branding, a niche means you automatically target a very specific segment of your target market, and thus you will be presented with some great opportunities of engaging with a willing crowd of enthusiasts. I just remember my interview with Steve from phILOFAXY, which gave me great insight into the nature of those Filofax fans – you could not wish for better brand ambassadors!

Filofax
A niche with continuing appeal – Filofax

Niche brands have the appeal of being expert and serving the individual, so you can benefit from better margins if your brand is right and from stronger loyalty if you fulfill your brand promise.
That also means that niche brands are often more resilient in a more difficult financial climate. And if your business is built on being profitable without needing mass sales, a drop in purchasing is not going to affect you as severely as mass product brands that suffer when the general public tightens their purse strings.
Building a niche brand also means that you have more opportunities within a chosen sector to become the expert, the market leader, the one to beat – and benefit from interest where big brands won’t bother because it is not worth their time and investment.

Any help out there?

There are a number of pod casts all around niche branding which are very interesting to listen to and who discuss a wide array of subjects relating to finding and marketing a niche brand. Of course you can always talk to me, too… 🙂
ViperChill
Internet Business Mastery
A lot of niche websites rely on internet marketing which both these pod casts address nicely. Any more gems out there, please let me know!

brand management, niche branding

A Brand Advert to DIY For

Just a quick one really. I am not a regular TV advertising watcher, but when I came across the recent B&Q ad, I thought it is a great example for the difference between big brand advertising and direct response adverts.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abU4PFYFeXI?rel=0]
The ad focuses purely on the emotional connection with the brand. Helping you say ‘I did that’ is such a strong summary of what a home improvement company can strive for. It works because we all know that B&Q is about DIY, about paints, wood, screws and wallpaper, about tools and garden accessories. If we didn’t, the ad may look pretty, but we’d be missing out on all those messages that describe what B&Q actually offers.

advertising, brand advertising

SME Business Lesson #10 – Be Patient and Grow Slowly

You are busy selling your products or service and business life couldn’t be better – or more exciting. It is at this point that it is tempting to expand your brand offering and to try and get more market share elsewhere.
Think twice before venturing into unknown territory. Your brand will be much stronger and probably more profitable if you concentrate on your core strength first. Make sure you achieve your branding goals, become the market leader or one of the major players in your sector and work hard on getting your unique selling point across.
Unless you like a risky gamble, only when your brand is well established and recognised by your target audience and has enough brand ambassadors to keep new and repeat business coming in, only then would I advise to look into diversifying.
There are bound to be implications for your core business –

  • Starting from the top, your business, brand and marketing strategy need re-thinking and adjusting
  • Not all your stakeholders will buy into your brand extension and may feel alienated
  • New infrastructure requirements will stretch your resources and challenge your existing and new brand
  • Your new brand will need some sort of investment – time or money – before it will be a revenue earner, so cashflow may be an issue
  • You will have less time to dedicate to a particular area of your business which may be detrimental to your existing client base
Brandingstrategyinsider.com has just published this article answering a question of an India based soap manufacturer and whilst it relates to large brands, but I think it is relevant for SMEs also.
“…one must first understand what brand associations are most closely tied to the brand in question. Any brand extension into a new product category must reinforce one of those primary associations without creating new negative, conflicting or confusing associations for the brand. If this rule is followed, the brand extension will actually reinforce what the brand stands for.” Brad VanAuken

You can read the article here: Can Brand Extensions Weaken A Brand?: Branding Strategy Insider. I had also posted an article back in 2010 about some of those weak or failed brand expansion attempts. And here are some more strange big brand extensions:

Donald Trump launched Trump Steaks
Donald Trump launched Trump Steaks

cosmopolitan brand flop
Cosmopolitan owned a yoghurt brand for all but 18 months

Stallone High Protein Pudding
Silvester Stallone gave his name to a high protein pudding. Yum.

barbie_golf_natalie Meyer
Barbie launched a clothing range (Image courtesy of Natalie Meyer)

In essence, businesses naturally need to expand or change to keep their brand and brand promise current, valid and fit for the future. But whilst it may be tempting to diversify early, time will be better spent establishing a strong brand identity and market position – and to truly understand how to apply your existing brand values to the new product or service.

brand extensions, SME

Homebase Rebrand – Rebel Without a Cause?

This week saw the launch of the new homebase brand, designed by Design Bridge. The result was received rather lukewarm with a hint of disappointment at least by the design community.

Homebase_logo 2012
"Initially the brief asked us not to change the logo, but as the project developed it became clear that the logo required an evolution to reflect the creative look and feel and tone of voice that we developed for the brand." (Design Bridge)

Most agree that it is certainly an evolution instead of a revolution – if rebrand is indeed the correct term for this logo development.
Homebase Logo
Flat and one dimensional. And now much better – apparently.

I wonder if we are missing some information here. Why did the company feel the need to change the graphics? Some speculate that Homebase is attempting to better align itself with the newly acquired Habitat brand.
If they are trying to position themselves as the duller, more conventional brand of the two, perhaps that’s a job well done – but I don’t feel that this logo change alone is going to actually change the perception of the brand sufficiently enough.
It was perhaps not the wisest move to make it a big piece of PR as the usual comments of those just looking at the result will inevitably be along the lines of ‘I could have done that in five minutes’ and ‘how can they spend money on this’.
Tropicana rebranded packaging
Where is the brand name? And what makes this look any different from supermarket's own brands?

Perhaps they were trying to avoid a branding disaster of the scale of Tropicana. Like so many others, the brand, owned by Pepsico, intended to bring their classic packaging design with the widely recognised straw-in-an-orange image into the 21st Century.
However, they seemed to have forgotten that a successful rebrand involves not just the design of a new logo or packaging identity, but includes re-evaluating and adjusting a company’s goals, brand message and, importantly, company culture.
Instead, they rolled out completely new packaging without any other evidence of re-positioning and with the added flaw in that their consumers did not recognise the new packaging as Tropicana’s because too many elements of the design had moved.
The original branding for the Tropicana carton
The straw, the orange, the brand name bang in the middle. It was familiar and it worked.

The packaging  was no longer familiar or easy to spot on the supermarket shelves. After lots of complaints and plummeting sales, the company did a u-turn and went back to the old design, proving the power of the consumer and that we are all creatures of habit…
Changing things too much certainly won’t be  an issue for the Homebase logo. Which brings me back to the question ‘Why do it at all and so publicly?’
Design Bridge says, ‘Across all touch points, we have injected depth and light to move from flat, primary colours to a more natural and optimistic palette.’
That may be so – but did they have to plop it in yet another circle? I really wished I could see the creative cleverness in this – but then again, retail has its own science behind its success and this may be just the right mixture of keeping the brand identity close to its past whilst adding some new elements to ‘play with’ in different touch points.
It remains to be seen how the brand is rolled out across the website and company literature and perhaps it will complete a new picture Homebase and is going to paint.
In the meantime, I am afraid it looks like yet another rebrand without a cause – be it because it was death by committee, fear of bold change or lack of inspiration. I wonder what B&Q will do next!

Brand Identity, Brand Strategy, Logos

SME Branding Lesson #7 – Start Branding From Within

My husband recently went to a client meeting and couldn’t resist sending me some images of what I can only describe as branding horror.

Branding disaster example 2
Experts behind these doors?

branding disaster
Perhaps they should get some business advice.

Looking at how this company, Business Advice Direct, presents itself to the public is either an experiment of a student group conducting a ‘how not to do branding’ experiment or the unfortunate display of a company that does not practice what it preaches.
If I walk into an office seeking business advice what I am probably expecting is the display of unbounded expertise, of energy, professionalism, an air of reliability and above all, confidence. And this is before I even step into the room.
This visual translation of your brand values is one very important part of brand management and reputation building and a brand professional will probably guide yourself and your team to discover what they think your clients experience when they first interact with your brand:

  • Does your brand appear professional?
  • Does your brand image evoke trust?
  • Does it reflect what you do?
  • Does it invite to engage?
  • Are you proud of it?
  • Are your employees proud of it?

This, in some way, is the easy part. It’s where you can work with a decent brand designer who is trained to translate brand values into a brand identity that will convey all those important subliminal messages that make your business special.
What follows, goes deeper. It’s about business mentality, about culture. In the case of Business Advice Direct, the shocking thing is not that they actually have such an uninspiring, unprofessional brand identity, it’s the fact that the employees sitting in those offices let it happen – probably helped throwing some Blutack at the doors to stick the sheet of paper on.
Why has the company not encouraged their staff to understand their business and to have the ability and conviction to prevent such a display? I recently listened to a podcast of Dave Young’s BrandingBlog with Michele Miller about marketing to women. She mentioned an experience at a hotel where  things went wrong – but where the staff had the authority to rectify their mistake and provide an appropriate compensation that more than made up for the initial lapse in customer service. It reminded me how important it is that a business looks at the culture, the attitude from within.
If everyone working for a business embraces the brand as theirs and considers themselves to be an ambassador that wants to succeed; if the staff are the brand as much as the brand identity and marketing material, then you have a much better chance that no-one will ever even consider it good enough for your business signage to stick a torn sheet of paper on a broken door and put your company name on it.

b, brand management, SME

Proof of the Pudding – Or is it a Bun?

The Santander brand identity has been a bit of a mystery to me ever since they took over our high streets in personal and business banking. In my mind, Santander are a baker, not a financial institution – mostly because their logo looks like a hot bun fresh out the oven, still steaming.
So imagine my joy when I walked passed one of their offices with posters advertising coffee and snacks. It must be true – they really are a pastry maker in disguise!

Santander Brand Identity Design
Someone's got a bun in the oven...

They are of course a major brand and their logo, strange as it may be, is well-recognised, but for me personally, the visual identity design of the ‘flame’ logo is weak and I curse it every time it triggers the thought of some lovely home-made bread which it then inevitably doesn’t deliver.
There is a local chippy that has a similar problem – though for a slightly smaller audience… in fact, probably just for me. They use red, black and white for their shop front and signage which has the effect of visually reminding not of the UK coastal fishery towns, but of Japanese restaurant exterior and from a distance the words even read  ‘sushi fish bar’ instead.
Being a great fan of sushi and all things non-battered, it has caught me out time and time again, filling me with disappointment that the promise of fresh, unusual, healthy fish dishes is in fact that of deep fried sausages, poultry and haddock with the Nation’s favourite potatoe dish.
And whilst I’ve got absolutely nothing against fish and chips when it’s the right occasion, I feel that they missed a trick in their brand identity design – why try and be something they are not instead of celebrating the British? Until they commission a new lick of paint, I shall continue to drive past and remind myself that it’s really not that important…
 

brand, Brand Identity, Logos

A Brand Extension from the 50s?

Sometimes it feels like the world is going backwards. Just when we think that women are gaining more influence and power, are getting higher salaries and more opportunities in areas not open to them in the past, there comes a brand that turn back to stereotypical patronising sales methods that is slightly bemusing, if not a bit infuriating.
Lego seems to finally have realised a brand extension proposal conceived in the 1950s where housekeeping and raising a family were considered the ideal roles for females and where products and advertising were geared towards this social attitude.

Lego Friends Packaging
A girlie stereotype coming from a Heartlake city near you

In December last year, Lego Friends hit the UK as a new range targeting young girls, featuring five Bratz-like ‘mini-dolls’. They have their own characters, hobbies, likes and dislikes, such as arts, invention and pets. Their home is ‘Heartlake City’ and sets represent the outdoors and urban areas.
There is more information about the brand, the new line and its past in this article from Bloomsberg Businessweek.
Just why Lego believes it has to change their long standing, successful range of construction toys and play sets into doll houses and domestic bliss scenes, I can not get my head around – I grew up with lego and never did it bother me that I did not have sauce pans or kitchens to build, but instead police vans, fire engines and helicopters. I spent many hours creating my own models and letting fantasy take flight without pre-conceived story lines aimed at my gender.
Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, CEO of Lego, argues that it would “breathe fresh air into a toy category filled mostly with pre-fabricated play experiences for girls”.
I can’t quite see how Lego Friends will be any different to Barbie, Bratz or Disney Princess – and I am curious if mothers will be keen to get their 5 year olds these rather too polished looking play sets with seemingly unchallenging assembly options and little room for creative diversion.
Quite happy I have two boys! Of course I may be completely wrong and this will be a huge hit, but it seems to be an unnecessary gamble with Lego’s current brand positioning and I wonder if they really could not think of any non-gender innovations to gain more market share.
It would be great to hear what you think about this new brand or similar developments in other areas of the toy/games market.

brand extension, Funny

SME Branding Lesson #5 – Define a Brand Promise You Can Keep

Trip Advisor brand logo
The slogan is promising:  “reviews that you can trust”. But following a host of media attention in recent months, it seems Trip Advisor has to re-think its brand promise following a ruling of the Advertising Standards Authority that they should not “major on trustworthiness if fake reviews can appear”. More information can be found in this BBC news article:
TripAdvisor rebuked over ‘trust’ claims on review site.
A brand promise is the brand’s essence – a single minded statement that sums up the brand. Phillips is ‘sense and simplicity’; Apple ‘Think Different’; Starbucks ‘the third place’; Volvo stands for safety and Coca Cola for ‘refreshment and happiness’. So if a company like Trip Advisor positions itself as the source of ‘over 50 million honest reviews’, it better live up to its promise or risks damaging both reputation and trust. It will have to be seen how the brand will react to the ASA ruling and if it can maintain its top position in future.
It takes a long time to instill a brand’s essence in the minds and hearts of consumers. It takes just one incidence to break it. Remember Gerald Ratner who in 1991 wiped out a 500 mio fortune with one speech?

Ratners
Ratner said: “We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, ‘How can you sell this for such a low price?’ I say, because it’s total crap.” And he added that his stores’ earrings were “cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn’t last as long”.

BP’s ‘Beyond Petroleum’ was a challenging promise at the best of times but really came to haunt the oil giant when disaster struck.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/v/MTdKa9eWNFw?]
During the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, where 11 rig workers lost their lives,  an unfortunate remark made by CEO Tony Hayward (‘I want my life back’) added fuel to the fire of the actual accident and led to the company dropping out of the top 100 brands index because the difference between their strategy and reality became emphasised and highlighted the fact that it could not keep its promises.
So, when you define your brand essence, make sure you don’t make promises you can not fulfil. It’s easier to improve on an offering and to add value to customers than to disappoint and backtrack.
I guess a key factor is to truly understand where your value lies for your customers today and in future and to identify where you are different to your direct and indirect competitors to create a memorable brand promise that will live up to its meaning.

Brand Strategy, Brand Vision, SME

A brand extension that could be twisted: Listerine Total Care Zero

LISTERINE_TOTAL_CARE_ZERO
Hmmm. Zero Total Care?

I came across this new brand extension from Listerine – with total care and all the usual USPs – but I was wondering if their choice of name was the best one. It works for Coke, one could say, but Coke is not a sub line such as theirs ‘Total Care’ that is then followed by ‘Zero’.
Perhaps the graphic design could have helped with the label. I understand that they can’t stray too much from the other brand labels so they don’t confuse their customers who are used to seeing the brand name in a certain colour and size on the packaging.
If nothing else though, the brand name seems contrived, but I can’t help but twist it around and conceive their latest innovation as something I couldn’t totally care less than zero about.
Now I’ll go and wash my mouth out.

brand extension, brand management, brand naming, Funny

After Kodak, Can Old Brands Survive by Re-inventing Themselves?

Kodak logo
Kodak is the latest brand struggling for cash and has filed for bankruptcy protection. The photographic pioneer has over 130 years history – and they seemed to have made a successful transition from old school film and cameras to digital when digital cameras started to go mainstream – with the Kodak gallery as just one example of building brand relations with consumers and offering new products and services online. The problem there is a crowded market – newer and more modern looking versions of online digital photo printing companies have emerged and even the rather dull looking Picassa seems to have much more appeal. There are the obvious competitors including snapfish, photobox, digitalab and bonusprint and of course the almighty iPhoto.
It seems that their aspiration to become the new digital printing specialist, and their strategy to sell printers, even without making any money on them, to later gain profits on the sale and servicing of inks and parts, seems to have over stretched them somewhat and they are now trying to shed assets they can spare.

Loosing that Kodak moment

It may now cost them dearly that they did not focus more on increasing their brand value – more than 10 years ago, branding specialist Interbrand ranked Kodak number 16 of the most valuable brands in the world, estimated to be worth around $14.8 billion. Since then, the Kodak brand has fallen in both rank and value. 4 years ago it no longer appeared in the top 300 list with an estimated value of only $3.3 billion.
I am also not convinced by their strategy to become a digital printing specialist – is this really a future-proof market? With the emerging tablet market, reading news, books, etc and viewing photos has become so much simpler and more accessible already, with progress in the digital market how much of a need to print will there be?
Would it not be wiser to use the brand value they still possess and team up with another company to create something innovative and different, still capturing ‘that Kodak moment’?
We will have to see what they do about it now and if this latest move will help them to re-invent themselves with a good enough market share to thrive once again.

An innovation race – can Filofax still compete?

Filofax
Filofax still occupies shelf space at WHSmith – but will it last?

I came across Filofax a couple of months ago when browsing through WHSmiths and I thought ‘must research what their brand strategy is as they have become largely irrelevant with the rise of smartphones and tablets as digital organisers and diaries…’ And just as I sit down now to look into it, I am finding press releases regarding their new strategy. It all sounds very clever and positive… but it does make me wonder if it is a short term fix without a long term vision for the brand.
Jon Morse at Filofax says in an interview:
“With so many working days spent at a computer, we have seen many customers crave the tactile feel of pen to paper. Filofax offers the user a quiet, private moment and a solid hard copy of personal information.
Our strategy is not to compete with technological advances, but rather, to position ourselves as a fashionable, luxury paper-based product for those moments away from the screen. We find many customers using both a smartphone and an organiser.”
Gordon Presly, CEO of the Filofax Group, comments, “Our collaboration with Temperley London for Filofax was a natural development given Alice has a real passion for Filofax and importantly shares many of the qualities of our customers, as a creative individual, successful business woman and mother with a busy and fulfilled personal and work life. We were intrigued to give Alice full rein to create a bespoke collection that would give birth to her vision of the perfect Filofax for others to use when juggling busy lives, yet with a desire to look stylish. We take a long term view to our partnership with Temperley London as part of a wider fashion focused strategy, positioning Filofax as the ultimate lifestyle accessory for creative and self-fulfilled individuals.”
It seems an interesting repositioning strategy to aim at the luxury market – and collaborating with fashion designers such as Alice Temperley is an interesting interpretation of that strategy and allows to set a higher price point to the diaries, creating desire and establishing it as a sort of fashionista insider must have accessory. If this catches on with the young generation, and if their business can be profitable within the luxury sector (perhaps they could where they may sell less but for a much higher price and more margin), it may all be just lovely.
But I am a bit doubtful about the longevity of this strategy. Smartphones won’t go away any time soon. They come accompanied by an army of accessories – some luxury, some tat, so the ‘bespoke’ need in smartphone users is easily satisfied among a lot of different market segments.

Finding a point of difference

What does a Filofax do that a smartphone or tablet app won’t (other than the feel of the paper that you will curse when you have left it at your favourite hangout or in a taxi after a champagne reception at an exclusive art gallery…)?
With applications such as Evernote, where you can collect voice memos, notes, photos, videos, anything really and it is synced to your computer, with those invited to share the documents, and backed up, I can’t shake the suspicion that Filofax is going to be a victim of technology just like so many other brands that have vanished from our high street.
It is amazing how the brand has managed (and keeps doing so) to cling on to the executive and gift market – one can hardly describe this with ‘by re-inventing themselves’. It is more of a sense of familiarity, tradition and safe choice for the ‘more mature’ generation, but if they are sufficiently enthused brand ambassadors to pass on that passion for a paper diary to the next generation is to be seen. This Filofax site gives some great insight into the passion of the brand followers.

Hesitation – for and against the brand

I can’t see myself carrying one around a Filofax as well as my smart phone. It used to be quicker to just leaf through a paper diary and jot a note down but the latest models of smartphones are so interactive and easy to use, it takes longer to find a pen that writes than it takes to instruct SIRI.
As for the ‘creative individual’ – I do not leave the house without one paper based product which I use for gathering thoughts and observations; my sketchbook. But it would be hopeless as a diary and I would not see the point in spending a premium on it as a fashion item. When it comes to a sketchbook, for me personally, it is content over form.
However, there is the element of social and business etiquette where it may be frowned upon to pull out your iPhone or Blackberry during a consultancy meeting or a presentation to a client, but it would be acceptable to scribble notes in a branded, leather-bound diary. This is where I still see relevance for the product, and certainly for the brand, given that they offer well-designed, bespokable inserts to the leather cases.

So, what could a long-term strategy be?

Could they bring back production to the UK and make it a true luxury brand that becomes an executive status symbol? Perhaps they should also re-visit their website design to create a more luxury feel and to better translate their current brand strategy.
Certainly the luxury brands have many advantages of premium and budget brands. They are less likely to be hit by economic fluctuations. They play with the human basic instinct – which include ‘envy’ in some shape or form. They become status symbols we use to align ourselves with a certain group of people we want to belong to – they are tribal and due to the price factor this can be a very exclusive tribe that is a great aspiration for those not part of it.
Linking to the fashion industry – and making it more about the ‘outside’ and working on the ‘inside’ to be extremely customisable and clever could be a good strategy after all.

Another thought for long-term innovation

BlackBerry-Porsche
The BlackBerry Porsche is just one example of a collaboration of brands

Whilst I would not invest in Filofax even with their new strategy, here is a thought that I find much more exciting (and challenging of course). Mr Letts develops a product with an Android tablet that is created to service future Filofax lovers – with bespoke diary keeping software.
That way, the leather bound, high quality, board room suitable tablet cases would be the link to the old. The bespoke software – it will need to be excellent – would be the link to the new. Bespoke collaborations are nothing new – remember SMART when Mercedes-Benz has not yet pulled out and the Blackberry Porsche is just a recent example.
It will be interesting to see where the brand is in a year’s time – and if they want to hire me, I am available from March onwards 😉

Brand Strategy, differentiation

SME Branding Lesson #3 – Differentiate, Differentiate, Differentiate

This subject really deserves a much more detailed post, but sharing just one example of how a strategy can translate in the most unexpected areas of a business and aid a brand to stand out, here is a snapshot of a busy display at TK Maxx ‘showcasing’ a selection of kitchen utensils.

Circulon brand differentiation
Standing out amongst the crowd

Circulon, known for their non-stick cooking ware, are using aluminium labels embossed with their logo type instead of the typical card or paper versions from competitors. The result: Instant visual differentiation and recognition. But there is more to it – this little detail also strengthens the consumer’s attitude towards the brand and adds to their brand experience.
(Clearly, the guys from Circulon are all about quality and design if they pay that much attention to even just the label of their product. It must be trustworthy and reliable.)
Circulon Label
It's all in the detail. An unusual label design creates a feel of quality and reliability.

It will have added some costs to the production, no doubt about that, and in the volumes a company of that size this will be insignificant, so is this a good example for branding for SMEs? I believe so because the details don’t have to cost the world – but they can make all the difference. Whether you are paying particular attention to which paper you use for your stationery, what colour envelopes you send your invoices in or if the blinds in your meeting room reflect your brand identity – there are lots of ways to bring your brand to life and to share your values and beliefs.

Brand Strategy, differentiation, SME

Would you vote for this man?

20120114-112629.jpg

Much has been written about personal branding and how important it is to grow and maintain a professional image especially when one is closely observed by the media and public.
So you’d think that a party leader would be extremely careful to show his brand as reputable and reliable. It seems as though Ed Miliband had a little snooze during the labour party’s brand management training and just woke up with a messy tie and weary eyes amidst a press conference with youngsters looking far more alive and professional than him!
It’s not like this was an unfortunate snapshot of an awkward moment caught on camera – it was an orchestrated photo shoot! It just beggars belief how he could ever have the stature of a leader.
Personal brands, just like consumer brands, evoke a gut feeling about a person, service or goods – sadly, looking at this little boy lost in the big world, mine is ‘not in a million years!’.

brand management, Funny, personal branding

SME Branding Lesson #2 – Know Who You Are

No matter how small or large your business and no matter how small or large your marketing budget is, one of the most important issues to resolve is finding out who you are – your brand essence.
One good technique to obtain an insight and a concise representation of your brand essence is by listing the product or service benefits and then ‘working up the ladder’ to arrive at a very concise word or statement that sums up the brand.

Innocent Smoothies
A brand that knows who it is

Innocent have been a great case study of a small business expanding into a multi million pound turnover venture without losing their identity, but rather building a strong set of brand values including:

  • Sustainability
  • Purity
  • Staff culture and support
  • Giving back to the community
  • Creativity

For Innocent Smoothies, the differentiating product benefit could be:

  • Pure, natural ingredients, from sustainable sources, without any additives or colourings, with recycled packaging – and targeted at children as well as adults
    –> for the consumer the benefits are
  • Worry-free consumption, guilt-free purchase, feel-good factor for health and environment – and the kids love it, too
    –> or in other words
  • Innocence

YMCA Rebrand
The Forest YMCA had lost its way a bit over the years and the brand needed to be re-defined.

I worked with a client on the re-brand of the YMCA in East London and remember during a workshop to scope the project, one member of staff answered the question ‘What does the YMCA mean to you’ with ‘What it is, is the red triangle staring at us from outside the window.’
It was a curious comment because that was not at all what most other people saw the YMCA stood for. In fact, they all felt something very different depending on which department they were from. And this was exactly the underlying issue leading to the need for a re-brand. Who are they really? What do they really stand for and how can they communicate this in a way that is understood by each and every member of staff and other stakeholders.
Together with the management team we interrogated their vision, mission and values and created a new brand identity designed to connect all the different aspects of the brand and to present it as a strong organisation that knows what its brand essence is.
Without quoting large brands and their brand essence, has anyone got examples of SMEs that have a strong set of values that makes them ‘the ones to watch’? It would be great to hear from someone with some thoughts.

Brand Identity, Brand Vision, SME

SME Branding Lesson #1 – Show the Right Attitude

You’ve spent months fine-tuning and testing your brochure copy. Thousands of pounds were spent on a new website with a new logo and brand identity. You have a new set of exhibition stands with the latest business information and how you differentiate yourself from competitors. Your brand strategy is clear and your marketing material is translating the strategy into a powerful and engaging message. Life should be good!
That is if it’s not just you that understands and believes in your brand promise, but all the people representing your business. No matter how hard you try and how much money you pay a professional to get your image right, if you have someone show the kind of attitude as captured below, you don’t stand a fighting chance against competitors eager to deliver a great brand experience.
At the end of the day, it is the customer that makes your brand and they will form their opinion not just based on slick marketing, but predominantly on how your staff represent your products and services.

Branding is more than a logo
What does a man reading a book slumped on a chair tell you about the brand he represents? Quite a lot – just perhaps not what the brand manager intended...

If you have any samples of a disparity in brand strategy and the realisation of it in some kind of visual format, please drop me a line, I’d love to include it here.

attitude, Brand Strategy, SME

Brand Management Trends for 2012

If I could read a crystal ball that had the future of brand management embedded in it, I wonder what it would say for 2012.
Without making too wild a guess, and perhaps this year will prove me completely wrong, I have the feeling (or perhaps this is wishful thinking) that whilst a lot of things will stay the same, there will be some aspects of branding and marketing, businesses will wake up to in the next few months.

1. The Message is Key

The economy is not great. We may see another recession here or in Europe. China is starting to struggle and with the global market still coming to terms with the downturn of recent years, brands are ever more challenged to expand and dominate their sector.
And whilst traditional advice on marketing budgets and spend may have been good for the marketing industry, I hope marketing professionals do not forget one thing – it is not just about budgets and increasing marketing or advertising spend in this economic climate will not guarantee success. The message is key.
A business may not need to do the latest and greatest of everything – but instead it could re-focus its core abilities, re-evaluate its brand strategy, mission, vision and values and make sure that all those thousands of pounds spent on brochures, websites, SEO and social media actually tell the right story, differentiate the brand from competitors in the most memorable way and that it’s not just about producing something with the company logo on it but to infuse it with passion, dedication and expertise that will make the brand grow in reputation and likeability.

2. Using Local Knowledge

China mene
Global brand with local knowledge

HSBC have done it. McDonald’s are famous for it. Brands that show their understanding and respect for local culture are usually onto a winner. It may have to do with a tribal instinct, but ‘when in Rome’… does work in most circumstances. I don’t know how and who but it would be great to see some more brands using a localisation strategy to stand out from global competitors – perhaps even on a much smaller scale (Wales vs Scotland…)
If anyone knows of some more samples, please let me know, I’d love to learn more about this subject.

3. Identifying Influencers

Stephen Fry
Influencers as brand ambassadors. Image from geekosystem.com

This is not so much a prediction but an anticipation of which brands will rise this year and which ones will fall out of favour: Sometimes a brand suddenly reaches a boiling point without anyone really knowing what happened. Malcolm Gladwell describes different scenarios in his book ‘Tipping Point’ – and one aspect of it is that of ‘Influencers’.
It will be interesting to see which brand manages to find such influencers, not just it in the celebrity, sports, the arts and fashion industry, and to convert them into brand ambassadors that humanise and create empathy with large corporations.

4. Designing Brand Engagement

The world has woken up to mobile marketing and 2011 has seen more than ever before the rise of brand building via games, videos and other apps on smartphones and tablets.
And more often than not, brand narrative and storytelling will drive engagement with a company in traditional, social and mobile marketing. We love it when a brand shows its personality and makes us one of theirs, part of the ‘in’ crowd, and what better way to draw people in than by telling a good old tale that evokes emotions and invites to be passed on.
Maternity underwear designer HotMilk has created a series of adverts that are using humour and storytelling to spread their brand message in a fresh and entertaining manner.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WAQFpxVYaM]
Shangri-La used it with their campaign ‘To embrace a stranger as one of our own. It’s in our nature’.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jF6ASWjMQY8]

5. Personalisation

I don’t mean custom printed envelopes and direct mail campaigns. I am more thinking of businesses understanding their customers and other stakeholders well enough to send different messages to different people – but creating the same ‘gut feeling’ about the brand by providing a very bespoke brand experience. Businesses could implement a strategy that talks not to different segments of their target audience, but to different individuals. OB Tampons did a great viral campaign following a bit of a disaster in their production line.
[vimeo http://vimeo.com/33449844]
Not a campaign but something that shows what’s possible has been the portable northpole – www.portablenorthpole.tv – which has been surprising for both grown-ups and those still believing in Santa.
It’s an opportunity to truly talk one-to-one to stakeholders and to react to trends such as twitter being used more and more for customer service enquiries instead of traditional methods of telephone or email.
I’ll be especially excited to see what will happen in the world of viral and personalised brand messaging. It’s a creative and technological challenge.
The year may prove me wrong – but if anything I will be very excited following the world of marketing and brand management to see what will come up on the horizon.

brand management

Give me some space please!

It jars – and makes me question the brand's accuracy in terms of hair styling, too!

Nevermind the name… ‘bad apple’ perhaps not my first choice to establish a salon and retail shop for hair – but I don’t know their target market so it may be just right. (Remember the worries of dying hair blonde which sometimes reacted with swimming pool water to create a green streak?!)
Why do I not know who they are after? I am just not at all tempted to venture into the shop simply because of the signage. How sad am I. It is clearly legible despite the incorrect use of the short hyphen between their strap line. Call me a typo nerd, but these things all add up to the whole brand image in my mind, and since the use of hyphens, n-dashes and m-dashes is not super clear these days, the overriding rule should be that of legibility and aesthetics. When I first walked past, I read hair-dedicated and was intrigued how they came up with that new word until (very shortly after) my eye had caught up with the rest of the sign and felt distracted by the poor typography rather than thinking about the content.
Even if you ignore the punctuation issue, I’d still ask for a teeny bit of space on either side (or to make it into a two-liner) to let the statement talk about the brand rather than shut up any interest.

typography

Steve Jobs – And what we can learn from the master of brand management and innovation?

I am astonished actually how much Steve Job’s untimely death has affected me. I could explain it being due to a recent personal loss and that is probably the real reason, but the feeling remains that the world is a poorer place without him for he had vision and, without any scandals, loudmouth behaviour and eccentricity, he has changed the world.
Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of theatre and drama. As a brand visionary, he’s been a master of creating the substance behind those weaving the Apple cult. Without his innovations, the brand would probably just be another ‘Evesham Computers’ or (whatever is happening to) Dell?
His products made the brand happen. Not overnight, but year after year until suddenly not just those funny designers who want their own PCs knew of the name.
He has been a true master of brand strategy and I can learn a lot from him.
Eight brand principles inspired by the man behind the Apple.

1. Be True

… to your brand values. They are at the core of a brand and create the link to the brand promise. Ensure you have a rounded view on your brand, including knowledge of what stakeholders think of your brand and what you want them to feel when they engage with it. Once established, communicate these brand values consistently and with believable passion that reflects your belief in the brand. That way, you can inspire others to see the brand’s true values.

Be true
Is everyone drawing the same brand image?

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.” Steve Jobs

2) Be innovative

… and dare to take risks. One of the most talked about factors in the survival and thriving of big brands is innovation. Research and development has been vital for years and businesses like Apple have shown the real potential of innovation for the growth of a brand.

Be innovative
Focus groups may have called for a faster horse at the dawn of the automobile industry.

Be it via in-house teams or through ‘open innovation’ via collaborations, successful brands don’t rest on their laurels but keep pushing and changing their products/services. One aspect of R&D, the focus groups, have been debated for a while now. Especially in this economical climate, they seem to be the number one tool of marketers. People like Steve Jobs realised the foresight displayed by Henry Ford: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”
Don’t rely on focus groups. Dare to pursue your idea. See point 5 if it doesn’t work out.

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Steve Jobs
“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Steve Jobs in Businessweek, 1998

3) Be creative

… but not just for the sake of it. In brand design, we don’t just want to be ‘painters and decorators’. The visual translation of the brand values and ultimately the brand promise goes deeper than a fancy font and some photographs from a cheap stock library (no offence meant, iStock!)

Be creative
Levis did something different...

If the brand itself is not creative in its approach to communicating with the public, there is only so much even a well-designed brand identity can do. Creativity goes beyond the marketing department and should, like innovation, be one of the foundations of a strong brand.

“In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.” Steve Jobs Interview with Fortune Magazine, 2000

4) Be in love

… and share your passion. We all will have had an experience with a brand where we felt disappointed by the lack of engagement with the brand’s representative – a snotty reply from a sales person; a less than enthusiastic assistant; a form wielding ‘this is the protocol so there is nothing I can do’ manager… It sticks. But it will also be contagious to others within an organisation. A brand lives inside and outside – and those who represent the brand are the vessels that carry the life blood through the body. Make sure you infect them with your love and understanding for the business and that they understand your passion and can translate it in their own work.

Be in love
Innocent's brand message goes beyond the consumers.

Until a few glitches recently, Apple always had staff that were fans, they were happy and eager to represent the business and added their own personal passion to the brand we’ve all fallen in love with.
Finding and selecting the right people to work together within an organisation will always remain a challenge. But by injecting culture into the business, by ensuring the different levels of management and workers know what it’s all about, by caring about them as brand representatives, you can harness the power of word of mouth and add value to your brand’s reputation.

“When I hire somebody really senior, competence is the ante. They have to be really smart. But the real issue for me is, Are they going to fall in love with Apple? Because if they fall in love with Apple, everything else will take care of itself. They’ll want to do what’s best for Apple, not what’s best for them, what’s best for Steve, or anybody else.” Steve Jobs

5) Be defiant

… and don’t give up. A brand does not ‘happen’ overnight. The big players have been around for decades and it does not mean they are safe from failure (remember the loss of high street brands such as Woolworths, Adams, Northern Rock during the credit crunch).

Be defiant
The e-car that finally hits the masses. It's not the first - but the first one to capture the people.

But then there are those like Apple who innovate and inspire. It’s hard to think of other examples that have changed the way we interact with technology to the extend apple has but there are those that had breakthroughs – Google, Skype, Groupon, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, Nissan
They all took time, caused controversy and perhaps doubt, but ultimately they kept going and have proven their worth.

“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.” Steve Jobs

6) Be focused

… on your brand’s core strength. Brand extension may seem good in the books and a money saving exercise for marketers, but it can easily dilute a message and alienate consumers and the media.
Many have tried (and failed) to extend their brand – Jack Daniel’s mustard?Coca Cola’s water? Kellogg’s streetware?

Be focused
A brand extension that works. The good grip pen from OXO.

In the end, no-one knew quite any more what Woolworth stood for. And Dell is on a slippery path at the moment. It worked for Virgin, who have a whole host of extensions within their monolithic brand architecture. Oxo moved into the office supplies market with their good grips pens. It can work, but it’s not the easy way to get more ROI out of your brand.

“It comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much.” Steve Jobs, The Seed of Apple’s Innovation

7) Be different

… and embrace the mavericks. When everyone zigs, zag. Especially in larger companies, where the original founder or owner has been replaced with a board of directors, shareholders or a management team with a very different decision making process, it is ever so important to have a team in place that embraces change, that will take risks and dares to try something new. Brands evolve naturally, and they gain or fall out of favour with the changing market – but sometimes it takes someone different to shake it all up.

Be Different
A graphic showing brand attributes including those of Steve Jobs (courtesy of brandinstinct)

When Burberry struggled with the loss in brand reputation due to the chav stereotype but Christopher Bailey has brought the brand from strength to strength. In fact, they are the first fashion designer label to release a single. That’s a bit different!

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Steve Jobs

8) Be human

… cause that’s what branding is trying to achieve. The brand experience begins and ends with the people engaging with a company. Consider them in all aspects of your brand strategy and you won’t run the risk of alienating your clients because your actions are conflicting with your brand promise.

Be human
Being human and acting with responsibility should be part of the brand DNA.

Think about their culture, their acceptance of the product or service and the company’s capability. Tell a narrative people can relate to and follow. Invite them to become a ‘member’ of your tribe – but then be an honest like-mined partner for them. There is no point pretending to be something a brand is not because you will be found out – today’s consumers are experienced and not bedazzled by brand glitz. It’s easier to alienate them then to gain loyalty.
Of course there are exceptions to this, but in general, if you try your best to ensure brand stakeholders are king, they will keep your brand with them on the throne.

“Our DNA is as a consumer company – for that customer who’s voting thumbs up or thumbs down. That’s who we think about. And we think that our job is to take responsibility for the complete user experience. And if it’s not up to par, it’s our fault, plain and simply.” Steve Jobs

brand management, Brand Strategy, marketing

Dragon’s Den and the value of a brand

Catching up with the latest episode in the den, I was surprised just how much those dragons have become branding ambassadors. Not of a specific one, but of the value of an established and thought-through brand.

Brand-importance
The mexican brand was not strong enough for the investors

Monterrey-born Marcela Flores Newburn pitched her Mexican food range but whilst she was complemented on her achievements, getting her product into Waitrose one by one they all said the dreaded words  ‘I am out’.
Peter Jones summed it up just nicely – “I actually think you’ve gotta go back as a start-up again because you need that brand. So I would go back to the roots and find that name.”
Once again we are reminded of that big hurdle any blossoming SME has to jump at some point – to start to create a communication / brand strategy that will allow them to compete with the big boys and to evolve their brand identity and marketing material accordingly. Budget is usually the show stopper, which is such a shame because it means eventually they will have to invest much more than if they started perhaps with very basic brand collateral  – but with a plan behind it.
I admire what Marcela has done – and I am sure after this show there will be hundreds of brand strategists and brand identity designers knocking on her door so I’ll watch this space!

Alan Sugar Rants and Builds Brands

The PR and brand management department at Lloyds TSB must have had a great morning. Lord Alan Sugar (will I ever get used to this title?) is on good form and discussing a variety of topics on the Chris Moyles show. He mentions that his money is with the ‘bank with the black horse’ which he is not allowed to Lloyds mention… oh and then there was Skype… but we are at the BBC so no brand name dropping.

Lloyds brand identity
Horse Power

Unless people are innocently confused about a brand image, this is a great example of the power of simple and descriptive brand identities. In an environment where we are bombarded with logos, symbols and brand visuals,  if all it takes for a company to be recognised is the mention of an element of the identity, the branding team can be congratulated. ‘The bank with the black horse’, ‘the swoosh’, ‘the apple’… just a few examples of uncomplicated, recognisable and versatile brand identities in the consumer market.
Nike logo
Ticking all the right boxes

Brand identity of Apple
What you hear is what you get... an apple for an apple

There is perhaps just one that can go right in with the Bradford and Bingley post and that has caused me confusion ever since it emerged on the British high streets – Spanish bank Santander.
Santander brand identity
Is it a bank? Or is it a baker? Will your money go up in smoke? I am confused.

It may be just me, but I’ve always associated them with being bakers and the logo looking like a bun fresh out of the oven.
Actually, looking at the 2010 best global brands on interbrand, there are not many that would be an easy subject in charades. But then again, we don’t usually make our brand choices based on Lord Allen describing his favourite companies and products on breakfast radio…

graphic design, Logos

Secrets of the Superbrands

I watched Alex Riley’s second part of the BBC series ‘Secrets of the superbrands’ and it is a fascinating programme that spells out a lot of the findings of brand practitioners.
This episode was about fashion brands and whilst it all pretty much hit home as expected, I did wonder about one aspect of the research: They did a scan of the brain of a student that is into fashion and checked how her brain reacted to images of handbags by different brands.
It first shows the cheap brands and measures the response to the images in the brain scan.

Branding Test - Primark
Cheap but not too stimulating...

Branding Test - George-Handbag
The 'cheap' end of the handbag brands

After that, the girl is exposed to the luxury brands – and as expected the scans lit up brain areas connected to excitement.
Branding Test - Mulberry
Branding Test - Gucci
I am, however,  wondering is how much of this was actually the brand identity reflecting the brand’s reputation and values and how much the product.
Branding Effect - Raised Brain Activity

Would the girl have identified the brand by the product alone (exclude Burberry chequers)? Is the brand reputation as important as the product? If there was no logo but they would have said the name of the brand, would that have had the same impact? (I would imagine so because after all the brand identity is a reflection of the brand and visually translates the brand values, connecting the consumer and the product).
I obviously can’t ask Alex Riley to conduct this research for me so it is going to remain guess work, but it seemed that the visual representation of the company was very much part of the value of the brand.
So once again I can only stress to any businesses reading this that it is such an important part of brand building to spend time (and thus money) on developing a professional and long lasting brand identity that can grow with the product. A brand is not just a product – and not just a logo.
The scans will prove the success!

brand management, Brand Strategy

Belfry Misfires Billboard Ad

The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield has a bit of a name in the leisure industry – Golf tournaments, fine dining, beautiful surroundings…
However, something must have gone terribly wrong when someone in their marketing department signed off this billboard ad.

Belfry brand advert misses the point
Truly uninspiring. On any occasion...

No matter how cheap they got it – it looks like a waste of time. Even as a small newspaper ad this just isn’t good enough for a brand name like the Belfry!
The ad is not only positioned badly (perhaps excusable if they had a special deal), the type is way to small to be read by the drive-by traffic (this is on a busy stretch of road with only a few pedestrians), the layout is more than awful and the message – well, the message reads ‘this brand does not care to communicate in a sophisticated way with its customers at any occasion’.
Sorry Belfry, but whoever commissioned and signed this off, do you not have aspirations for your brand? Is there no brand management in place? It’s a typical showcase for missed opportunities. Let’s hope this was just one occasion. I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

brand management, graphic design

A Brand New Start for 2011

These days, brands are constantly exposed to external market forces, consumer opinions, loyalty issues, competition and trends – and most of those household brands have dedicated teams of brand managers, consultants and brand agencies constantly crafting, exploring, analysing and implementing to accommodate all those changes.
Brands can be re-aligned on a variety of levels. It may be purely strategic to start with, getting internal communications up to speed, auditing and understanding stake holder opinions and devising a communications/marketing plan to engage better with the target audience. You may never know from a visual point of view, but rather feel a change in attitude and media exposure resulting in a well-implicated action plan.
More likely however, a company will choose to show any internal changes with an updated brand identity design and thus gain the first bit of exposure as part of a new strategy. Usually, it’s either ‘Revolution’ – a complete re-design of the old identity – or ‘Evolution’ – a crafted update that adapts the design to new emerging communication channels, applications and emerging visual trends without completely changing the look and feel and thus potentially alienating customers.
Here are some of both from 2010.
Strapline and Sparkles
Wembley stadium revealed their new identity middle of last year. It introduced a strapline and a far more ‘flamboyant’ logo design geared to work with the ever increasing opportunities in digital and social media.
“The new identity is an important part of our long-term strategy to drive even greater engagement with our Club Wembley members, commercial partners and huge spectator base” says The FA Group Head of Marketing Simon Freedman.
“We are moving into a new stage in our lifecycle and the new identity is more reflective of the dynamic and multi-purpose nature of the stadium” says Wembley Managing Director Roger Maslin



Wembley Stadium Re-brand
The old and the new brand for Wembley Stadium

Never mind the Gap
US clothing retailer Gap introduced its new brand in October – and it went down like a lead balloon.  After more than 2,000 comments were posted on the company’s Facebook page on the issue the new logo was scrapped. Focus group testing gone badly wrong? Misjudgment of the target market’s taste? Or simply a clever marketing plot to get the brand back in the headlines? Anyone got any sales figures following this re-branding exercise?!
Gap Re-brand
The old and the new - and back to the old again for Gap

GMTV becomes Daybreak and night falls on the ratings
Curious. It was hyped up, promoted and prepared with the arrival of new presenters Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley. Yet, just before the end of 2010 the press reports that ratings have plummeted to an all time low. ITV has apparently been left ‘shocked’ by a recent set of ratings.
The GMTV brand was launched in 1993. Off air, it has disappeared as a corporate entity, with the company GMTV Limited being renamed ITV Breakfast.
One can only guess whether the re-brand itself caused the problems the show is now facing or whether it is a combination of the show’s new setup, the presenters and the loss of trust from the original GMTV audience who may feel sold out for the sake of publicity.
GMTV Re-brand to Daybreak
More than a logo, this re-brand is about the programme itself and seems to have it not quite right yet...

Oil of Olay
Not apparent on the UK website, Oil of Olay have had their identity and ‘cameo’ changed last year. The changes are subtle enough to create a fresher visual appearance without changing the general mood of the brand. It seems ‘tidied up’ and more flexible in its use.
Olay Re-brand
An brand identity evolution with some distinct type features

olay_press_image
Press kit image featuring the new brand identity applied

Google
Maybe it was about time that the brand dropped that drop shadow. Being all about clean, functional and simple design when it comes to their applications, this seems to be a logical visual conclusion to express the brand’s values without rocking any boats.
Google Re-brand
Coming out of the shadows - the new google identity design

Dell
Dell revisited its brand positioning “while analysing why the brand value had been declining (most notably) in the past five years.”
The visual result of the re-positioning is subtle, but as their Creative Director says:  “The brand redesign was not intended to be a radical revolution, but rather a practical evolution based on our established equities and alignment to the repositioning of our brand.” Tommy Lynn, Dell CD
Dell Re-brand
The old and the slightly new brand identity design

MySpace
A curious one in my mind as I am not sure what to make of it in terms of progress in style and communicating any brand values. Apparently it is a clever visual aid to reflect the ‘my space’ philosophy but I am not sure about the execution.
Myspace Re-brand
The old one wasn't super - but does the new one say it all?

Price Waterhouse Coopers
It was a bit of a mouthful – and now it’s changed. The emphasis on a new brand reflects PwC’s desire for a more unified representation across its global network. “Our decision to make this change now is because over the last decade PwC has continued to grow and evolve and a concise consistent Brand position makes it easier for people to appreciate who we are, what we do, and how we operate across markets,” said Moira Elms, PwC’s global leader of brand and communications.
Price Waterhouse Coopers Re-brand
Long name no longer - a new brand identity for PWC

There are many more – and uncountable brand identity changes happen on a more local business level.
For further insight into how an identity design project is structured and how it can help your brand, please refer to this article on brand identity on the Reflection Marketing blog: What makes a good brand identity design?

What I find interesting is the choice of brands to opt for either evolution or revolution and the consumer reaction to the outcomes. Interesting to see what will happen in 2011! Re-brand away…

brand, brand management, graphic design

Stuart Bags A Brand

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6yUvkmPiXtQ&fs=1&hl=en_US]
So he’s out. Stuart Baggs kept watchers of BBC’s The Apprentice entertained and annoyed for weeks now, but I guess we are all quite relieved he’s gone to leave the job to someone who can. The strange thing is though, from a brand perspective, he has been a great showcase for how branding ‘happens’. By announcing himself as ‘Stuart Baggs the Brand’ he took a perhaps incidental yet very vital step to actually create ‘Stuart Baggs the Brand’, kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy. He’s either knowingly, or by chance, transformed his name to a phrase, a colloquialism even for ‘over the top confident and a bit silly’. People started using his catch phrases and thoughts of wisdom – remember the sheep? –  and basically despite varying opinions about his value and expertise, pretty much everybody who’s ever watched The Apprentice has both heard of him and has formed an opinion. It’s what brands dream of! Recognition and engagement with their audience. Looks like Stuart may have failed on the interview side, but bagged himself a brand that may well outshine any apprenticeship Lord Sugar can offer.

Funny

KISS your brand

A friend asked me to review their first draft of a new website launching their business. A difficult task (since it is a friend) by all means, but my professional opinion quickly dominated the eagerness to compliment – I’d rather blame some blunt criticism on my German heritage and hopefully raise some questions that help the business.
What struck me most was that the business was trying to be everything for everyone. Words like ‘whatever you want it to be’ or ‘could be anything’ made me feel like they perhaps didn’t know themselves. It made me understand why so many successful entrepreneurs have one thing in common – their brand proposition is simple, their product or service offering clearly defined and ‘what you see is what you get’.
It is fascinating how an unclear vision, be it in terms of business or brand strategy, reflects on the visual impact a brand makes when the strategy is implemented online or in print marketing material. So once again, the KISS comes in very eloquently and gives a good basis for future expansion.
It worked for Subway who keep sticking with what they are good at despite the temptation to sell people other goods whilst they are in the shops. It is also a good recipe for niche companies such as Hotel Chocolat, Bravissimo, Innocent and Ella’s Kitchen.
Starbucks struggled when they expanded the number of their shops in 2007 and added much more than just coffee to the once clear offering; thus watering down their brand (with some consumer reports concluding Mc Donalds coffee tasting better!).

Lost brand values
Woolworths alienated customers by trying to please everyone

Woolworths lost its brand identity pretty much completely prior to leaving the high streets of Britain. They tried to be everything for everyone and instead as a consumer you ended up being unsure what they were actually good at.
Their brand position was quickly snapped up by Wilkinsons who seem to successfully fill the gap selling budget household goods and so far not venturing into too many other product lines.
Coca Cola Water
Bad publicity or just a bad idea? The Coca Cola water.

It is always tempting to use your brand reputation to expand – but being successful with one target market does not necessarily mean any new product will be a success. When Coca Cola introduced water instead of coke, it went down like a lead balloon.
Consumers didn't like the healthy Pepsi drink

Similarly, PepsiCo experienced its own fall from grace when it launched Crystal Pepsi in 1992.
Jack Daniels Mustard. It didn't last.

Jack Daniels Mustard never quite made it onto supermarket shelves as a favourite.
Off the menu. The Arch Deluxe didn't have enough bite.

Equally important is to stay true to your core customers – as Mc Donalds found out when they tried to gain new customers by introducing the ‘Arch Deluxe’ as a sophisticated burger to set them apart from other burger bars. It’s no longer on the menu.
Whilst I am by no means promoting a ‘one trick pony’ approach to brand building, I believe that as a minimum, the brand proposition has to be consistent and clear. Companies such as Virgin, BMI, Apple, Tesco and even Ebay, Amazon or Google thrive despite their many products and service offerings.
Something worth a big kiss on the ego of the brand strategists behind their success!

Brand Strategy

Branding – and when you have to let go…

I am not sure that you really should have to, but once you have completed your part in the branding process, there inevitably comes the point when the new brand spills into an organisation and gets absorbed by their own marketing department – for better or worse. Guidelines, you say, yes, guidelines are there for exactly that reason, but, as I found out last week, no guidelines can prepare you for the pure shock and horror induced by the ‘creative’ approach from the budget saving ‘small man down the road’.
I’ve been lucky in the sense that our client discovered what was happening in one of his departments when they outsourced some new promotional item to be designed by a cheap local design firm. Every rule laid out in the brand identity guidelines had been not just stretched or slightly twisted but torn apart and broken in an unfixable manner. How whoever designed this (neglecting all the blatant inconsistencies in grammar and type) could look at their draft 1 and find it a good match to the client’s brief I do not know – but I really am appreciating that we had the chance to take this over and start from scratch.
Branding doesn’t just happen, well, it does, in a sense, but not necessarily how you want it to. It’s a slow, delicate process and it needs time, resources and money to re-brand an entire organisation that goes beyond the initial consultancy and creative process.
We never shut the door but think that an ongoing brand management relations ship is of most value to the client, but of course budget restraints cause situations out of our control. I am not sure yet what the solutions are – we can’t lower our rates paying for highly professional and creative talent to compete with those who don’t even deserve the title artworkers – so once again it seems to come down to educating the clients to realise a false economy.
On this occasion, our client had the insight and understanding of the importance of a consistent design approach even if only for the first of each publication to set a standard to be followed, but I despair at some others who ‘diy’ with our identity designs and do more harm than good. You have to just hope their brand is resilient to the apparent drop in quality of their communications material. A very similar problem happens when a client does the internal communications themselves but outsources the externals. The discrepancy is drastic and often you wonder how bad a customer must feel when they have been called in with great looking designs to receive forms and information on site that looks more like they just started their business with a comic sans flyer template and have no idea what they are doing.
There is the argument that ultimately it is the product and service that sells and not the presentation but if we think of brands as people, we are all very much relying on our judgement of the first impression a person gives us and we continue to observe if what they preach is what they do – only then do we start to trust someone.
Anyway, I could go on… but have to actually go back to the design of above mentioned piece… so I will let go – for now.

brand guidelines, brand management, graphic design

Brand Guidelines – Why?

We looked after our neighbours’ kids’ sunflowers whilst they were on holiday – and as before we managed to actually keep them alive during the absence of their prime carers. They had intact, if perhaps slightly tainted by worry, plants back in their house and so it continues.
It made me think that brand management is perhaps a bit like handing over the carefully nourished sunflower pots when you personally can’t always be around to tend to the needs of the brand. We managed to guess the requirements of a healthy sunflower, but for brands that is most certainly a more complex issue.
It is also one little step to ensuring the success of the continuous nurturing are the brand guidelines. You’ve just been through the process of analysing your brand, establishing the mission, vision, values and associated strategy and have completed a branding design project; out came a new visual identity supported by your organisational brand implementation and methods of internal brand communication. Then there comes the point when you have to delegate the use of the brand, the further shaping of the brand, and brand guidelines simply help to manifest the core of those values and ensure the visual, the language, the brand experience does not get individually (mis)interpreted by stakeholders dealing with it.
I quite like the analogy of a watering guide for your brand. And hopefully, with decent guidelines, you have every chance of returning to visit and finding a blooming brand instead of the results of something that was ‘tinkered with’ with the best intentions but with ill effects. Just a thought…

brand, brand guidelines

Why Bradford & Bingley don’t make bread

My husband was making Scotch pancakes for our little one, which is always an event in itself, when he remembered growing up with the belief that Bradford & Bingley also made flour.
Why? I asked. Well, it’s because of the man with the bowler hat!
So I had a look at comparing the two brand icons and it is quite sweet, seen from the eyes of a child… It also reminds me how important it is to think about the brand icon in light of what other companies are using even if it is a different business.

Homepride vs Bradford & Bingley

Anyway, just a quick story that made me chuckle… and look out for any other brand mix-ups.

Logos

YMCA US – New Brand Lacks Decisiveness and Vision

… well, in my mind, anyway. Having just worked myself on a new brand vision and brand design for the Forest YMCA in East London, I had heard about the ongoing re-branding exercise of the US equivalent, and was eagerly awaiting their approach.

Now that it’s here, I am somewhat underwhelmed. Yes, it is more colourful, thus easier to work with in a brand management sense. Yes, the shape is more pleasing and gives a sense of direction rather than a warning sign.
The approach of treating the ‘Y’ as the main icon flew out of our concepts pretty much stage one lacking the spirit, drive and innovation the Forest YMCA in East London wanted to be associated with. That may not be relevant for the US branch, but typographically the new visual looks like  a compromise that is not quite working on the web when the logo is a small size. Why is the organisation not confident enough to do what it says in the press release and be ‘The Y’ without including the original initials YMCA on the side of the logo? They look out of proportion,  like an afterthought, and they shift the balance of the logo to be bottom heavy.

It seems an odd decision that may well be due to ‘death by committee’ – and may have caused the designers involved to tear their hair out in despair, or it may be a very different vision and understanding of the brand this side of the Atlantic.
Whatever the reasons, I personally think it is a shame that an organisation of such statue, history and positive drive has shied away from a truly innovative brand strategy and has decided to use a design that is pushing the identity merely into the 90s (of the last century that is…)

Brand Strategy

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